Basics about soap making recipes for beginners

Basics about soap making recipes for beginners

Soap is a substance used with water for washing and cleaning, made of a compound of natural oils or fats with sodium hydroxide or another strong alkali (called also lye) , and typically having perfume and coloring added and are classified as salt in chemistry.

They are make in simple chemical reaction between strong alkali and fatty acids. If proportions of alkali and fatty acids are correct, there is no lye left in soaps and they are safe. If your soaps recipe has wrong proportions, you could make very irritated soaps (with hight pH). If you add to much oil soaps you will see oils separation from soaps. Lye reaction with oil called saponification.

Best source that many soap makers use as soap calculator is first you have to find to make your recipe. 

How to start? 

1. Choose what kind of soap you would like to make - liquid or bar soaps. For liquid soaps you have to choose potassium hydroxide (KOH flakes) and for bar soaps sodium hydroxide (NaOH granules) as your lye. Amount of lye necessary for each recipe will be calculated by calculator and should be strictly respected to insure complete reaction without lye left in soap bar. It means all oil should be saponified with lye.

2. Choose the oil you wish to use and check the soap quality range  to achieve for better result according to your expectations.

Why you should use different oils for your soaps?

Each oil contain different fatty acids and they are giving certain properties of your soaps. What kind of soap you would prefer? What qualities you would like to achieve for your soaps? Some oils will give more mousse and bubbles, some will increase slippery, some will be more suitable for cleansing, some will increase hardness of soap bar, some will insure soap transparency etc...

If you use just one oil you never can get soap with full range of qualities. For example by adding coconut oil to the recipe, you give the bar more cleansing properties. Coconut oil can react with more amount of lye than other oils. Castor oil is great for liquid soaps, single castor oil will NOT form hard soap bar. Castor oil soap can be extremely thick, sticky and slimy consistency. Be careful also with Jojoba oil, it also can became out very soft, I consider it fits better for liquid soaps. Avocado oil could be added in tiny quantities, because of sticky slimy consistence as result for final product. Liquid oils will react with lye slower than hard oils or butters, Exception is lard, it also takes more time to saponify, but is a one of the best and very old tradition laundry soaps ingredient. 

Different fatty acids and it properties in soaps

To understand these different oil properties, I started to look at  fatty acid range in soap calculator. There is 8 main fatty acids which is used as quality indicators in recipe. Each of them has recommended range to end up with best result.

Name of Fatty acid                        Type                     Fatty acids in oils         Soap properties

Lauric (15 %)


coconut oilpalm kernel oil, laurel oil, almost half consist from lauric acid, that form laurates in your soaps


Myristic (4 -7 %)


Nutmeg butter (75% of myristic acid) , palm kernel oilcoconut oilbutter fat, and forms myristates in soaps


Palmitic (10-20%) 


Major component of palm oil, naturally present also in butter, milk, cocoa butter, soybean oil, and sunflower oil and forms palmitates in soaps


Stearic (3-8%)


Fats and oils rich in stearic acid they are more abundant in animal fats, but exception is vegetal oils in form of cocoa buttershea butter, they forms stearates in the soaps


Ricinoleic (11-16%)


About 90% of the ricinoleic acid content is in castor oil and forms ricinoleate in soaps.


Oleic (30-34%)


olive oil which is mostly composed of oleic acid. You also can use  pecan oilcanola oil, peanut oil,macadamia oilsunflower oilgrape seed oil, sea buckthorn oil, and sesame oilpoppyseed oil. It is abundantly present in many animal fats like a lard.


Linoleic ( 7-14%)


flax seeds, hemp seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seedssafflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oils etc.


Linolenic (0,2-0,5%)


Mixture α-Linolenic acid, an omega-3 and  γ-Linolenic acid, an omega-6, found in chia, flaxseed, hemp, nuts (walnuts), and many common vegetable oils and they forms Linolenate in soap. Use in very small quantities to give slippy soap feeling, to  mush can cause slightly greasy and sticky.



Fatty acid range is based on soap makers community research. See more here. Each oil could contain different fatty acids, which can contribute in total value of your fatty acids %, so take your time and read more about each of the oils you use for soap making.

Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids

Saturated fatty acids, it means fatty acid chains have all or predominantly single bonds. A fat is made of two kinds of smaller molecules: glycerol and fatty acids. Fats are made of long chains of carbon (C) atoms. Unsaturated fatty acids has at least one double bond within the fatty acid chain. A fatty acid chain is monounsaturated if it contains one double bond, and polyunsaturated if it contains more than one double bond and hydrogen atoms are subtracted from the unsaturated fatty acid carbon chain.

Soap quality range and how to read it.

There is also some interaction between these soap properties. 

in this example recipe you can see how to read recipe without making the soaps. Recipe value 45 for hardness is not bad, it fits good in range. Cleansing is quite high (coconut oil are good for it), Conditioning - Hydration is also in the middle range. Please note that bubble and cream properties has some correlation the same corelation is observed with conditioning - hydratation property and Iodine value. Nice balance between bubbles and creamy feeling. Iodine value is in range, so it just confirms Hardness of soaps are acceptable. INS value also fits in range. I could say this is good start as base, Now i can add some specific additives in form of water, powder, color, perfume etc.

You can add huge range of additives in your soaps, calculate water discount and change % of super fats in your soaps. But it will be my next article coming very soon.

Let's start with simple ingredients recipe for soap beginners, it works perfect. I call them CocoLive soaps:

Recipe is not ideal, because it contains only 3 oils, but soaps has very good for laundry and at the same time they are quite hard, with very good cleaning properties and they have nice bubbles and creamy feeling. See photo below. I prefer this soap calculator, I had tried others too, but this one is more advanced, some specific oils are not included in list, but I can suggest to start with more common oils before enter deeper in soap realm.

I made CocoLive soaps in hot process and here is result. Please note it is home made product and each time could look a little bit different. 

What is a difference between hot and cold soap making process, benefits from these two techniques also should be considered in soap making. I will try to explain and give some practical tips and tricks in my coming posts.


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