We are a little soap crazy here and always seem to be sampling a number of exotic bars in the bath.
Soap making has been a passion of mine for about 25 years now, since I first learned it was actually something I could make myself at home. My father-in-law was telling us over dinner one night that he’d made a batch of soap with one of his elementary school classes for a science project; I was positively captivated. He agreed to show me how, and I’ve been making it for myself and special batches for friends ever since.
Homemade Shampoo Bar
I’ve made many kinds of soap, all wonderful in their own way, but my favorite recipe is for a simple homemade shampoo bar. Yes, shampoo. I first became intrigued with this kind of soap when I saw a bar of the stuff at a local grocery store. What a concept: small, compact, no plastic bottle, lightweight, biodegradable–and no need for conditioner as the natural oils in our hair and scalp are not stripped away with its use. (First, the big businesses sell us a product that strips our hair of the good oils, then sell us something else to simulate what their first product has taken out. That, I suspect, is how empires are built.)
I tried the fragrant herbal bar and was completely convinced of the value of such a product. The only problem, for me, was the cost; I simply could not afford to buy this wonderful little bar on a regular basis. After doing a bit of research, however, I found a recipe that was nearly-identical to the product I had fallen in love with, in an old book by Ann Bramson, called Soap: Making It Enjoying It.
Recipe for Natural Shampoo Bars
Here’s the recipe for shampoo bars:
- 24 oz. coconut oil
- 38 oz. olive oil
- 24 oz. castor oil
- 12 oz. sodium hydroxide (lye)
- 32 oz. spring water
Simply follow the directions for making a basic batch of soap, using this recipe. Ann’s book is a fine primer, but she uses animal fat in many of her soaps, which I have not used for many years. I had used lard and suet in the very beginning–which may be more traditional since it was what people had at hand (and it generally makes a harder soap)–but I have found that these fats easily become rancid which makes the soap, as far as I’m concerned, completely unusable.
Add Essential Oils (NOT Scented) for Fragrance
In addition, I add to this recipe a blend of the following essential (not scented!) oils to impart fragrance (about 1½ to 2 oz. for the above recipe): lavender, rosemary, and cedarwood. These are the oils listed on that wonderful-but-pricey shampoo bar that first got my attention, but they also contribute various qualities that I want in my shampoo bar. Rosemary, for example, has antiseptic & antibacterial properties, as does lavender, which is also antifungal. Cedarwood and rosemary are also good tonics for your hair & scalp. These are just a few of their properties.
To learn more, get yourself a good aromatherapy chart, at your local health food store or any place where essential oils are sold. There are certainly a few exotic & costly recipes out there for shampoo bars, but having made and used both kinds, I could honestly not tell any difference between the two bars; they both worked equally well. Consider learning from one who spent more than she needed to: try the basic recipe first and see how it works for you.
I get most of my soap making ingredients at a wonderful place called Glory Bee Foods, in Eugene, Oregon. I used to shop there in person when I lived near Eugene, but now I have to do mail order. They have a terrific selection of just about anything you could need for soap making (including aromatherapy charts), and the staff is very friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful.
I have experimented with a number of soap molds over years, but all I use now is a basic wooden break-away box. It looks like a small wooden drawer, but one side is hinged, allowing the user to slide the enormous bar out, rather than having to try to lift it out, which becomes a real problem when the soap is simply not hard enough to lift out easily, but still needs to be cut into bars for curing. My next mold will be a long, narrow, break-away mold that simply needs to be sliced into bars. These can be kind of pricey; alternatively, you may decide to check them out online to get the dimensions, and make your own.
An ideal liner for your wooden break-away soap mold, I have found, is freezer paper. It is thick and sturdy enough, and will protect your soap box for a lifetime. I just measure the inside dimensions of the box, then cut the paper to fit, shiny side up. You can neatly fold the paper at the corners, then tape them securely and completely with heavy plastic packing tape to lie flat, or actually cut out the shape of the break-away box, then tape the corners securely.
I have never used the cute plastic molds that come in various shapes for homemade soap and I wouldn’t recommend their use, except for melt & pour soaps, for which they are ideal. Ordinarily, homemade soap must be cut into bars within 1-3 days, and the texture of home made soap, at that point, won’t easily come away from a surface; it can be tricky enough just to slice the stuff.
Using Your Shampoo Bar
Using a shampoo bar for the first time may feel a bit disconcerting; your hair will simply not have that reassuring, slimy sensation that we have become so accustomed to, being raised on commercial products. The first time I used a shampoo bar, I got this “Oh-no-maybe-I-should-use-the-regular-shampoo-and-conditioner-just-in-case!” sensation; I remember thinking that my hair felt like wet straw. Fear not.
For best results, you may need to get into new habits, particularly if you have long hair. First, if you’re not already in the habit, brush your hair before washing. If your hair is long, start brushing a few inches from the bottom, then go back and begin brushing a few inches higher, and so on. Next, get your shampoo bar wet and use plenty of water when working up a lather. Rinse.
For a natural and economical de-tangler, simply use cider vinegar (nothing fancy or expensive; the cheap stuff is perfect): one tablespoon to a cup of water. Pour through your hair, then rinse again. I like to let my hair dry completely before combing for best results, but do whatever works best for you. And no, you won’t smell like a salad (been asked that more than a few times!).
Taking Care of Homemade Bath Products
Finally, you want to take special care in keeping your shampoo bar high and dry between uses, like all homemade bath products. I like to put a few polished stones in a fancy dish or abalone shell for this use. It’s simple, pretty, and a great use for those odd bowls or saucers that you love but couldn’t find a use for. Polished stones that come in those little mesh bags seem to be in every crafts store now, and in different colors and sizes. If you live in North America, you may now find them even at the ‘dollar’ or ’99 cents’ stores.
Soap making—especially shampoo bars–has been an enormous source of satisfaction and pleasure for me over the years, particularly for its simplicity and value. I hope it will be an enduring source of enjoyment for you as well.