Making Soap Dough for Decorating Body Bars

A Fun and Decorative Soap Technique

Making Soap Dough for Decorating Body Bars

When I first took on soap dough as my newest assignment for Countryside, I recalled pleasant days of rolling scraps of soap into balls for hand soaps. Then I remembered how rough the kneading and rolling was with such a stiff soap dough. Most of the recipes I saw for this particular decorative soap technique were hardly distinct from regular soap recipes. Hard oils and soft oils were used in the usual ratios, and a few sources even said to use your regular soap recipe for making soap dough, because this decorative soap is simply soap prevented from drying out and hardening. This is true to some extent, but a soapmaker will know that different recipes yield a difference in firmness and texture after 48 hours in the mold. The coconut oil soap will be hard and crumbly — definitely not good for soap dough. The pure olive oil soap will be soft and possibly a bit sticky after 48 hours.

I try to keep my recipes simple and my soap ingredients list short. To this end I formulated a recipe for a soap dough with moderate firmness at 48 hours, and a higher firmness after four to five days in a mold sealed with plastic to prevent water loss. When I was completing the recipe, I colored the batter prior to molding so that the dough would be ready for whatever soap designs I decided to make at the 48-hour mark. I was pleased to see that the dough continued to be workable for about a week after making. This allows more planning room for using the soap dough. I chose not to use any soap scent in the soap dough, simply because fragrance can affect the texture and hardness of soap in a variety of unpredictable ways. If you do choose to use a soap scent, be sure to pick something that is familiar to you, well-behaved in soap, and does not discolor.

Soap Dough
Soap dough flowers and fruits. Photo by Melanie Teegarden.

This recipe uses the heat transfer method to melt the oils. This means that the fresh, hot lye water is used to melt the coconut oil completely, then the other two oils are added to help further cool down the batter. When all ingredients are mixed, the temperature of the batter should be between 100 and 115 degrees F. If not, let it sit for a while until the temperature lowers. As long as you do not stir continuously or use a stick blender, the soap batter will stay liquid for quite some time.

Soap Dough Recipe

Makes approximately 1.5 lbs. of soap dough, 5% superfat

  • 2.23 oz. sodium hydroxide
  • 6 oz. water (no discount)
  • 10 oz. olive oil, room temperature
  • 4 oz. coconut oil, room temperature
  • 2 oz. castor oil, room temperature

Instructions:

Weigh the water in a lye-safe container big enough to hold 1.5 pounds of soap batter. Weigh out the lye in another container, then pour into the water and mix carefully. The solution will heat up to approximately 200 degrees F within a matter of a few seconds, and release a plume of steam. Avoid breathing the steam by having good airflow in your work area, an opened window, or a gentle fan. Once the lye water is completely mixed, measure the coconut oil into a separate container and add to the lye mixture, stirring gently until fully melted and translucent. Weigh the olive and castor oils one at a time in a separate container, then add them to the lye solution as well. Stir gently to mix the solution well, then use a stick blender in quick bursts just until the solution is emulsified — no longer. You will know when emulsification is reached because the solution will lighten in color. If you prefer to color your soap dough now, measure out portions in several containers (use separate molds for each color) and add 1 teaspoon of soap-safe mica colorant to each container. Mix one at a time and immediately pour into individual molds. Save a portion without mica and add a touch of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to achieve a bright white color. Use plastic wrap placed directly onto the surface of the soap to seal each mold well, preventing air from reaching the soap while it saponifies. Wait 48 hours for the soap to fully saponify before using. If you want a softer texture, add a few drops of water to a portion and work it in until the proper consistency is reached. If you prefer a firmer dough, leave it out in the open air for short periods of time until proper firmness is reached.

Soap Dough
Seal out all air while saponifying. Photo by Melanie Teegarden.

If preferred, you can also add the colorant after making the soap. Select a portion of uncolored dough and add mica one teaspoon at a time, working in well, to achieve the colors you want.

Once you have molded your dough into the shapes and objects you desire, attach them individually to bars of soap by using a small portion of water to moisten the soap surfaces and stick them together. You can also use a small portion of soap dough as “glue” to hold it onto the finished bar soap. Allow to air dry for the usual four to six weeks for best results before using.

That’s all there is to it! Making soap dough is a fun and rewarding process. The finished dough is great for adults and children alike to use for creating beautiful, original soap bars. Happy soaping, and please let us know your experiences with soap dough!

Soap Dough
Finished soap bars. Photo by Melanie Teegarden.

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