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How to Make REAL Soap

How to Make REAL Soap

Dear Annie,
I really want to make my own soap and was surprised not to find a formula from you online. Do you have one? –Sally M, MI

Dear Sally,
I’ve never put the soap formula I use online because it contains lye. Using or recommending a very poisonous ingredient such as lye in the home is against all of my principles! So why do I use it at home? Principally because lye doesn’t give off fumes that are neurotoxic to me or others– the dangers of lye are from contact–and to make soap.

So if you promise to follow the careful directions, I’m going to give this soap recipe here. My reason is because this recipe makes such awesome soap and because the article Melissa Breyer wrote about bar soap really sobered me. I hadn’t quite realized that much of the bar soap available was actually the detergent sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). I know enough to avoid disinfectant soap, and fragranced soap, but it isn’t easy to determine that a bar of soap isn’t really, well, a bar of soap. While I like to clean clothes and dishes with a detergent given my hard water (soap and hard water produce soap scum), I like to wash my hands with soap. Even the EPA says it kills germs as well as a disinfectant. Besides, this soap recipe makes the creamiest, softest, non-drying soap in the world. My family adores it. So here goes, my Basic Directions for Making Soap:

16 ounces cold water
6 ounces lye
16 ounces olive oil
8 ounces coconut oil
17½ ounces shortening

1. Put on protective glasses and gloves, and mix the water and lye in a large glass, stainless steel, or hard plastic container that holds up to 32 ounces. Once the lye and water are combined, the water gets very hot—more than 200 F.

2. Heat the oils and shortening over low heat in an enamel or stainless steel cooking pot (not aluminum) that will hold up to 1 ½ gallons. Heat the oil to 95 to 105F (this will take about 35 minutes).

3. Constantly check the temperatures of the lye and water mixture and the oil mixture. They should reach 95 to 105F at the same time. If necessary, cool the lye or oil by placing the container in a pan of cold water.

4. Add the lye to the oil, stirring constantly.

5. Once the soap starts to “trace” (dragging a spoon through it produces an indentation that remains for seconds)—anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour—add plant materials and/or essential oils.

6. Pour the soap into molds (I use rectangular Tupperware containers that are about 4 inches deep), place the tops on, and cover with blankets for 24 hours. Once the soap has hardened, it will pop out of the molds. Air-dry the soap on baking racks for 3 to 4 weeks.

Makes about 24 bars.

Note: Sometimes a white powder forms on the soap while it is drying. You can scrape this off. If the soap doesn’t harden, reheat the mixture to 140F, then stir while it cools. It should harden. Some soap batches don’t seem to saponify properly. For this problem let the soap dry for four weeks, then mold the mixture into soap balls. Wear gloves while molding the soap.

Read more: Beauty, Ask Annie, Hands & Feet, , ,

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.


+ add your own
2:20PM PST on Jan 16, 2012

Karen G asks about soap without lye. Yes, there are many sopanins. Especially in the lily family. Aspergillus is a good soaper. Soap root is obvious. Wiki or google this.
These sopanins are toxic, so apply caution and research. They have been used for thousands of years, they can be handled safely. Lye as well, be awake and cautious.

7:15AM PST on Dec 22, 2011


11:10AM PST on Dec 17, 2011

thanks, all very interesting to me!

1:30PM PDT on Oct 27, 2011


1:30PM PDT on Oct 27, 2011


5:09PM PST on Dec 10, 2010

Dear Annie: Thank you, thank you so very much for sharing the formula to make real soap. Here in México, we don't have so much regulations on chemicals in many products. We decided to make our own every day products, whenever possible. soap is one of them to make our shampoo, liquid hand soap, laundry soap, etc. God bless you and, I promise to be careful while handling the lye.

7:53AM PST on Nov 24, 2010

For color and variety, you can try adding cinnamon, paprika, tumeric, or cocoa powder. Start with 1/2 tsp, add it to the traced soap. Make sure to stir really well, otherwise you'll get clumps of color (not good).

8:26AM PDT on Apr 18, 2010


8:58PM PST on Feb 17, 2009

Lye is a necessary ingredient in soap, it binds with the fats and makes them "soap" no lye means you would have an oily mess that doesn't clean anything! Luckily, it really isn't bad, and you can make it with ashes, but the strength is unpredictable. I have been making my own lye soap for years and years. I will not use anything else. We shave with it, wash our hair with it, wash the dog and everything else with it!!! it is incredible, and good for our world! once you use it, I gurantee you will never use that horrible, drying chemical soap again!!!

8:52AM PST on Jan 20, 2009

Does anyone know how to make the lye from ashes? I thought I would try since I have a fireplace but I have never done it before.

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