Whenever I dig in to a major endeavor learning something new, it usually goes like this. First, it’s exciting and intimidating. I study and research whatever it is, then try it out, repeatedly, generally with mixed results. Then I get frustrated and impatient with the learning curve, and try again in fits and spurts. Then I give up for awhile and pout. Eventually, I get over myself and try again, at which point some kind of magic happens and all the experience–albeit frustrating–suddenly starts clicking in my brain, and it’s like the mysterious, anxious clouds part and I understand. My journey into cheesemaking, especially hard cheeses, was like that. I make a lot of hard cheeses now, and the process feels very easy to me anymore. And my cheeses come out great. But it wasn’t always like that. I went through a lot of frustration before I started seeing the light. Liquid soap has been like that for me, too, and I think it’s that way for a lot of people. Try googling homemade liquid soap–there’s not a lot of information out there unless you count tutorials on how to grate bar soap and melt it into liquid soap. When it comes to making liquid soap from scratch using potassium hydroxide, the information pool is pretty small.
I’m not sure why that is. Maybe because, since it’s liquid, it’s more functional than artsy as opposed to hard bar homemade soap. Or maybe also because the best known resource for homemade liquid soap is Making Natural Liquid Soaps by Catherine Failor, in which she presents a very complicated method. I followed that method myself when I started making liquid soap, and I’m not dissing it–it’s a perfectly good method for making liquid soap, but it’s very focused on clear liquid soaps. The way the recipes are formulated and the complicated methodology are all centered on that central concept of clarity. I still recommend the book as a good resource on understanding liquid soap, and I have a lengthy post with recipes for clear liquid soaps here.
But eventually–when I reached the period past initial excitement and intimidation, past study and research, past frustration and impatience and giving up and pouting, and finally started making liquid soaps again, the magic happened, as it usually does, and the clouds parted–I stopped following the Failor method for making liquid soap. I don’t care if my liquid soap is clear. I also started formulating my own recipes (using SoapCalc) because published recipes geared toward clear liquid soaps are too high in coconut oil (which contributes to clarity but makes them drying). And I simplified the whole process based on my years of soaping experience, both with liquid and hard bar soaps. I stopped trying to climb this mystical Mt. Everest of perfect liquid soap according to….who all, I don’t know….and just treated making liquid soap like I was making soap. Because, hello, that’s all it is.
Here’s how I make liquid soap now, and I wanted to share this here because it’s been years (five years!) since I first wrote about liquid soap. Because I don’t have all the time in the world to make every type of soap I use in my home on a daily basis, I mostly make shampoo. It goes on my hair. I’m mostly interested in what goes on or in my body, not so much what goes on my dishes or my laundry, but you can create (or find) recipes for those types of soaps, also. Remember, this liquid soap will not be clear–it will be a clear-ish amber color, and it may not be just right for your hair. It’s just right for mine (which is not dry or oily, just normal), that’s all I can say. It’s a Vitamin E-rich liquid soap with its high wheat germ oil content. I use it both as a shampoo and as a body wash. I like to call it my Rapunzel soap (because I have long hair). How much this recipe makes varies according to your dilution, but it should be between 1 and 2 quarts. I keep it in an olive oil dispenser, but an old shampoo bottle will do just as well.
*Remember to use potassium hydroxide, the lye for liquid soap, not sodium hydroxide.
How to make Vitamin E Rapunzel Shampoo & Body Wash:
8 ounces coconut oil
6.5 ounces wheat germ oil
5.5 ounces castor oil
4 ounces olive oil
1 ounce lanolin
4.8 ounces potassium hydroxide
9.5 ounces water
Melt the coconut oil along with the other oils in a large crock pot.
Add the potassium hydroxide to the water (never the other way around! and you should be wearing goggles and gloves). When the lye is dissolved in the water, add the mixture to the oils in the crock pot and stick blend until the mixture reaches trace. Put the lid on the crock pot and cook it till it tests safe using a 1% phenolphthalein solution. Now you have your soap paste, ready to dilute.
Make a borax solution using 3 ounces of borax dissolved in 6 ounces of boiling hot water. The borax solution will aid in dilution. Add to the soap paste (still in the crock pot) along with a couple of cups of water. I’m not going to get detailed about how much water and we’re not going to do any math or consult any dilution tables. Just add water every once in a while and always in small quantities at a time. The goal is to dilute as thickly as possible while still completely diluting. Leave the crock pot on low with the lid on. Check on it periodically, stir it around, add more water if you have to. If it’s bedtime, turn off the crock pot and go to bed. The soap will keep working on itself while you’re sleeping. Next morning, stir it around, see if it’s diluted to your satisfaction. If not, add some more water. I’ve had liquid soap be ready the next morning, and I’ve had batches of liquid soap I’ve left in the crock pot for two weeks! (Mostly because I got busy doing other things and left the pot turned off for days at a time before I got back to paying attention to it. Liquid soap will wait for you.) I don’t rush the dilution phase. I just add a little water at a time, check on it every once in a while, and it’s done when it’s done. I like liquid soap to be about the consistency of molasses, thick but pourable at the same time. In my experience I’ve found that the more slowly and patiently I deal with dilution, the thicker end result I can attain.
When it’s done, I add a couple ounces of sulfated castor oil. Sulfated castor oil is NOT the same thing as regular castor oil. I use it for superfatting. It’s the only oil that won’t separate in a water-based mixture. I don’t add fragrance to this, but you can if you want–use fragrance sparingly, like several drops. Fragrance and essential oils are oils so they are prone to separation in a water-based mixture if you use too much.
And there you have it. If you look back at my post here from five years ago about how I made liquid soap then, you’ll see how much simpler I make it now. And it’s better soap, too, go figure!
How exciting. Is this the liquid soap we will be making in the November soap workshop? I haven’t been brave enough to try it on my own. Looking forward to all the soap making. :snoopy:
On August 10, 2016 at 4:33 pm
Suzanne McMinn says:
Yes, we will be making liquid soap like this in the workshop. You’ll be making one from the beginning, plus I’ll have another already-made batch diluting so that you can see the dilution stage then you’ll get to take some home so you can try it out.
On August 10, 2016 at 4:39 pm
I don’t make soap, but I’m always interested in reading your posts. I’m curious, how long does it take you to write them?
On August 10, 2016 at 5:44 pm
Suzanne McMinn says:
Yvonne, the long ones like this can take hours!
On August 15, 2016 at 1:51 pm
Great timing on this piece. I just finished my last batch of liquid soap and was gearing myself up for the next soap day. I have been using your original post as guide. My soap was never clear until it sat for a few weeks. At any rate, I stopped worrying about it one way or another. I’m excited to see how you’ve simplified things. Thanks for the updated method!
On August 12, 2016 at 1:45 pm
Matthew F says:
First off, I want to thank you for your prior liquid soap post. It has guided me to be able to make liquid soap simply. I too struggled with the Failor directions. And Cavitch has a similarly intricate plot to make liquid soaps (with alcohol to make them clear – and use on the stove? haha FIRE!) I actually had to create my own instructions from the Failor book as it is, like you say, cryptically scattered. She probably could put out a more organized and updated version 2 and make a killing. But I digress…
I’m writing because I want to make sure I have some clarity on this new method. I am extremely familiar with our last directions. This one makes no mention of stirring the crock pot. That is not necessary?
Also, my usage is for making workhorse soaps for the home. I have trouble with dilution rates being high <= 20% and when I use a 1/2 cup (a cap full of my prior liquid) I seem to get practically no noticeable suds in my front loader vs the tbsp or two I use of the store brand. For this reason I feel my soap may not be performing well (100% coconut). I even added 1c borax and 1c washing soda into my boiling dilution water(for 1250g coconut oil). I always get clear amber soap, I just feel it's too thin and I still may not be using enough soap molecules per load. I end up with soap re-constituting in the top of the pot, so I have to add more water to get it all to all dilute.
Lastly, I put this soap into soapcalc and it seems you're starting off with 40% h20 and 12% superfat to get the water and lye input (90% KOH) you use, is this correct or have I done something wrong. I was previously using 70% h2o and 0% superfatting and I would have sworn on getting those settings from your prior page… Did I get something mixed up?
On September 10, 2016 at 10:07 am
Could you please explain how you do the safety test with 1% phenolphthalein solution? I found where to buy it, just not sure how to use it. Thank you!
On April 26, 2017 at 2:11 pm
Suzanne McMinn says:
Take a tiny dab of the soap from the pot. I’m talking like a quarter teaspoon is sufficient. I just use a plastic knife, usually, to get a dab from the pot. I smear the dab on a paper plate. Then just one drop of the solution is enough. Drop the one drop of solution onto the dab of soap. If it turns purplish-pink, it’s not done. Any kind of pink AT ALL and it’s not done. When you test and it does nothing, the soap remains the same color, you know the soap is done. Just play with it next time you make soap–once you see it for yourself, you’ll understand! ANY PINK at all, not okay, that’s all you have to remember.
On April 26, 2017 at 2:59 pm
Thanks for your post! 😀 From where do you purchase your sulfated castor oil?
On January 9, 2018 at 10:05 am
I am a cold process soap maker, trying to learn liquid soap making. I used this recipe as my first time at liquid soap making. Everything turned out great, even when I tested the ph, until I actually used it. It burns my skin. i have analyzed this recipe and am wondering if it’s possible the amount of water mixed with the lye correct? Seems maybe that there should be more water. Would that be why I have lye heavy(if that is indeed what I have) soap? I can’t figure out how to trouble shoot this. Thank you so much for any feedback!
On February 11, 2018 at 1:35 am
Hiya! I am enjoying your site immensely!!I am just wanting to point out though that when making liquid soap you actually use -5 to -7 percent lye superfat as KOH is not 100%. If you are having issues with suds and an oily feeling to your soap…this is why. I made the same mistake and then stumbled onto another website where I found the explanation! Gotta love those learning curves!!
On April 2, 2018 at 6:52 am