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Tutorial: Defying the Rules of Soapmaking (100% Coconut Oil Soap)

Breaking the Rules of Soapmaking with Coconut Oil SoapThere are a lot of “rules” of soap making that get spread around like wildfire, and for the most part, they are true…

But not always! 100% coconut oil soap defies not one, not two, but THREE of the soapmaking rules I’ve heard from other soap makers in the past:

  1. Single oil soaps do not perform as well as synergistic formulas with multiple oils.
  2. Using over 30-40% coconut oil in a soap recipe is too drying for the skin.
  3. Superfatting above 10% will leave too many free oils and cause the soap to spoil or develop DOS.

What’s the magic soap recipe?

I hit the workshop to make a 100% coconut oil soap with a 20% superfat, an amazingly luxurious formula that is one of my all time favorites. Plus, I power-packed it with goodies, too, like coconut flour and aloe vera juice, and pulled out a mantra swirl with an embed.

Coconut oil has great shelf life and stability, so it’s the perfect oil for extreme superfatting. This coconut oil soap formula results in a rock hard bar, with luscious lather, without drying the skin out. Ready to give it a shot? Let’s do this thing.

Ingredients & Formula:

Get Down to Business:

This tutorial assumes you are an experienced soap maker. A list of personal tools is at the bottom of the post for reference with links to the sources used for this particular batch. Clicking on each thumbnail will open the image in a new window at full size.

  • Mold with Cardboard DividerPrepare your mold by lining it, if necessary. Cut out a piece of cardboard that fits length and height-wise into your mold snugly. Place the piece of cardboard down the center of the mold to divide the mold in half lengthwise.
  • Aloe and Lye Solution for Coconut Oil SoapPrepare your lye solution by slowly pouring the sodium hydroxide into the chilled aloe vera juice, stirring until the lye has dissolved. The aloe vera will turn a mustard yellow color, like pictured to the right. Allow to cool.
  • Heated Coconut Oil Waiting for the Lye SolutionHeat your coconut oil to about 120° to 130° F. You want to soap this formula hot (I usually soap at room temperature), soaping coconut oil at too low of a temperature will increase your chances of false trace. I add my fragrance to my oils before my lye solution so I don’t forget it later on.
  • Prepare two containers with mica for coloring the soap halves. I use 1 tsp of mica and 1 tsp of coconut flour per container, with 2 tsp of base oils for each container from my main soaping pot. Using a frother, I thoroughly mix the mica and coconut flour with the oils.
  • Add the Lye Solution to your Coconut OilCombine half of your lye solution with your coconut oil, and stick blend thoroughly. Add the remaining half of your lye solution, and stick blend only until emulsified. I always refrain from over-mixing – bringing your soap to an emulsion first, and then adding anything extra allows you more time to focus on what is happening with the soap.
  • Thoroughly Mix Each ContainerSplit the batch of coconut oil soap between your two containers and thoroughly mix with a spatula. If you are still at a barely emulsified or very light trace, bring the coconut oil soap in each container to a medium trace using your stick blender. A medium trace is my favorite pour viscosity for a mantra.
  • Pouring Coconut Oil Soap into the MoldWhen your mica and coconut flour are thoroughly mixed into each part, begin your pour. I pour both halves at the same time so that there is equal force and weight on each side of the cardboard divider. You can also use two more pieces of cardboard on the ends of your mold with notches cutout to hold the divider in place.
  • Remove the Cardboard DividerOnce both halves are poured, carefully and slowly pull your cardboard divider straight up out of the mold. If you are embedding soap balls, use a bamboo skewer to push them down into the soap. Or place them mid-way through pouring.
  • Mantra Swirl in Coconut Oil SoapUsing a bamboo skewer (or chopstick, or your personal weapon of choice!), swirl the mantra. Pushing the skewer down into the mold all the way to the bottom will swirl both sides of your soap. If you only put the end of the skewer into the soap, you can swirl just the top, leaving a crisp line between the two halves in the bars.
  • Coconut Oil Soap Lathered UpPut the pretty soap to sleep. I do not insulate coconut oil soap, but you can if you want to (same with CPOPing.) Unmold the coconut oil soap and cut within 6 to 12 hours. It sets up real hard, and real quick! You’ll want to clean up the bars of coconut oil soap straight out of the mold, such as beveling or planing – this soap will be a brick in 24 hours flat. The lather is really creamy and luscious straight out of the mold, and just gets better and better as it ages.

My Tools:

I often get asked what equipment, molds, or tools I’m using for a particular soap when I share what I’m making. So here we go, a list of stuff I used this time and where I bought it:

Brambleberry Goodie BoxA little note about disclosure:

The aloe vera juice I used for this coconut oil soap was gifted to me by Brambleberry after featuring my Rainbow Tiger Stripe on the Soap Queen blog.

(Everything else I purchased myself. I was not compensated in any way for sharing!)

I also received a few other goodies from BB and will be putting them to work soon!

Thank  you again to the BB team for featuring my soap and sending me this special little package, it was such a cool surprise to find in our mail!!

What’s on the plate for next week?

Vanilla Anise Mantra SwirlNow that the Soap Challenge 2013 is done, I’m going to try to continue to share something new every Saturday – whether it’s a video, a tutorial, or a new product.

I’ve been asked by a couple of lovely soapers via the Soaper’s Retreat Facebook group to share how I made this modified mantra swirl soap that will be coming to the shop in June.

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58 Responses

  1. I am so happy to hear that the fun little package arrived and that you were able to use the goodies for this absolutely fabulous soap! The colors are so summery and bright, perfect for the type of weather we are having. =)

  2. Hi! I just found your blog & am glad I did. I am trying to come up with a good gardener’s soap–really cleansing, hopefully not too drying, with lots of scrubbies added in. Would this recipe work for that, or is it more of a moisturizing bath bar? Thanks for sharing, either way I hope to jump in soon!

    1. Hi Britt! Thanks for visiting!

      This could very well work, it’s cleansing but not drying with that extra superfat. I personally use my standard formula for gardeners bars, and just load the heck up on additives like walnut hull, apricot seeds, pumice, etc. 🙂

      Give it a shot and let me know how it works out for you!

      1. I made a 16 oz batch tonight with coffee for the liquid portion, plus coffee grounds, pumice, and kaolin clay. I think it’ll be great for scrubbing up after a day in the garden! Thanks again for sharing your recipe!

      2. Ok! I must admit, I used this soap before it cured for 4 weeks, but it is a wonderful gardener’s soap! The lather is unbelievably fluffy and bubbly, and my hands feel moisturized afterward. Sometimes I get really intensely gross compost smells on my hands after digging around in the garden, and this soap takes care of that. Hooray! Breaking the rules is fun when it works out.

  3. I felt adventurous today and tried this recipe. It does set up fast. I had two dividers in the mold and had to spoon the soap into the mold. Used coconut milk in lieu of aloe vera. It will probably be a nice soap, but not fun for getting your swirl on!

    1. Did your coconut milk contain guar gum? That could have been where your acceleration came from. 100% coconut oil soap sets up quickly once in the mold, but isn’t a quick to trace formula, in my experience (unless you soap at too low of a temperature, and then you encounter false trace). Hope that helps!

      Kenna

      1. Kenna, typically I would use the 100% coconut milk that is canned in the Asian section. But this time, I used Silk Coconut Milk that I had in the fridge. It says Pure, but then when you read the ingredients, it also contains cane sugar (no problem, just more bubbles), Natural Flavor, Carrageenan and Yam Flour. I’m sure that like anything, it just takes some trial and error to figure out what works. Thanks for the great blog and recipe.

  4. Hi I just found your blog… Your soap look awesome.
    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I think i can made this for my SUPER OILY husband.
    May I ask, can I used other fluid instead of aloe vera juice?
    Thank you

    1. Yes, while it’s really hard right off the bat, it’s still a normal cold process soap in terms of saponification and water evaporation.

  5. Hi Kenna, may I know how many percent of water you are used in this recipe. I think to used Goji berries juice to make this. What do you think? Thank you.

    1. Hi Angeline,

      I used a 33% strength lye solution, which is a slight water discount. I’ve never used Goji berry juice in soapmaking, you’ll have to let me know how it goes! Sounds really fun!

      Kenna

      1. Thank you Kenna. I will try this week, let you know after cut… cant wait to make this and use. My husband skin very oily, i think this might suit him ^^

  6. Hi, Kenna–
    Great tutorial. Thank you.

    I like the idea of having a higher percentage of coconut oil, but don’t want it to be 100%. If I did a batch of 50% each of coconut oil and olive oil and used coconut milk for more than 50% of water allowance, should I superfat it more than 5%? If so, how much? And, do you think this would make a good bar?

    Thanks, in advance, for your help.

    Christine

    1. Hi Christine,

      I would superfat at 8%. The coconut milk and olive oil should help counterbalance the drying factor of the high percentage of coconut oil, but you may still find it too drying. Experiment and let us know how it goes! 🙂

      Kenna

  7. With only coconut oil at 20% superfat, can we also replace the water with milk? Or would it be better to soap with either water or aloe vera only?

      1. Thanks for the prompt reply, Kenna! So if I replace my water with milk, it won’t affect the soap given that it has 20% superfat? =) I heard of some folks adjusting their superfat levels because of this replacement…I just wanted to make sure before I tried it out. =)

        1. I don’t see any reason to change the superfat, but I’m not a milk soaper (I make vegan soaps). Your liquid is a carrier for the lye, and while the lye is probably saponifying fat content in the milk, it’s so minimal that I don’t think it would change or affect the oil superfat/lye discount. Coconut oil is very stable long shelf life oil, so rancidity isn’t an issue there. Give it a shot in a small batch and see what you think. 🙂

          1. Hey Kenna, what if you add some olive oil, wheat germ, and shea butter to the recipe? Maybe 1/2 of an ounce each at light trace. Would that affect the soap properties?

          2. Hi Frankie,

            I wouldn’t add any other oils to a high superfat coconut batch. Coconut oil has a much longer shelf life than those other oils, which could lead to DOS or rancidity.

            Also, adding oils at trace doesn’t do anything special. It’s a myth that adding oils at trace superfats the final soap with those oils. Lye is an equal opportunity saponifier, and will react with any fatty acids present. Since saponification is not complete at trace, that doesn’t prevent those oils from being saponified. Might as well add them at the beginning and save yourself the trouble. 🙂 The only time you can possibly superfat with specific oils is by hot processing or rebatching and adding the oils after the cook/saponification is mostly complete.

            I hope that helps!
            Kenna

  8. ALoha Kenna, love the idea of this soap! Coconut oil soap is awesome. What’s the purpose of adding the coconut flour? Mahalo nui loa & Aloha nui!

    1. Hello! Thanks for stopping by! The coconut flour was a “Let’s throw it in soap and see what happens!” The final bar has really mild exfoliation when used on the skin, other than that, no other things stand out to me as different. 🙂

  9. Hi! I make this soap for my father-in-law twice a year, and it’s the only soap he uses-pretty good since I thought I would never get him off of commercial soaps. Anyway, I use 100% coconut oil with a 20% superfat(as listed above), and I either use goat’s milk or cow’s milk half and half with no water discount. He goes through about 1 bar a month. Never had any problems with DOS. He finds this soap very bubbly and great for his skin. Hope this helps for anyone wanting to make it with milk or goat’s milk.

    1. Darlene,

      Cracks are caused by overheating. Coconut oil soaps heat up a lot – if you used a wood mold, you want to elevate it or put it in the fridge/freezer as wood molds insulate like crazy. If you have a cookie sheet rack, put it on top of that. I use silicone molds, which do not insulate all that well, so I don’t have this issue.

      Kenna

  10. Hi I was wondering if I could put oatmeal or ground oat meal in this bar to make a exfoliating bar I tend to have rough skin on my legs and I’m trying to find a simple soap bar recipe to help.

  11. Hi Kenna,
    I tried your recipe this week, with a couple changes, I did 95% coconut oil, and 5% shea, still using the 20% sf. I did not discount the water. I used canned coconut milk for my liquid.
    The bars gelled ( I use wooden log molds) and I cut them within 6 hours. The bars are rock hard, however, when I pick them up, the start to melt. The same way coconut oil does when it comes in contact with your hands. So my question is, does this go away with cure time? If not, can you suggest how to save this batch? Since my batch gelled, it’s a pretty silver translucent bar.
    Thanks
    BEcky

    1. Hi Becky!

      I have not encountered this, so I’m not sure what went wrong here. Feel free to send me a picture and more details via email, and I’ll see if I can help you out!

      Kenna

  12. Hi Kenna,

    I am new to soap making. I am Planning to try a new recipe as follows: 65% Coconut oil, 28% Sesame oil and 7% Castor oil .Can you suggest the right % of super fat that i should plan for? And with this can i add ground oatmeal?? At what temperature i can soap ?

    Thanks
    Angela

    1. Hi Angela,

      I would personally lower the percentage of sesame oil and coconut oil. Sesame oil has a high percentage of unsaponifiables, and coconut oil can be drying. I would suggest: 45% Coconut Oil, 14% Sesame Oil, 7% Castor (It’s fine, but if you find the lather tacky/sticky, try lowering this), and 34% Olive Oil (or a combination of other skin loving soft oils, or use 25-30% soft oils and 9-4% butter like shea or cocoa or mango). Your current recipe will set up fast, be really hard right off the bat (difficult to cut), and a pretty strong cleansing formula – which many would find drying. The modifications I gave you would give you a bit more time to make the soap, let it set up, and also make it easier to cut. It will still be a great cleanser, but a lot more gentle.

      You can definitely add ground oatmeal, I would add it at trace. I recommend 110 degrees F for either formula, but you can go down to 100 F easily with the modifications. With a high percentage of coconut oil in your original formula, going lower may give you false trace.

      I’d recommend a 5 to 8% superfat for either formula. If you really want to learn alot, I would make both the formula you posted and the modifications I gave you so you can compare them! 🙂

      Good luck!
      Kenna

  13. Hi Kenna,

    I tried a new recipe with the following :olive oil 38%, coconut oil 28%, castor oil 6%, palm oil 28%, lye 1.7 oz, water 3.9 oz which yielded 17 oz of soap. I mixed oils and lye at 110 F. I poured the contents after getting a trace in to wooden mold lined with freezer paper and allowed it to sit for 24 hours in a cardboard box wrapped in a cloth. While attempting to remove the soap from the mold and while cutting the soap appears to be sticky and not completely dry. So does this mean that I need to let it dry for longer? Attempt a different way of drying the soap? Should I change/percentage of oils? My previous attempts with other oils has also resulted in soaps which are sticky even after 48 – 72 hours of drying. I am soap making newbie and would like to know where I am going wrong 🙁

    Thanks,
    Angela

    1. Hi Angela! 🙂

      I personally find both Olive Oil and Castor Oil can contribute to tackiness/stickiness. Fresh soap can always be somewhat described as tacky, IMO. But certain oils make it more or less obvious.

      Make sure you are curing in a low humidity environment (high humidity contributes to the stickiness!).

      If you still have a tacky issue after a full cure (4 to 6 weeks), then you’ll want to evaluate your formula for changes, but a couple days after making the soap may be a little early. 😉 I like to keep notes on new soap formulas from the start of making them, including notes about trace times and behavior in the mold, to notes every week during the cure.

      Kenna

  14. Will you tell me what mica’s you used to come up with those wonderful colors? I cannot figure it out and I would like to make soap that color. Thank You

    1. This formula used apple green and lemon yellow micas from The Conservatorie. If I remember correctly, I also used a little Fizzy Lemonade neon colorant from Bramble Berry in this batch.

  15. I’ve been looking for a recipe like this for a long time. I know I’m going to tweak it, but I wanted to know if you knew how much soap your recipe yielded by weight, I usually use wooden molds, and I’m afraid this recipe is too small for my 5 lb

  16. Hi, I made a 18 oz test batch today and it worked perfectly. No acceleration, FO behaved, solid in less than 6 hours. Just tried it and my oh my, the lather is amazing. Thanks so much for this tutorial.

  17. ​Hi Kenna, I want to try this coconut soap for my 4th batch… So a couple of novice questions… I’m going completely simple – just the coconut oil, aloe vera juice, lye and some eucalyptus fragrance. no colourants, swirls or anything.
    Q1) will this heat up a lot? Should I not cover the mould (probably an old cardboard box) with a thick towel? Q2) should I try to unmould and cut in less than a day because it’ll get too hard to cut in 24hrs?
    Q3) will this soap be okay for a bath or just oily dirty hands?
    Thanks!

  18. Hi Kenna, I have made a 100% coconut oil soap with 20% superfat but was very drying to my skin. Thought about making it again using a higher superfat percentage. Do you think it would be more moisturizing or cause problems with the soap?

  19. I’ve been soaping for 5 years now, mostly with lard bases, and the room temp method. I’ve never had a flopped batch. I’ve been getting more adventurous lately, and wanted to try this formula. I whipped it up this afternoon, and am so excited about it, although I must say that’s the closest I’ve ever been to seizing. I was at medium trace almost immediately. But very fun, and I look forward to pulling it out of the mold!

  20. I wanted to ask i have a recipe with 50% coconut oil and 50% olive oil. I will super-fat to about 10%. Can i use this recipe to create soap swirls?

  21. Hi, I’m new to soap making and I’ve been making 100% coconut oil soaps. However I find that they use up real quickly.
    I have an idea of ingredients to use in a new formula but currently struggling with it. Could I have a helping hand?
    Here are the ingredients: olive oil, coconut oil, Palm oil, Shea Butter, cocoa butter and castor oil.
    Living in the tropicals, we have abundance mango butter. If it’s recommended, I wouldn’t mind giving it a try =)
    Thank you!

  22. Hi. I made this soap but w/water instead of aloe and I had to recalculate w/an online lye calculator because I only had 32 oz of coconut oil to work with.
    Everything seemed ok until I took it out of the mold — it’s very oily! There was oil beaded on the top and after I cut it, oil beaded along the cut sides of the soap as well.
    I’m not sure I did anything wrong. I have found online that each lye calculator I use gives me a different recipe — could the lye calculator have been wrong?
    If I leave it to cure for four to six weeks do you think the soap will be useable or should I toss it?
    Thanks!

    1. Stef! I just tried this 100% CO recipe for the first time and I have the same problem!!! I thought it was because I tweaked the recipe to use a chocolate/coconut stout instead of water but you used water and had the same issue! I have the same question for Kenna…if we leave it to cure, will it “dry up”? It is seriously oozing coconut oil!

  23. Hi,

    I was really excited to find your recipe, since it’s my first time making soap EVER and you make it seem pretty simple. Unfortunately, something really weird happened. It might have been due to not being so precise about the temperatures of the oils and the lye liquid being almost equal, but when I combined them, a really weird reaction happened. It started bubbling like crazy and growing up the pot, so I quickly took it outside to relax. I was scared it would explode. I was pretty devastated, but did some research on how I could salvage it. I found something online about heating it on the stove on a medium flame and constantly stirring until it becomes oatmeal textured, then putting it in a mold. I did that, and the texture is really weird, but it does sud up.

    Then, I made a different recipe from a different website, and instead of using a hand-blender, I tried the “whisking” method (because I killed the hand-blender attachment on the first batch…it melted). It seemed like it was thickening nicely, although it took forever. Finally, it too became a weird grainy texture. I had to do the same stovetop thing I did with the first batch.

    What am I doing wrong? Why does it keep separating and coming out grainy for me?

    Thanks so much in advance. I’m really looking forward to hearing back. 🙂

    -Ayala

  24. I can’t figure out what I did…the granulated lye seized up in the aloe vera juice and made a big, rock hard chunk in the bottom (I had stirred the two up and let sit, covered for 2 hours to cool). Unfortunately I didn’t realize until I had already poured the liquid portion into my soap. I went ahead and finished it. It made a nice trace and looked beautiful pouring into the mold, but I don’t know if any of the lye actually made it in, so it might not even be soap. I haven’t made soap in several years, so maybe should have started with a simpler recipe!

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