Try this easy beginner cold process soap recipe to get you started in soapmaking. This easy cold process soap recipe requires just three inexpensive soapmaking oils that can be sourced at most grocery stores. I also offer several substitutions that you can use for the main ingredient that won’t require you to recalculate the amount of lye needed.
The main ingredient in this beginner cold process soap recipe is palm oil. There is some controversy within the soapmaking community regarding the use of palm oil. Primarily in Southeast Asia they tear down the rain forest to create palm plantations. In addition to the environmental effects this has it also threatens endangered animals like orangutans and Sumatran tigers. Some soapmakers choose not to use palm oil at all because of this. Others choose to purchase only sustainable palm oil that is given oversight from state and third party environmental programs such as EcoSocial and the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil.
Because palm oil is so cheap, many commercial products are made using palm oil including soaps and stearic acid – a common ingredient in lotions. Shortening is also made with palm oil or a combination of palm oil and other oils.
Ultimately the decision to use or not use palm oil is a personal one. I used it in this cold process soap recipe as I have a lot of it still in my soapmaking arsenal. It also makes a great bar of soap almost solely on its own. It is rich in vitamin E oil and antioxidants and it yields a hard, creamy soap with a good lather.
Should you decide not to use palm oil or are unable to locate palm oil at your grocery store there are several substitutions you can make. Lard, which is pig tallow, is the closet substitution. It barely changes the outcome of the final soap. However, if you don’t use animal products the other option for this particular beginner cold process soap recipe does contain palm oil. All-Vegetable Crisco contains a combination of palm and soybean oils. It changes the final value of the fatty acid INS from 165 – the recommended range in a recipe is 136 to 165 – to 118. Substituting either lard or Crisco for the palm oil in your soap recipe will still yield a good basic soap and won’t require you to recalculate the amount of lye needed for the soap recipe. (Assuming no other changes are made.)
As I prefer a really conditioning bar of soap, especially in the winter, I superfatted this recipe at 10%. Typically you’ll want to superfat between 5% (to compensate for any minor errors in the ingredient weights) and 8%. The higher you superfat, typically the softer the soap as you are leaving a higher percentage of soapmaking oils unsaponified. This is not the case for this recipe however as palm oil creates a very hard bar. Although with less shelf stable oils it can also lead to the unsaponified oils going rancid.
If you’d like to learn more about making your own cold process soap recipes, Soap Calc provides some insight on this subject. Their lye calculator and recipe creator gives recommended ranges for a quality bar of soap including how hard it is, how cleansing, how conditioning, how bubbly, and creaminess as well as the level of iodine and INS. While these are guidelines that aren’t carved in stone rules. So you can feel free to experiment outside of these ranges once you get a handle on the soapmaking process.
You’ll also need to learn what properties each soapmaking oil has to create your cold process soap recipes along with the recommended usage rates. Typically you can google for these answers. You can also invest in soapmaking books such as The Soapmaker’s Companion, Soap Crafting, and Smart Soapmaking.
Here’s my beginner cold process soap recipe.
Easy Beginner Cold Process Soap Recipe
© Rebecca D. Dillon
6.6 oz. fluid oz. distilled water
2.6 oz. lye/sodium hydroxide
1 – 1.25 oz. fragrance oil, optional
Soap notes (in case you want to resize the batch):
Water as % of oils was set at 33%. I find higher than this and the soap tends to be too soft. Meaning it will take longer for the excess water to evaporate. This also means it is longer before you can cut the bars. Soap Calc offers a range for this when creating a recipe, however not all lye calculators do. The lye calculator at Brambleberry does not but I’ve found that it discounts the water for you.
Fragrance oil used at 1 oz. per pound. Typically fragrance oils should not be used at more than 6% of a cold process soap recipe however this can vary depending on the manufacturer. For this particular recipe I used Nature’s Garden Candles Fig Lychee fragrance oil. This particular fragrance oil contains 2% vanilla so the soap does darken as it cures to a toffee color. To me it smells like a sweet berries in cold process soap. I’ve found that everyone’s noses are different though.
10% super fat was used.
The oils were used at the following percentages: Palm oil=75%, Coconut oil=20% and Castor oil at 5%.
Where to get the goods:
You can find refined coconut oil and palm oil (or lard or tallow) with the cooking oils at most grocery stores. Castor oil is typically located in the pharmacy section of a grocery store with the laxative products. Lye, however can be trickier to find as meth production has made it harder to obtain.
I can no longer purchase lye at my grocery stores. Most hardware store still sell it however you may have to ask for it at the counter as some stores don’t leave it on the shelf anymore. Alternately you can also purchase lye online or from a local chemical supply store. (I happen to have a ChemSolv in my area so I buy there.) Chemical supply stores are much cheaper but they do have much larger quantities. I buy the pellets in a 55lb. bag as that’s the smallest size they offer. If you aren’t making a ton of soap yet stick to purchasing the smaller 2 lb. containers. Popular brands of food safe or 100% lye are Roebic Heavy Duty Crystal Drain Opener and Red Devil.
As Valentine’s Day is next month I used my Wilton silicone 6-cavity heart mold for this soap recipe. I see this particular mold at most every local craft store I’ve been to so if you have a craft store near you it’s likely you’ll be able to find it locally. This recipe yielded enough soap to create six heart shaped soaps with soap “icing” on top. You don’t have to use this mold however. You can use any mold of your choice.
To see if your mold will work for this size recipe or to resize the recipe you’ll want to calculate the volume of soap needed to fill the mold. About.com has a tutorial on how to do this. (Remember if you aren’t using a silicone mold then you’ll need to line your mold. This can be anything from a small cardboard box to a wooden mold. There’s more on how to line your mold in this blog post on how to make a wooden loaf mold.)
Need to resize this beginner cold process soap recipe? Learn how to do it easily here.
Begin by gathering all of your soapmaking equipment together. In addition to your soap mold you’ll also need a stainless steel pot – no aluminum! – a stick blender, a digital scale, and various containers and utensils. (Get more information on soapmaking equipment here.)
You’ll then need to follow my basic cold process soapmaking tutorial which goes a little more in depth than I will here and shows photographs of the steps. And don’t forget to take proper safety precautions and use gloves and goggles as you’re working with lye.
Begin by measuring out the distilled water in fluid ounces. (I actually used 100% coconut water in my recipe, however, it did accelerate trace. If you choose to mix the recipe up a bit and use coconut water you will need to chill it first. It’s also important to note that it turns bright orange when you add the lye.) Pour the water into a pitcher.
Next, use a digital scale to weigh out your lye. Be sure you have on all of your safety gear for this. Lye gets VERY hot, and chemical burns are never any fun. (Should you get lye on your skin flush thoroughly with water.) Place the container you’re using to measure the lye onto your scale, press tare to zero it out, then slowly pour the lye into your container until you reach the amount needed.
Now slowly pour the lye into the water, never the other way around as it could result in a not so pleasant volcano effect. Stir your lye into the water with a plastic or wooden spoon until it dissolves. Now set it aside to cool. (If you’re mixing the lye inside, keep it on the stove with the exhaust fan turned on and step away. Or allow it to cool outside to avoid the fumes.)
While the lye is cooling, you’ll want to weigh and melt your oils. Combine the soapmaking oils into your stainless steel pot and heat on the stove over medium heat. (Alternately you can also melt the oils separately in canning jars in a water bath.) Be sure to keep an eye on the oil as they can melt quickly. As soon as they have melted remove the pot from heat and allow to cool.
Once the lye-water and the soapmaking oils have cooled to between 95°F-100°F you’re ready to make soap.
Slowly pour the lye-water into the melted oils. Then, using your stick blender mix the lye-water and oils together. Once your soap reaches a light trace you can add a fragrance oil if desired. Mix well to combine to a medium trace the pour the soap into your prepared mold.
My soap actually was at a heavy trace when I put it into the molds so I spooned it in more than poured it in. If you want soaps like mine that have icing on top, allow the soap in the molds to reach a heavy trace so the “icing” won’t sink into the soap. You will have a little bit of leftover soap after filling all six of the heart mold cavities. Mix a small amount of mica into the remaining soap – I used a .01 oz. sample bag of coral oil locking mica shimmer from Wholesale Supplies Plus – then use a spatula or butter knife to spread the remaining soap onto the tops of all the hearts the same way you would real icing.
If desired you can also complete the look with a sprinkle of fine glitter on top of each heart after you’ve added the icing.
Now cover your mold – I used food service film to lightly cover my mold so it wouldn’t ruin the icing effect – and wait.
Approximately 24 hours later you can unmold your soaps. If you used a loaf mold go ahead and cut the loaf into individual soap bars. If you made heart soaps like me there’s nothing left to do. Simply allow your soaps to cure for 4-6 weeks before use then wrap and label as desired.