The Covid-19 pandemic has caused an increase in demand for soap and alcohol used in hand disinfection (ABHR) around the world, leading to shortages in some regions. In this document, we outline the factors to consider if your organization is considering making ABHR hand soap or alcohol.
Soap is made by mixing water, oil or fat, with sodium hydroxide, known as lye. Once you get the ingredients, the soap making process takes a few hours, but after manufacturing, the soap needs to be cured for 4-6 weeks before using it. However, there are several safety considerations to take into account when making soap, which means that making soap may not be a quick solution to increasing soap supply to the COVID-19 response.
Is soap making the best solution for my workplace?
If you are considering making soap, you must first pay attention to the following factors:
Safety: Do you have PPE, utensils, and workspace to handle caustic chemicals? There are risks associated with making soap, for example, lye is caustic (meaning it causes damage to other materials it comes into contact with, including clothing and skin) and should be handled with care. Proper safety equipment such as thick rubber gloves and safety glasses should be worn throughout the mixing process.
Objectives. Think about why you made soap in response to COVID-19. Are there products on the market that are suitable, available, and inexpensive (all types of soaps effectively remove and kill corona viruses). Are there existing companies or factories that have the ability to increase production? Will this be a sustainable initiative or are you just making soap in response to COVID-19?
Local practice and use. Take into account the types of soaps residents use. Will locally manufactured soap be accepted?
Availability of components. Can you have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, ingredients and equipment for making soap?
Urgent need. Is there an urgent need for soap? Since it takes at least 4 weeks to manufacture soap, and you need soap sooner than that, you should consider other alternatives such as buying and transporting soap from another place in the country, importing it, or promoting soap alternatives.
Cost Compare the cost of available soap on the market and the cost of locally producing soap. Calculate the costs of equipment, raw materials, labor and transportation. If local production is more expensive, there is no need to produce soap locally.
If there are viable alternatives other than making soap, such as preparing soapy water for hand washing, or buying soap from the market, we recommend these alternatives and do not make soap yourself.
How do I make soap?
Before making soap, read about how soap works. Below, we explain how to make cold soaps in a low-income area. These instructions are adapted from CAWST and PaceProject and explain how to make 4 kg of soap using palm oil. We chose palm oil because it is widely available and the soap made from it is solid, lasts a long time and produces a lot of lather. It is possible to make the soap on your own, but we recommend that at least 2 people do this to make the process easier.
Thick rubber gloves
3 large clear plastic containers or plastic buckets (should be rigid and designed for heavy duty)
Cups for calibration or measuring
3 tablespoons of silicone / large plastic spoons / large wooden spoons
Waterproof molds (made of plastic, wood, cardboard, or parchment paper). You can also use molds made of silicone
Knife or wire for cutting soap
A piece of cloth, butter paper (such as baking paper), or plastic bags to cover the inside of the mold (if not a silicone mold) to make it easier to remove the soap from the mold.
10 Ten Rules for Making Soap Safely
Thick rubber gloves must be worn at all times.
Always wear safety glasses to protect your eyes when handling lotion.
Always wear long-sleeved clothing, long pants / pants, and hooded shoes (do not wear sandals).
Avoid inhaling the fumes when mixing the lotion in the liquid by working in a well-ventilated room and covering the mouth and nose with a mask or scarf.
Use wooden, glass, or plastic utensils to prepare the soap. Do not use (metal utensils) as it may interact with the lye and cause an explosion.
Do not serve the feeder in the utensils intended for preparing the soap.
Use a tablecloth or newspaper to cover your table or chair when preparing the soap – and throw it away when you’re done.
Ensure that running water is available near your workstation. In the event of direct contact with lotion, rinse the affected area immediately and contact your physician.
When cleaning after you’ve finished making soap, keep wearing rubber gloves and safety glasses because raw soap is caustic and dangerous. Dispose of table cover safely.
Keep raw soap and lotion out of the reach of children and pets at all times.
Weight: 370g / 13.05ounce
There are two types of lotions that you can use: 1) sodium hydroxide (NaOH), commonly known as caustic soda, or 2) potassium hydroxide, otherwise known as potash. However, sodium hydroxide is the most commonly used. Lye is a very caustic product. If you use potassium hydroxide, please note the standard will be different. You can use the soap calculator to get accurate parameters. Lye can be purchased at most pharmacies.
2. With water
Quantity: 1.2L / 1095g / 38.65ounce
Use distilled water if available. Other options for “soft” (which do not contain chlorine) water include bottled water and filtered water. You can also use rainwater or spring water.
3. Fat (oil)
Quantity: 3 liters / 2740g / 96.62oz palm oil
You can use any of the fats or oils listed below. If you choose to use other types of oils instead of palm oil, please note that the standards will be different. You can use the soap calculator to get accurate parameters.
Palm oil, olive oil, corn oil, sunflower seed oil, fish oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, cotton oil, coffee oil, moringa oil
Palm oil, castor oil, aloe vera butter, beeswax, animal fats or shea butter
Coconut oil or palm kernel oil
Step 1: Prepare your workplace
Set up a soap-making workspace in a well-ventilated room or outside.
Begin by outfitting your workstation by removing unnecessary items and by covering the work surface with a used cloth or old newspapers.
Prepare the template. If you have a hard wooden or plastic block, cover it with parchment paper or a plastic bag.
Have all equipment within easy reach to use when needed.
Before starting, familiarize yourself with all the steps of the recipe and make sure all ingredients and equipment are on hand.
Step 2: Calibrate the components you will be using
Be sure to wear full personal protective equipment as listed in the “10 Ten Rules for Making Soap Safely” section above.
Make sure there are no children or animals in the room to avoid disturbance.
First, titrate the water with a graduated tester and pour it into a mixing bowl. If you do not have a test tube, you can use a clean 1 liter plastic bottle (you need to fill 1 and bottle)
Measure 3 liters of oil and pour it into a different large bowl.
Measure the lye with a scale and pour it into an empty container. Note: Accurate titration is important to obtain a correct result.
Step 3: Mix the lye into the water
Slowly pour the lye into the water, stirring. Note: Do not do the opposite way (i.e. do not add water to the lye) as this may cause an explosion.
Stir constantly until the lye is completely dissolved in the water. This solution will warm up, so once the lye has completely dissolved, let it cool down.
Step 4: Mix the lye / water solution with the oil
Ensure that the lye / water solution and the oil are at the same temperature by touching the outside of the container.
Add the lye / water solution to the oil, stirring frequently.
Continue stirring, carefully until the mixture becomes thick, this process takes up to 30 minutes.
You can tell if you have stirred the soap enough by placing a spoonful of the mixture over the surface layer – if you leave a shape similar to the one pictured below, you have stirred the mixture sufficiently.
Step 5: Put the soap in the mold (s)
Pour the soap directly into the tray (or the pans if you are using several smaller ones) from the bowl. You can also use a scoop.
Cover the mold with a plastic bag, then wrap it in a towel or piece of cloth spread under the mold to protect it from dust. Leave the mold in a safe place.
Step 6: shaping the soap
Leave the soap on for 24-48 hours (to mold to form).
Remove the soap from the tray and use a sharp knife or wire to cut the soap into molds.
Apply the soap bars and leave them for 4-6 weeks to process (this is the process in which the soap solidifies).
Step 7: Use soap
After 4-6 weeks of treatment the soap is ready for use!
Common problems when making soap at home
If the soap is dry or crumbly, you likely have used too much of the cleanser.
The soap should stay in the mold for at least 24 hours. If the soap is still soft, leave it in the tray for up to 10 days. After 10 days, if the soap remains loose, it is unlikely to dry.
This happens if the oil or fat you used is dirty, causing the soap processing / drying process to fail and the result is not desirable.
CAWST provides printable information on soap making to teach others how to make soap in English, French and Spanish. Another recipe for making soap in low-income areas is by Peace Project (English only).
How do I make an alcohol-based hand rub?
An alcohol-based hand rub is as effective as soap in fighting the SARS-Cove-2 virus, but it is less commonly used and often more expensive. Alcohol-based hand rub is recommended for:
Situations where access to soap and water is limited or more expensive than alcohol-based hand rub
When there is a need for rapid and effective hand disinfection
The World Health Organization does not recommend local production of ABHR alcohol-based hand rub unless other suitable products are available on the market, or other products are too expensive. If you choose to locally produce ABHR alcohol-based hand rub, follow this guide from the World Health Organization.