Charcoal & Clay Facial Soap Recipe

Charcoal and Clay Facial Soap Recipe

I’ve been making my own soap for a long time, both by cold process and hot process in a crock pot. It can seem really intimidating to begin making your own soap, but everyone I know who actually tries it is amazed at how simple it is.

Hot vs. Cold Process Soap

As I explained before, both methods of soap making use water, lye and a combination of oils. The additional step of heating the mixture with hot process soap speeds the saponification process and results in a faster soap making process.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of soap. Hot process creates a faster soap, and cold process often creates a smoother soap, though I’ve found both work great on my skin.

A third option I’ve only experimented with slightly is using a melt and pour soap base (like this cocoa butter soap base or this goats milk soap base). This option does not require any Lye and is faster and easier for those who don’t want to deal with the chemistry of soap making. Essential oils, clays, salts and other natural ingredients can still be added with melt and pour soap, but I prefer to use the hot or cold process method so I can control the oil ratios in the soap.

Melt and pour soap can be a gateway into regular soap-making for those still a little hesitant to use Lye, but I’ve found that the most cost-effective and natural option is to start from scratch.

Is Lye Dangerous?

As I explained in my original soap recipe:

When Lye is used in soap-making, it is what is called a reagent, meaning it is used in a chemical reaction to create other substances. In soap making, a carefully measured water/lye mixture is blended with natural oils in a process called saponification. Lye is simply an agent used to create soap from oils and water.

There is no unreacted Lye remaining in properly made soap. If you’re considering making soap, definitely use extreme caution with unreacted lye and use a soap calculator to make sure you are using the correct ratio of water/lye/oils but don’t be afraid of this age old process.

Where to Find Lye: Some hardware stores carry Lye (sodium hydroxide) though many have stopped carrying it. I wasn’t able to find it at any of our four local hardware stores so I ordered this one online. If you have a local (not big brand) hardware store they might also be able to special order it for you.

I now feel safe using Lye for soap making, I just take precautions and don’t use it when my children or around. It is also very important to remember to add lye to the water and NOT water to the Lye (which can cause an explosion).

Clay and Charcoal?

Why add clay and charcoal to soap? When I first started experimenting with adding these to my soap recipes, I was a little unsure how they would turn out. After all, these are both great for face masks and whitening teeth, but wouldn’t they leave residue on skin?

I found that they absolutely do not leave a residue on skin, and that they are absolutely perfect for oily or acne prone skin since they are naturally anti-bacterial and toxin removing.

In fact, I made these as a body soap (and they can definitely be used that way) but I fell in love with them as a gentle facial soap that works incredibly well. I still use the oil cleansing method but for other times when I need to wash my face, I use this gentle cleansing soap.

I add activated charcoal powder and bentonite clay to this recipe. I’ve found that this also extends the life of the soap.

Calculating Percentages

I used SoapCalc.net to calculate the ratios for this soap, and I highly recommend it, especially if you are new to soap making. I wanted to use a mixture of coconut oil, olive oil and castor oil so I entered these into the soap calculator and got these percentages:

Charcoal Soap Recipe

With soap making, it is very important to measure the weight. I use a digital scale and measure by grams to be most precise. This ensures that there is no remaining Lye in the recipe and that the oils fully saponify. I also keep the following tools and supplies on hand for soap making:

Charcoal Soap Ingredients:

How to Make Charcoal Soap

  1. Make sure that your work area is clean, ventilated and that there are no children nearby. This is not a good recipe to let children help with since Lye is caustic until mixed with water and oils.
  2. Measure the oils in liquid form (by weight) and pour into the slow cooker. Turn on high just until oils heat up and then reduce to low heat. At this time, Add the clay and charcoal and use a stick blender to incorporate fully.
  3. While oils are heating, carefully measure the lye and water separately. TIP: This is the only thing I ever use disposable plastic cups for. They don’t weigh anything on the scale so they make measuring easy and I keep three separate cups labeled:
  4. Water, Lye and Oil to use for this purpose only. I reuse them each time so they aren’t wasted and I don’t worry about anyone drinking out of them since we don’t usually use these types of cups.
  5. Carefully take the cups with the water and the lye outside or to a well ventilated area. Pour the water into a quart size or larger glass jar. With gloves and eye protection, slowly add the lye to the water. DO NOT ADD THE WATER TO THE LYE (this is really important). Stir carefully with a metal spoon, making sure not to let the liquid come in contact with your body directly.
  6. As you stir, this will create a cloudy white mixture that gets really hot. Let this mixture set for about 10 minutes to cool. It should become clear and not cloudy when it has cooled.
  7. When the oils in the crockpot have heated (to about 120-130 degrees F), slowly pour in the water and lye mixture and stir.
  8. Quickly rinse the container used for the water and lye mixture out in the sink. I rinse well and then re-rinse with white vinegar to make sure all Lye has been neutralized.
  9. Use the metal or wooden spoon to stir the lye/water mixture into the oil mixture in the crockpot. Once it is evenly mixed, use the stick blender to blend for about 4-5 minutes or until it is opaque and starting to thicken.
  10. Cover and keep on low heat to thicken. I set a timer for 15 minutes and check it every 15 minutes until it is ready. It will start to boil and bubble on the sides first. After about 35-55 minutes (depending on crock pot) it will thicken enough that the entire surface is bubbly and the sides have collapsed in.
  11. At this point, turn the heat off and remove the crock. If you are going to use essential oils for scent, add them now. I added lavender and orange.
  12. Quickly and carefully spoon into molds. I’ve often heard of people using empty Pringles containers but haven’t tried it. I have used empty boxes lined with parchment paper.
  13. Cover the molds with parchment paper and set in a cool, dry place.
    After 24 hours, pop the soap out of the molds. It can be used right away, but I prefer to let it set for a few more days so that it lasts longer.

This soap will leave a little bit of residue in the bottom of the shower over time, but I’ve found that this is easy to clean with a quick microfiber wipe down each day.

Ever made your own soap? How did it go?

This facial soap recipe uses activated charcoal and bentonite clay with a base of coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil and essential oils.

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Reader Comments

  1. Since making this soap is too far above my head, I was wondering if I could purchase this from you. Thank you, Celina

    • Try the Fresh Face charcoal soap at Bombshellbath.com only $4 per bar!

  2. I will save this for my soap-making endeavors this year, Katie. I am still intimidated by the thought but you make it sound interesting and so worth it. Thank you very much for being generous with your knowledge.

    • I was nervous too but tried her crock pot soap recipe over Christmas and it turned out great! I’m so excited to keep trying these out and making soap for a small fraction of what it costs to buy it 🙂

    • There some great soap making videos online. Soap Queen offers a great toturial. That’s how I learned and u started my own line. Wants u make one batch you’re gonna wanna make more.

  3. Hi Katie! Thank you so much for being such an inspiration! I was wondering if you needed to add the essential oils in the calculations? Thank you!

      • Just a concern I have, soap needs to cure for 2-6 weeks in order to fully saponify the lye.. Why are you telling people you can use it right away?

        • This recipe is written as a hot process soap, and the heat speeds up this process. Cold process soaps do need this amount of time.

  4. Is there a way to make soap without the Lye? Being pregnant and having a toddler around me all the time makes me terrified I’ll get it wrong. Thanks! ????

    • I’d have someone else mix the lye and water for you, but without the lye, these will just be oils and clay.

    • Ashley, there is no soap without using lye in the process. What you can do is use an organic melt and pour base, which is essentially what Katie said, having someone else handling the lye for you, and is mentioned in her post as well. What you do in the “melt and pour” method is melt the soap base then add and mix to it any additive such as the charcoal, clay and essential oils, and pour into molds.

      Although you won’t come into contact with lye in this method, still you will be handling hot melted soap, so you will have to be careful.

      It is also quite hard to find a pure organic M&P base, so be meticulous with checking ingredients. Have fun!

      Katie, I really like this recipe, and did a CP batch with it. I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy it, thank you for sharing!

      • If I used a mix and pour base how much do I use to keep to this recipe?

  5. Hi Katie, I’m from Nigeria. I love the lesson. Could you put me through more natural soap recipes pls? I’m thinking of starting my own soap business in a little way. Thanks.

    • Check out soap queen

  6. I have been making soap for about 2 years now. My favorite hobby. I only use soap bases that I get at Hobby Lobby, Michaels, or on line. So easy and so much fun. Don’t forget to look for coupons. I have added tea, oatmeal, turmeric, coffee, charcoal, chai seeds, etc. My favorite is using Lemongrass essential oil in clear glycerin base with a bit of green mica powder for color then place a couple of fresh lemongrass circles on top for looks. I also use a little Vitamin E oil for added moisture and as a preservative. Don’t waste your money on molds. There are hundreds of food containers that work well…just clean them out well with distilled vinegar.

    • Hello , I’ ve been interested in making soap lately and just ordered a soap making book on amazon, just wondering what you met by getting your soap base at the stores you mentioned . What is a soap base ? Sorry , I’ m just learning about the art and science of making soap . Thanks , Joyce

      • Another name for soap bases is Melt and Pour. Ck out Bramble Berry.com and click onMelt and Pour soap bases. No mess no fuss. Except for the melting of the bases in the microwave, this is fun for kids too. I have made soaps that look like layered cakes, cup cakes, and the like but have now stayed with plain soaps filled with natural added ingredients. Pinterest and utube are great websites to get ideas. Learning what the different essential oils are good for is a must for soap making. Important for what type of skin one is cleaning.

      • In hobby lobby, go to the section where there is candle making and soap making supplies. You should see A soap section that will have molds, scents, colors, and additives for soaps. Among these, usually on a lower shelf, you will see rectangular plastic containers with indentations on the bottom of the containers. They are around the size of a sheet of paper but around 1.5 inches thick. The container has either clear (glycerin) or white (olive, coconut, or Shea) soap base in it. To use, you cut out the amount of soap base you desire, melt in microwave, then add the extra oils, petals, scents or clay. Pour in mold, cool to harden and use. These are melt and pour soaps. You can use them right away. Lye has already been added and the chemical reaction has been completed prior to them being packaged and sold. So there is no cooking (hot process) or waiting ( cold process).

        Warning…soap making is addicting. Enjoy

    • So, instead of the lye, do you use the same ratio of soap bases or “pourable” soap? I don’t want to get into using lye……..

      • A Melt and Pour soap base looks like a big square chunk of soap or it comes in a square tub. Melt it and add what you want. The lye is already in it.

  7. Good morning, Do I have to use LYE?? what would be the difference if I don’t?
    Please let me know
    Thank you!!

    • Yes. Lye is not dangerous when used in soap making (just use precautions when handling it.) Lye is what saponifies the oils and turns them into soap. Without it, this would not be soap, but a mix of oils and clay.

  8. I love making soap. This recipe sounds great! I’ve added bentonite clay to some facial soap, but not the charcoal. I’ll be adding this to my list. Thanks!

  9. So I’ve read the instructions a couple of times, since soap making is on my to-do list this year, and I’ve been wanting to try charcoal face soap. I think I’m missing at what point in the process the charcoal and clay go in? Do you put them in when the essential oils are added?

    • I put them in with the oils at the beginning. From the instructions: Measure the oils in liquid form (by weight) and pour into the slow cooker. Turn on high just until oils heat up and then reduce to low heat. At this time, Add the clay and charcoal and use a stick blender to incorporate fully.”

  10. What a great idea for additives to soap!
    I make and sell thousands of hot process soaps each year.
    I wanted to let you know to be careful what kind of metal spoon and utensils you use. NEVER use aluminum- it will react with lye! Always use stainless steel. Also another pointer for lye spills- just douse with water. The more water than lye dilutes it and takes its burning caustic effects away. Vinegar does not actually work well…don’t ask me how I know but the burns are bad. :/
    I quit making soap for fun since I make so much now for my business but I may just whip up a little batch and try this out! Thanks Katie!!!

  11. Is this soap specifically for oily skin prone to acne? I am looking for a face cleasener for dry skin that is also over sensitive. I also need something that will exfoliate since my skin tends to shed a lot. Thanks for any help you can give me.

    • It is gentle and balancing, but you may want to try to the oil cleansing method with a gentle exfoliating cloth if you have really dry skin.

  12. Is this recipe good for dry skin as well?

    Thanks!

    -Elle

  13. Man, I love your site! You’d already inspired me to make soap – as well as make other items and changes. I’ve had ingredients pre-Christmas, and this how-to is PERFECT timing. Thank you for helping to better my life!

  14. I had to chuckle at your typo:
    With soap making, it is very important to measure MY weight. !!! So funny! For a second, I wondered WHY you weighted yourself, then I realized the typo!
    LOVE your articles and recipes!

    • Lol. Fixing it… that is funny… the joys of being up with potty training kids and being tired the next day!

  15. Since I am a bit of a WellnessMama addict, I have tried just about every recipe you publish. My favourites are the body butters and soaps. I made different soaps this Christmas and gave them as gifts. If you wrap them in tissue with a hand-written label, they look beautiful.

    I made fresh ginger soap, rose petal soap with roses from my garden and a WONDERFUL tomato soap using frozen organic tomato puree (just tomatoes blended to liquid and frozen in cubes to counter the heat from the lye a little). I used basil essential oil and sprinkled Italian herbs on top before it set, cut into cubes and wrapped in burlap ribbon. Wow…the compliments!

    I only use the cold press method as the soap is much smoother and doesn’t crack when it’s dry. It’s also better with more delicate fragrances and textures.

    Take a chance and don’t be so timid. Soap making is easy and fun. You just have to respect the ingredients – just as you wouldn’t light a match around gasoline or drink toilet bowl cleaner (not that I would use harsh ones any more).

  16. When using fresh anything in your soap, you must remember to add preservatives such as Vitamin E oil etc. You need to research the list of preservatives. At the beginning of my soap making with fresh additives they turned colors that were not appealing such as lemon peel. Sometimes I heat fresh stuff in olive oil on the stove and let it sit for awhile.

  17. Hi Katie,
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, I think it’s great. I really want to try this recipe, but because I never made soap before I want to use melt and pour base, such as goat milk soap base. So the question is what proportions would be and can I add oils to this base?

    • I would only add essential oils (not heavier oils) and charcoal or clay.

  18. I wish you sold your homemade products.. One day I will try soap making I am a little scared…lol

  19. Hi Katie,

    I love your site and have learned so much from it. Thanks for all you do to help us help our families be healthier. I have a question about bentonite clay and don’t know if you have answered this somewhere already. Please direct me if you have. The local store where I have been buying bentonite clay is out so I was looking at the Redmond Clay that you have linked to on Amazon and saw that it has a health warning about small amounts of lead in it. This concerned me, I use it in our toothpaste and my two-year-old doesn’t spit yet but loves to swallow the tasty toothpaste. So I looked on Mountain Rose Herbs and their bentonite clay is to be used externally only. How do I find a bentonite clay that is safe to use internally in toothpaste? Thanks!

  20. I love soaping! However, until this recipe, I’ve stuck to cold process soapmaking. I wanted to try hot process but only last week did I find a thrift-store slow cooker! Your charcoal clay soap is easy. Now I have two loves…CP and HPsoaps.

  21. hello there,
    I am happy to add the tidbit of using liquid sodium lactate , or non iodized salt crystals to your lye liquid will also keep your soaps from melting too fast in the shower . The bubbles are smaller, denser and wash off cleanly. Salt bars are not scratchy, or harsh/drying to your skin.
    thanks

  22. Katie, will this soap work using the cold process method?

  23. I tried the hot process soaping method for the first time using your recipe. I’m pretty sure I overcooked it, but the soap is amazing (ugly, but it is effective on a troubled or oily complexion). I’m very unfamiliar with protocol, so (after the fact) I posted a picture of my funny looking soap along side your smooth, beautiful soap on my facebook page and my Mima’s Naturals facebook page. I urged others to follow the link I provided not only to your recipe but to encourage them to follow your blog. Hope they learn as much as I have here. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would make my own toothpaste..my own deodorant..body butters…household cleaners and more. You redirected me to other enthusiasts so your posts are excellent resources. Your thorough research before you post is greatly appreciated.

  24. Forgive this simple question since I’m new to all this, but do you have to worry about the clay or charcoal staining the tub or tile? -I’m guessing not since it’s a soap… -And do you have to worry at all about the clay and clogging the drain? Thanks!!

    • I haven’t had any trouble with either of those. I just use a microfiber to wipe out the shower every couple of days.

  25. I’m super excited to try this recipe! I just started making soap as a hobby; and, needless to say, I am addicited! I love Coal Face from Lush and I am hoping that this is a good alternative to it. Not only do I know each and every ingredient going in, it’s also more cost effective. I have the soap in the crock right now and plan on adding Birch Tar EO to it for some extra acne-fighting properties. Thanks so much for all the recipes and tips you post, they are helping me to live a healthier lifestyle, step by step.

  26. Hello,
    I have been looking for an Activated Charcoal recipe, however I wanted to add exfoliation to the soap, such as Black Sand. Would I have to recalculate the recipe or can I just add it to the existing recipe?

  27. Is it possible to pour the soap into a tube like you do with your lotion bars? Seems like it would keep it drier and last longer. But maybe it would get stuck and wouldn’t “advance”.

  28. I noticed the cleansing ratio kn your soap Calc was at 27. do you find this tend to be a soap that will dry out skin?

    • It hasn’t dried my skin out at all but I have more naturally oily skin so I’m not sure if it might be more drying on other skin types

  29. Hi,About making soap. I am trying to make my first batch soon. If I want to add more “add ins” at what stage can I add these type supplements: honey, liquid aloe vera, cinnamon, molasses? can this be added?, basil, lemon, matcha green tea, fresh pureed cucumber. I don’t know if some of these supplements lose their benefit when not using fresh or b/c of heating them up. Main question is when to add the above type supplements for what stage/part? If I find a recipe I like but want to adapt it, I don’t want to mess the soap up, and I don’t understand the science and “add in” rules for cool stuff to dad to soap….I imagine things ilke wet cucumber puree, oils, powers, so forth only have certain stages you should add. And any websites/blogs on soap making for problem skin/acne/roscesea (red skin)? Thanks so much! Cool soap, I will try your recipe.

  30. can I use this recipe and make it cold process or do I need to change the oil/lye amounts?

  31. Hello,

    I was wondering if you can make this in the “cold processed way” and if so, how would one go about it. I’ve recently watched a friend make her soap and she did it the cold processed way. I’m afraid i’d get stuck or something and not have anyone be able to help me out.

    Looking forward to making this. Thanks again for your time and recipe.

  32. Just wondering, around how much soap did this yield?

  33. My son is using charcoal and clay bar soap to help with his acne. He often forgets to wipe the shower down afterward and the soap is very difficult to clean off of the tile, glass, and fixtures once it hardens. What works well to remove these soaps when cleaning? Also, are there any liquid clay or charcoal soaps or soap recipes that you’ve seen? Liquid soaps tend not to be as difficult to remove than those that harden to a solid. Thanks so much for your sage advice!

    • The skincare company Origins makes a charcoal body wash, which many people also use as a face wash, you might like to check out!

  34. Hello, I thought that bentonite clay could not come in contact with metal…can someone help me with this? Thanks!

  35. Do you add the bentonite and charcoal to the oils dry? I have some bentonite from a home brew shop that says I must hydrate it first, and was also wondering if I should adjust my water/lye ratio at all for the dry clays?

    Thank you.

  36. I would like to make this for my sister but she is allergic to coconut. Any suggestions for a good replacement that will give the same consistency?

  37. Where can I get the activated charcoal? I can’t wait to make this!

  38. I wish if you took photos for the steps it would be easier to follow

  39. Katie, I used the link for the soap calculator and played a little with a recipe. Is there any place to add goat milk instead of water or do you just sub it in. I wondered if it would change the hardness/creaminess numbers. All my numbers were in range except for the hardness which exceeded the max 54 and was 57. Would subbing goat milk for water change that?

    • You should be able to change the calculator to add goat milk… since goat milk also contains some natural fats, it will change the composition some but you can sub it.

  40. We cold process all of our own soap. I am curious if anyone has tried this and can report on the texture of the soap…charcoal and clay sound abrasive to me, but perhaps with the oils it’s not?!

  41. I just wanted to say what a good this article is for teaching newcomers the the hobby of soap making, simply laid out and understandable.

  42. Woah! 15 minutes in the crock and mine is THICK! I’m taking it out now. This is my first cold process soap. Is 15 minutes normal?!?! I have made this recipe for cold process and it took FOREVER to cure so I’m trying it hot process.

    • It may depend on the heat of your crockpot, but it will be thicker than cold process.

  43. I just tried this soap! Very happy with the results. I want to make another batch soon…I was wondering if this can work as cold soap as well?

    • Yes. It will just of course take much longer to harden.

  44. I’ve been making cold process soap for a few months now. What fun! I plan to make this one tomorrow.
    Unrelated– I wanted to make a cylinder shaped soap to slice into circles. I used a PVC pipe with good results. But now I’m worried. Is my soap loaded with icky things? Thanks, Mama.

    • Depending on how hot the soap was when you poured it in, it shouldn’t be too bad. I’ve also heard the idea of using a small size paper oatmeal container and cutting it off when the soap is set.

  45. Hello, when making this bar of soap, do I need to add a superfat after the cook?

  46. I am making this right now and I haven’t seen the finished product yet, but while it is in the crockpot it seems very grainy and heavy on the charcoal/clay mix. I weighed every ingredient and only put one tablespoon each of clay and charcoal. Is this how it’s supposed to be? I hope it’s not a bust! I still plan to put it into the molds but I thought it would be more smooth!

  47. Hello Wellness Mama,

    Have read about the Jamacian Black Castor Oil.
    Am growing natural hair and i want to get one to be able to use for my natural but am finding it diificult to buy online. Can you please help me get one and so interested and eager to get one.
    Will be so much grateful should you help me.

    Thanks
    Eugenia

  48. Hey! I’m a soapmaker and am really excited about this recipe!! Thank you for sharing it! I have everything except the Castor Oil, can I use Apticot Kernal oil, Grape seed oil, Jojoba, or Sweet Almond INSTEAD of Castor for this recipe??? Thank you!!

      • So I made this recipe…I went ahead and picked up some castor oil to use and worked the recipe exactly as it is written, the soap never set up. So I remelted it in the crockpot (I make HP soap) and then reconfigured the lye solution as 1/3 of the portion (I researched and troubleshot reasons for soap not setting up) it made it harder after a couple of days, but super soft/falls apart and REALLY oily to the touch. Weird!! Still can’t figure out what happened. 1st time a batch went wrong

  49. While this soap sounds delightful, please take a look at your soap calc , this is way too cleansing! You should stay in the recommended parameters. I have been making soap for years and I usually keep my cleansing number about 14-15. Anymore than that is too harsh especially for older skin. Did you input a super fat percentage?

  50. Hi Mama 🙂 I made ur recipe 2 days ago and just cut the soap,it is a bit whitish on the surface (not powder but the color changed). I had to slice it to keep its dark black color. Why do u think that happened?

  51. Have you seen that your cleansing properties are outside the recommended levels???

  52. Can you replace the castor oil with olive oil? or will this change the effect of the soap and make it too rich for a face soap?
    Thanks so much :o)

    • You can, but I’d run it through the soap calculator to check the amounts.

  53. Sunglasses???!!!?? NO WAY. Safety goggles, not glasses, really are the best because lye can blind you if you get it in your eyes! Never have I seen anyone recommend sunglasses and I’ve been on many, many, many soap making sites. I love all the things you share, Katie, but this one is just wrong 🙂

  54. My scale only measures grams or .1 oz. Would rounding up or down to the nearest gram be permissible in this recipe?

  55. Hello! i just discovered your site and i am interested in soap making. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! I would like to ask, Is it safe to rinse out the container (in which the lye has been mixed with water) with water? and can this soap be made via the cold process as well? thank you!

    • It is safe to rinse out the container and this soap can be made with cold process as well 🙂

  56. If you want to make this using the cold process method, at what point would you add the charcoal and clay?

  57. I wanted to make soap for acne prone skin using the cold process method. Instead of using the oils suggested as it’s high in oleic acid (not acne prone skin friendly), I wanted to use grapeseed, and hemp oil. Would I need anything another oil or will these two be enough to ensure enough lather, moisture and saponification?

  58. Is there something I can substitute in this recipe for coconut oil. My son is allergic to it and even if my wife or I use the soap he will become irritated by it.