Coloring Soap Naturally

Try Clays and Botanicals as Soap Colorants and Exfoliators

Coloring Soap Naturally

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When learning how to make homemade soap, will you use dyes, micas, or try coloring soap naturally?

There are many ways to achieve beautiful colors in your handmade soaps. Some prefer to use soapmaking resources like colored micas, oxides, and ultramarine powders to yield vibrant, consistent colors that never fade. Liquid soap colorant drops can be purchased at most major craft stores. These drops stay true to color in soap, but they often fade over time. Others prefer coloring soap naturally. This includes chopped or powdered herbs and spices, a rainbow of naturally-occurring clays, and liquids such as chlorophyll, oil infusions, or water infusions.

The two main methods of adding color to soap are by direct addition or infusion. In direct addition, the prepared plant matter (chopped, pureed, or powdered) is added to the soap batter at a rate of about 1-2 tablespoons per pound of base oils. The plant matter can be added straight into the base oils or can be added to the traced soap prior to molding. It is best not to add more than 1-2 tablespoons of plant matter as it could result in a crumbly soap that will not hold together for slicing. It’s also important to take into consideration that plant matter will add varying amounts of exfoliating power to the soap. Some powders are finer than others, and therefore some things scrub harder than others. For instance, coffee grounds produce a very rough texture in the soap. Clays typically are so fine that they are almost unnoticeable, although they are also an exfoliant.

In the infusion method, a water or oil infusion of fresh or dried botanical matter is added in small amounts to the soap at trace, mixing and adding more until the desired color is achieved.

Creating colored infusions is a simple matter, but it is best to plan ahead and have them ready well before you want to make soap. Depending on the plant matter, it can take anywhere from a few hours to a week to get a strong enough color for the soap. Infuse to a color much darker than what you want, that way you can add a little bit at a time until you achieve the color you are looking for. Outlined below are the two recommended methods for creating an infusion — oil infusion or water infusion (tea). It is not recommended to use tinctures or alcohol infusions, as alcohol content can cause the soap to seize and also reduces the bubbling abilities of the soap.

To create an oil infusion, pour warm (200°F) oil over the finely chopped, ground, or powdered plant matter, just to cover. Allow the oil to infuse until a deep, rich color is achieved, then strain out the plant matter and discard. If desired, infuse the oils in a crock pot set on low temperature to encourage the infusion along. Use the colored oil in soap as needed to achieve the color you desire, adding by tablespoonfuls and mixing well until the color is right.

To create a water infusion or tea, simply pour boiling water over the plant matter until barely covered. Steep until a strong color is achieved. You can reheat the liquid as desired or keep in a crock pot set on low until the deepest possible color is obtained. Strain well and use the infusion as needed to achieve the color you want. Add it to the base oils or to the soap at trace, before pouring into the mold. Start out with two tablespoonfuls and add more as needed until the color is achieved.

Below are listed several botanicals that can be used for coloring soap naturally. Unfortunately, many naturally colorful ingredients simply cannot hold their color in the caustic environment of raw soap. Ingredients like beets and berry juice, lavender buds, and rose petals tend to turn brown. However, the ingredients listed below will yield colors that stay true in cold processed soap. For best results, keep finished soaps out of direct sunlight to prevent fading of these natural colors.

On the left, a soap colored with neon colored micas; on the right, a soap colored with red palm oil.

Yellow: Calendula petals, whole or ground (petals only). Annatto powder. Saffron threads. Turmeric powder. Yellow clay.
Green: Powdered parsley, rosemary or sage. Spirulina powder or chlorophyll liquid, available at your local health food store. Alfalfa gives a lovely light green. Kelp powder.
Red/Pink/Orange: Pink or Rose clay. Madder root, infused in oil. Moroccan Red clay. Paprika. Red palm oil.
Blue: Woad, infused in water or oil. Indigo powder. (Caution – both can stain!) Blue cornmeal (purplish-blue).
Purple: Madder root water or oil infusion; black walnut hulls, ground.

In both direct addition and infusion methods, it is best to add the colorant either to the base oils or the finished soap batter at trace. For a swirl, you can separate out a portion of the soap batter and add colorant, then drizzle back into the soap pot before pouring into the mold. This is called an in-the-pot swirl and is among the simplest and most common swirl soap making techniques.

Have you tried coloring soap naturally? What is your favorite method?

Melanie Teegarden is a longtime professional soapmaker. She markets her products on Facebook and her Althaea Soaps website.

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