Try this patchouli soap recipe at home. This is a layered soap, the first one I present in my blog. The result was a pretty red and cream layered soap, scented with patchouli and rose geranium essencial oils.
Patchouli essential oil comes from the leaves of the patchouli plant, a type of aromatic herb originated from the tropical climates in South Asia. It became popular along with incense in the 60’s and 70’s due to the indie movement, in the USA.
Patchouli has a strong, sweet scent that falls into the musky-earthy category. It is a base note in perfumes, meaning that it’s the fragrance you smell after the top and mid notes have melted away.)While it’s part of the mint family, patchouli doesn’t smell fresh and cool the way typical mint varieties in the grocery store do. Instead, it smells sweet, spicy and musky.
Much of the evidence for the benefits of patchouli oil is anecdotal, but research is beginning to show that it does have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and pain-relieving properties.
In my experience, patchouli results greatly with rose fragrances.
Rose Geranium Essential Oil
Rose geranium essential oil is distilled from Pelargonium graveolens, grown for essential oil production mainly in Egypt, China, Morocco, Crimea, Ukraine, Georgia, India, and South Africa. It is a type of geranium plant with leaves that smell strongly like roses. This species of geranium is native to certain parts of Africa. The plant has velvety, plush leaves and flowers that bloom pale pink or almost white.
The best about rose geranium is that it can work as a replacement for rose absolute essential oil, which is quite expensive. Any soap batch (1 Kg) you make at home may go from costing 5€ to 50€!
I’ve first started to use a so-called “rose essential oil” for 6€ per 20 ml, which scent is quite good, but it’s not really an essential oil – it’s too cheap to be an authentic rose oil, so I see it as a fragrance oil. I’ve ended up turning to use rose fragrance oils, which smell wonderful. They are not essential oils though. Check out to learn more in What Is a Fragrance Oil?.
The issue here is that fragrances accelerate soap, as I could state the hard way while making several batches of soap with fragrances. This means that your soap will turn from liquid to clumpy, to solid within minutes.
In this case, we want to do layers, therefore, and from my experience, using only essential oils is usually safe, especially if we avoid spicy ones. Make sure they are real essential oils, otherwise, you might have your soap accelerating unintentionally.
Can you use fragrance oils? Well, yes, they might be slightly more allergenic than essential oils, but not much more. If you don’t really have sensitive skin or allergies, and you really like your strong scent on your homemade soap, go for it.
But it’s wise to avoid them when you are making soap designs. You might not have time to work with the soap before it hardens on your pitcher.
Soap Makers Always Want to Try For Soap Swirling and Layers
When you make handmade soap by cold process, you have the opportunity to use different colorants, and while the soap batter is still liquid/paste, you can make swirl designs or a layered soap with different colored layers. There are several techniques for this, with spoons, metal wires (stainless steel!), pouring soap in certain sequences, and using large soap molds.
It’s unavoidable. You see the beautiful handmade soaps pictures flooding the net and you want to make one just like that. At least, you want to try. You get so excited-girly-style with a pretty soap you made yourself!! I was no exception, after successfully making soap at home on my own, I wanted to make a pretty soap!
I’ve started with my soap making hobby in September 2019. Since the early 2020 – a perfect year to practice a hobby due to the COVID pandemic – I have been trying to make a layered soap, or a soap with swirls. My very first experiment was in late 2019 with a coconut soap base, but I believe it worked by chance – I simply mixed (only a little bit) blue and whitish soap batter still inside the pitcher, while the soap batter must have been paste-like.
Since then, I was either trying natural colorants or soap bases, and how to use herbs and plants on soap, and swirls/layers experiments were postponed. When I simply focus on making a layered soap or swirl soap, I ended up with soap batter accelerating and setting (= getting solid) before I could separate it into several pitchers and use different colorants.
One of those experiments was another batch of coconut soap that I didn’t have time to even put any colorant, much less make layers….
My last almost-failed-but-still-made-it soap was this blue and violet soap I made for gifts for Christmas, it set quite fast and I had to madly rush to get my colorful layers. It was too stressful, so in the meantime I did change the recipe 🙂
Tips to Make Soap Design
Use Liquid Oils
So… Experience taught me that, if you want to make swirls and layers, use a soap base with a good percentage of liquid oils, around 70% or more.
100% olive oil soap is great for these sort of design techniques, but be careful with soda ash: make sure you do spray your soaps early with alcohol or witch hazel. Or the whitish soda ash may ending up covering all your nice colorful designs.
Don’t forget to use a soap “hardener” like fine salt or sodium lactate, or you might need to wait days to unmold the soap.
Using Trace for Your Needs
The best, safest way to do this is to start with a light trace. You can always use the stick blender later to thicken the soap batter. It’s a bit difficult to know and explain exactly when you reach a light trace, therefore, you should only go for designs AFTER some experience with simple cold process recipes.
Light trace is reached when your soap batter is still fully liquid, but your oils and lye water are already fully emulsified. Best way to check this is to watch for floating oils on your soap, or wait for the very first soap “marks” to start showing (like in a thick soup, when you drag your spoon and it leaves a mark).
For separated layers, the soap batter should be at a medium to heavy trace. If you want the layers to “blend” or you wish to make swirlings, the soap batter should be kept in light trace.
Once you reach trace, use a spoon or spatula to mix the soap batter. Avoid overusing the stick blender, remember you can always use it later.
Temperatures and Lye Concentration
Other tips are to use low temperatures (35ºC-30ºC or 95ºF – 85ºF) to mix the lye water into the oils. You may even do it at room temperature as long as the oils are fully liquid, and the difference of temperatures between oils and lye water is not bigger than 10ºC.
Use a low lye concentration, meaning basically more water for the same amount of oils and soda (but beware of soda ash…). This tip is actually only helpful if you wish to try and formulate your own soap, as the recipes in this blog are adjusted for its purpose.
Lye concentration of 33% and above should only be used for 100% liquid soaps. You may use concentrations of 28% or even 25%, but be ware of soda ash (that’s why I stick on the 30%, and prefer to use lower temperatures).
And Last But Not Least, Essential Oils vs Fragrance Oils Usage
Some essencial oils and fragrance oils, due to its chemical composition, may also accelerate the soap batter into solidifying. You should know what fragrance/essential oils accelerate your soap base before experimenting these design techniques.
This soap recipe, and others I’ve made, they have accelerated beyond my control, and I had to be on a mad rush to save the soap design. Some were doomed to failure…
After making sure I was using mostly liquid oils, low temperatures and relatively low lye concentrations, I had to conclude it were the fragrance oils I was using that were accelerating the soap batter.
You can see on the soap recipe video (below) that soap gets ticker and ticker, while I was struggling to pour the layers, and it was solely due to using fragrance oils. I’ve made recently this Layered Lavender Cold Process Soap Recipe, and I had no issues with the soap batter this time – because I’ve used ONLY essential oils 🙂
Even some essential oils may accelerate your soap batter. Spicy essential oils are usually prone to that. They also may differ in composition even if they come from same supplier/brand. Fragrance oils, it depends on the chemical formula each manufacturer uses.
But from my experience, using essential oils is usally safe, while fragrance oils usually accelerate your soap. Use fragrance oils only when your soap design is simple – you just pour it in a loaf soap mold after adding the fragrance, and that’s it.
So, I’ve setup this recipe to be able to make a layered soap – and I suppose it’s workable. Still, I consider this as an advanced recipe, and you should have some experience with soap making before jumping into this one – knowing well what trace is, knowing how to control temperatures, how the soap batter behaves in different stages and with different ingredients, how to mold and cut soap.
I used red clay as colorant for the red part, the cream-white is the natural color of the soap base. In this recipe, you need to use a 2 lb (1 kg) bar soap mold, and cut the soap into small bars after 48 hours. It won’t work with individual soap molds (or you will have a different design from the picture, which is possible of course).
While pouring soap for the layers, I really didn’t care how much I’ve put of each color. Just pour the soap and let gravity do its job, the more uneven the layers the prettier the soap 🙂 It’s a test to your patience to wait 48 hours to see how it looks like, but then it’s a very exciting moment, to unmold and cut your soap with pretty hidden designs inside.
Have fun making this soap, and enjoy your soaps at home!!!
Find Where to Buy Handmade Patchouli Soap
If you’re not yet ready to try to make this recipe at home, but you still wish to enjoy natural soaps, you can find handmade patchouli soap at the following links:
Looking for more natural soaps? Check out my review about Apple Valley Natural Soap.
- More about Vegetable Oils: Soap Making Oils Chart
- More about Essential Oils: Essential Oils for Soap Making
- More Soap Recipes: Cold Process Soap Recipes
- More Recipes for Beginners: Homemade Soap Recipes For Beginners
- More Design Soaps: Homemade Soap Gift
Watch These Videos Before Starting Your Recipe
Patchouli Soap Recipe
- star anise or dried petals
- Wear goggles and gloves! Look at “Safety Instructions” in Safety Precautions in Soap Making
- Watch the video above or read the post How To Make Soap by Cold Process Step-by-Step for instructions on cold process. These are generic steps for all recipes.
- Assemble everything: ingredients, equipment, safety equipment. Prepare your workstations. Measure all the ingredients. Don’t start the recipe without having everything ready!
Heat the Oils
- Heat the oils until the solid oils are completely melted (it is not necessary to heat all the time). Up to around 60ºC.
Make The Lye Water
- Make the lye solution according to How To Make Lye Water. If you're using salt, add it to the water and mix. Add the lye and mix well until the vapors start to dissipate. Strain the lye water to avoid any lye crystals in your soap.
- If you're using sodium lactate, add it when the lye water is at 50ºC – 122ºF or below
Make The Soap Batter
- Use as a target temperature 40ºC – 38ºC (104ºF – 100ºF) for the oil-solution mixture. If necessary, you can reheat the oils, but not the lye solution. Reach light trace with the immersion blender.
Add After Trace Ingredients
- Add after trace ingredients: essential oils blend and grapefruit extract. Mix well the batter only with a spoon / spatula.
Make The Layers and Mold The Soap
- Pour half the soap batter into one pitcher and half of the batter to another pitcher.
- Pour the red clay into one of the pitchers and mix well with a spoon or spatula, until the soap is homogeneous. Mix also the white soap batter. By now the soap batter should be like medium/heavy trace.
- Using a loaf soap mold, pour first a layer of the red soap batter covering the soap mold bottom completely.
- Pour a layer of soap, then another layer of red soap, and proceed like that until you finish all your soap batter.
Decorating The Soap
- Make some effects on the top of the dough with a spoon, spatula or fork (see video). Sprinkle the top of your soap with alcohol or witch hazel. Add some star anis or calendula petals to the top.
- Now you need to insulate the loaf mold, so that the soap gels uniformly. You can cover it all around with a blanket or a thick towel. You can also use your oven: pre-heat the oven with 40ºC. Turn it off then place the loaf mold inside.