How to Make Your Own Shampoo Bars (with recipe)

Three shampoo bars nestled in a cloth napkin

Learn how to make your own cold-process shampoo bars in this post, including an easy recipe. 

How to make shampoo bars 

I switched from commercial shampoo to shampoo bars about a year ago. 

And I've bought those shampoo bars online all this time. Which isn't a bad thing, but I can and I should make them myself since I know how!

Although I love the shampoo bars I've bought from Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company. They are absolutely luxurious and work so very well. 

(So if you're not ready to make your own shampoo bars, or want to try them out before you totally commit to using them or making them yourself, I recommend Chagrin Valley. I'm not connected to them in any way, I just love their products!)

Are you curious about how to use a shampoo bar?
Find out here!

I kept telling myself that I would make my own, but then my current bar would be nearly gone, and since homemade bars need to cure for several weeks before use, I'd just order another one. Or two.

What can I say. Sometimes I think my middle name should be Procrastination.

Why shampoo bars are so beneficial

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. 

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 tweaked one of my soap recipes to include the oils 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.

Any time you change a recipe, you must use a lye calculator so you'll know how much lye (sodium hydroxide) to use in your soap (shampoo) batch. Don't skip this step if you're changing a recipe or making up your own!

A white bowl with soapmaking oils on a digital scale.

Why I include castor oil in my shampoo bars

Each oil you use in handmade soap has its own properties and will lend those properties 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 that I use in my goat milk soap bars. 

My soap recipe uses seven different oils and butters, but 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.

Shampoo bar recipe

Soap ingredients are measured by weight, not by volume. A good scale is a must-have for making soap.

(In case you can't find these oils in your local store, here are affiliate links you may use.)

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 plain sunflower oil would be fine. (Here's how to infuse herbs in soapmaking oils.)

Calendula is known to bring out the highlights in blond and brown hair, repair damaged scalp, and prevent dandruff.

According to the lye calculator I needed to use 4.2 oz of sodium hydroxide (lye) and 9.9 oz of liquid. I'm using goat milk as the liquid, as I do with all of my soaps, but you can use the same amount of water instead if you wish.

A white bowl with a large spoonful of semi-solid coconut oil inside.

Shampoo bar recipes are a little different from soap recipes

Unlike my soap recipe, this shampoo bar recipe 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 an extra 24 hours before I cut it into bars. 

They were slow to harden up, but after the "extra" bars cured for a couple of months, I think these shampoo bars are awesome! They do need more time to cure than usual, but I'm thrilled with the results!

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Making shampoo bars

Of course, take all the usual safety precautions when you make soap of any kind. Lye can be a fearsome thing so you must respect it and do things correctly with no shortcuts.

  • wear rubber gloves, eye protection and a mask
  • 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. 

Here is a list of the basic equipment you'll need to make soap.

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.

Before you begin, line your soap mold with freezer paper so it will be easier to get your soap log out of the mold. 

Step One

Melt the solid oils. 

The only solid oil in this recipe is the coconut oil, and it warms up and liquefies quickly. 

You can either set the container of coconut oil in a basin of hot water, or microwave the coconut oil in short bursts of a few seconds each.

As soon as the coconut oil melts I add the liquid oils to it and stir, then set it aside. 

Combining the room temperature liquid oils with the heated coconut oil helps to keep the temperature of the combined oils down, which will help keep the goat milk from turning brown in the next step.

Frozen chunks of goat milk in a brown bowl

Step two

My goat milk is frozen before I make soap. I freeze it in an ice cube tray, then weigh the cubes to get the right amount of "liquid," which is actually frozen.

This helps to keep the lye from burning the sugar in the milk and making it smell horrendous as well as turning my soap and shampoo bars orange. 

I sprinkle the lye on top of the frozen milk in my plastic mixing bowl, and stir carefully to mix. 

Step three

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

A white bowl with liquid soapmaking oils inside.

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 dangerous.

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. 

How to tell you've reached "trace"

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 blender or spoon through the mixture and a line will remain in the raw soap batter, like in the image below.

A white ceramic pan and black spoon with soap batter, illustrating the concept of "trace."

There is a difference between "light trace" and "heavy trace." As you continue to stir, the soap batter gets thicker.

I prefer to pour my batter into the mold at a medium trace. The image above is thicker than medium trace, but not too thick to pour yet.

Pouring the batter into the mold

Carefully pour the soap batter into your mold.. 

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 the soap mold aside where it won't be disturbed - and be sure it's out of reach of children and pets, please! 

Let it set undisturbed 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.

As I said before, I found it better to allow my shampoo bars to rest in the mold for an extra day, and then I waited an additional day before cutting it into bars. 

It still felt a bit soft, but after curing it was just fine.

After that first batch, I thought I might tweak the recipe a bit to include more solid oils, but once this batch cured and hardened up, I thought it was a wonderful recipe! 

Remember, if you want to tweak the recipe to suit your own needs, you must use a lye calculator to know how much lye to add.

Soap mold with raw soap batter inside, ready to cure.

Now you can unmold, cut and cure your shampoo bars. For more information on soapmaking see my soapmaking series

For more do-it-yourself posts like this, subscribe to my weekly-ish newsletter The Acorn, and join me on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest. I'd love to see you there!

You might also enjoy:
Making Soap with Goat Milk, a series
How to Use a Shampoo Bar
The Dangers Lurking in Your Bathroom


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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