Using Honey in Cold Process Soap

I’m writing up this post because I really would have benefited from reading one like it before I went on my latest soap-making adventure. But sometimes, as we all know, people who share tutorials and recipes online aren’t always as thorough as we’d like. So here’s what happened.

After my first go at making cold-process soap from a kit, I stocked up on ingredients to make my first batch entirely from scratch. And I got it in my head to use honey, so I started looking around for honey-soap recipes, and I found quite a few. So I made my soap and I used honey, and about half an hour after I poured the soap into the mold, I took a peek and saw that it was turning an alarming shade of very dark brown, and so I started googling what might go wrong with honey soap. And I discovered something that none of the blog posts I’d read mentioned: honey makes soap get super hot.

Ordinarily, when you make cold-process soap, you want to insulate the mold with towels, to keep the heat in. As with all things, it’s a balance, and if you mix your soap fairly hot, insulating it will keep it too hot, but overall, generally speaking, your soap needs warmth.

Honey Causing Discoloration in Cold Process Soap

Honey, though, man. Honey soap, I discovered quickly after googling what can go wrong with it, gets so hot that instead of worrying about insulating your mold, you should consider putting it into the fridge or even the freezer. That’s how hot the honey (it’s the sugars) makes the soap get.

So after learning that, I put the mold in front of a painfully draughty window, and though it’s a significantly darker colour than it would have been had it not superheated, I’m told by experienced soap makers that it’ll be perfectly fine to use. So at least there’s that. Check out the comments on this Instagram post! I got so much helpful advice from fellow soap-makers during this ‘learning experience.’

And now I’ll list my recipe, with relevant notes about using honey, so if you’re here because you want to use honey when you make cold-process soap, hopefully you won’t fall into the same trap I did.

This is not a tutorial. Making cold-process soap involves lye, which is a very dangerous chemical when not handled properly. For a great beginner tutorial, see this.

Finished Cold Process Soap With Honey

Cold-Process Cocoa-Butter Honey Soap

Notes: Oils listed in percentages so you can use this recipe to yield any amount of soap you’d like (with specific amounts for use with a 4-pound mold in parentheses). Honey (or any sugary additive) makes soap mixtures super-heat. Rather than insulating your soap mold as you would normally do, prepare a very cool, or even cold, place to put your mold immediately after pouring to prevent it from overheating.

  • 34% (15 oz.) olive oil
  • 28% (12.30 oz.) coconut oil
  • 19% (8.36 oz.) ethically sourced palm oil
  • 10% (4.4 oz.) castor oil
  • 9% (3.96 oz.) cocoa butter

Put all that into a lye calculator to figure out your lye and water amounts. For a 4-pound batch, use 6.23 oz. of lye and 14.50 oz. of water.

Let the lye-water and oils cool more than usual before mixing – some people recommend letting them cool to quite a bit below 100F. At light trace, add about 3 tbsp of honey. (I also added about 3 tbsp of oatmeal, milk and honey fragrance oil, which discolours to a light tan.)

After pouring into your mold, cover the top with parchment paper. Posts I’ve read recommend placing the mold in a cool or cold place, ranging from the refrigerator to the freezer to a windowsill if it’s cold outside. The photos you see here are the result of me first not knowing about the honey-superheating factor, so at first I put a towel over the mold, then I noticed that the soap cracked a bit, so I removed the towel, then about half an hour later I noticed that crazy dark colour forming, and so I started looking up what might be going wrong, and then I put the mold in front of a draughty window. From what I’ve read, superheating can really go wrong, especially if you’re making a milk soap. So mine didn’t go terribly wrong, just a little bit wrong, and soap-makers have assured me the soap will be perfectly usable.

Cut Cold Process Soap with Honey

So there you have it. A honey soap recipe with notes about working with honey.

Go make some soap!

42 responses to “Using Honey in Making Cold-Process Soap”

  1. KelleBelle Avatar

    Mmmmmmmmm it looks like toffee…

  2. WordLily Avatar

    I was wondering. Does this happen with non-sugar sugars, too? Like with the lactose in a goat milk soap?

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      Written with thumbs. Pesky thumbs that love typos.

    2. JennyLynn Soaps Avatar

      Also vanilla make soap turn a light to dark brown.

  3. Maya Mohan Avatar
    Maya Mohan

    This just happened to me tonight! Thanks for this post – I’ve put the molds in the fridge. I hope that will nip this in the bud!!
    – Maya

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      How did it turn out, Maya? Also, what are those dark flecks on top? They look lovely!

      1. Maya Mohan Avatar
        Maya Mohan

        Hmmm…so I’m not totally sure. I made 4 batches- the 2 I posted a picture of yesterday (bottom left on attached picture) seemed to reverse their weirdness. But when I checked the other 2 (bottom right on the attached picture) this morning (I did not put those in the fridge), they had slightly dark spots in the middle! *and* there’s something ashy on top!! Is this all because of the honey?!?! Argh hahaha

        1. Maya Mohan Avatar
          Maya Mohan

          Oh, also those flecks are oatmeal!

          1. Kim Werker Avatar

            Mmm. Oatmeal.

            Ok, ash on top isn’t specific to honey soap. It’s called soda ash, and it’s totally harmless (just unsightly in some people’s opinions – you can run the soap under water and dry it off and it’ll be washed away!).

            Sounds like the spots in your un-refregerated soaps might be from super-heating. Have you cut them into bars yet? If they look okay on the inside, they should be fine to use!

          2. Holly Easterling Avatar
            Holly Easterling

            How long did you refrigerate?

  4. Crystal Avatar

    I made a batch of hot process soap with goat’s milk, and just before putting it in the molds, I added about a fourth cup of honey, and the batch went from tan to weird red to chocolate brown in a matter of seconds! It set up fine, smells fine, and lathers fine, but not sure I like the color?

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      I’ve never made hot-process soap, so I’m afraid I have nothing to add. If you experiment more, please let me know!

    2. mammbear74 Avatar

      HI Crystal – hot process soap by its nature is going to create temperatures which caramelise the sugars turning your soap brown. There is nothing you can do to stop this. The soap is perfectly fine to use but if you don’t like the colour see my comment above for how to use it in Cold Process Soap. cheers and good luck.

    3. mammbear74 Avatar

      ps – I don’t know how much soap you were making but honey shold be about a small tablespoon per pound of oils. Good luck. :)

  5. Gem Avatar

    I’ve never made soap. This isy starting recipe. No pressure! Everything’s on the side ready…let’s do this!

  6. Mars Balms Avatar
    Mars Balms

    I am so sorry I didn’t see this before I tried my hand at honey soap… Just uncovered a burnt batch. Did yours smell burnt as well? Does the smell disappear with time, and how did it soap up in the end?

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      Mine didn’t smell burnt, no, but I managed to cool it down before it got *too* hot. It ended up making for wonderful soap. In further batches, I actually look forward to the darker colour and have no interest in cooling the soap so much that it doesn’t get dark.

  7. mammabear74 Avatar

    When you make soap with an additive containing a sugar (sucrose, fructose, lactose etc) the temperatures created during the saponification process basically caramelise the sugar turning the soap a brown toffee colour. Naturally the depth of the colour is dependant on how much sugar by volume you have in the recipe. I personally like the colour of your honey soap because it looks like …well…honey. Any kind of milk, vegetable or syrup (honey, molasses etc) will burn during those first 24 hours. If you don’t like the discolouration, you need to do the following…. when making soap using honey – don’t use wooden molds, they provide too much insulation. Use silicone or plastic (PET or PP). Freeze your molds first, then put the soap in the freezer for the first 24 hours, then let sit at room temp for 24hours before unmolding. This process will take alot longer for the soap to cure out but it will maintain the creamy white colour. When using milks of any kind or fruit juice in place of water – freeze it in ice cube trays. Measure it out frozen, then pour the caustic soda onto the frozen milk blocks and leave it to melt – stirring ocassionally. I also sit my frozen lye container in an ice bath after half of the milk blocks have melted to keep the temperatures down. Again with milk soap use plastic mold that you have pre-frozen, then set in the freezer for 24hours as with the honey soap. Also remember, that anything with high sugar levels – will give soap a lovely lather – but it can be extremely reactive with sodium hydroxide and cause soap volcanoes. Not something you want to deal with if making soap in your kitchen!! Always make these soaps outside and always put your containers into bigger plastic storage containers in case of overspills. Plus – keep a bottle of vinegar on hand. It neutralises acid on your skin if you have an accident. Wash with vinegar then rinse for 10minutes with cold water. But of course this won’t be a problem for happy soapers because you will be wearing your gloves, long sleeved, good shoes, goggles and breathing mask! Happy soaping.

  8. Leslie Stallard Avatar

    Thank you for taking the time to write about your experience soaping with honey. Your site was a hit asking The Google how to add/when to add honey to soap batch. I knew sugars will heat up a batch in addition to increasing lather but I didn’t know about the colouring. I’ve made a few batches of soap and like you love the science geek part of it. So far much of what I’ve made has gone to family; my daughter keeps encouraging me to make it to sell. Would have to wrap my mind around the work involved :-)

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      Totally! I’m in the same boat, Leslie. :)

  9. sudsy Avatar

    I have added some treacle (molasses) to my coconut milk soap and I am going to monitor the temp and insulate or refrigerate if things change too much.

  10. Lisa Avatar

    woman thanks so much for this post. i blew my first honey soap too, in a hot process though but also after reading a zillion recipes from soapies in which noone mentioned the risk. your post here really fills a gap haha! i now have my first cold process honey soap standing in the freezer and waiting for a success! thanks again & have fun with your soap making ventures!! xx lisa

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      How did it turn out, Lisa?

  11. Holly Easterling Avatar
    Holly Easterling

    If I were to make a hp goats milk and honey soap would the cooling process be the same? refrigerate or put in a cool place uninsulated?

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      I’m afraid I have no experience with hot process soap, but my inclination is to suspect that, yes, any soap made with milk and/or honey will involve a hotter chemical reaction than soaps that contain no sugars.

      1. Holly Easterling Avatar
        Holly Easterling

        While I ended up getting a few bubbles in my soap it came out great otherwise!! Your tip kept it from going dark brown. Thanks!!

        1. Kim Werker Avatar

          Right on! Those are a cool shape, too – did you build your own mould?

          1. Holly Easterling Avatar
            Holly Easterling

            It’s actually just a 12 inch silicone mold. Similar to the kind you see being used for bread making.

  12. Alma Avatar

    hi all :) i made milk and honey soap with tangerine and cedarwood eo. first it was nice toffee color, but after few days it turned really dark brown color. does that means that it overheated too? i didnt cover it…

  13. ruth brown Avatar
    ruth brown

    I just made honey goats milk soap today in a wooden mold,an put in bedroom closet on shelf like I do al my soaps. I came back an it was turning a dark brown in the middle, so I took your advice an put it in the frig. my question is how long do I leave it in there an is it still ok to use?

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      It should still be good to use (assuming the milk didn’t burn and get smelly, which probably wouldn’t make the soap *unusable* but it would make it pretty unpleasant). My hunch is that you should leave it in the fridge for several hours, at least. Even overnight. If come morning it’s just an utter disaster, try again, putting it in the fridge immediately, and see how it goes!

  14. Cynthia Avatar

    It looks lovely and thank you for the article! I just read elsewhere that it’s good to discount your water by the amount of honey you’re putting in and that the honey will blend in more easily if you add a bit of water to it. The writer said you could get globs of honey here and there leaving some dark spots otherwise. But again, seems your soap turned out just great!! :) It’s a beautiful color I think. I shall be shooting for that!! (Course I’ll probably get scared it’ll burn and put it in the fridge and it will only end up tan. I’d hate the loss of money if I were to burn even a 2 lb batch – poor these days :(. Oh well. At least I have enough to make SOME soap – count your blessings right?!?! :) ).


  15. Colette Rankin Avatar
    Colette Rankin

    Hi. Yep the same has happened to me. Just made the first batch. A lovely brown shade but I had hoped it would stay cream. Guess I still have a lot of reading to do. The smell seams good a rich warm smell but hoping this will improve as I thought at first I had burnt the honey with wrapping the soap up. Good to know I don’t need to throw it. Only hope it will be good in a few weeks.

  16. Jan Gilliland Avatar
    Jan Gilliland

    I make goat milk soap and they don’t need to be blanket wrapped, I also add honey. I usually make my soap when its cold weather, put plastic wrap over the top and set it outside. Much easier than making room in the refrigerator.

  17. Mariah Avatar

    I made an oatmeal honey soap cold process soap after about 6 weeks I am getting large white almost floury spots on the bottom of the bars- do you know what is causing this?

  18. Joy Butler Markham Avatar

    Gosh I am enjoying reading comments here. To help the very very poor ladies and children I am trying to set up a Soap Making workshop in Sri Lanka. We grow coconuts, and I am just starting to keep bees in order to make our own honey. The local hotels love the fact that we can say NO CHEMICALS … if anyone has any tips for this venture, it would be so much appreciated. Or if anyone would like to come over to Sri Lanka to help with some training, you would be more than welcome.

  19. Nikki Avatar

    So other than honey over heating the soap, If I added too much honey are there any other negatives??? My bars look beautiful and I didn’t add honey to mixture until temp was down to about 95deg F. I didn’t pour into mold and cover until temp drop to about 85deg. I let seat in mold for maybe 24hours and then I cut and put on drying rack. It looks nice. But I’m wondering about any other negatives because I used about 4-6oz of honey in my 12-15lbs loaf.

  20. Vitaqueen Avatar

    I’m going to put 1/4 of a cup in a 2 pound batch and see what happens. Your soap looks delicious!

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