4 Environmentally Friendly Shampoo Bar Recipes for Every Hair Type

Stack of colorful handmade shampoo bars

Karl Tapales / Getty Images

Homemaking shampoo bars with natural ingredients is the best way to avoid the surplus of toxic 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 famous parent company of myriad beauty brands, has itself said that Americans throw away 552 million shampoo bottles per year.

With these easy, all-natural, vegan, and refreshingly plastic-free shampoo bar recipes, nothing has to wind up in a landfill for the next 450 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

Homemade shampoo bar next to bottles of oils

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 oil
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil in liquid form
  • 2/3 cup sweet almond oil
  • 1/4 cup lye
  • 3/4 cup cool water
  • 2 tablespoons essential oil (optional)

Steps

  1. Combine oils in a glass or stainless-steel bowl.
  2. In a separate heat-proof container, slowly pour the lye into water, stirring constantly. Stand back to avoid fumes.
  3. Allow the lye and water mixture to cool to about 125 degrees, then slowly pour it into the oil, stirring constantly.
  4. Mix with a hand blender until the consistency is pudding-like.
  5. Stir in another tablespoon of oil (for added moisture) and essential oils.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a silicone mold, cover, and let sit for 24 hours.
  7. 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

Homemade shampoo bar next to dried lavender

S847 / Getty Images

Many shampoo bar recipes hailed for their moisturizing properties include tallow, otherwise known as rendered beef fat. Shea butter and soothing bentonite clay make great vegan alternatives. Here, lavender essential oil also makes a cameo.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil in liquid form
  • 3 tablespoons shea butter
  • 1/4 cup castor oil
  • 1/3 cup cool water
  • 1 tablespoon lye
  • 2 teaspoons lavender essential oil 
  • 2 teaspoons bentonite clay

Steps

  1. Mix clay with a drop of water (just enough to wet it) and let sit.
  2. Mix together water and lye as previously described.
  3. Mix together oils and shea butter in a separate bowl.
  4. Pour lye mixture into fat mixture slowly, then mix with a hand blender until it starts to thicken.
  5. Turn the blender off, mix in clay and essential oil, then stir by hand until you reach a pudding-like consistency.
  6. Pour liquid soap into mold, cover, and let sit for 24 hours.
  7. Remove from mold after 24 hours and cure for at least four weeks.
3
of 4

Deep-Cleansing Shampoo Bar for Oily Hair

Hand reaching for homemade shampoo bar

Karl Tapales / Getty Images

If you find that shampoo bars leave you feeling greasy, try one with apple cider vinegar, 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 vinegar
  • 1/3 cup liquid castile soap
  • 2 teaspoons essential oil (optional)

Steps

  1. Melt carnauba wax using a double boiler, then let cool slightly.
  2. When cooled, stir in the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Pour the mixture into a soap mold and refrigerate until solidified.
4
of 4

Lye-Free Shampoo Bar for Sensitive Scalps

High-angle view of black molasses being poured into bowl

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 soap
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon castor oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black molasses
  • 15 drops vanilla essential oil
  • 15 drops patchouli essential oil
  • 10 drops rosemary essential oil

Steps

  1. Melt castile soap base in a double boiler.
  2. Once melted, stir in olive oil, castor oil, and black molasses. Let cool.
  3. Stir in essential oils before pouring the mixture into the soap mold.
  4. Let set in soap mold for at least 24 hours before cutting or using.