Coconut oil is a superhero ingredient in your kitchen metropolis. What is coconut oil good for? Plenty! Sold in several forms, it’s used for cooking, in candies, within lotions and lip balms, and rubbed directly onto dry skin. You can also learn how to make coconut oil soap and harness its cleansing properties.
What is Coconut Oil Soap?
Soap, by definition, is a salt created when a fatty acid combines with alkali material. It provides lubrication and breaks water’s surface tension so dirt and oil can wash away. Coconut oil makes an amazing addition to soaping recipes and is excellent for from-scratch laundry detergent.
If you want to learn how to make organic soap at home, you first need organic coconut oil, distilled water, and lye. Though lye itself is made within a chemical factory, it’s recommended for soap making because the pH is constant and easy to calculate into a recipe. Using potash or wood ashes can be dangerous if a chemist hasn’t determined the exact alkalinity and the soap isn’t processed correctly. True organic soap, made from collected ashes, should be left to experienced soapmakers as it is an expert-level soap making technique. People just learning how to make homemade soap, easy or complex, are advised to use lye as alkali.
If you want to make soap without lye, you cannot make it from scratch. Instead you must purchase a melt and pour base or must grate down a pre-made bar of soap for rebatching. Both melt and pour and rebatching involve soap that has been made with lye, but since that step is already done, you will not come in contact with this potentially hazardous chemical.
Properties of Coconut Oil Soap
Because each oil adds different properties to soap, soapmakers often blend several oils to attain a good balance. A bar made from 100% coconut oil and the appropriate amount of lye is hard and snowy white. It lathers easily, even in salt water. It’s also very cleansing, which means it’s drying because it lifts oil and washes it away. Coconut oil hardens castile soap and helps it lather. It reaches “trace” sooner and adds to the final product’s shelf life. Because it’s so drying, it rarely comprises more than 30% of a recipe. It’s unadvised to use 100% coconut oil unless you’re learning how to make laundry soap or you factor in a high superfat percentage.
Each oil has its own saponification value: the number of milligrams of potassium needed to saponify (make into soap) one gram of oil. Because more soapmakers use lye (sodium hydroxide), good soap calculators allow you to choose NaOH (lye) or KOH (potassium hydroxide). A superfat value is the percentage of fat in a recipe above what is required for saponification. Since coconut oil soap at 0% superfat is best for lifting the oil in a load of laundry, body/facial soap needs a superfat as high as 20%.
Calculating Your Recipe
Always use a lye calculator each time you make soap, even if you attained the recipe from a seasoned soapmaker. Errors as simple as transposing one number can make your recipe dangerously lye-heavy. Plugging the numbers into a lye calculator only takes a few minutes.
First, identify your coconut oil. The most common oil is solid below 76 degrees while hydrogenated types are liquid above 92 degrees. A third type is “fractionated,” which is much more expensive. All three make excellent soap but each has a different saponification value. They also have different prices per volume.
Visit Soapcalc.net but don’t get intimidated. This soap making resource is very thorough but you only need to focus on a few values for a safe bar of soap. Select the type of alkali you’re using, NaOH (lye) or POH (potash.) Next, select the weight measurements you’ll be using. 38% is a good starting value for water. Choose your superfat: 0-5% for laundry detergent, about 20% for facial soap. Select the type of coconut oil you’ll use and how much. Click “calculate recipe” then “view or print recipe.”
A new popup window shows the correct amounts of oils, water, lye, and desired fragrance for your recipe. It also evaluates your recipe’s soap quality. Remember that high cleansing/low conditioning values mean your soap could be quite harsh. The table recommends ranges for good bars of soap. If your recipe doesn’t fulfill your needs, go back and alter quantities and superfat ratios. Remember that the best bars of soap combine several oils.
How to Make Coconut Oil Soap
Laundry soap at 0% superfat: 16oz (weight) 76-degree coconut oil; 6.08oz distilled water; 2.93oz sodium hydroxide
Facial soap at 20% superfat: 16oz 75-degree coconut oil; 6.08oz distilled water; 2.35oz sodium hydroxide
Salt soap: Use the same values for facial soap but add 16oz of fine-grind salt at trace. Use whichever salt you desire, as long as crystals are small enough to be gentle on skin.
*Always verify quantities with a lye calculator prior to starting each batch. Fully educate yourself on soapmaking procedures before you begin.
By hot processing, you reduce curing time. Soap is often ready to use within a day or two.
Measure oils then add to a crock pot set on low. In another container, measure water then add lye, stirring until all beads dissolve. After the oil melts, slowly add the lye solution. Use an immersion blender to agitate the mixture until it reaches “trace,” a stage resembling a light pudding. Cover the crock pot and cook on low for about an hour, depending on the individual appliance, until soap rises up on the sides and folds back into the center. Check the pot often. Once it reaches a texture similar to petroleum jelly, called the gel stage, allow it to cook a little then stir in color and fragrance. Carefully spoon or pour into a mold, remembering that hot process soap can harden quickly. Tap mold against the counter or run a plastic knife through it to remove air bubbles. Allow soap to harden but don’t wait too long; if you don’t cut it soon after it’s firmed up, it may be too hard to cut.
Though it’s a fussier method, cold process allows more time to customize your product. It’s the preferred method for professional soapmakers.
Before you begin, line molds with parchment paper or use silicon molds; trace may happen fast and you might not have a chance to do this later. Add lye to water. Allow it to cool to around 120 degrees while you prepare your oil. (Setting the pitcher in a sink of ice water helps cool it faster.) Within a stainless steel or ceramic pot set on medium-low, heat oil until melted and around 120 degrees. It’s important to raise the temperature high enough, though the oil may melt at 76 degrees, because warm oils can appear slushy and can reach a “false trace.” Carefully pour lye solution into the oil. Stir a little then agitate with an immersion blender until the mixture is the consistency of a thin pudding. Carefully mix in desired oils and colorings.
Pour soap into molds; do not leave mixture unattended because it hardens up fasts. Place soap in a warm place, such as an oven that has been warmed then turned off or in a sheltered room or cupboard with towels wrapped around molds to insulate. This helps the mixture reach the gel phase, where it resembles petroleum jelly. Check mixture several times within a few hours to ensure oil isn’t rising to the top (a sign of overheating) or you aren’t getting a partial gel (when the center looks like petroleum jelly but the sides are opaque because your soap is too cold.) If it overheats, remove insulation or move to a colder area. If it doesn’t gel fully, place in a warm oven or add insulation. Do not let pets or family members touch the soap until this process is complete because it is still dangerously alkaline.
Once it has gelled then turned solid and opaque, which takes 12-18 hours, unmold. If you’re cutting into bars, use a stainless steel knife or guitar string, placing the soap on newspaper or towels. Set bars or unmolded soap in a well-ventilated area until it cures. Though soap can be used within a few days after it saponifies, it will still be harsh and won’t last long in a shower. For mild and long-lasting soap, let it sit at least six weeks before using.
If you want to learn how to make soap with coconut oil without handling lye, rebatch a coconut bar made by someone else. Or rebatch ugly soap: recipes that have seized, discolored, or in which the oils have separated. Rebatching cannot fix a bad recipe because the balance of oils and alkali should be correct start to finish. But it fixes ugly bars and allows you to safely customize your own new bar. It also requires no safety gear other than protection from hot soap.
You can make a beautiful bar without learning how to make bar soap from scratch. Simply take an existing bar and grate it down. Place the shavings in a crock pot and add a little bit of liquid such as goat milk, coconut milk, green tea, or water. Add just enough liquid to melt the soap. Heat on low, stirring often to avoid burning. The melting process can take several hours and it never reaches a smooth consistency. Because it will still be thick and lumpy, stir in additives such as fragrances and herbs very well.
Line molds with waxed or parchment paper, or use silicon molds, for easy removal. Be careful not to burn yourself as you spoon the gloppy mess into molds. Press down well and tap molds against the counter to remove air bubbles. Allow to cool for a few hours. Once soap is fully set, carefully unmold. If the soap doesn’t immediately come out, place it in the freezer to shrink just enough to release from the molds.
Most colors, fragrances, or biodegradable ingredients such as oatmeal or herbs are added at “trace,” the point where the mixture of oils and lye thickens to a pudding-like texture. Once the soap has reached trace, add colors/fragrances and quickly stir them in before pouring soap into the mold.
The snowy color allows you to tint your soaps to a true hue. But since soap made from scratch is very alkaline until it completely saponifies, use colors that have made for cold process soap so they don’t “morph.” If you’re adding herbs or flower petals, which will turn brown due to the alkalinity, include them in a rebatch recipe instead of the original soaping pot. Read reviews on fragrance oils; some can cause seizing (sudden hardening), which is especially risky with coconut oil.
Soap that seizes or discolors is still safe to use. Save it for personal use and make another batch for gift giving.
Learning how to make coconut oil soap can be the simplest project within a vast world of soap-making possibilities. For laundry soap to body bars, it provides a satisfying product without much fuss.