How to Make Soap at Home

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 06, 2023
4 min read

Making soap seems like an arcane, ancient craft that few people know how to do. But the secrets of how to make soap are more within reach than you may think. 

Many do-it-yourself projects aren’t worth the time, energy, or money that they demand. You only need a few affordable ingredients and a little time to make homemade soap, so there’s got to be a catch.

Is making soap easy? Regardless of how complex or simple your soap is, you need supplies to make homemade soap right. Once you have all the right supplies, all you need are two ingredients and a little bit of time. 

Soap making is challenging because it’s like baking. You need good quality ingredients, accurate measurements, controlled temperatures, and patience.

The two base ingredients for homemade soap are fat and a form of lye, a caustic chemical. You can add dyes, essential oils, texturizers, and other enhancements to this two-ingredient base.

An alternative to the fat and lye base is a glycerin soap base. Glycerin results from saponification, the chemical reaction between fat and lye that makes soap. 

Making homemade soap from scratch can give you flexibility in the type of fat you use. If you’re making soap for the first time, start with a glycerin soap base.

Fat and oil. If you’re making soap from scratch, you’ll need a type of fat or oil. There are many options, including:

You can use one type of fat or mix them together. Sticking with one type of fat will make it easier to figure out what you like in DIY soap.

Lye. Lye is a corrosive chemical that causes fat to turn into soap when combined with water. You can use two types of lye for soapmaking.

Sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) is used to make solid soaps. Potassium hydroxide is used for liquid or soft soaps. 

Homemade soap ingredients. There isn’t a one-size fits all recipe for DIY soap. Using more or less of one ingredient may produce a different texture of soap, so it’s up to personal preference. 

A baseline recipe to make around 9 ounces of soap is:

  • 8 ounces of fat
  • 1.1 ounces of lye
  • 3.4 ounces of distilled water

If you want to add fragrance, color, or other enhancements, don’t need much. One to two drops of fragrance or coloring are enough for 9 ounces of soap.

Despite the simplicity of making soap, you can’t make it in the coffee mug on your desk. There are several safety and soap making supplies you need before you get started. 

Safety supplies. Since lye is a caustic chemical, you’ll need to take safety precautions to prevent injury. If you’re working with lye, you’ll need:

  • Safety goggles or glasses
  • Rubber gloves
  • Cotton apron

Besides the protective gear, you’ll need to be in a well-ventilated space. Follow all the safety directions on the lye before starting.

If you’re using a glycerin soap base, you don’t need to worry about the dangers of lye.

Soap-making supplies. You can’t use aluminum or zinc supplies because they’ll react with the lye. You should use plastic, glass, or stainless steel supplies. To make soap at home, you’ll need:

  • Measuring cups and tablespoons
  • Heat-resistant glass bowls
  • Thermometer
  • Plastic molds
  • Method for heating water (microwave, hot plate, etc.)
  • Mixing spoon, stirrer, or hand mixer 

If you’re using a glycerin soap base, you’ll need the same materials. The differences will appear in the steps for making the soap.

Step 1. In a bowl, slowly stir the lye into cold distilled water. Keep stirring until all the solids are dissolved. The mixture will get warmer, so wait for it to cool to about 110°F. This reaction will create gasses that may be harmful if inhaled.

Step 2. In a separate bowl, slowly warm the fat to also be around 110°F.

Step 3. Once they are at the same temperature, pour the lye mixture into the fat mixture. Stir for 15 minutes or with a hand blender.

Step 4. Continue mixing and then let the mixture sit for a few minutes. Repeat this step until the mixture is creamy and thickened to a custard consistency. You can add in oils and fragrances at this point.

Step 5. Pour the soap mixture into molds and let it sit in a well-ventilated space for two to four days or until hardened. With rubber gloves, you can remove them from the mold and trim them into your desired shape.

Step 6. Let the soap sit at room temperature for two to three weeks. You shouldn’t use the soap or touch it with your bare hands in the meantime because the saponification isn’t done, and the lye may burn your skin

Glycerin soap base. If you’re using a glycerin soap base, slowly melt the glycerin in the microwave or on a hot plate. Once melted, mix in your enhancements and pour into the molds. 

Let the soap cool and harden for at least two hours. Once hardened, you can use it right away.

Besides being a fun DIY craft, soap making can change how you view your skin. 

Better for your skin. Saponification creates glycerin, a chemical that’s good for your skin and common in moisturizers. Moreover, topical glycerin has been found to be an effective treatment for psoriasis.

Most soaps you can buy in the store aren’t even true soaps according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards. Those soaps are synthetic, aren’t made with lye, and typically don’t have glycerin.

Customizable. When you make your own soap, you can adjust the consistency, texture, scents, colors, and more. You don’t have to settle for whatever you can find on the shelves or online. 

Soap making is a great, accessible DIY project with a sweet-smelling outcome. Grab your lye and fat and get started!