How to Develop Your Own Soap Recipe

How to formulate your own soap recipe

I've been working on a recipe for shampoo bars. I've made a test batch, but I don't want to share the recipe until I know it's a good one. It needs to cure a bit before I use it.

So how does one develop a soap or shampoo recipe? The same way I cook!

I look at several recipes for a dish and sort of combine them, taking one thing from this one and something else from that one, fiddling with the amounts or even deleting something altogether. Or I use a standard recipe but substitute what I have on hand for things I don't have. If you're flexible like that too, good for you! It's a great trait to have. (By the way, changing a baking recipe is too tricky for me, I stick to the recipe when I'm baking.)

But if you need a recipe to follow to the letter - whether you're making soup or soap - stay tuned. I share what I come up with quite regularly here. Hopefully you like the results just as much as I do.

So, let's dive into how I developed my favorite soap recipe, shall we?

Let's get the legal stuff out of the way first:

Lye is dangerous and must be handled properly. Please note that I am not responsible for accidents or damage; this post is for educational purposes only. 

This post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure here

My first attempt at making soap used a very basic three-oil recipe that someone had recommended. I do suggest that you start out by following a recipe exactly, since soapmaking can be tricky - and even dangerous - if you don't follow the rules.

Measure oils by weight, not by volume, using a digital scale.

You'll find a variety of three-oil soap recipes online, using slightly different percentages of each oil. This one works well:

9 oz. Crisco (or vegetable shortening)
6 oz. olive oil
6 oz. coconut oil
6.93 oz. water
2.94 oz. lye (I usually use a 5% superfat)
Most three-oil soap recipes use palm oil, which I've never used. Vegetable shortening can be used instead of palm oil; they have similar properties so I substitute shortening for palm oil. This is a good recipe to start out with.

The recipe worked and made good soap, but I kept reading and learning. I added castor oil to the next batch so that I'd have that luxurious soft lather it's famous for, and used less shortening. And of course used a lye calculator so I'd know how much lye to use with this "new" recipe.

Cold process handmade soap bars made with goat milk soap.

Next I read about linoleic acid and that it adds a silky feel to soap as well as being conditioning. I replaced a couple of ounces of the other oils with safflower oil, and again used a lye calculator. It changed the texture and feel of the bar of soap as well as how it lathered and cleaned. I liked the addition.

I've tweaked the recipe a bit since then, adding both lard and tallow, which make a harder bar and a nice stable lather as well as being easy for me to obtain. Since tallow and lard can both be substituted for palm oil in soapmaking, I use less shortening now. (Remember, I was using Crisco instead of palm oil.)

I've also changed from safflower oil to sunflower oil, which also has linoleic acid and the same properties as safflower oil but is less prone to going rancid on the shelf as safflower oil can.

We love the recipe I'm currently using for soap, and most people I've given it to as gifts love it too. No one has ever told me they don't like it, but maybe they're just being kind. The ones who do say they like it rave about how wonderful it is.

Why I keep notes on every single batch of soap I make - and you should too.

I've kept a record of every single batch of soap I've made, writing down all the details of what I did on a sheet of paper. Any change was documented, and I also wrote down my opinion of the soap after making it. Did it suds well? What was the lather like? What changed from my previous attempt? That's how I finally arrived at my current recipe.

I've made a printable soap batch sheet just like the one I use myself,
and I'll send to you for FREE.
Make as many copies as you need for your personal use.
Tell me where to send it in the form below.

I experimented with different recipes for variety but finally decided that I can change my soap by adding colors or different essential oils, or by using a liquid other than goat milk; I don't have to reinvent my recipe with every batch. 

Now I just print a copy of my recipe for each batch, then mark it all up with my notes and any changes. It's especially handy if I need to tweak a recipe.

For instance, my last batch of soap needed two ounces of castor oil, but I could only eke 1.6 ounces out of the nearly-empty bottle. I changed the amount on my batch sheet, and added the extra 0.4 ounces of lard that I used to make up the difference. The online lye calculator told me there was no change needed in the amount of lye, but if there had been I would have noted that on my batch sheet as well.

Want more information? You might enjoy the following resources from some of my favorite soapmaking websites:

I'll share that new shampoo bar recipe with you soon. Maybe even if it flops so we can all learn from my mistakes.

Have you tried making soap yet?


My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at:
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