Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Basic Beginner Liquid Soap and Information

This is a basic liquid soap formula for those just starting out into liquid soapmaking.  It uses only 3 commonly used oils in soapmaking - nothing fancy, but makes a wonderful soap.  As you get a handle on making liquid soap, you can venture into using different liquids for your lye water, different oil combinations to get the properties you are looking for in a soap and so on in formulating for your own creations.  

1% superfat – no neutralization needed
Summerbee Meadow calculator used.

70% Olive Oil
20% Coconut Oil
10% Castor Oil

20 ounce oil batch

14 ounces olive oil
4 ounces coconut oil
2 ounces castor oil
4 ounces glycerin (from the initial water amount – this will help speed up the process of getting to the cooking stage)

4.27 ounces (121 grams) KOH
8 ounces distilled water (12 ounces liquid needed, the other 4 ounces is the glycerin added to the oils (This is optional and you can remove the glycerin and use 12 ounces of distilled water.)

I have split the required water amount into part water, part glycerin.  Using glycerin in place of part or all of your water will speed up the entire process of getting your paste to the cook stage and the cook in general.  Formulas high in olive oil tend to take quite a long time to get to trace.  You can omit the glycerin if you would like and use all water too.  Use enough water so that you can fully dissolve your lye.  My rule of thumb for minimum water amount is 1.1:1 water:lye ratio.  You can also replace all the water with glycerin, but this will require a different method to dissolve your lye.  I have other tutorials on using all glycerin too.

Prepare your work surface and follow all safety protocols.  Lye is very caustic and can cause severe burns if it comes into contact with any body part.  Long pants, long sleeves, closed toed shoes, latex of other cleaning type gloves, and protective eyewear.  20 ounces of oils fit nicely into a 4.5 quart crock pot or other stainless steel pot.  If the mixture level is too high, it may bubble over, if the mixture is too low, it will splash out of the pot – both are dangerous situations due to the caustic nature and high temps of the mixture.

 1.     Measure out and melt/heat your oils and optional glycerin.

2.     Measure out your KOH into suitable container.  Measuring in grams is best for accuracy.  Many problems can be avoided with accurate measuring of oils and KOH.
3.     Measure out your distilled water into a suitable container.
4.     Slowly add your KOH to your water and whisk or mix it carefully .  It will heat up greatly.
5.     When temperatures of both the oils and the lye/water are between 140 – 160 degrees F, slowly pour your lye mixture into your oils.  If you temps are too low, it will take longer to trace, if you temps are too high, you may bubble over.  Heat greatly increase the speed in which the chemical reaction takes place.
6.     Stick blend the mixture.
7.     Your mixture will go through several stages as it gets to trace.
     -       It will be a very thin opaque yellow
     -       It will darken and look like applesauce with some of the oil wanting to separate out and float on     top
     -       It will thicken and smooth out and turn a matte opaque
     -       It will continue to thicken and turn a bit shiny
     -       It may thicken to the point that your stick blender will get stuck in it or it may stay more fluid –       but will be thick.

Please note that each formulation will behave differently as there are many variables that will affect the stages your paste will go through and the rate at which these will happen.  You may see the above stages, more stages or even fewer stages as some pastes will trace very quickly.  These include the ratio of oils used, glycerin amount and heat.  Some pastes will stay thick and fluid the entire time some will get so stiff you cannot easily mix them.  All are valid states of your paste.

 8.       Once it is too thick for the stick blender, or is thick and glossy, you can start your cook.
 9.       You can cook it in a crock pot making sure your temps are between 170 – 220 degrees F (it can be very hard to control the temps in a crock pot based on how they regulate temperature) or in the oven.  You can also do stovetop, but I do not do that method so cannot offer instruction on it.  Heat is needed to cook your paste in a timely manner.  Too low of temps, will take your paste longer too cook, too high and you can scorch the paste.  Some people do a cold process method where they remove the paste from the heat source and wrap it in towels to allow it to saponify on its own, but this will take quite a bit of time to do – again, each formulation will vary.
 10.    Check your paste every 30 minutes and give it a stir.
 11.    Your paste will turn more and more translucent as it cooks.
 12.    After 2 - 3 hours (or sooner if you prefer), check your paste with phenolphthalein drops if you have them.  Place a small amount of paste on white paper towel or paper plate and put one or two drops of phenolphthalein on it.  This is to check for excess lye to determine if your oils are fully saponified .  Clear to very, very faint pink is good and your soap may be done.  Any other shade of pink to fuchsia means you need to cook it longer.  If you do not have phenolphthalein, then skip this step.
 13.    Clarity test – add 1 ounce of paste to 2 ounces of boiling water and allow it to dilute.  If it is milky, it is not done and needs to cook longer.  If it is very cloudy, it needs to cook longer (or you have excess unsaponified fats), if it is slightly cloudy or clear and the phenol test is good, your paste is done.   If it is clear (or just slightly cloudy), let it cool and test the pH.  I prefer a pH meter, but many use good quality pH test strips successfully.  The pH should be between 9 – 10 which is perfect for liquid soap.  Please note that you can have a good clarity test and still have excess lye or too high a pH.  Please have an accurate way to test your soaps pH.  If using a digital pH meter, also note that the pH will be lower the hotter the soap and it is best to test at room temperature.
 14.    If the paste is done, remove it from heat source.  Your paste may be very thick and stiff or more fluid while hot.  The more glycerin used, typically the more fluid your paste will be.  At this point you can dilute all of your paste, part of your paste or let it sit overnight to make sure that all of it has fully saponified  throughout the paste(this is my preference) and then dilute.

Diluting your paste

1.     Weigh out how much paste you want to dilute and place in an appropriate pot with lots of extra room for your dilution water.  I use a crock pot to dilute and turn it on warm.  Heat will help speed up the process.  Too much heat and you will have more water loss due to evaporation.  Keep a lid on the pot during dilution.
2.     Weight out an equal amount of distilled water and heat to boiling.  I prefer to boil my dilution water to make it is as sanitary as possible and the heat speeds up the dilution process. Many people prefer not to boil their dilution water – the choice is yours. If using a crock pot to dilute your paste, make sure that the crock pot insert is not cold as you do not want to add boiling water to a cold pot as it could shatter when you add the hot water.
3.     Add the dilution water to the paste and allow it to start to dilute.  Give it time, lots of patience is needed.  Make sure your pot is covered while you dilute or some of your water will evaporate out.
4.     As the paste dissolves, you may need to add more water to fully dilute it.  Formulas high in olive oil need more water to dilute than formulas high in coconut oil.  Add water in small increments and allow more of the paste to dilute.  Continue this until the paste is fully diluted.  If you see chunks of paste still floating around or your soap develops a “skin” on top, then you need a bit more dilution water.  TAKE NOTES ON HOW MUCH WATER YOU ARE ADDING FOR DILUTION.  This will save you time if you repeat the same formula when you go to dilute it.  Patience is key when it comes to diluting a formula for the first time.
5.     There are two things to consider when diluting your paste – Soap concentration and viscosity.  Some formulas will always be thin as water no matter how little dilution water you add, some formulas will have a thicker consistency if you do not over dilute.  The less dilution water, the more concentrated your soap will be also and too concentrated a soap can be 1) wasteful and 2) on the harsh side as with any concentrated product.  You may need to adjust your usage amounts based on how concentrated your final soap is going to be. These are things to consider and determine your own personal preferences when determining how much dilution water to add.  Soaps that are too thin based on your desired soap concentration can be thickened afterwards by using a variety of ingredients.
6.      Once your soap is fully diluted, allow it to cool.  Once cooled, it may thicken up a bit or it may develop a skin.  If a skin develops, you can add a bit more dilution water.   If it is too thick or portions have reverted back to a paste stage, you can continue to add more dilution water.
7.     Pour your diluted soap into a clean container and allow it to sit or sequester for a week or two.  At this time you can add sequestering agents that may help with clarity if you soap is slightly cloudy.  Glycerin or sugar solutions are often used, as is alcohol.  I have used glycerin at a rate of 1 ounce per lb of finished diluted soap.  Glycerin at this rate will not thicken your soap – in fact I have never seen glycerin thicken liquid soap.

Neutralizing your soap.  Neutralization in liquid soapmaking is the process of neutralizing any excess lye that may be present in your soap NOT creating a neutral pH (7.0) product.  This was routinely done in the past as KOH is typically only 90% pure and to make sure that all the oils were saponified, an excess  of KOH was used.  The current online calculators we now have available to us take the KOH purity into account which gives us much more accurate measurements.  There are many older formulas and tutorials out there that are formulated with a lye excess in which this neutralization needs to be done.  If you formulate without a lye excess and up to a 3% superfat, you will not need have any excess lye and therefore will not need to neutralize your soap.  Borax is a buffer that will neutralize any excess lye but will only take your soap’s pH down to about 9.2 (the pH of the borax).  Citric acid is a pH adjuster that will neutralize the excess lye AND lower your pH.  If you use citric acid, you must be very careful not to use too much as you can lower your pH to the “breaking point” of your soap and your soap will start to separate out into fatty acids, water and potassium citrate and will no longer be soap.

Adding other additives, fragrance and color to your soap.

1.     Using anything other than distilled water (and the sequestering agents above) to dilute your soap is setting up a breeding ground for bacteria, yeast and or mold.  Please consider this when thinking about dilution. 
2.     There are several things you can add to your diluted soap to enhance its properties.   Some additives are in powdered form and should be dissolved in distilled water first others are already in liquid form.  Anything insoluble, will float on top or fall to the bottom of your soap.  You can superfat your soap with water soluble oils like Water Soluble Shea Butter (PEG 50 Shea Butter) or Turkey Red Castor Oil (sulfated Castor oil). 
3.      Fragrance and/or essential oils.  You can easily add these to your soap at 1 – 3% of your finished soap weight, I find less is more in liquid soap and start with small amounts.  You can always add more, but you cannot take the scent away. Even though these are oils, they will easily incorporate if you heat up your soap first before adding them.   Some people have success just adding them to room temp soap too.  Experiment.  Some people prefer to use a solubizer like polysorbate 20 or other fragrance oil modifiers before they add the FO/EO to their soap.   Please note that polysorbate 20 can cloud your soap.  ALWAYS TEST A NEW FRAGRANCE OR ESSENTIAL OIL ON A SMALL SAMPLE OF SOAP FIRST.  Not all fragrance or essential oils play nice with liquid soap and you do not want to ruin an entire batch by adding an incompatible FO/EO.
4.     Coloring your soap.  Liquid dyes work best.  Not all liquid colorants are liquid dyes and if you want to keep your soap in a clear state, use dyes.  Brambleberry has a nice selection of FD&C liquid dyes and you want to use the low pH ones.  I know this seems counterintuitive in a high pH product, but that is the information I was given by them and I have great results with the low pH dyes.  Many people do use micas, but you will find over time, that they will settle to the bottom of your soap.  Another way to color your soap is to infuse one of your oils with certain botanicals that may color it.

Preservatives can be a touchy subject with soapmakers on both sides of the debate and many more in the middle.  The higher natural pH of liquid soap does make it more difficult for yeast and mold and even bacteria to grow.  The higher the concentration of soap will too.  The higher the pH of the product and the higher the soap concentration, the lesser the likelihood of things growing in it.    The higher the sanitary conditioners of your work environment and utensils, the better too.  However, we are now getting into lowering the pH of our soaps into the 8.5 – 9.0 range either naturally via the oils and formulas used or by using pH adjusters.  In these cases one must consider whether a preservative will be needed.  You will also want to consider a preservative if you add any type of botanical or other additive that provides a breeding ground for nasties in your soap (aloe, proteins, etc.).  Some of these additives may already be preserved in the raw material state, but keep in mind that that preservative is just enough to keep the raw ingredient preserved and is not adequate to preserve it in a product or the entire product once it is added.  If you decide to use a preservative for you soap, you need to choose one that is effective in a higher pH product.  This blog has great information on preservatives in general and specific information on liquid soap.

In soaps that I choose to add preservative, I use Liquid Germall plus or Suttocide A - both of which  must be added to cool soap.

~ Faith

Copyright 2006 - 2015 Alaiyna B. Designs/Alaiyna B. Bath and Body.  All rights reserved.  All text and images are the property of Alaiyna B. Designs and/or Alaiyna B. Bath and Body.  No part of this document or webpage may be reproduced by any means without prior written consent of Alaiyna B. Designs and/or Alaiyna B. Bath and Body.


  1. Hi Faith,

    I was looking for some information on liquid soap making today when I came across your post, Liquid Soap Making For Beginners.

    Great Stuff!

    It's funny, I actually just published an article on 5 Principals That Will Immediately Improve and Simplify Your Liquid Soap Projects, last week. Let me know if you want to check it out.


  2. Great tutorial!
    For this soap recipe you mentioned (70% olive, 20% coconut, 10% castor) do you have any suggestions on the amount of the distilled water i have to use to dilute soap paste? I dont want a concentrated soap neither watery of course...