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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Go Green for Earth Week - Make Your Own Shampoo

By April 21, 2014

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One of the biggest reasons to make your own shampoo is to avoid unwanted, potentially toxic chemicals. Another reason you might want to make your own shampoo is so you can customize the formulation for your hair's needs and your preference for fragrance (or lack of fragrance). Here's a recipe for a gentle vegetable-based shampoo. It's similar to my earlier shampoo recipe except this one uses potassium hydroxide instead of lye, which produces a shampoo that lathers better and rinses more easily. Mix the shampoo in a well-ventilated room or outdoors and be sure to read all of the safety precautions on the ingredients. Readers have recommended triethanolamine or diethanolamine in place of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. Choose the formulation that works best for you.

Shampoo Ingredients

  • 2 lb 10 oz olive oil
  • 1 lb 7 oz of solid-type vegetable shortening
  • 1 lb coconut oil
  • 14.4 oz potassium hydroxide
  • 2 pints water
  • 1-1/2 oz glycerine (glycerol)
  • 1/2 oz ethanol
  • 1-1/2 oz castor oil
  • essential oils (optional), such as peppermint, rosemary, lavender, for fragrance and therapeutic properties
Let's Make Shampoo!
  1. In a large pan, mix together the olive oil, shortening, and coconut oil.

  2. In a well-ventilated area, preferably wearing gloves and eye protection in case of accidents, mix the potassium hydroxide and water. Use a glass or enameled container. This is an exothermic reaction, so heat will be produced.

  3. Warm the oils to 95°F-98°F and allow the potassium hydroxide solution to cool to the same temperature. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to set both containers into a large sink or pan full of water that is at the correct temperature.

  4. When both mixtures are at the proper temperature, stir the solution into the oils. The mixture will turn opaque and may darken.

  5. When the mixture has a creamy texture, stir in the glycerine, alcohol, castor oil, and any fragrance oils or colorants.

  6. You have a couple of options here. You can pour the shampoo into soap molds and allow it to harden. To use this shampoo, either lather it with your hands and work it into your hair or else shave flakes into hot water to liquefy it.

  7. The other option is to make liquid shampoo, which involves adding more water to your shampoo mixture and bottling it.
You can make your homemade shampoo pearlescent if you add a little glycol distearate, a natural wax derived from stearic acid. The tiny wax particles reflect light, causing the effect.


May 9, 2012 at 6:03 pm
(1) N says:

Isn’t potassium hydroxide really bad for your skin? why not? How can you find a 100% natural shampoo?

April 13, 2013 at 8:41 am
(2) nadia says:


Is this shampoo PH balanced? Does it need vinegar rinse?


July 6, 2013 at 9:48 am
(3) Dena says:

It should be ph balanced if you only use Distilled water. I would let the bars dry a few days on brown craft paper (or brown paper bag). Then you can grate it to mix with warm water to make it liquid. I have made conditioner with flakes this way. It’s really nice.

September 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm
(4) Dezarae' Haley says:

I wanted to reply to N. Potassium hydroxide by itself is bad for the skin but when it is mixed with the oils it goes through a chemical change called soapfonication (sp) but the oils nutralize the lye making it completely safe to use, Also this process is needed in any natural soap making process because that is how you make the glycerin. Using lye is the most natural way to make soap. It is all about the chemistry.

December 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm
(5) Lila says:

I responded earlier, but the comments didn’t post. Here they are again.

I have some serious concerns about the above article.

First: Potassium Hydroxide is lye.

There are 2 types of lye: Sodium Hydroxide, which makes solid soap, and Potassium Hydroxide, which makes liquid soap.

The recipe above, using potassium hydroxide, will, when properly prepared, produce a paste that should be diluted with distilled water to create liquid soap.

Second: ALWAYS ad the lye to the water. This is extremely important. The opposite could result in a hazardous situation.

Third: Measure all ingredients by weight using a dependable scale, including the water, and always check any recipe with a reliable soap calculator – there are many available online for free through soap supply companies.

Fourth: The procedure described above is incorrect for liquid soap. Liquid soap is a hot precess soap, not a cold process as indicated. A crock pot or oven method is needed.

Fifth: Additional glycerin and added alcohol is a technique for making solid soap transparent and I’m not sure why it would be added to an already clear liquid recipe.

In addition – in answer to a couple of comments: Soap is not Ph balanced. Soap typically has a Ph of 9 to 10. Balanced Ph is 7. For a Ph balanced product, detergent is required.

Soap making is fairly easy, but requires care and precision in addition to following some basic safety rules.

I highly recommend that anyone wishing to try their hand a soap making read David Fisher’s posts in the Candle & Soap Making section of this site. Soap Queen has some excellent tutorial videos as well.

April 24, 2014 at 8:30 am
(6) BellaBoo says:

Why would a person spend all this money for products that are not healthy for you hair or skin, when you can purchase a bottle of Suave shampoo for one dollar?

April 24, 2014 at 11:20 am
(7) Danyelle says:

Looking at your shampoo bottle at home you can see a huge list of very longs words that are supposed to work in your hairs favor. The producers of a company want you to be fooled by the chemicals in the product. Most of the ingredients are harmful to your hair. There is a lot of controversy in whether shampoo is supposed to lather or not. A famous brand of hair cleansing products “Wen” has their product that is neither shampoo nor conditioner and does not lather, but has numerous reviews of great results. I believe that each individual’s hair care needs are specific and should choose what they thinks works best for them.

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