How to Color Soap at Home

Making soap is a creative and artistic process with a practical use. Learn how to color, pour and cut soap at home to achieve your desired results.

table of homemade soap

Choosing the right combination of soap colorants will take your soap to the next level!

Photo by Fotolia/Deyan Georgiev

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Handcrafting soap is creative, hands-on, and fun! Especially when you can use color in such a way that making soap reflects your own personal style. In Soap Crafting (Storey Publishing, 2013), author Anne-Marie Faiola, the Soap Queen, teaches you how to color soap using LabColors and how to craft designs in your soap using specific methods such as the funnel pour technique. From how to prepare colorants and which mold to use, to step-by-step directions on how to prepare the soap mixture, Faiola provides the know-how for anyone to successfully make colorful soap in their own home!

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Soap Crafting.

Let’s have some fun with color! Whether you’re into bright, bold, high-contrast colors or calm, soothing neutrals, using the color wheel can really enhance your homemade soaps. Using just two colors in a big batch adds an extra-special touch to your hard-earned bars. For high-impact, high-contrast soaps, choose soap colorants on opposite sides of the color wheel.

If you’re selling the soaps, color is generally what will draw in the customers, especially at online retail outlets. Don’t be afraid to go big and bold, but remember that sometimes the best color combinations are the classics.

Think about your favorite combinations outside of soap making and incorporate them into your design. Or what colors have you always loved but been too afraid to add to your wardrobe? Try them in a bar of colorful soap!

Working with LabColors

Wondering how to color your homemade soaps? LabColors are highly concentrated, water-based FD&C and D&C soap colorants. They are a quick and reliable coloring system for cold-process soap, and come in a range of colors that can be blended to create numerous other colors. Because LabColors are dye-based, however, they will bleed when used in soap.

To save packaging space and weight, LabColors are shipped in concentrated form and require dilution. Diluting LabColors is easy — you need distilled water, a thermometer, a whisk or other stirring tool, a storage container, and a water-soluble preservative, such as Germaben II (unless the LabColors are to be permanently stored in the refrigerator). Gloves are a good idea, as LabColors will potentially stain skin and surfaces.

The dilution rates for LabColors are as follows:

• 10 ml in 4–8 ounces of water
• 20 ml in 8–16 ounces of water
• 125 ml in 50–100 ounces of water

The lower end of the scale above will give you a more concentrated color and the higher end of the water dilution scale will give you more of a subtle, watercolor effect.

Before mixing in the soap colorant, heat the required amount of distilled water to 140 degrees F in a sterilized container. Do not go above this temperature or the integrity of the dye may be compromised. Shake the vial of LabColor and pour the contents into the heated water. Stir with a whisk until well incorporated. Pour the mixture into the clean storage container and allow to cool. Add a water-soluble preservative at its recommended usage rate (0.5 to 1 percent). Properly mixed LabColors can be stored at room temperature indefinitely.

The preferred method used in this book for measuring LabColors is by volume and not by weight. Because LabColors are extremely potent (even after being diluted), the amounts needed are minimal and thus are most accurately measured using volume measurements.

Tip: If there is some residue left behind in the vial, use a pipette to transfer a small amount of diluted and still-warm color back into the vial. Shake it a bit, then pour back in with the rest of the color. If the concentrated color in the vial is too thick to pour, heat it in the microwave on high in 10-second bursts.

Using the Funnel Pour Method

In this technique, you use a funnel to guide the different colors of homemade soap batter so that they hit in one spot in a steady stream, creating uniform bars with an engaging design.

How you cut the soap is important in a funnel-pour batch. While ordinary methods of cutting still produce a gorgeous bar, you can use the horizontal cutting tip given at the end of this recipe to take your colorful soap to the next level. No matter how you cut, each bar is different with the funnel-pour technique.

Yield: Approximately 20 bars

Lye-Water Amounts:
• 8.4 ounces sodium hydroxide (lye)
• 19.8 ounces distilled water

Base Ingredient Amounts:
• 18.0 ounces palm oil
• 15.6 ounces coconut oil (76F)
• 1.8 ounces shea butter (refined)
• 1.2 ounces castor oil
• 3.0 ounces avocado oil
• 20.4 ounces canola oil

• 1/2 teaspoon Brown Oxide
• 1 teaspoon Titanium Dioxide
• 1-1/2 tablespoons sweet almond oil (or other liquid oil)
• 1/8 teaspoon Luster Black Mica
• 4 mL diluted Fuchsia LabColor
• 6 mL diluted Easter Purple LabColor
• 8 mL diluted Sage Mist LabColor

• 4 ounces Blackberry Sage fragrance oil

• Mini-mixer
• 5-pound wood log mold
• Clean 32-ounce plastic yogurt or deli container (at least 5" tall)
• Funnel
• Duct tape or masking tape

Prepare the soap colorants. Prior to starting the soapmaking process, mix the Brown Oxide in 1/2 tablespoon of the sweet almond oil, and the Titanium Dioxide in 1 tablespoon of the sweet almond oil, using the mini-mixer. Push the powder under the surface of the oil with the tip of the blade to saturate the powder before you begin or you’ll stir up a messy cloud of pigment. Mix each colorant thoroughly for the most even color results.

Prepare the mold. Line the mold with freezer paper, shiny side up. Cut a hole in the bottom of the plastic container and insert the neck of the funnel into the hole. Situate the plastic container in the center of the mold. For extra stability, you can tape the container to the mold.

Make the Soap Mixture

1. Add the lye to the water (never the other way around), stir gently, and set aside until clear.

2. Melt the palm oil in its original container, mix it thoroughly, and measure into a bowl large enough to hold all the oils and the lye-water with room for mixing. Melt and measure the coconut oil and add it to the bowl. Add the shea butter to the warm oils and stir. Once the shea butter is melted, add the castor, avocado, and canola oils.

3. When the oils and the lye-water are both below 120F, add the lye-water to the oils, pouring it over a spatula or the shaft of the stick blender to minimize air bubbles. Tap the stick blender a couple of times against the bottom of the bowl to release any air trapped in the blades. Do not turn on the stick blender until it is fully immersed. Stick-blend until light trace (the consistency of a melted milkshake) is achieved, about 2 minutes.

4. Split the soap into five batches, about 2 cups each.

5. Color each of the five batches as follows:

• 1/4 teaspoon Brown Oxide mixture + 1 teaspoon Titanium Dioxide mixture
• 1/8 teaspoon Luster Black Mica + 1 teaspoon Titanium Dioxide mixture
• 4 mL Fuchsia LabColor
• 6 mL Easter Purple LabColor
• 8 mL Sage Mist LabColor

Use a whisk or spoon to mix in the soap colorant so as not to accelerate trace too much.

6. Add 0.8 ounce of the Blackberry Sage fragrance oil to each batch. Continue to use a whisk or spoon to mix in the fragrance oil.

Pour and Pour Some More

7. Decide on a color order for the pour. It’s important to maintain the same order throughout the pouring process when making soap. Line up the containers in order near the prepared mold.

8. Pour the first color into the mold through the funnel, counting to 3. This ends up being just a couple ounces of soap batter. Follow the first color with the second, third, fourth, and fifth colors, counting to 3 for each pour.

9. Starting with the first color, run through the color order again and repeat until all of the soap is in the mold. You’ll pour each one approximately 10 times, depending on how thick your soap is, how long you pour, and the size of your funnel. If the soap starts to mound underneath the funnel, gently shake the mold to settle the soap. If the soap in the containers looks grainy, whisk it well before pouring.

Final Steps

10. To help decrease soda ash formation, spray the entire surface with 91 percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol two or three times over a 90-minute period, then cover the mold with either plastic wrap or a lid fashioned out of cardboard.

11. Insulate the entire mold by wrapping it in a large towel and set it aside for at least 24 hours at room temperature before uncovering. Unmold within 3 to 4 days.

12. Cut the soap into bars and cure in a well-ventilated area for 4 to 6 weeks, turning the bars over every few days to ensure that they cure evenly.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Soap Crafting by Anne-Marie Faiola, published by Storey Publishing, 2013.