Clean Beauty Tips & Techniques How to Make Shampoo Bars: 4 Eco-Friendly Recipes These DIY recipes will help you kick plastic-packaged haircare laden with synthetic chemicals. By Olivia Young Olivia Young Writer Ohio University Olivia Young is a writer, fact checker, and green living expert passionate about tiny living, climate advocacy, and all things nature. She holds a degree in Journalism from Ohio University. Learn about our editorial process Updated April 17, 2023 Karl Tapales / Getty Images Clean Beauty Products Tips & Techniques Homemade shampoo bars with natural ingredients are the best way to avoid the surplus of concerning chemicals in traditional hair care products. SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulfate) are perhaps the two most well-known, shunned by the vast majority of clean beauty aspirants, but parabens, silicones, formaldehyde, coal tar, synthetic fragrances, and phthalates are ubiquitous among mainstream shampoos, too. Besides evading ingredients that threaten the well-being of both your hair and the environment, making shampoo bars at home also helps alleviate plastic waste. Johnson & Johnson, the multinational parent company of myriad beauty brands, has said that Americans throw away 552 million shampoo bottles per year. With these easy, all-natural, vegan, and refreshingly plastic-free shampoo bar recipes, no bottles have to end up in landfill and pollute the planet for hundreds of years. The Basic Anatomy of a Shampoo Bar Although most shampoo bars are made through a complex chemical process called saponification—the same process used to make soap—they're surprisingly easy to whip up using common ingredients and kitchen tools. Generally, shampoo bars are made by mixing fat (i.e., oils from plants or lard from animals), lye (also called sodium hydroxide), and sometimes a fragrance, then leaving the concoction to cure for about a month. Although heat is needed for saponification, making shampoo bars with lye is a no-cook process—the heat occurs naturally. What Is Saponification? Saponification is the chemical reaction that occurs when fat or oil is combined with lye, ultimately creating soap. It's best to always measure out your ingredients beforehand and have them at the ready, as some of the steps in shampoo bar-making must be carried out in quick succession. Before starting on a recipe, cover surfaces with newspaper, protect skin and eyes with gloves and goggles, and make sure your space is well ventilated. Saponification causes intense fumes and can burn skin. 1 of 4 All-Purpose Shampoo Bar for Normal Hair MAIKA 777 / Getty Images This basic shampoo bar made from lye and a trio of familiar beauty-centric oils is incredibly simple and versatile. You can swap out sweet almond oil for avocado oil, grapeseed oil, rice bran oil, or macadamia nut oil, or play around with essential oil blends to create a custom scent. Ingredients 2/3 cup olive oil2/3 cup coconut oil in liquid form2/3 cup sweet almond oil1/4 cup lye3/4 cup cool water2 tablespoons essential oil (optional) Steps Combine oils in a glass or stainless-steel bowl.In a separate heat-proof container, slowly pour the lye into water, stirring constantly. Stand back to avoid fumes.Allow the lye and water mixture to cool to about 125 degrees, then slowly pour it into the oil, stirring constantly.Mix with a hand blender until the consistency is pudding-like.Stir in another tablespoon of oil (for added moisture) and essential oils.Transfer the mixture to a silicone mold, cover, and let sit for 24 hours.After 24 hours, remove the soap from the mold and cure in a dry place for four weeks before using. Warning Never pour water into lye. This can cause the chemicals to erupt in a caustic volcano of hot, corrosive liquid. 2 of 4 Moisturizing Shampoo Bar for Dry Hair S847 / Getty Images Many shampoo bar recipes hailed for their moisturizing properties include tallow, otherwise known as rendered beef fat. If you would prefer not to rub animal fat all over your head (!), shea butter and soothing bentonite clay make great vegan alternatives. Here, lavender essential oil also makes a cameo. Ingredients 1/2 cup olive oil1/2 cup coconut oil in liquid form3 tablespoons shea butter1/4 cup castor oil1/3 cup cool water1 tablespoon lye2 teaspoons lavender essential oil 2 teaspoons bentonite clay Steps Mix clay with a drop of water (just enough to wet it) and let sit.Mix together water and lye as previously described.Mix together oils and shea butter in a separate bowl.Pour lye mixture into fat mixture slowly, then mix with a hand blender until it starts to thicken.Turn the blender off, mix in clay and essential oil, then stir by hand until you reach a pudding-like consistency.Pour liquid soap into mold, cover, and let sit for 24 hours.Remove from mold after 24 hours and cure for at least four weeks. 3 of 4 Deep-Cleansing Shampoo Bar for Oily Hair Karl Tapales / Getty Images If you find that shampoo bars leave you feeling greasy, try one with apple cider vinegar, which is great for unclogging hair follicles and balancing your scalp's pH. This lye-free recipe uses jojoba beads for exfoliation and a dash of castile soap to combat excess oil. Ingredients 1/2 cup jojoba beads 3/4 cup carnauba wax 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar1/3 cup liquid castile soap2 teaspoons essential oil (optional) Steps Melt carnauba wax using a double boiler, then let cool slightly.When cooled, stir in the rest of the ingredients.Pour the mixture into a soap mold and refrigerate until solidified. 4 of 4 Lye-Free Shampoo Bar for Sensitive Scalps Brent Hofacker / 500px / Getty Images Lye can be harsh on some skin types. Castile soap does include lye, but it's heavily diluted with plant oils and, therefore, gentler than higher concentrations of the alkaline chemical. Try this recipe with nourishing black molasses and castor oil if you struggle with sensitive skin. Ingredients 1 cup melt-and-pour castile soap1 teaspoon olive oil1/2 teaspoon castor oil1/2 teaspoon black molasses15 drops vanilla essential oil15 drops patchouli essential oil10 drops rosemary essential oil Steps Melt castile soap base in a double boiler.Once melted, stir in olive oil, castor oil, and black molasses. Let cool.Stir in essential oils before pouring the mixture into the soap mold.Let set in soap mold for at least 24 hours before cutting or using. Frequently Asked Questions Are homemade shampoo bars good for hair? Yes, especially when they are made with natural ingredients. By making your own shampoo bars, you can exclude harmful chemicals and any harsh ingredients that don't work with your hair. You can also choose a DIY shampoo bar recipe based on your hair's needs. Which soap base is best for shampoo bars? We recommend using oils from plants, lye, or castile soap (or a combination of these three, if your recipe calls for this) as the base for your homemade shampoo bars. View Article Sources "Where are your shampoo bottles going?" Johnson & Johnson. 2014. "Anti-psoriatic effect of Lavandula angustifolia essential oil and its major components linalool and linalyl acetate." Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2020.