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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5 years ago

This is the closest thing I have found to what I have been looking for, for quite sometime. Is there a way to “melt down” bar soap scraps and then put them in a mold to make a new bar.

5 years ago
Reply to  Bonnie

Microwave! I’ve done it before with a solid bar

5 years ago

Lol had a great laugh, have had similar problems… Don’t stress about olive oil going rancid, I buy 10 litre cans of it to refil my olive oil bottle and keep them in the cupboard for years. Olive oil doesn’t go bad quickly…

6 years ago

Hi,m I can believe what Michelle is saying about the wrong alkali. I made homemade liquid soap from 4 ounces of leftover bar soap using a recipe found at and it seems like a loaves and fishes thing from the Bible, just keeps on thickening no matter how much I dilute it. I’m on my second round of dilution and waiting for the massive amount to cool once again, having transferred up to a canning kettle from my largest regular cooking pot and waiting to see if once cooled, it’s still going to be too thicky and glorpy. I had wanted to use this in foaming hand soap dispenser and would settle for using in a regular hand soap dispenser if I could just get it to stop thickening up to such a gelatinous blob state.

14 years 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


14 years 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 shampoo, I use bicarb, then rinse with apple cider vinegar. I blogged about it here.

My hair is still intact on my head with no problems. All good so far. And my dishes are clean. Also all good.

Apart from these uses, I’ve just switched to bar soap for hand basins, and bought some nice soap dishes, so that the soap scungies didn’t end up all over the basin (I have preschoolers). Works well, and saves money.

But the liquid soap thing did NOT work. Maybe some evil genius out there knows how to get it to work nicely, but for me, forget it.

So I guess I’m laughing with you, not at you!

14 years 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.

14 years 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!

14 years 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 it better than liquid soap!

Third, I had much the same experience when I tried to turn leftover soap slivers into liquid handsoap. I now have a big jelly jar of hardened liquid soap. It just doesn’t liquify very well.

Thanks for the inspiration — and the laugh.


14 years 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
14 years 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

14 years 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 onions come in, which i had on hand from years ago, saving for some art project or other. i cut off most of the top of the bag, leaving just a small baggie sized bag. i slip the slivers inside and tie the top in a knot. we use it as bar soap for handwashing. the mesh is easy on the hands and allows the “bar” to dry between use. i like the idea of slipping this “bar” into dishwater for dishes, so i’ll be trying that when my liquid soap runs out.

thanks again for all you do. i learn so much here, from you and the other posters. the mistakes are never failures!

10 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

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

14 years 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 something that works.

heather t
14 years 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.

14 years 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….

14 years 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
14 years 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. ;)

14 years 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 is for my hands but there are a lot worse things in most dish soaps. This mixture lasts for a long time (well I’ve always been frugal with dishwashing soaps) but I think that one bar of soap will go a long way for anyone. elledot

kale for sale
14 years 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.

Beth Terry
14 years 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 the last photo.

Jen –Regarding Vulva Balm: I think you should go back to Rainbow and test it out to see if it really works. I’m not interesting in wasting any more time. Take Mark and Axelle with you. And be sure and wear a dress.

14 years 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 liquid soap! It was kind of stringy and slimy, though. I added lemon juice but it didn’t do a thing. I added baking soda, an essential accessory for a successful life, but it sucked the sudsing properties right out of the soap and the whole project became meaningless. I have tried to turn slivers of soap into something useful for over 50 years and have not succeeded yet.

If you don’t use bath soap or shampoo or hair rinse, the floor and walls of your bathing area will not get streaky and cruddy and do you know what that crud is made of? U don’t want to know. If you wipe down your bathing area after each use, you will never have another bad day.

Mark Carlton
14 years 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?

14 years 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
14 years 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.

14 years 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.

14 years ago

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

Green Bean
14 years 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. :)

14 years 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!

14 years 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.

14 years ago

You’ve done it, Beth. I’m speechless.

Condo Blues
14 years 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 drill a second time. Also the soap to water ratio in these tutes are huge. Maybe that was to problem with attempts #1 and #2 – not enough water in the mix?

14 years ago

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

The Purloined Letter
14 years 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
14 years 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 with wood thickeners.

I don't think your soap with go rancid if it is allowed to dry and then stays clean. Dry it and wrap it in paper. If mold develops, just scrape it off.

Solid soap does not make good liquid soap, is all.

Dr Bronner's is great. Our local great option is Nature Clean, available in bulk.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

14 years 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.