Natural soap doesn't have to contain animal fats or animal products. This vegan soap recipe is filled with natural ingredients, like coconut milk, shea butter and calendula petals to create a nourishing handmade soap.
Making your own soap from scratch is a fun and rewarding experience. Best of all, you get to decide what goes into your soap and what doesn't. For this simple soap recipe I've chosen plant-based oils and additives to make wonderful gentle bar soaps.
How Soap is Made
In this post you will find detailed instructions on how to make cold process soap. This type of soapmaking involves the use of lye (sodium hydroxide/ caustic soda) which requires safe handling and storing. If you'd rather make soap without lye, check out my charcoal soap recipe using an already made for you melt and pour soap base.
Soap is the final product of the chemical reaction (the saponification process) that takes place when oils/fats get mixed with lye. One is acidic the other a alkaline. Lye molecules will latch onto fat molecules and turn them into soap. Lye is (unfortunately) a necessary ingredient in the soap-making process: without lye - no soap!
But...there's no lye in the finished soap
How can you make natural soap when there's a chemical like lye involved? There's no more lye present in the final product. The oils and the lye that were there before have now turned into something completely different - soap. And, as the soap bars cure the saponification process will continue and neutralize the lye. The finished bar of soap is gentle and safe to use.
My goal in this tutorial is to give you the necessary skills and knowledge to work with lye safely and with confidence. So that you can make vegan soap and know exactly what ingredients were used.
- Lye (sodium hydroxide): you can purchase it in the form of flakes or beads - both are fine to use. At your local store you might find it as a drain cleaner. Please follow safety precautions!
- Olive oil: one of the most common liquid oils to use in soap making. It is highly nourishing and makes for a mild creamy bar of soap. Soap that's made of 100% olive oil is called castile soap. To add more plant power to your soap you can infuse olive oil with herbs beforehand, like I've done in this lavender soap recipe.
- Coconut oil: adds bubble power and hardness. It's a very common oil to use since it's cheap and commonly available.
- Shea butter: adds moisturizing properties and hardness to a bar of soap. It can replace palm oil to some extend. Palm oil is commonly used by soap makers, but is a controversial ingredient due to the ecological impact of farming practices.
- Avocado oil: very nourishing and moisturizing
- Coconut milk powder: gives the soap a creamy feel and is a great replacement for goat milk in soap
- May chang essential oil: essential oils are a great way to scent homemade soap naturally and a great replacement for artificial fragrance oils. may chang (litsea cubeba) essential oil is bright and citrusy and will not fade in the finished product.
- Ground calendula petals: add slight exfoliation, healing properties and visual interest
- Coneflowers (optional): to decorate top
- See recipe card for exact quantities.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you will I earn a commission if you decide to click through and make a purchase.
Important: if you’re using any kitchen tools you CAN’T use them again for food prep. Whatever got in touch with lye, soap or essential oils has to become your designated soapy tool.
- Safety goggles and latex gloves
- Digital Kitchen Scale: It’s very important to have an accurate scale. You have to be able to measure your ingredients precisely otherwise you might end up with soap that has too much lye in it - not good.
- Silicone Mold: For this soap I'm using the crafter's choice loaf mold. A single cavity silicone mold like this one works great as well.
- Containers to measure and mix your lye: Thick plastic containers or stainless steel pitchers are good choices. Don't use aluminum since it will react with the lye. Glass is not great either since the water lye solution becomes very hot initially and glass may crack.
- Another container to mix and melt your oils: If you're melting oils on a stovetop use an old saucepan. For the microwave you'll need a heat resistant plastic
- Stick blender/ immersion blender: buy a very basic one, like this one. You can make soap without, but it will take hours of constant stirring.
- Silicone Spatula
- Small glass jar for measuring essential oils: perfect for this are clean empty food jars, you want to avoid plastic containers since essential oils can "eat" through plastic and seep out.
See recipe card for detailed equipment list.
Lye Safety Precautions
Caution: Lye is an alkali or caustic substance (with a high PH). It can burn your skin, damage your eyes or cause serious injury when ingested.
Here are the most important things to keep in mind when making lye soap:
- Soap in a well ventilated area (crack a window or turn on a ceiling fan)
- Don't soap around kids or pets
- ALWAYS wear gloves, googles and a long sleeve shirt for the entire time you're making soap
- Always pour your lye into your water. Never the other way around!
- When lye is first combined with a liquid, fumes are released that shouldn’t be inhaled (you might choose to wear a mask, hold your breath or turn your head to the side to breathe for that time)
- Keep in mind that the lye solution will initially become very hot
- Always keep lye solution out of reach of children and pets
How to Make Plant-Soap
- Prepare your work area: cover your work surface with old newspaper or freezer paper
- Gather all your equipment: gloves, goggles, containers or pots, freezer paper, Pringles can, tape, scale, stick blender, thermometer, oils, essential oil, lye, distilled water, spatula, plastic spoon, thick towel, cling wrap, small glass container
- Grind ¼ cup of calendula petals in coffee grinder / food processor (if using)
- Put on your gloves and goggles, make sure you’re wearing long sleeves
- Ensure that you’ll be undisturbed for the next 30 min
- Open a window
Prepare lye solution:
- Measure out lye into a small plastic container
2. In a bigger container measure out the distilled water
3. Slowly while constantly stirring pour the lye into the water. Never the other way around! There will be fumes while you’re doing this. As much as possible hold your breath, if you have to inhale turn your head to the side. Work swiftly and set your lye to the side when it is completely dissolved.
- In a small saucepan or microwave proof container measure out coconut oil and shea butter
2. Melt coconut oil and shea butter over low heat on the stovetop / double boiler or on short bursts in the microwave until fully liquid
3. Add olive and avocado oil
4. Let lye solution and oils come to room temperature (containers feel slightly warm to the touch)
5. Measure essential oil into a small glass container
6. Add essential oil to melted oils
7. Add coconut milk powder and blend it in using stick blender
1. Slowly pour the lye solution down the shaft of your stick blender. Gently tap your stick blender to further any air.
2. Carefully turn on stick blender on low, blend for 15 seconds and check consistency of your batter.
4. Once you see the soap batter leaving traces on top of the surface you’re done stick blending
5. Add calendula petals if using and mix well with spatula
6. Carefully pour the soap batter into the mold
7. Tap mold down on counter top a couple of times to release air bubbles.
8. Using a chop stick or plastic fork texture the top and add coneflower petals.
9. Wrap mold with heavy towel, making sure it doesn't smush top of soap
10. After 48 hours unmold by releasing sides first and then gently pushing from the bottom
11. Cut into bars and cure for 4-6 weeks making sure air can circulate around bars
12. Store in old shoebox away from sunlight and moisture
Vegan Soap Reicpe
A vegan cold process soap recipe made with plant-based oils, coconut milk, shea butter and essential oil. So creamy and nourishing!
- lye (sodium hydroxide): 4 oz / 115 g
- distilled water: 7.6 oz / 215 g
- coconut oil: 9 oz / 255 g
- olive oil: 8.7 oz / 247 g
- shea butter: 6.4 oz / 180 g
- avocado oil: 4.9 oz / 140 g
- litsea cubeba (may chang) essential oil: 1 oz / 28 g
- coconut milk powder: 2 Tbsp
- ground calendula petals: 2 Tbsp
- blue coneflowers: a handful
- gloves, goggles, long sleeves
- 2 medium sized containers (plastic or stainless steal)
- small plastic cup to measure lye
- small glass container to measure essential oil
- immersion blender (stick blender)
- accurate digital kitchen scale
- silicone loaf mold
- silicone spatula
- wooden skewer or plastic fork (optional, to texture top)
- coffee grinder or food processor (optional, using ground calendula)
- Prepare ground calendula (optional): grind ¼ cup of dried petals in a food processor/coffee grinder to fine powder
- Safety First: Put on your googles and gloves and make sure you're not soaping around children and/or pets. Keep your space ventilated or soap outdoors
- Mix Lye Solution: Slowly and carefully add the lye to water, gently stirring until fully dissolved, set aside
- Melt coconut oil and shea butter over low heat in a water bath
- Add olive oil and avocado oil to melted oil
- Add essential oil
- Add coconut milk powder milk
- Blend thoroughly using stick blender
- When lye solution and oils are about room temperature combine the two and stick blend until medium trace (thin pudding consistency) is achieved
- Pour soap batter into mold and tap it down a couple of times to release any air bubbles
- Texture top of soap using skewer or fork and decorate with blue coneflowers
- Insulate mold with heavy towel, make sure not to smush top
- Unmold after 48 hours and cut into bars
- Cure 4-5 weeks
- Store in old shoebox away from sunlight and humidity
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