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how to make cold process soap for beginners

Beginner Cold Process Soap Recipe (How to Make Lye Soap)

January 17, 2015

Making lye soap for the first time may seem daunting and even expensive. However, it doesn’t have to be! This beginner cold process soap recipe is ideal for those who want to learn how to make soap for the first time. Explore my easy recipe for homemade soap in addition to information on where to buy soap making supplies and how to make substitutions.

how to make cold process soap for beginners

What Is Cold Process Soap?

Cold process soap making, also sometimes referred to as cold press soap or lye soap, is the process used to make true soap. True soap is defined by the ingredients used and the chemical process that turns those ingredients into real soap. To make cold process soap you need a fat and an alkali. The fats are generally carrier oils and body butters but may also include other ingredients with a fat content, such as milk. While the alkali necessary to make soap is lye. You can use either sodium hydroxide to make soap bars or potassium hydroxide to create liquid soap. You can find a full overview of this process and learn how to make cold process soap here.

Cold Process Soap Making

If you’ve like to make old fashioned lye soap like your grandmother or great grandmother used to make, then you’ve come to the right place! While the both the science and the recipes for making lye soap have evolved dramatically since soapmaking has risen in popularity as a cottage industry, it’s now easier than ever to get started. The availability of soap making supplies makes the process a lot easier than if you were getting started pre-internet.

My easy beginner cold process soap recipe is a great way to get you started making soap as a hobby or craft. This easy cold press soap recipe requires just three inexpensive soapmaking oils that can be sourced at most grocery stores. Or, you can also find these ingredients online. As not everyone has the same selection when shopping locally, I’m also providing ideas for several substitutions that you can use for the main ingredient. These substitutions won’t require you to recalculate the amount of lye needed in the recipe. Therefore, if you’re still trying to grasp the basics of recipe formulation, you don’t need to worry.

Using Palm Oil to Make Lye Soap

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, which is a common ingredient in most 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 to make lye soap is a personal one. I used palm oil 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 solely on its own. (So, if you haven’t tried it, I recommend it! Especially if you need an affordable recipe for making soap from scratch.)  Palm oil is rich in vitamin E oil and antioxidants that nourish and condition skin. In addition, lye soap made with palm oil yields a hard, creamy soap with a good lather. It’s in fact quite similar to many of the over-the-counter soap bars you may be accustomed to buying.

easy lye soap recipe

What Can I Substitute for Palm Oil When Making Soap?

Should you decide not to use palm oil to make soap for the first time, or if you are unable to locate palm oil at your grocery store, there are several substitutions you can make for palm oil in soap.

  • Lard: Lard, which is pig tallow, is the closet substitution for palm oil in cold press soap recipes. It barely changes the outcome of the final soap.
  • All Vegetable Crisco: If you don’t use animal products to make lye soap, the other substitution you can make for this specific beginner cold process soap recipe is all-Vegetable Crisco. This product, however, does contain a combination of palm and soybean oils. Therefore, it’s not a good swap if you want to avoid palm oil all together. By swapping Crisco for the palm oil in this lye soap recipe, you’ll find that it does change 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. It also  won’t require you to recalculate the amount of lye needed for this beginner lye soap recipe, assuming no other changes are made.)

Beginner Cold Process Soap

My beginner cold process soap recipe is an easy and affordable way to make lye soap using ingredients sourced from the grocery store. However, just because you’re making soap as a newbie, doesn’t mean you’re going to end up with a subpar soap. Basic cold press soap recipes can be just as amazing for skin as the more complex ones. A lot of the properties of soap depend on the ingredients you use as different fats, or soap making oils and butters, lend different properties to soap that contribute to hardness, lather, conditioning, etc. However, you can also customize a soap recipe by adjusting the amounts of these fats in relation to the amount of lye using in the recipe.

As I prefer a really conditioning bar of soap, especially in the winter, I superfatted by beginner lye soap recipe at 10%. Typically you want to superfat cold press soap between 5% — to compensate for any minor errors in the ingredient weights — and 8%. The higher you superfat, typically the softer the end soap will. This is because you are leaving a higher percentage of soapmaking oils unsaponified, or in their natural state. 

Fortunately, palm oil creates a very hard soap bar. So, you don’t have to worry about a soft soap with this recipe. Although, with less shelf stable oils soaps with a high amount of unsaponified oils can cause the oils in the soap to rancid over time, creating what is known as DOS or dreaded orange spots.

Cold Process Soap Making Resources

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. However, through my own experientation, I’ve realized that you should take these merely as guidelines for learning how to make soap from scratch. They aren’t rules that are carved in stone. You should feel free to experiment outside of these ranges once you get a handle on the soapmaking process.

As you start to create your own soap recipes, you’ll also need to learn what properties each soapmaking oil possesses. This will allow you to formulate 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.

If you’d like to learn more now, be sure to check out my post on how to make cold process soap. This informative guide delves deeper into the chemistry behind soap as well as the tools you’ll need to get started. It also covers step-by-step the process of how to make lye soap.

Once you’ve done some research and feel comfortable taking the plunge into this exciting new journey, you’ll find my beginning soap recipe below.

beginner cold process soap recipe

Beginner Cold Process Soap Recipe

© Rebecca D. Dillon

This easy cold process soap recipe is perfect for beginning soapmakers. Formulated with simple ingredients that can sourced locally, this grocery store soap recipe is ideal for anyone learning how to make lye soap at home for the first time.

Lye Soap Ingredients

These are the ingredients you will need to make a beginning soap recipe using the cold process soap making method:

Soap Making Fats

  • 15 oz. sustainable palm oil: Palm oil is used for the bulk of this recipe in part because it is inexpensive. However, this carrier oil also has multiple properties that make it ideal for soapmaking. Not only does it create a hard bar, but it also highly contributes to the lather and skin conditioning properties.
  • 4 oz. refined coconut oil (76° melt point): Coconut oil helps boost the the lather in soap. It’s generally considered a cleansing oil with some skin conditioning properties. This oil should be used in moderation when making soap, though. Using coconut oil at high percentages without a higher superfat can create a drying soap that strips skin of its oils. While you may also use unrefined coconut oil to make this beginner cold process soap recipe, refined generally costs less. As the natural fragrance of unrefined coconut oil won’t survive the saponification process when making lye soap, there’s no need to pay more.
  • 1 oz. castor oil: Castor oil is generally used to boost the bubbles in soap lather.

Lye-Water Solution

  • 6.6 oz. fluid oz. distilled water: You need water or another liquid to dissolve the lye so that it can mixed into the fats to make soap.
  • 2.6 oz. lye/sodium hydroxide: Lye serves as an alkali. When mixed with fats, it goes through the chemical process called saponification which turns the fats into soap.

Added At Trace

  • 1 – 1.25 oz. fragrance oil: While it’s not necessary to scent this beginner cold process soap recipe, you should definitely feel free to do so. If you’d like to add a fragrance, you will add a skin safe fragrance oil to the soap batter at trace. Be sure to check the maximum usage rate for the scent you choose, however, to ensure that it doesn’t exceed recommended usage guidelines.

Beginner Cold Process Soap Notes

Following are notes for this beginner cold process soap recipe. You can use this information to resize a cold process soap recipe. It can also be used to make adjustment to the percentage of water used as well as the superfat. You can learn how to resize a soap recipe here.

  • 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 to 33%.
  • The fragrance oil for my lye soap recipe for beginners was 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 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. If you have normal to oily skin, feel free to reduce this back down to 5%.
  • The soapmaking fat (or oils) were used at the following percentages in cold press soap recipe for beginners: Palm oil=75%, Coconut oil=20% and Castor oil at 5%.

beginner cold press soap recipe

Where to Buy Beginner Soap Supplies

If you’ve never made soap, it’s logical to assume that you may be unsure as to where to buy the supplies you need to make cold process soap. Fortunately, in today’s market we have a variety of options available to us.

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. You can also purchase the oils needed for this recipe at Mountain Rose Herbs. 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 beginner lye 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 silicone soap mold of your choice to recreate my beginner cold process soap recipe.

To see if your mold will work with my recipe as is, 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.)

If you need to resize this beginner cold process soap recipe, you can learn how to resize a lye soap recipe here.

How to Make Cold Process Soap for Beginners

Now that you’re committed to making lye soap for the first time, here is how to make cold process soap for beginners:

1. First 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.)

Follow my basic cold process soapmaking tutorial which goes a little more in depth than I do here.  And don’t forget to take proper safety precautions and use gloves and goggles as you’re working with lye.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.)

5. 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.

6. Once the lye-water and the soapmaking oils have cooled to between 95°F-100°F you’re ready to make soap.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Now cover your mold — I used food service film to lightly cover my mold so it wouldn’t ruin the icing effect — and wait.

Try this easy beginner cold process soap recipe to get you started in soapmaking. It contains just three inexpensive soapmaking oils that can be sourced at most grocery stores.

10. 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.

You can find more of my cold process soap recipes by following me on your favorite social media platforms. You can find Soap Deli News on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Or follow me on Pinterest.

13 Comments

  • Dann Reyes

    March 1, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Im having problem with the lye . i bought lye solution the ratio is 50% water 50% lye how many lye should i use and do i still need to put some water? Thanks!

    1. Rebecca D. Dillon

      March 1, 2015 at 12:39 pm

      I have never used liquid lye. I’ve only ever worked with the lye pellets. The weight would change in this case. Perhaps try a soapmaking group or forum for clarification on this one. I did find a lye calc that lets you enter the solution amount here.

  • Chris Kelly

    May 4, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    Can’t believe that you explained the reasons why not to use palm oil, then went on with that as the main ingredient. Will skip to another page that provides Alternatives to palm oil.

    1. Rebecca D. Dillon

      May 4, 2015 at 11:19 pm

      The decision on which ingredients to use are personal ones. If you choose not to use palm oil or are unable to source sustainable palm oil you can sub the palm oil with lard per the information provided prior to the recipe.

      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.)

      1. sonjia

        November 24, 2015 at 9:12 am

        Very nicely said. Really appreciate how diplomatically you addressed this issue! The information on this website is phenomenal! Thank you for taking time to share so someone like me and my daughter can benefit!

    2. Caroline

      June 24, 2015 at 2:24 am

      Sorry did anyone else see a soap box ?? Like Rebecca said it’s a personal choice and sustainable palm oil has a place. You might try looking in your food cupboard and check out what is prepared using it?? Thanks for very informative post with loads of useful links, well done.

      1. Cali

        July 23, 2015 at 9:33 am

        If we super fat to 10% will the product go rancid more quickly?

  • Fogler

    September 22, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Thank you for writing this page it was very helpful. But I still have some questions (yes I’ve done a search, but it’s not coming up for me – everyone’s searches will be different). How do we calculate, or figure out, or what is typical in regards to shrinkage?

    I ended up purchasing the soapmakers software so that I could keep my stuff organized. I have yet to use it to make a recipe because I learned on SoapCalc and for the same reasons you mentioned. Which kind of defeats the purpose of buying it. So today I wanted to add a recipe I use all the time so I could just resize and print it out w/out having to go online AND have it keep track of my stuff. Low and behold I was surprised to find that it used more lye than SoapCalc – Brambleberry’s lye calc does too – and none of them match in water or lye amounts. Thoughts or any help on how to understand this better would be greatly appreciated.Or if you’ve noticed one to be more accurate than another i would appreciate knowing that too!

    Lastly, you can also use tallow in place of palm oil and/or lard, which is amazing as it has a natural glycerin I don’t feel in the palm oil. My favorite bar is palm-free, and a mixture of lard/tallow. 🙂

    Thanks so much again for all your helpful posts!

    1. Rebecca D. Dillon

      September 22, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      Your lye amount likely differs because your superfat % isn’t the same as what was used for the original recipe. You have to enter this on both lye calcs. You’ll need to know what superfat % your recipe is to get the lye amounts to match what you’re using on your existing recipe. The water discount/amount will differ on soapcalc if not figured at the same % amount. In lye calc you have to enter the amount you’re using. Brambleberry figures what appears to be around 33% which is what I use/put in for most recipes and is what I use for most recipes on soapcalc. If you leave the water amount on the default for soapcalc (which is higher) then it’s likely to be a much softer bar – softer than it needs to be for most recipes – and will take longer for the excess water to evaporate. Hope this helps.

      1. Fogler

        September 23, 2015 at 8:03 am

        Thank you!

  • laura

    December 3, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Hi! Can unrefined coconut oil be used, or does it have to be refined?

    1. Rebecca D. Dillon

      December 3, 2015 at 9:57 pm

      Unrefined is fine, just keep in mind it’s possible it can change the scent of your final product slightly.

  • Teresa

    December 9, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Hi
    Thanks so much for all this information…I will be trying to make soap for the first time.
    I am wondering about making men’s shave soap. Could I use the same easy recipe and add bentonite clay?

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