Shower gel is so much fun to make—you can get as creative as you want! Even though it may take a bit of time to cook and dilute, don’t be afraid to try this type of soap. It’s very easy once you get the hang of it. Here’s how you do it.
Before you start making your soap, always check your recipe in SoapCalc. This is a very important habit to get into, and one we always advise new soap-makers to do. Anyone can make a mistake or enter an incorrect number, and checking the recipe makes good soap sense, no matter who wrote it.
All liquid soap is made basically the same way, so this formula works for any kind of liquid soap. Here’s what to put in SoapCalc:
- Type of Lye used: KOH
- Weight of Oils: ounces
- Water as % of Oils: 80
- Super Fat %: –13
When you’ve put in all the information, you’ll be ready to formulate or check your recipe. It’s as easy as that!
Here are the supplies you’ll need for making any kind of shower gel:
- Safety glasses
- Thin latex gloves
- Immersion blender
- Meat or candy thermometer
- Cereal bowl–size glass or plastic bowl
- Plastic pitcher
- Large stainless-steel stockpot with a solid stainless-steel lid (no plastic handles or knobs), or aluminum foil for cover
- Long-handled stainless-steel or plastic spoons
- Plastic funnel
- Plastic bottle to store the soap
For shower gel storage, we recommend 8-ounce (226.8-gram) or 16-ounce (453.6-gram) PET-type plastic bottles. These bottles are made from recycled plastic. You can find them online.
If you’re using a fragrance oil whose recommended use is .5 ounce (14.2 grams) fragrance per 1 pound soap, then use 1 ounce (28.4 grams) for these recipes. If the fragrance oil is recommended at 1 ounce (28.4 grams) per 1 pound soap, use a total of 2 ounces (56.7 grams) for these recipes. If you like more scent, increase it another 1 ounce (28.4 grams); if you don’t like it that strong, decrease the amount. You also might like orange essential oil for its cleaning properties, but know that it will make the soap very cloudy-looking.
This small, basic recipe is terrific for getting you started making shower gel. This recipe yields 32 ounces (907.2 grams; .945 liters).
- Castor oil: 2.6 ounces (72.6 grams) (32%)
- Coconut oil (76 degree): 1.1 ounces (31.7 grams) (14%)
- Olive oil: 2.4 ounces (68.0 grams) (30%)
- Palm oil: 1.9 ounces (54.4 grams) (24%)
- Distilled water (for lye): 6 ounces (170.1 grams)
- Lye—potassium hydroxide: 1.8 ounces (50.8 grams)
- Distilled water (for borax): 2 ounces (56.7 grams) plus 1.6 ounces (45.4 grams)
(for diluting paste)
- Borax: .5 ounce (13.6 grams)
- HEC (or other thickener): .5 ounce (13.6 grams)
Notes: Although there are several products to choose from to thicken your shower gels, our favorite is HEC (hydroxyethyl cellulose). This natural product is made from polymer cellulose, is water soluble, and stays clear. You can also use citric acid, although it can make the end product cloudy. Boric acid is another choice, but HEC is still our favorite.
For shower gels and shampoos, we’ve found that a low cleansing number is best so they don’t dry out your skin or hair. That number is changed by lowering the percentage of the three cleansing oils—coconut, palm kernel, or babussa oil.
The Soapcalc Info
Here’s what to put in SoapCalc—remember to adjust the Type of Lye used, Weight of Oils, Water as % of Oils, and Super Fat % categories:
- Weight of Oils: 8 ounces (226.8 grams)
- Water as % of Oils: 80
- Super Fat %: –13
- Fragrance Oz per lb
The soap qualities:
- Cleansing: 10
- Conditioning: 69
- Bubbly: 38
- Creamy: 47
- Iodine: 66
- INS: 133
Note: When you’re lowering the cleansing oil percentages on SoapCalc, the most important thing to remember is that you don’t want to have your iodine number go over 70—that’s the magic number. Let’s say you lower the coconut oil from 14 to 8 percent. You will then need to increase one of the other oils in the recipe by 6 percent and recalculate the recipe. If, after you’ve recalculated the recipe and the cleansing is still too high, lower the percentage of the coconut oil again and raise the percentage of another one of the oils in the recipe.
Always put on your gloves and safety glasses before you begin.
- Place the plastic pitcher on the scale, and push the tare button to zero out the weight of the pitcher. Weigh the coconut oil in the pitcher and pour into the pot.
- Weight the palm kernel oil and pour into the pot.
- Set the pot of oils over medium-low heat. If you’re using a candy thermometer, attach it to the side of the pan now.
- While the oil is heating, put the plastic bowl on the scale and zero out the weight of the bowl. Weigh the potassium hydroxide in the bowl. Set aside.
- Place a pitcher on the scale, zero out the weight of the pitcher, and weigh the distilled water. Set aside.
- Check the temperature of the oils. When the oil has reached 160°F (71°C), it’s time to mix the lye and water. Slowly add the lye to the pitcher of water and stir. You will hear a “swoosh” as the lye dissolves in the water. Stir the mixture until all the lye has dissolved. Do not put your face close to the pitcher. The vapor from the lye can burn your eyes and lungs.
- Keeping the pot on the burner still set on medium-low, slowly pour the lye/water mixture into the batch of oils. Using an immersion blender, blend until the oils and water come together. Bring the mixture to a thick trace by blending for a few minutes and then stopping for a few minutes. Be patient; bringing the mixture to a thick trace takes some time—sometimes up to 45 minutes! When it reaches thick trace, it will look like very thick pudding.
- Remove the blender and set it aside when the soap has become too thick to stir. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit on the counter while the soap continues to harden into a paste. This can take up to 30 minutes.
- While you’re waiting for the soap to form a hard paste, preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). When the soap has reached the hard paste stage, cover the pot with the lid or aluminum foil, and put the pot in the oven for 4 hours or until the paste is transparent. (Remove a little bit of paste and spread it out over a piece of paper or a plate to test this. Not all paste will be completely transparent.)
- Put a small plastic or glass bowl on the scale, zero out the weight, and weigh out .48 ounce (13.6 grams) borax or citric acid. (This is to neutralize any lye that may be left in the gel.) Set it aside for now.
- Put a plastic pitcher on the scale, zero out the weight, and weigh 30 ounces (850.5 grams) distilled water. Add the borax or citric acid to the water, and stir.
- Put the pot with the paste back over medium heat, and add the distilled water solution to the paste.
- When the paste has completely melted, remove it from the heat. Let it cool until the sides of the pot only feel warm, not hot, to the touch.
- Put a plastic bowl on the scale, zero out the weight, and weigh the HEC. Set aside.
- Weigh 2 ounces (56.7 grams) very warm distilled water. Add to the thickener, and stir to completely dissolve. Add the thickener to the soap pot and, using an immersion blender, incorporate the mixture. If you’re using HEC, the mixture will thicken on its own. (If you’re using GuarCat as your thickener, you’ll need to continue with the blender until the mixture thickens.)
- Once the mixture has thickened, weigh any other additives you desire, including fragrance or essential oil. Add these to the soap, and stir to incorporate fully.
- Let the gel cool completely. This will take several hours. Pour the finished soap into bottles.
After you’ve finished making soap, wipe any oils from your pots and spoons with a paper towel before you load them into your dishwasher. Then pour 1 ounce (28.4 grams) or more vinegar in the Jet-Dry reservoir. This will cut any bubbles caused by the oil residue.
Homemade shower gel is not only better than store brands, it can also make a great gift. It is also addictive—once you get the hang of making, you won’t be able to stop! For more soap fun, check out our Quick Guide Make Your Own Liquid Soap. Have fun, and happy soap making!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Making Natural Soaps by Sally W. Trew with Zonella B. Gould