Homemade Shea Butter Soap

Reader Contribution by RenÉE Benoit

Everybody has to make ugly soap once in a while and this was my time. My first three soap projects were pretty much glitch-free with no big surprises. Even so this is not a complete disaster. Sometimes soap turns out ugly and that’s OK because my family can still use it. It will be very good and work very well. After a couple uses the rough look that makes it not good for gifts or to sell will have dissolved away and it will look like “normal” soap. Nice and smooth. Mom used to say, “Beauty is as beauty does.”

This was my fourth soap project. In hindsight I think that my oil mixture was too warm when I added it to the lye water. It set up extremely fast – within a couple minutes – and was too thick to easily pour into the mold. It came to trace so fast I kept blending it too long.  I should have stopped. I just didn’t believe it would be ready so fast. As a result, I had to use a stainless-steel spoon to scoop it into the mold and then smooth out the top with the straight edge of a stainless-steel knife. This resulted in a very textured, not-smooth soap.

So… if I’ve learned anything it’s Respect The Trace! If it looks ready, it’s ready! Also if you think you need to leave the mixture on the stove over the double boiler to keep it melted, don’t. Take it off the heat and set it aside.

Shea Butter Soap


  • 227 g (8 oz) distilled water
  • 101 g (3.55 oz) sodium hydroxide (lye)
  • 595 g (21 oz) olive oil
  • 128 g (4.5 oz) shea butter
  • 71 g (2.5 oz) castor oil


  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Face and/or eye protectors (a weed wacker mask is awesome because you can wear glasses with it)
  • Rubber gloves (regular dish washing gloves work fine)
  • Immersion blender (you can blend by hand and there’s more control over splashing but it takes longer)
  • Stainless steel pot (I use a 3 qt with high sides and a pour spout)
  • Silicone molds enough to make 12 – 1” x 2” x3” bars
  • Wax paper
  • Tea towel or light cloth
  • 2 Measuring cups (plastic is fine)
  • Candy thermometer
  • Digital scale (important: I wouldn’t try making soap without it. In the old days of guess-and-gosh sometimes soap would have too much lye in it and was very hard on skin!)

Using the digital scale measure out your distilled water and pour it into your high sided stainless-steel pot. I use gram measurement because I think it is most accurate. Using inaccurate measuring tools to measure the ingredients can put you at risk for having not enough or too much lye in the soap. (By the way, if you have too much lye in your soap you can grate it and use it for laundry detergent.)

Put on your protective gear and, using the same digital scale, measure your lye into the plastic container. I use a dedicated plastic measuring cup for the lye. It just makes it easier to keep the equipment separate from my cooking utensils.

Still wearing your protective gear, stir the lye into the water with a stainless-steel spoon. Be careful not to splash. Just stir quietly. You’ll notice that the lye kind of lightly crystallizes. Just stir and it will break up and dissolve. Then it will heat up. Stick your candy thermometer to touch the liquid and set it aside. It will probably heat up to about 150 degrees. Set it aside some place safe while you get the oil ready.

Melt the shea butter in a double boiler. Add the olive oil and castor oil to the melted shea butter. Set it aside. When the lye water cools down to 100-110 degrees carefully pour the oil mixture into the lye water. Start by stirring with the immersion blender without it being turned on for a little bit then turn the blender on low and mix until the mixture comes to “trace”. The texture look like rippled thin pudding.

Fill your molds filled and let them set for 24 hours.

Put all your soapy equipment in the sink. Don’t wash it now as the equipment is covered with mixture where the chemical transformation is not complete. It’s still “hot”. Wait for 24 hours because then the transformation will be complete. No more lye!

When the soap in the molds has set up sufficiently – in a couple hours – cover it with wax paper and a light towel so it won’t set up too fast and crack. Peek at it and if it looks like it’s cracking move it to a cooler place (not freezing). Check it after 24 hours to see if it’s hardening and coming away from the edges. If it’s not you might have to leave it longer. Up to 3 days. Then you’ll be able to unmold the soap to cure on a coated cooling rack. Curing it for about 6 weeks will make it harder so it will last longer.

If this is the first you are reading this I love making soap because now I know what is in it for sure. I’m not guessing what a long, unpronounceable chemical might be and I know what I’m putting on my body and what is going down the drain. I’m also saving on packaging in the landfill. Always a good thing!

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