How to make your own soap

Raising the bar.

For a decade now, soap dishes up and down the land have stood empty and body washes and liquid cleansers have dominated our bathrooms. Childhood memories of desiccated pieces of coal-tar soap, together with a growing preference for showering, looked as if they had pulled the plug on soap sales, but soap is slipping back into fashion and it bears no resemblance to its forebears.

Handmade and beautifully packaged, these new soaps are made using a ‘cold process’ in which the glycerine base is retained. They’re bursting with lovely natural ingredients and essential oils, are free from artificial colours and some are even made with goat’s milk, which has an extra-soothing and calming effect on the skin.

‘Cold-process’ soaps are made using natural fats that, when combined with sodium hydroxide, bring about a chemical reaction called saponification—it sounds complicated, but soap making can be carried out in the kitchen with quite basic equipment. The actual process takes less than 15 minutes and the soaps are ready to use after a month.

If you fancy giving it a try, try our simple step-by-step guide.


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How to make your own soap

64g sodium hydroxide (also known as lye)
120g water (bottled, if in a hard-water area)
140g coconut oil (solid)
122g palm oil
198g olive oil
10ml nutrient oil (sunflower, apricot, almond, avocado and so on)
13ml fragrant essential oil

Wearing goggles and black rubber gloves, weigh out the lye into a clean glass container. Pour the sodium hydroxide into the water and stir until dissolved. Measure out solid oil and melt on low heat. Add any remaining liquid oil and set aside.

Check temperatures of both pans using a thermometer— you’re aiming for the lye and oil to be within a few degrees of each other. Pour lye into the oil pan. Stir carefully until the mixture resembles the consistency of thick custard.

Add nutrient oils and any additives such as herbs. Finally, add the fragrant essential oil to the mixture.

Pour soap into a mould and leave for 24 hours. Remove from the mould and leave to cure in a cool, dry environment for four weeks.

Recipe from the Little Soap Company.

Already got the soap-making bug? Why not refine your skills on one of these soap-making courses:

Quintessentially English, Lacock, Wiltshire
Soap making workshop, £270 (; 01249 730100)

Clovelly Soap Company, Clovelly, North Devon
Introduction to soap making and soap making for business. A one-on-one session is £100 for half a day and £200 for a full day (; 01237 431942)

Soapology, Mapperley, Nottinghamshire
Introduction to cold-process soap making, one-on-one session, £240 (; 07739 988483)
Cold-process soap making and business course, January 9, 2016, London, £105 per person (; 07944 899759)

Little Soap School
Introduction to cold-process soap making course, one-on-one, £275 (; 01386 853025)

Further reading:

The Natural & Handmade Soap Book: 20 delightful and delicate soap recipes for bath, kids and home by Sarah Harper (David & Charles, 2014)