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June 7, 2017

Shampoo Bars, My First Batch

My first attempt at making shampoo bars

I switched from commercial shampoo to shampoo bars about a year ago. And I bought those shampoo bars online all this time. Have you checked out the prices of shampoo bars? Wow, you'd think they were made of gold! (Washing your hair with a gold bar would be silly, but you know what I mean.)

I kept telling myself that I would make my own, but then my current bar would be nearly gone and I'd order another one.

I love shampoo bars for several reasons. First, I buy (and now I make) shampoo bars that don't contain sodium lauryl sulfate and other questionable ingredients. When you make your own, you can use oils and other ingredients that are beneficial to your hair type and color. You can give them any fragrance you desire, using essential oils and/or fragrance oils. Shampoo bars are so easy to take along on a trip (especially if you're traveling by air) because they are solid and spill-proof.

However, the time has come to get with the program and be a bit more frugal and self-sufficient here. I know how to make soap, and making shampoo bars is no different, although it uses ingredients in different proportions. And that brought up the problem of finding a recipe I wanted to try.

First, let's get the legal stuff out of the way:

These are the safety procedures I use.
Please note that I am not responsible for accidents;
this post is for educational purposes only.

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

I looked around online at several different recipes and came up with something that used what I had on hand (there are no exotic ingredients in my cupboard), and took into consideration what someone once told me: to use more castor oil in shampoo bars than you do in soap.

Soapmaking oils are measured by weight, not by volume.

Each oil you use in handmade soap has its own properties and lends them to your soap depending on how much of each one you use. Castor oil gives your soap those little foamy bubbles that are soft and silky. It makes your shampoo bars lather more luxuriously.

This recipe has twice the amount of castor oil as I use in my goat milk soap bars. And while my soap recipe uses seven different oils and butters, this shampoo bar recipe has only five ingredients. I'm sure I'll tweak it as time goes on, but this is a good starting point.

I measured the oils by weight, not by volume:

9 oz olive oil
9 oz coconut oil
5 oz sunflower oil
4 oz castor oil
3 oz sweet almond oil

I had some calendula-infused sunflower oil that I'd been saving to use in my shampoo bars, but regular sunflower oil would be fine. Calendula is known to bring out the highlights in blond and brown hair, repair damaged scalp, and prevent dandruff.

The lye calculator told me to use 4.2 oz of sodium hydroxide (lye) and 9.9 oz of liquid. I'm using goat milk, as usual.

Coconut oil is considered a "solid" oil even though it is semi-hard at room temperature.

Unlike my soap recipe, this has mostly liquid oils, with only the coconut oil being a solid at room temperature. That's very different from what I'm used to. When I took the soap out of the mold, it was quite soft as I'd feared it might be. I let it set for another 24 hours before I cut it into bars. As time has gone by they've hardened up pretty well.

I'm testing/using the first bar now and am pretty happy with the results, although I have several tweaks planned for my next batch, and I'll write about that soon. This is a good recipe to start with, so if you are wanting to make your own shampoo bars, this is worth trying out.

Of course, take all the usual safety precautions: wear rubber gloves, eye protection and a mask, and protect your clothing with an apron. Always add lye to the liquid (frozen goat milk, in this case), NEVER the other way around. Then add the lye and milk solution to the oils, and not the other way around. Lye can be a fearsome thing so you must respect it and do things correctly with no shortcuts.

Line your mold with freezer paper so it will be easier to get your soap log out of the mold.

And do not use aluminum bowls or pans when you make soap; lye reacts very badly to aluminum. I use plastic or glass only. All of my soapmaking utensils and tools are used for soap only, not for food preparation.

Step one:
Melt the solid oils. The only one in this recipe is the coconut oil, and it warms up and liquefies quickly. As soon as it melts I add the liquid oils and stir, then set it aside.

Sodium hydroxide is slowly sprinkled over frozen milk chunks.

Step two:
My goat milk is frozen before I make soap. This helps to keep the lye from burning the sugar in the milk and making it smell horrendous as well as turning it orange. I sprinkle the lye on top of the frozen milk in my plastic mixing bowl, and stir to mix. (Although I'm using goat milk as my liquid, I've also used coffee, tea, and filtered water.)

Step three:
When the frozen milk has thawed and the lye is mixed in, I slowly add the milk/lye mixture to the oils, stirring as I add.

The lye/liquid mixture is slowly mixed into the melted soapmaking oils.

Step four:
Now stir and stir and stir. Do this gently, so that you don't slosh that raw soap on anything like your skin. That would be bad.

Just keep stirring. I use a stick blender, alternating between mixing with the blender and stirring gently with the blender turned off. Immersion blenders aren't really made for continuous, long-term blending, so doing it in short bursts helps your blender last longer.

When the mixture reaches "trace" it's ready to pour into your mold. You'll know when you hit trace, the mixture becomes thicker and if you drizzle the batter over the mixing bowl it will leave a line on top instead of blending right back in. Or trail your blendor or spoon through the mixture and a line will remain in the raw soap batter.

Stir, stir, stir until the raw soap turns opaque and reaches "trace".

There is a difference between "light trace" and "heavy trace" too, as the soap gets thicker with more mixing. I prefer to pour at a medium trace. This photo is thicker than medium, but not too thick to pour yet.

Carefully pour the soap batter into your mold and give it a little thunk on the counter or table to dislodge any air bubbles inside. Not hard enough to spew the raw soap into the air, just one firm but gentle thunk. Then set it aside where it won't be disturbed - and out of reach of children and pets, please! Let it set for 24 hours or longer before removing the soap log from the mold. At that time you can cut it into bars or let it harden for another day before cutting.

Pour the raw soap into your mold slowly and carefully.

For more information on soapmaking, safety, unmolding and cutting soap into bars, please see my series on soapmaking. Part One is here. And next week I'll talk about how I plan to tweak this shampoo bar recipe and why I'll make those tweaks. I hope you'll tune in for that too!

You might also enjoy:
How to Develop Your Own Soap Recipe with free printable
Making Soap with Goat Milk, a series

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This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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  1. No way! Kathi--is there any cool thing you DON'T do? I LOVE these and totally wanna make some!

    1. LOL, Michelle! I guess it depends on what you think is "cool"!

  2. I cannot wait to try my hand at making these! I am so happy I saw this on the Homestead Blog Hop. I am so glad to have another use for my goat milk. :)

    1. Tracy, goat milk is so awesome for so many things, isn't it?

  3. I would love to make my own shampoo bar! That is one of the easiest swaps in the bathroom to minimize plastic waste. You make it look so easy...almost like I could do it! Ha! Thanks for sharing on the #wastelesswednesday blog hop.

    1. You CAN do it, Katy! It really isn't hard at all. The "hardest" part is getting the courage to use lye.

  4. I started using shampoo bars a little while ago. I lasted 6 weeks and then switched back to 'normal' shampoo. My hair just never looked properly clean.
    I've never thought about making my own perhaps this would work better for my hair as I can tailor it to exactly what I want. Great post and very informative :) #WasteLessWednesday

    1. You should give it a try, Gina. What's better than customizing your shampoo bar to your own hair, right? Everyone goes through an "adjustment period" when they switch and it can take several weeks. Six weeks sounds like plenty of time but if you want to try shampoo bars again, you might want to give it a few more weeks.

  5. Interesting. I've never even heard of shampoo bars before. How do you use a bar on your hair?

    1. Hi Julie. There are two ways to use a shampoo bar. You can either wet your hair and the bar and then rub the bar directly on your hair to lather. That's how I use it. The other method is to rub the bar on your hands to get a good lather, and then use that on your wet hair. Always use a vinegar/water rinse afterwards to restore your hair's natural pH - I've found this really makes a difference.

  6. I have been using shampoo bars for a few month now and love them. I am now torn between continuing to buy them from a good friend or trying to make my own! #Wastelesswednesday

  7. Hi Kathi,
    This sounds like a great way to save money and have a chemical free safe and healthy soap. Currently I have been using Dr Bronner soap for my hair and body. I have a lot of sensitivities and that seems to work for me without having any kind of reaction on my skin or scalp. Congratulations on being featured on #WasteLessWednesday & Homestead blog hop. Pinned & tweeted. Have a healthy, happy & blessed day.

  8. I am going to have to try this recipe. I'll have to look at your other posts on the topic. Not sure how I missed this one!

    1. Thanks, Danielle. Hope you find more good stuff in my other posts. :-)

  9. I make my bars with crock pot. I was under the impression it had to cook until the lye cooked out or it would burn your skin. Can you address this.

    1. Good question. Hot-process soapmaking (in a crockpot) cooks the lye out and the soap is ready to use right away (well, when it cools down and comes out of the mold, usually in 24-48 hours). Cold-process is what I do - it's the same process until you put yours in the crockpot, but that's when I pour mine into the mold. In the next 24 hours it will heat up in the mold and saponification happens, but then it needs to cure for 4-6 weeks before using. At the end of the curing time it's as safe to use as hot process soap. I personally prefer the texture of cold-process soap better as well as the appearance, but it's a personal thing - and hot-process soap is admittedly ready much sooner.

    2. And if you want to make those gorgeous swirled soaps, you have to use the cold process.


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