The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
December 18, 2008

Liquid Soap Fail: What am I doin’ wrong?

This is a 1000 gram block of olive oil soap I bought from Body Time (a shop in my neighborhood) a while back. It was completely unpackaged. I thought I would use it to make liquid soap — to replace the Dr. Bronner’s we have been using for dishwashing once it’s gone. I figured all I’d need to do is dissolve the bar in a pot of water and voila! Liquid soap. Did I check any recipes or instructions? No way, man. It just seemed way too obvious.

So, I put the entire block of soap in a stock pot on the stove, filled it up with water, and started stirring. And stirring. And stirring. Thinking I’d save time, I didn’t bother grating the soap beforehand. So yes, this process took hours. Hours of gas stove energy. Hours of occasional stirring.

After the whole thing was dissolved, I let the pot cool. When I checked it the next day, I found a huge stock pot of solid soap!

Okay, I guess an entire kilogram of soap (2.2 pounds) requires more water. So I dug out half of it, added water to the pot, and started the process again. And ended up with… more solid soap.

I actually spent several days dissolving smaller and smaller portions of soap in larger quantities of water and I finally had a solution that seemed liquid enough. Check out this picture:

The soap in the pot is pourable. The soap in the bowl, totally solid.

The problem with the soap in the pot is that it’s all full of little white crystalized bits that don’t seem to dissolve. Why is this? I have no idea. So I first try pouring it through a metal strainer. That gets out the bigger bits. But there are still some left.

So next I pour it through cheese cloth. Yes, this is taking way, way longer than it should and is a ridiculous mess. But hey, it’s a learning experience, right? And kind of fun in a surreal, “I am a total idiot” sort of way. So okay, most of the white bits have been removed. This is what I ended up with:

From a 1 kilogram block of soap I have a full Dr. Bronner’s bottle of soap, plus some extra in a ceramic container, and the rest — nearly solid — in a metal bowl. And here is the question that keeps me up at night: is all this soap just going to go rancid (from the olive oil) before I have time to use it all???

Okay, laugh. It’s funny, right? And then tell me what I should have done.

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33 Comments on "Liquid Soap Fail: What am I doin’ wrong?"

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6 years 5 months ago

I didn’t read all the comments so I’m sorry if someone already said this but liquid soap is made from a different alkali:

– Solid soap is made from oils plus sodium hydroxide.
– Liquid soap is oils plus POTASSIUM hydroxide.

Yes, you can make a gloopy runny gross liquid-ish soap from bar soap by dissolving it, but for real liquid soap, like dr bronners, you need potassium hydroxide at the start

Here’s a good soap calculator:
You need to select KOH (top left) for liquid soap


6 years 10 months ago

I’ve never had any luck at all with making liquid soap from bar soap. Every time I tried, no matter what soap I used or how much I blended or boiled it, I ended up with…slimy gunk.

Sure, it was soapy slimy gunk that you could use to wash things with, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant to use. So after various trials, I gave up.

Instead, for dishes, you can use solid bar soap (“sunlight” works well) with a sponge cloth. It doesn’t give you heaps of bubbles, but it does clean your dishes. I blogged about it here.

For… Read more »

6 years 10 months ago

On a recent trip to Germany, I noticed an interesting solution to the liquid soap problem in a commuter train bathroom: a device that grates a small amount of soap onto your hand when you turn a handle. So it was sanitary like liquid soap.

6 years 11 months ago

I don’t know anything about soap making, but don’t feel bad. I’ve done similar things before. At least you’re trying!

6 years 11 months ago

First, let me thank you for making me aware of the need to reduce the use of plastic! I’ve always recycled when possible, but now I’m trying to avoid it whenever possible.

Second, I’ve crocheted some tawashis (google it, I couldn’t find my favorite link) out of some long-owned acrylic yarn. (Still “plastic” but one can use cotton — it just gets slimy quicker.) And slip a sliver of the bar soap (or now, “bowl soap”!) inside the tawashi. Or, make a little terrycloth bag and slip the soap inside and use that to wash dishes. I like… Read more »

6 years 11 months ago

Beth, this is both so totally hilarious and amazing. I am so impressed with your commitment. Perhaps you can store the bottle in the fridge to prevent it from going rancid? I do it for nuts.

You are awesome for trying. Keep us posted on the usability of your liquid soap :)

knutty knitter
6 years 11 months ago

The metal mesh things work fine.

I have a use for some of the slivers – they are great for marking fabric for sewing projects. Just use them like a pencil and they wash out completely of course :)

viv in nz

6 years 11 months ago

oh, beth! thank goodness i’m not the only one turning “simple projects” into on-going kitchen taking over events for the whole family. i laughed WITH you, most appreciatively, while admiring your commitment, motivation, and perseverance conveyed throughout your detailed, complete with pictures recipe of how to SORTA make liquid soap.

i wanted to add an idea for the scraps of soap from solid soap bars we all end up with. instead of a metal cage (which would work but i’d have to buy), i’ve been using one of those mesh (unfortunately plastic)bags which oranges or perhaps… Read more »

2 years 9 months ago

please note that these plastic- bags that came with the oranges etc. are might toxic. i heard something about that the other day.

6 years 11 months ago

Liquid soap like Dr. Bronner’s and solid soap are actually chemically different; it’s not that the liquid soap has more water. Just like you can’t make cooking oil by diluting butter, you can’t really make liquid soap by diluting solid soap in water.

There are actually some good step-by-step instructions on the Internet on how to make liquid soap yourself. Or you could try different substrates to dissolve the solid soap in, like gel, glycerin, or oils. I’ve got similar experiments going to turn diluted Dr. Bronner’s into more thick, pumpable hand soap. Go with small batches, though, until you find… Read more »

heather t
6 years 11 months ago

I was thinking of trying something similar – now I know better!

I keep my regular cooking oils (olive & canola) in the fridge to keep them fresh longer. You might try that with the soap.

6 years 11 months ago

Beth, don’t feel bad…my first batch of dish soap was renamed “Stupid Soap” by my sister.
She claims that my inventions should be marketed as .. “suckie products for the urban environmentalist”..with MENTAList in bold highlights!!
Still, I keep on….

6 years 11 months ago

My grandmother used a bar of Ivory soap to wash dishes all her life — no liquid. She’d rub it on a cloth.

Cheap Like Me
6 years 11 months ago

All I can say is:


I am filled with new inspiration to support the Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap empire. And maybe they’ll put it in glass jars one day.

May the force [of reason] be with you. ;)

6 years 11 months ago

I make dishwashing soap by grating a very small part of a bar of Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap. I guess the small amount I’m thinking of is about 3/4inch of the bar. I put this into a used plastic squeeze bottle with about 12 ounces of hot water and then I shake it and let it sit for a couple of hours. It’s kind of slimy and stringy but when it’s cool I add 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol – I think that keeps the particles in suspension. I don’t know how good the alcohol… Read more »

kale for sale
6 years 11 months ago

I bought dishwashing soup the other day, biodegradable, organic and in a plastic container. I wondered, what does Beth use? — I had no idea. I thought you would have some easy answer although your science project was pretty entertaining.

Fake Plastic Fish
6 years 11 months ago

So, what I’m gathering from these comments is kind of what I thought.

1) Bar soap does not make great liquid soap, acksully.

2) If you are going to make liquid soap out of bar soap, grate a small amount and dissolve it in a lot of water.

3) Using the blender and adding some aloe vera gel could be a good idea.

Clif — speechless is okay. But are you smiling or rolling your eyes? Or a combination of both?

Hillary — you win! I wondered if anyone would notice Arya’s little yellow eyes in the corner of… Read more »

6 years 11 months ago

Vulva balm? Vulva balm! I’m laughing so hard I’m spitting. What is it? I can’t wait to make my own!

My soapstory: Recently I put 4 slivers of different soaps in a pint-size glass jar and I want to be very clear that they were honest slivers. A knife never touched them. They were simply used-up, formerly solid bars of soap. I put the jar in the microwave for one minute. The soap liquefied. I added a little water, stirred it with my finger and had a jar of… Read more »

Mark Carlton
6 years 11 months ago

Oh the humanity! Miss Beth I can just see you revving up to get it right and plugging away through the night. Good for you, girl. Keep up the great work- we’re all more aware because of you- and as MonkeyJen said waht about the VC?

6 years 11 months ago

I haven’ tried making soap, yet, but I plan to. I have all the stuff for trying liquid laundry detergent.

Thank you for winging it. It actually helps a lot to see the unexpected results, as well as the perfect recipes from people that are skilled with soap.

Scott Wells
6 years 11 months ago

I once had a conversation about solid soap for dishwashing with a woman much older than myself. She said that — as a child — she had a wire mesh contraption where the soap bits went. Made me think of a tiny french-fry basket with a mesh lid, the way she described it.

To wash dishes, she would shake the basket in the dishwater.

6 years 11 months ago

Oh – and on a more constructive note, try this:

It seems pretty uncomplicated, unlike others which require lye and KOH and other things that nobody really has around (i hope)

6 years 11 months ago

I’m intrigued by this recipe for liquid soap from scratch .

6 years 11 months ago

I just made liquid soap and posted it on my blog ( I used 1 oz grated soap, 4 oz water, and 4 oz aloe vera gel. I weighed the ingredients to make sure I had accurate amounts. It took about an hour total to make–I used a whisk to break up the soap. I ended up adding a little more soap b/c the aloe vera made it liquidy. But after it was completely cooled, it thickened up a lot but was still pumpable.

6 years 11 months ago

Oh Beth… speechless. HEY! You know what you should try to make? Vulva Balm. Get back to me on that.

Green Bean
6 years 11 months ago

Good for you for trying. No clue if it will go rancid or what would be an easier way or if it is the best solution. I often feel like that with some of the things I do. Thanks for the laugh. :)

6 years 11 months ago

PS — there is a very obvious cat in the first photo of the pot and the bowl, but I love that there is a harder-to-detect cat in the last photo that I didn’t see at first!

6 years 11 months ago

I think you need an emulsifier to keep it in a liquid state…otherwise the oil will just stick to itself and harden again as it cools. But I don’t know what to suggest — if you were cooking, I’d say an egg. You need something that will create a suspension in which the oil and the water can live harmoniously.

6 years 11 months ago

You’ve done it, Beth. I’m speechless.

Condo Blues
6 years 11 months ago

I’m sorry, I have to laugh at your experiment because it sounds a lot like how one of my DIY projects turns South because I bring it back on course. Are you sure you don’t live near my DIY vortex? :)

I’m experiementing with making my own laundry soap.(I make powdered because it works better in my washing machine and it’s less messy than the liquid method.) However all of the recipes I’ve read about making liquid laundry soap tell you to blend the melted soap shavings in water mixture with a hand blender or paint stirring attachment in a powder… Read more »

The Purloined Letter
6 years 11 months ago

You do really put forth the effort, don’t you?

An easy answer for the lazy among us: put the block of soap on a large seashell (or whatever) next to your sink and wipe the soap with the washrag as you clean up. For most purposes, it works just fine.

Anarres Natural Health
6 years 11 months ago

Dear Beth,

I applaud you for your committment!

I myself do use soap scraps dissolved in water for dish soap. Everyone else hates this practice, so I make them go refill my squeeze bottle at the coop with real liquid soap. Solid soap, when liquified, leaves streaks and blobs.

Most liquid soap is really detergent: sodium laurel sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate. Real liquid soap is a different creature than bar soap. I make it from non petroleum cocomidopropyl betaine and cornacopa, soaps made from beets, corn and coconut. When I make shampoos, I fluff it up with xanthan gum, or thicken it… Read more »

6 years 11 months ago

This is hysterically funny! I have no idea what you did wrong, other than grating a smaller amount into hot water maybe…. but it reminds me of the time I tried to “recycle” newspaper and colored paper into a liquid pulp that I could press into paper to make cute little note cards with. To make the pulping process go faster, I put the mess into a blender on puree! Yeah, don’t do that. It’ll burn up your blender. Oh, and paper pulp stinks too. Just thought you should know.