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Join Jo & Her Botanical Love: Coloring Soap Naturally

Jo Haslauer Loves to Color Soap Naturally!
Jo Haslauer

My name is Jo Haslauer, and I LOVE soaping with natural colorants, botanicals and essential oils. I love to infuse herbs for their color, their herbal properties, and to enhance essential oil scents.

Yes, some plant infusions can help hold scents!

The magic of seeing a red colored infusion turn blue when mixed into the lye, and then purple within 7 days, never ceases to amaze me. I like nothing better than finding a new plant colorant, putting it through the lye monster, and finding a new shade to play with!

How many different plants give purple anyway? Here are just three plant infusions that have produced different shades of purple!

A variety of soaps colored naturally with Ratanjot, Alkanet, and Gromwell
From Top to Bottom: Ratanjot (Onosma echioides), Alkanet (Alkanna Tinctoria Root), and Gromwell root (Lithospermum Erythrorhizon)

Before I start an infusion, I decide what product I will use it in. If I want the infusion for coloring soap, I infuse it in an oil used in my soap recipe (for example, olive oil.) If I decide I would like to use the color in a bath truffle, I will use an oil that is not heavy and oily, but is clear and light (for example, fractionated coconut oil.) If the infusion is to enhance a scent, I decide what scent I would like to enhance (like lavender), and then follow the above for the product I will use it in.

A collection of infusions that Jo uses to color soap naturally
A Collection of Jo’s Plant Infusions

Olive oil (pomace) is my favorite oil to use. Pomace olive oil has a long shelf life, but more importantly, it is not green in color. Green colored oil will mess with your pretty blue woad infusion! You will never get Robin’s egg blue if you use oils that are green or yellow in color, no matter how hard you try, or pray, or how many tantrums you throw, it just won’t happen.

Most plant colorants don’t like to play with palm oil. They much prefer white base oils like coconut. If you can remember to give plant colorants the whitest soap oil base you can, you will be rewarded with the most beautiful rainbow of plant colorants you have ever seen.

A selection of Jo's soaps colored naturally with plants and botanicals!
Just a small selection of Jo’s beautiful and naturally colored soaps!

This advice also applies to essential oils!

Citrus oils are great if you want a yellow or orange colored bar. Use a citrus essential oil to strengthen your plant colorant, like lemon myrtle essential oil (which will enhance your annatto) and ten-fold orange essential oil (that will enhance your carrot juice soap.)

Conversely, if you want a blue color, don’t use a citrus essential oil as it will change your final hue. Try a clear essential oil, like peppermint essential oil.

Not all colorants require an infusion, some are better placed straight into the lye solution and some like to be added straight into the batter. Although I don’t use that method very often as it will give specks in your soap and I am not personally a fan of that look!  Botanicals can be sprinkled on top of soap and/or added to soap batter to spread throughout the soap bar. Essentials oils can be used for their color straight, blended or not used at all.

A quick list of natural colorants to color your soap naturally!

Let’s look at a list of easy to purchase plant colorants that will give you a rainbow of color and the ways I have found they prefer to be treated:

Use in Lye Solution

  • Madder root – pink colors ranging from pastel through to bright pink
  • Indigo – blue colors ranging from pastel through to navy blue and almost black

Use in Oil Infusion

  • Annatto – sunshine in a bottle, yellows to gold
  • Turmeric – pastel colors through to juicy fat oranges on a tree
  • Alkanet – pastel colors through to rich royal jewel purple

Added Directly to Soap

  • Liquid Chlorphyll – pale pastel mint through to dark green
  • Dead Sea Mud – beige through to dark green/brown
  • Cocoa powder – brown to dark chocolate brown

In the rainbow soap photo above, here are the colorants and techniques I used for each soap, from left to right:

  • Dead Sea Mud – added at trace to soap batter
  • Turmeric – oil infusion
  • Annatto – oil infusion
  • Liquid Chlorophyll – added at trace to the soap batter
  • Woad – oil infusion
  • Indigo – add to the lye solution
  • Madder Root – added to the lye solution
  • Alkanet – oil infusion

Finally, to really reap the rewards of plant colorants, you will need to gel your soap as it truly brings out the plant’s best color.

Are you ready to learn how to create infusions and use natural colorants in soapmaking in more depth to conquer coloring soap naturally? Join me for the rest of the series!

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87 Responses

  1. I’m in love!! Jo, I have drooled over these gorgeous soaps of yours since you posted them on a forum we share, and I can’t wait to learn more from you – this is totally my thing!! I only use natural ingredients in all my products – I feel like it’s my birthday – THANK YOU for sharing!! And thanks Kenna for bringing Jo to MS!! xoxo

    1. Happy to share Jo with the Modern Soapmaking community! 🙂 We have shared between ourselves for years now as we moved forward with our mastery of natural colorants, but she has FAR more patience and dedication to them than I do! I hope you love the series!

    2. I have tried for 3 yrs now to get a purple from alkanet root! I’ve used infusions, added at trace, and added powder to trace. Shades of soap are anywhere from gray to black, never purple! How do I get purple

  2. When I began soaping one year ago, the botanical that I used was Hibiscus powder. What did I know, I boiled it in water, oooed and ahhed at gorgeous color, strained it and added the lye to the bodatious color which immediately turned an ugly ugly brown! Of course I freaked but threw caution to the wind and poured this slop in to my new Chrysanthemum molds. I covered them and retreated in disgust. 24-hours later the Ugly Duckling had turned to a soft milky white! Those suckers were divine indeed. Making lemonade out of lemons has become my forte. Thank you Jo for your tips & tricks!

    1. Thanks, Connie! I’m glad you are lovin’ this! The remainder of the articles will be posted throughout the week and I will definitely send out a newsletter. 😉

      1. Thanks for the tips and tricks Jo. So very inspiring for sure. Kenna thanks for sharing Jo with the MS Community. Please a newsletter will be helpful.

        Thanks

  3. What a fantastic article – and a motivator for me to try infusion! I’ve seen natural colorants over the years, but was never sure exactly how (or when) to use them. Jo or Kenna – have you found that natural colorants fade or are there any that you would NOT recommend?

    1. In my experience, most natural colorants fade over time, but many can hold on for up to a year. There aren’t any I’d recommend staying away from off the top of my head. Between Jo’s series in it’s fullest and my Swatch Mania ebooks, there should be a starting ground of around 75 or so natural colorants to look at. 😉

    1. Thank you Gwen I hope you will give the plant colours a try at the end of the series and share how you went with us.

      1. Hi Jo.

        Please what is the best method to achieve white soaps when adding TD? TD hardly gives a white bar except I add a good dose of white kaolin.
        Thanks

        1. Sarah, I use 1tspn of TD for every pound of soap batter that I have. I use a food TD that easily mixes with water.

          Some TD prefers to be mixed with oil.

          For either TD (water or oil soluble) I would make sure that I mixed the TD in advance so that it is a more liquid slurry than a paste. I find that works better for my soap to make it whiter.

          I hope this helps you, if not please let me know
          jo

          1. How do you mix the TD? Normally I have heard it is 1 tsp TD per 1 tbsp water. So in a 2 pound batch would it be 2 tsp TD mixed with 2 Tablespoons water? I always run into Glycerin rivers whenever I use TD

    1. Thank you Lori!!! Blues for me fade the fastest 🙁 sad but true. I also use a very light hand with both the colorants as I like the Robin’s egg blue you can get with them. By about 5 months the woad for me is grey (oyster grey) and the indigo lasts for about double that time and then it to goes the same way (oyster grey).

  4. Great article!! Herbal infusions are a really neat way to color your soaps, and they are also fun to make. Looking forward to reading the next post!!!

  5. I saw these in the book given out on the Natural Soap Forum and my eyes just about dropped out of my head!!! SO BEAUTIFUL!

    I have a question: how are these colorants affected by the HP method? Is there any difference? I would guess them to be darker and deeper since they do hit the gel stage, but are there any other effects that you’ve experienced (if you have experienced them at all)?

    1. Hi Danielle,
      Yes these books were in the book you are right!

      Recently we had a discussion in the Natural forum about HP and Alkanet. It appears that 50 – 100% Alkanet infusion added at the start of HP gives a beautiful purple colour.

      All of the soaps in these photos have gelled. I gel all my soaps as you are right if they gel they are deeper in colour and brighter for me also.

      jo

  6. Great article! I noticed you use liquid chlorophyll for a green color. When I first started soaping I used it, loved it, then every batch I made with chlorophyll eventually got DOS! I havent used it since then. I would love to try it again, but I’m not sure how to avoid DOS. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

    1. Hi Misty
      I have never had DOS with liquid chlorophyll. I wonder what oils you were using in your recipe? How you store your soap also can have an effect on DOS.

      Also I am not sure what ingredients were in your liquid chlorophyll? Some liquid chlorophyll that is on the market has other ingredients added. I would be interested to know what else was in the mix.

      jo

      1. Thank you for your response! I’m pretty sure the chlorophyll was the problem. I used the same recipe with several other natural colorants and the only ones that got DOS were the ones that were green. I just double checked the place I had purchased it and it’s actually liquid chlorophyllin. I wonder if it’s a little different? Since you’ve never had issues with chlorophyll maybe I’ll purchase from a different supplier and give it another chance!

  7. Beautiful soaps and a great article! I want to try out using natural colourants again. If you don’t mind me asking, how much do you typically infuse in oil (then how much of the infused oil do you use)?

    1. Bo, Jo and I both tend to use 1 oz of plant material in a 16 oz jar, and then fill the jar with our infusion oil. Sometimes, that means 15 oz oils, sometimes it means less, as 1 oz of plant material by weight varies dramatically in volume. Hope that helps!

      1. Love the series. I am curious how much Alkanet Infusion / Per pound of Soapmaking Oils to get the colour in the above picture.

        1. Hi Lynne,
          I dont use an amount per pound of oils, I use a % of the total base oils in the recipe. The Alkanet is 10% of my base oils. I suggest for you to start at 15% of your base oils weight and see if the colour is dark enough or too dark for your recipe. Everyone’s recipe is different so you will need to adjust your amount depending on the oils you use.
          I hope this helps 🙂
          jo

          1. thanks for the wonderful write up, if you say that you use 10% infusion, that I understand, what is not clear is how to infuse the original material i.e. how much alkanet powder to each 100g of oil, this is the most important thing I think that the infusion is sufficiently strong, thanks in advance for any advice

          2. Hi Mary,

            I use 1oz of plant colorant in a 16oz mason jar. I fill the jar to the top with the oil and that becomes my infusion. I use light coloured/golden olive oil not green and I only infuse in olive oil as that is one of the ingredients in my soap 🙂

            Hope that helps 🙂
            jo

  8. Love!
    I have a question about use of essential oils in cold processed soap. I have gotten the smell to stick in my soap, but than when I use it, (during is fine) after showering there is no smell. Is that because the essential oils get absorbed into the skin? Is there a way to make it stay longer on your skin or will only fragrance type oils do that?

    1. HI Amanda,
      My essential oil scents don’t tend to remain on my skin for long after my shower but I also find that other people can smell it on me longer than I can.

      I think I might get used to the smell whilst they are not.

      I am not sure what is used in the fragrance oils that you have, but perhaps they are using more fragrance to begin with in the soap than the amount you are using with your essential oils?

      Its hard to know what is being used in the fragrance oils to prolong their scent on your skin after your shower.

  9. Hi Jo, very beautiful soaps. I just wondered I do use palm oil with coconut, olive , Shea and castor , these make a good lightish bar. You mentioned the natural colours don’t like palm oil, should they not be used in soap containing Palm oil? Many thanks

    1. Hi Anne,
      Thank you for the compliment! For me I found when I tried palm that the colours were more muddied and not as bright and clear as they are without plan in the recipe. The blue colours leaned towards more green and were not clear and the same with the purples, they were more a muddy colour rather than the bright jewel purple that I was going for.

  10. I am a soap maker’s apprentice. I hope to gather all I can from from experts like you. Thank you for this article. My question is a bit off topic but pertains to the shape of the soap pictured. The top is “left Au-naturel” and the soap is more wide than high (if you know what I mean) The edges as well appear to be beveled. Is this style something done manually – as in each individual bar is styled, or is this shape achieved in a mold? Thanks.

    1. Hi Charlene,
      I do bevel each of my soaps by hand. I love the feel of them when they are bevelled because as you rightly point out they are the opposite shape to the “standard” soap sold. I just feel the sharp edges dont sit as nicely in my hand. So, yes, I am fussy and it annoys me enough to bevel them. I do it whilst I watch TV so its almost relaxing to me. I do wish a mold would come along that did it for me though!
      jo

  11. Beautiful colors. Also do just natural colors and love liquid chlorophyll for green. Have been on a sassafras root spree lately. Any other suggestions for red.
    Thanks

    1. Hi Beth! I have recently been using Chinese Rhubarb to achieve a red. So far I have just managed a red that goes brick red rather than Christmas red that I am after. I combined some colorants and I am just waiting to see how that lasts before I say I have found the “holy grail” red! Its so darn elusive isn’t it

      jo

  12. This is one of the best articles on natural soaping and colors that I have found. So many people say that they are using “natural soap colors” and then you see that they are using titanium dioxide or ultramarines! This is the true way to do it, and you do it beautifully. I used woad for the first time the other day, and to my surprise, the soap came out a beautiful dark purple…a much nicer purple than any other purple I have made. I bought the woad, because I had seen someone using it and making a sky blue soap, which I loved….now the purple was a cool surprise, and since I am a HP process soaper, who is only recently trying CP, I have no idea if the color will fade, but wondering if you have had that happen, and what amount of woad you have used for blues? thanks!

    1. HI Kristen!
      Purple sounds amazing! I have had a dark blue but not purple from woad. I suspect you have something in your recipe that has combined with the woad to give you this colour. Yes woad will fade, all plant colorants will fade over time. I like a robin’s egg blue from my woad so I have a very “soft” hand when I use it. I find 12% of my infusion is usually pretty good for me. The blue starts out a shade or two darker than I want but by the end of the cure its perfect and it stays that way for another 3 – 4 months, enough time for it to sell and be used. Next time you use your woad use half the amount and see if you get a blue from it. Your recipe will be different to time but I would love to hear the colour you achieve with half the amount! Purple is also quite a hard colour to achieve so much kudos to you. Hope to hear how you go again, woad is my favourite of all the colorants I use.
      Jo

    1. Hi Marianella, I dont use clay at all and you dont have to infuse it either. You add some water to it and make it evenly dissolved and add it at trace – no waiting for infusions and its pretty much what you see is what you get also with clay. You can go as dark or as light as you would like. Clays are beautiful, I just dont happen to use them as I like plant colorants for my soap however I do drool over other peoples clay soaps 🙂

  13. Hello Jo, wow, such a lot if information. I am brand new to soaping, CP, and CPOP, plus MP.

    I]you mentioned rhubarb for pink. I have some in my freezer, can I thaw it and infuse it in oil? If so, how much do you use and what size jar would you recommend? I have a souvide oven I can use for heat processing. For a crock pot you recommended a law setting, would that be around 100 F?

    Thanks so much for sharing all this wonderful information!

    Sheila in Alaska

    1. HI Sheila,
      If you use fresh rhubarb as you have mentioned (fresh or frozen fresh) you will find it will go brown 🙁 in your soap.

      I use Chinese Rhubarb as a powder – it holds its colour over the cure time but sadly will fade to a more orange/brown/red after that.

  14. Here’s a dumb question since I am new to soap making. Can u use paprika to color from your spice cabinet? Please don’t laugh, even though I am at my naivety

    1. Hi Cyndy!
      I would never laugh at anyone asking a question about plant colorants, we all start somewhere and I remember the beginning well.

      Yes you can use paprika and its one of my favorites to use by the way. I infuse mine exactly same as I have described in this series. The resulting colour will be a beautiful rich orange but remember to strain it before you add it to your recipe or you will have speckles in the end product. Nothing wrong with speckles I just dont want them in my soap, but I do like to see others that have used paprika and havent strained.

      Dont ever be worried about asking a question, every asks – its how we all learn 🙂

    2. I just purchased a book titled, ‘The Naturall soap Making Book for Beginners’ by Kelly Cable. She has a nice chart showing the colors of 29 different natural additives, when to use, and amounts per pound of soap.

  15. I love color & I admit that is what I’m attracted to when I see soap bars…However, the bars of soap I sell, have no colorants of any kind. Up until now, I’ve kept things very pure. I’m toying around this Fall/Winter with the idea of infusions to add color to my soaps in the new year. Jo, what I’m wondering is about fading with natural colorants? Since I sell my soap, are there any that I should stay away from due to excessive fading? What is the average for most natural colorants?

    1. Shannon I sell my soap but I do make it clear that natural colorants will fade over time and so should not be in full sunlight as that will make them fade faster. I have had no issue with this, storekeepers are happy to help in this regard and not place the soaps in the window in Summer for example.

      That being said for me blues and greens fade quicker than some others. Yellows and oranges are the slowest for me regarding fading and I have some here over a year old that have not faded much at all.

      Keep your stock in the dark i.e. cardboard box and that will reduce the fading.

      Your fading will depend on your recipe, how much light the soaps are subjected to and heat also. I happily restock more often with vendors to ensure that the soaps stay brighter if that is what the vendor would like.

      jo

    1. Hi Tia,
      I live in Australia and I buy my liquid chlorophyll from either a health food store or a pharmacy.

      I do know you can buy liquid chlorophyll in the States (I am not sure if you live there?) but you could try Whole Foods? I think.

      I use the food grade one that people can take as a tonic. I hope that helps?

      jo

  16. Hi,
    I am new to soap making. Can I use your colours to mix in with an organic melt & pour soap base?

    Many thanks,

    Sharon Heiser

  17. I just started experimenting with swirls. TD seems to always have tiny glycerin veins for me so I’m wondering how you use it and avoid that. I am also wondering how you achieve that beautiful swirl! Do you just run individual lines of your colorant and “draw” your swirl or is it more of dollops here and there and then swirl? It is so gorgeous!

  18. Thanks so much for this post. I am trying to stay away from any artificial coloring for my soaps and sometimes I get bummed because I feel like I can’t compete with the beauty of artificial colors. You certainly reminded me with you soaps and article that there is a lot of beauty to natural colors.

  19. hi Jo, just wondering if you have experimented with coffee cherry flour as a colorant and what would you recommend : an oil infusion with it or added to the lye or the water? And what color does it turn out to be?

  20. Amazing article, well done 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 I’m going to make the switch because I want my soap to be 100% natural.

  21. Jo,

    I really love all the natural colors you achieve in soaps! You say pomace oil is not green. The pomace oil I get here in the USA is green. Please advise! I am thinking of using almond oil as it is of light color.

  22. thanks so much for sharing your ideas. can you please advise will the same techniques work for hot process soap?

  23. Hello! I have Jo’s book (and love it!). She notes that she uses titanium dioxide for the swirls. My question is this: when using an infused oil, it colors the entire batch- because it is in your base oils. Do you make an entirely separate batch for the titanium dioxide swirl portion?

  24. I started experimenting with natural colorants, and right after gelling I have amazing results, beautiful colour!! But after cooling the colour fades again and I’m left with a barely coloured piece of soap. What am I doing wrong?

    Sincerly
    Elke

    1. If you are infusing, you might not be using enough…I get dark HP soap using a lot of Annetto seed either heated or log infusion. I did have Spirulina to fade so am going to try Chlorella/liq Chloro for green ext. I think infusion lasts longer.

  25. beautiful colors and thank you for sharing. ❤️ Have you tried rhubarb root? I just made a soap with it and it was a really beautiful pink red. You can’t let it get too hot though, or it will turn brown but if you don’t gel it, it will stay a beautiful pinky red.

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