Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners

So here you are, you have finally decided to make your first soap! This recipe and tutorial has been prepared especially for you, and your first attempt with soap making.

When I first started learning how to make soap, I can’t tell you how long I spent searching the internet for a small batch, palm oil free soap recipe that I could try as a first test.

Guess what? I couldn’t find any. All I found was a YouTube video, which explained how to make a simple soap recipe with only olive oil and coconut oil. The only problem was that, even if the recipe was meant for beginners, it was not calibrated to make a small batch.

The result? I ended up with over 50 soaps for my first soap making attempt! Here they are...

First attempt at soap making | Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

 

Fortunately, the soaps turned out fine, but the event was quite stressful as I was so afraid of making a mistake. Had I done something wrong, I would have wasted almost 2kg of soap!

That's why I have created a super simple mini soap recipe that you can use to learn how to make soap one soap at a time, stress free!

How to Prepare for Making Your First Soap

Have you got all the necessary equipment to get started with soap making? Don't worry, there isn't really anything too complex or expensive to buy.

You probably have most of the tools in the picture below in your kitchen already! You might just need to pick up a mould and a scale.  

Tools & Equiptment

Getting read to handle lye, safely

This recipe involves handling lye (Sodium Hydroxide), a really caustic material. Just like driving a car, if you adopt the necessary safety measures, you’ll be just fine.

Please read my post here and follow the instructions very carefully if you have never made soap before or handled lye!

Learning to read a soap recipe

To create a well-balanced soap recipe you will need to use a combination of oils and butters in specific percentages. A lot of recipes out there are only given in grams/oz. Instead, all my recipes are given in both percentages and grams/oz.

Why? If you learn to work using percentages, you will also learn how to resize, tweak and change recipes according to your needs.

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Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners

 

  • Total grams/oz: 200 grams/7 oz
  • How many soaps does the recipe make? 2 soaps of about 5x7 cm depending on which mold you use
  • What mould should you use? To start off, you can buy any reusable silicone mould. For this recipe, I used this muffin mold and this heart shaped mold. Basically, any cookie/chocolate silicone moulds works well. Make sure you don't use a plastic/steel or any rigid mould. You need something flexible to get the soap out!
| Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

    Palm Oil Soap Ingredients

    Click here to download the printable recipe! Now, let's understand the ingredients and why we are adding them to our soap.

    The Lye Solution

    Together, water and sodium hydroxide form what we call a "lye solution". I always apply a lye discount to my recipe. This means, if a recipe calls for X amount of lye to saponify, I am use 5% less of this lye.

    Why?

    This way, a bit of oil is left behind which does not have any more lye to saponify. As a result, the soap will be milder and nourishing to the skin. This process is also called "superfatting".

    Understanding Water Discount

    I also always apply a "water discount" to my recipes. What does this mean? Simply put, I am using less water than the "most common" percentage used in soap making.

    Mixing the lye solution | Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

    This is usually 25% for the lye (which normally comes in sodium hydroxide solid flakes or pearls solid form) to dissolve itself. This will make the lye solution a bit more concentrated. However, it will also allow the soap to unmould and cure faster. Saving both time and water.

    Bear in mind that every bit of water in your soap will need to evaporate for the soap to become mild and usable (this happens during the curing period). Technically, there is no maximum amount of water you could use. The more water you use, the softer the will be soap and the longer it will need to cure. 

    Should I use Tap or Distilled/Deionised Water?

    One question I had at the beginning of my soap making journey was: can I use tap water to prepare the lye solution for my soap? The answer is yes, but bear in mind that tap water may contain impurities, which could affect the final result and performance of the soap. 

    All my soaps are made with distilled water, but if you are just starting out in your kitchen, it is absolutely fine to use tap water. As an alternative, you could use deionised water.

    Deionised water is not as pure as distilled water, but much cheaper. Unfortunately, water can only be found in plastic. The good thing is that once the plastic bottle is empty, it is super clean and very easy to recycle.

    What Type of Olive Oil Should I Use?

    I recommend using pure olive oil for soap making. This is because it's less prone to rancidity and more stable in soap making. However, you can totally use extra virgin olive oil too. 

    What Type of Coconut Oil Should I Use?

    Soap makers normally use refined, 76°coconut oil (this is the melting point in Fahrenheit which equals to 24° Celsius). The refined version has no scent, while the virgin, unrefined version carries a wonderful "bounty-like", tropical scent.

    Coconut Oil | Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

    The unrefined version is perfectly fine if you don't want your recipe to have a specific scent! Unrefined Virgin or extra virgin coconut oil is also more expensive, although easy to purchase at your local supermarket in a simple glass jar. Making it the perfect choice if you are making small batch soaps for yourself.

    Where do I get the Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)?

    Sodium hydroxide is sold in many hardware shops, but not all of grades are suitable for soap making. Make sure you buy this from a reliable soap supplier.

    Sodium Hydroxide cannot be shipped in any other material other than plastic, but one bottle will last you a very long time. Plus, since it's a dry material, the bottles are very easy to recycle.

    Sodium Hydroxide | Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

    If you are based in the UK: you can get pure grade lye from the Soap Kitchen which comes in mini beads, or from Just a Soap in flakes.

    Optional: 2 grams sodium lactate. This will make the soap harden quicker, look and feel smoother. Sodium lactate is a salt of natural lactic acid produced by fermentation from vegetable derived sugar.

    It makes the soap a bit harder, long lasting and more bubbly. This also comes in plastic but you only need a teeny tiny bit of it so it will last you a super long time. 

    Vegan Soap Recipe Instructions

    Step 1: Work Area Preparation

    First of all, prepare your work area. Having a tidy area to work is crucial in soap making. This is because you will be handling a lot of different ingredients and want to avoid spilling things (which is more likely to happen on a crowded table).

    Step 2: Weighing and Melting

    Next, weigh your olive oil and coconut oil in two separate stainless steel or glass containers. If you live in a cold area, your coconut oil will be solid so you will need to melt it on the stove before adding your olive oil.

    Simply place the coconut oil at medium heat and add the olive oil to it once fully melted. Mix thoroughly to ensure the two oils are well incorporated. 

    Step 3: Prepare your Lye Solution

    Make sure you are wearing your safety googles and gloves, and that you are doing this in a well ventilated area/next to an open window. Once the lye is added to the water, it will create a few fumes.

    So hold your breath while you are doing this. I usually hold my breath or wear a respirator/mask, stir and then leave the room for a few minutes. 

    Important! Always add the lye to the water, and never the opposite! If you add the water to the lye, the solution’s temperature will rise all at once and might erupt in a lye volcano. If you add the lye to the water instead, the reaction will be much lighter and the water will overheat gradually.

    Prepare lye solution| Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

    A good trick is to add ice to your water, or use very cold water to manage the reaction. I highly recommend you do this especially if it's your first attempt at soap making. 

    The lye solution is normally prepared in two steps:

    1. Weigh the water in a stainless steel, or Pyrex container, and set aside.

    2. Weigh the lye in a glass container. Once measured, add the lye to the water while stirring. Stir quickly or the lye will start to harden and create a "ring" at the bottom of your container. Be extremely careful, you don't want lye to splash out of your container while doing this.

    Step 4: Prepare any Additives

    While the lye solution is cooling down, it’s time to measure the rest of the additives.

    Other additives could be a clay to give your soap detoxifying properties, slip and colour. However, in this recipe we are not going to add any to keep it simple for our first time.

    The only thing you would need to measure at this stage are the essential oils. Why now and not earlier? Essential oils are quite expensive and also volatile.

    Essential Oils | | Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

    In this recipe we will use a small amount, if you let them sit for too long out in the open, the oils could start to evaporate. By measuring them half way through the process, while you are simply waiting, you can also avoid over-crowding your work table too early.

    Step 6: Mix the lye solution with the oils

    Your coconut oil on the stove is now completely melted. Add the olive oil to the sauce pan and mix to incorporate well.

    As soon as the oils and the lye water have reached around 110-100 degrees (37-43) and there is no more than 10 degrees difference between the two, it’s time to mix the lye solution with the oils.

    Slowly pour the lye solution into the saucepan with the oils. Pour it over the shaft of the stick blender to avoid any air bubbles from creating.

    If you see the lye water has some white bits on the surface don’t worry, it’s completely normal. This happens when the sodium hydroxide comes into contact with the air.

    If this happens, use a colander to catch these bits so they don’t pollute the soap batter. As soon as they lye is in contact with the oils, you will see that the oils will turn cloudy and thick.

    You are on the very first step of the saponification reaction: the lye is binding with the oils and turning it into soap! Stir with a spatula to incorporate the solution thoroughly.

    Then start stick blending first on low and then on a high speed (if your stick blender gives you the option). Stick blend for a few second until you have reached a very thin consistency, but the batter is smooth and has an even colour.

    Stick blending | Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

    When you raise the stick blender and let the soap batter drip onto the surface, it should leave a very faint “trace”. Trace is how you know the mix of oils and lye has turned into soap! Basically, the two have bound together well enough not to separate!

    At this stage, you can incorporate the essential oils! Mix well with a spatula, and then keep stick blending for a few more seconds until the soap has reached a slightly thicker consistency.

    Let the soap batter drip onto the surface and check if it leaves a thicker, pudding like trace. This is called “medium trace”, and tells you it’s time to pour the soap into the mould!

    Step 7: Pour the soap in the mold

    Make sure your mould is clean and ready to use. Give a final mix to the soap batter with your spatula and start pouring the soap into the mould.

    Make sure you are still wearing your gloves and keep your goggles on. Be careful, raw soap is still caustic and could irritate the skin if it touches it.

    This is because the soap reaction is still happening, the lye is still bonding with the soap and is not neutralised completely yet. It is not super dangerous like caustic soda anymore, but it can be irritating to the skin.

    If you get raw soap on your skin simply wash it well with cold water and apply a calming aloe vera cream, like this one, afterwards. You'll be fine. 

    If your mould is too flimsy, place it onto a wooden tray. You need to be able to lift and move it without it collapsing once it’s full of soap. 

    Pour into Mould | Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

    Tap the mould well to ensure that the soap is sitting evenly, you don’t end up with air bubbles or gaps. Leave the soap to "sleep" in the mould for at least 24 hours.

    Step 8: Unmould the soap

    After 24 hours have passed, you are ready to unmould your first soap! If the soap looks still slightly wet and sticky, leave it in the mould a little bit longer.

    Sometimes soap can set after 2-3 days in the mould. This will depend on which mould you are using. For example, a thicker silicon mould will allow less air to enter in the mould cavities and the soap may take longer to set.

    If you have not added any sodium lactate to the recipe, you may have to leave the soap in the mould for a bit longer too.

    Step 9: Let it Cure

    Now it's the hardest part. You need to wait for the soap to cure. Remember: any liquid that you put in your soap will need to evaporate. The reason why you put water in your soap is because otherwise the lye cannot dissolve itself.

    At this stage, there will still be part of the lye solution in the formula that still needs to evaporate. This is why we need to let the soap cure for 4-6 weeks. 

    I was always confused about the 4-6 weeks at the beginning. This timeframe really depends on how much water you put in your soap, and the environment's humidity in which the soap is curing.

    Curing soap | Simple Vegan, Palm Oil Free Soap Recipe for Beginners | Bottega Zero Waste

    For example if you live in a very humid area your soap might have to cure for longer. In general, your soap is fine to use after 4 weeks, but if you wait for 6 weeks it will be even milder. Yep, soap is pretty much like wine: the more it ages, the better it gets.  

    Step 10: Use it!

    Use it, love it and look after it! Make sure you use a dedicated soap dish like this reclaimed handmade wood dish. Try to keep it as dry as possible, and wash off any water that might get trapped in your soap dish. 

    Does soap have an expiry date? Of course. This is still a little block of oils and butters, saponified into a soap, so there is always the risk that these will go rancid. Although, this shouldn't happen if you have used fresh oils. 

    What will happen, is after roughly three months its colour will start fading, and it will also start losing its scent (if any). However, it will get milder and milder. Depending on the temperature and conditions for how the soap is kept, it will be fine for at least six months.

    I have gifted some soaps that I had made during the summer to friends and family for Christmas and they were the mildest soaps I had tried up until that point!

    Do you have any comments or questions? Comment below and I'd be happy to help you in your natural, vegan, palm oil free soap making journey!

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