How to Make Soap (With or Without Lye)

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How to make soap- with or without lye
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Growing up, it never occurred to me that it was possible to make soap at home. I was born in a big city, grew up in another and soap was always a white-colored bar from Ivory that came in a package.

Why Make Soap at Home?

I’d always been crafty, and when I found recipes for soap making in an old-time homemaking book, I was intrigued. At the same time, all those years ago, I was unsure about some of the ingredients that the recipes called for, especially tallow and lye.

In fact, despite my intrigue with homemade soap, it took me a few years to work up the courage to make it, so I just bought handmade soap from a local vendor in the meantime. When I finally attempted to make homemade soap for our family, I was amazed at how simple it was, and how much money it saved!

While the process seems overwhelming at first glance, it is very simple, especially after you’ve done it once. Also, in less than an hour, it is possible to make enough soap for our family for months and months, and I was able to make soap for less than half the cost of buying it, even with organic ingredients.

Types of Soap You Can Make at Home

In general, there are several ways to make soap at home (with endless variations of each). These are:

In this tutorial, I’ll cover traditional cold process soap making. I’ll start broad with the basics and share my favorite simple recipe at the bottom. Check out the links above for tutorials on other methods.

Can You Make Soap Without Lye?

Often, the biggest concern with soap-making is the lye, and this was one of my biggest concerns as well before I researched it.

Lye comes with its fair share of warnings and with good reason, but that doesn’t mean that the finished soap product is in any way dangerous. The most often asked question on my soap recipes (like my basic slowcooker soap or my charcoal bars) is “can I make soap without lye?” The short answer is no, but the long answer requires a little science…

What is Lye?

Chemically, lye is Sodium Hydroxide, a caustic alkali. It can eat holes in fabric and skin and cause severe reactions with other chemicals. For soap, the crystal form of pure Sodium Hydroxide is used (this is important!) and the lye must be added to water, not the other way around.

Sounds dangerous… right?

Not so fast.

After all, table salt is made up of sodium and chloride, both dangerous on their own but edible once combined.

You Can’t Make Soap Without Lye

Soap by definition is an alkali mixed with fats. When combined, a process called saponification happens, creating soap. This not only allows the liquid and oils to mix (they don’t do this naturally, as you might remember from grade school science class), but also creates the action by which soap has its cleansing properties.

In other words, without Lye, you just have a bucket of chunky, fatty oils floating in water.

The important part is to make sure that the correct amount of Lye is used for the particular soap you make (more on that below) as different oils and fats require different ratios of lye.

Don’t Want to Handle Lye?

If you don’t want to physically touch the lye but still want the experience of making soap, all is not lost. There are ways that you can make and customize your own soap without handling the lye by using a pre-made melt-and-pour soap that has been pre-saponified (in other words, the lye has already been handled).

It is not lye-free, but you won’t have to handle the lye yourself.

This is the brand of melt-and-pour soap that I’ve used before, and it worked really well. You can add scents with essential oils, or add other ingredients like clays, salts, or other add-ins if you want to create a personalized soap. Again, it isn’t lye-free and you haven’t technically “made” the soap but it is a way to have the experience without having to handle the lye (but it is also much less cost effective).

How To Create Your Own Soap (With Lye)

As I explained, though Lye can be dangerous on its own, there is no lye remaining in soap that has been properly made and no reason for concern when using lye appropriately and in the correct ratio for soap making.

If you are ready to tackle the simple process of soap making using lye, here are some good resources to get started:

Soap Making Supplies Needed

Before you begin, it is important to have both a recipe and the necessary ingredients. You can make a custom soap with almost any variety of oils and fats, and a good soap calculator (like this one) will help you know how much of each ingredient you’ll need. The bulk oils I keep on hand for soap making (and general cooking and use) are:

Once you have a recipe and the necessary oils/fats, you’ll also need to get some pure Lye to use in the saponification process. I had trouble finding it locally, but I was able to order pure lye specifically for soap making here.

Kitchen Tools for Soap Making

I also found these kitchen tools helpful and I keep a specific one of each just for soap making and not for kitchen use:

It is best to have separate kitchen tools for soap making and not to use regular kitchen tools.

How to Customize Your Soap

At this point, you can also decide on any add-ins for your soap to customize the color, scent or texture. In the past, I’ve used:

Basic Soap Recipe

Don’t want to create your own recipe and ready to jump in? Try this simple recipe to get started. Before you start, make sure you have the equipment and ingredients on hand, including a digital scale. This is not optional for making homemade soap!

This makes a 1 pound (454 gram) batch with 5% superfat and 33% water reduction.


  • 62 grams Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
  • 124 grams Distilled Water
  • 150 grams Refined Coconut Oil
  • 25 grams Shea Butter
  • 225 grams Olive Oil
  • 100 grams  Sunflower Oil

What to do:

  1. Get all all of your ingredients and weigh them out to correct amounts. It is important to do this before you begin as soap making is a time sensitive process and there isn’t time to stop and measure in between.
  2. Combine liquid oils: olive oil and sunflower oil and set aside in a small jar or bowl.
  3. Melt coconut oil and shea butter in a small pan on the stove until just melted and set aside.
  4. Now you’ll need to carefully make the lye solution. Make sure pets and small children are not in the room and always wear goggles and waterproof gloves. Measure and weigh each separately first. Never use hot water when mixing and never ever add water to the lye. Mix by adding lye to room temperature or cool water in a sturdy glass container. Again, never add water to the lye! This mixture will get very hot and release steam at first. Stir with a stainless steel spoon until the lye is completely dissolved.
  5. Now is when your digital thermometer comes in handy. you’ll want to mix the oils and the lye mixture when they both reach 105 degrees. There can be a slight difference but the lye solution should be under 110 degrees and within 10 degrees of the oils temperature.
  6. Once the lye is mixed, combine the liquid oils into the melted butters and solids and stir to combine. Check the temperature. You’re aiming for 105 and might need to heat them back up slightly if they’ve cooled. You’ll mostly be waiting for the lye to cool to 105 so you can begin mixing (called bringing the soap to trace).
  7. Slowly and carefully, pour the lye mixture into the oils.
  8. Use an immersion blender to blend the soap until it reaches trace. This means the oils have saponified. Keep blending until it is creamy and like pudding. If you want to add essential oils or any other ingredients, this is the time you’ll add them. I usually add about a teaspoon of a gentle essential oil like lavender. Work really quickly so the soap doesn’t harden too much in this stage.
  9. Quickly transfer into molds and tap a few times to release air bubbles. I like to use individual silicone bar molds because they are easier. This mold is the exact right size for this recipe.
  10. Insulate (or not). Insulating soap will lead to a darker and more transparent finished soap. Not insulating will result in a lighter and more opaque soap. I’ve insulated two ways: by carefully covering and wrapping in a towel, and my placing on a baking sheet and placing in a warm but cooled (110 degree) oven and leaving overnight.
  11. Wait two days and remove soap from the mold.
  12. Now for the patience… your soap needs to cure! It isn’t ready yet. Place on a flat and well ventilated area for 30 days. Turn it over a few times during this time period.

Other Soap Recipes

Want to mix it up? Try these recipes:

Ever made soap? What is your favorite variation?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


83 responses to “How to Make Soap (With or Without Lye)”

  1. Leah Avatar

    Hello, thank you for the article! Would I be able to replace the shea butter with goat milk in the lye soap recipe? Can I substitute some of the ingredients if I don’t have them and/or am not familiar with them (also referring to the lye soap recipe)? Thank you!

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      Soap recipes use very specific calculations in order to work a certain way so it’s not quite as easy to sub ingredients. If you’re not very familiar with soapmaking it’s usually best to stick to a recipe you like until you’re comfortable knowing how to change out ingredients. Shea butter is much thicker than goat milk and also more shelf stable so they wouldn’t work the same here.

  2. Sue Clark Avatar
    Sue Clark

    Could you add the US measurements, not just grams to this? Thanks very much

      1. Tabba Crae Avatar
        Tabba Crae

        Hello Katie and thanks for your informative website!

        Would you be so kind as to address some answers from previous posters, please?

        Most importantly:

        – How should exfoliants like coffee grinds, chi seeds and/or oats be addded to soaps so that they don’t all sink to the bottom of the bar?

        – How long can soap containing flowers or other added solids be kept?

        Many many many many MANY THANKS!!!

        Best regards,

        1. Katie Wells Avatar

          Exfoliants are best added when the mixture has cooled slightly and right before going into molds so there is less falling, but some is inevitable. As a general rule, soaps containing flowers and solids can keep for as long as the individual added ingredient can keep, as long as all are thoroughly dried first.

  3. Crystal Avatar

    Do you recommend a particular brand of soap base for beginners? I am not ready to mess with lye because of small children in the home. I would love to make healthier soap though.

    1. Wanda cap Avatar
      Wanda cap

      Hi there. You should DEFINITELY try Crafter’s Choice. They have detergent free soap bases, a great variety, and also they use in the making pal oil from sustainable resources, also have palm free base. Good luck!

  4. Louise Avatar

    Thanks for the recipes. In the basic soap recipe, it refers to jojoba oil in the directions but this isn’t listed in the ingredients. Does this not form part of the base? If not and is just for extra properties, how much jojoba oil can be added?

  5. Deborah Avatar

    Ive made homemade soaps before but I noticed they are not very lathering. How do I get my soap to lather more?

  6. Jessica Avatar

    How would you use goats milk in this recipe, when using goat’s milk should it be raw or pasteurized?

  7. Rhonda Avatar

    hi i found lots of fat in the freezer and what type has rubbed off, it is either chicken or beef but not sure.
    Is there any way to use it 4 soap?
    looking forward to some help thanks

  8. Carson Avatar

    I love making my own soap. It’s so relaxing, I think I started doing it after I read a blog post about it for the first time.

  9. Jessie E Brooks Avatar
    Jessie E Brooks

    I would humbly suggest that you change the material of the container for mixing your lye. Glass etches and pits with repeated use in mixing lye, even if you can’t see the pits or the weakened areas. You find out when you’re left holding the handle and your kitchen floor or counter is covered in lye water.
    Instead, use ANY plastic container with the recycling code of 2 or 5. These can withstand the heat and the chemical exposure of mixing lye. You can get these cheaply at a dollar store or just reuse those 1 kg containers of yogurt you can buy at your local grocery store (think plain yogurt).
    I’ve been making my own soap for over 4 yrs now and my favorite soaping site is, and its YouTube channel. If you start at the beginning of season 1, you might be put off by the low quality of her recordings, but stick to ’em! They get better and, regardless of the visual/audio quality, her info is first rate. No senseless banter, no political/sociological/environmental opinions offered. Just straight to the facts and soapy inspiration.
    Thanks for your VERY good post!

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