How to Make Biodegradable Soap for Camping

Soap at camping washstand

Andzo Janovich / Getty Images

The soap-making renaissance of the 1970s came about because people wanted to be more natural, more “green”, and less dependant on chemicals in their lives.

Many of today’s commercial soaps have fragrances, detergents, surfactants, and water conditioners that could very well affect plants and wildlife if deposited into a river or stream. However, the natural soaps (bar and liquid) described below can be made to be very safe and biodegradable.

How to Make Earth-Friendly Camping Soap

Basically, you want to make the soap (bar or liquid) without any artificial colors or fragrance oils. Essential oils safe for humans would be fine to use since they are natural materials and will degrade. Natural colorants would be okay too but probably aren’t even necessary in a soap for camping.

Some articles suggest using a Castile soap. This is perfectly fine, but unnecessary. As long as you’re using natural (animal or vegetable) oils, the choice of oils isn’t going to affect the biodegradability of the soap.

Other environmental purists will recommend using organic soap. If you have some organic oils to use for soap making, great but don't worry if you don't. Taking the extra effort to use only organic oils in your soap is admirable but not really necessary.

Here are two natural soap-making recipes to get you started.

Basic Bar Soap for Camping

This recipe uses primarily olive oil as well as coconut oil and soybean oil. In order to create an environmentally conscious soap, try to avoid using palm oil due to environmental controversies surrounding palm-oil farming.

The recipe is composed of:

  • 50 percent olive oil
  • 30 percent coconut oil
  • 20 percent soybean oil

To make about three pounds of soap, the recipe needs:

  • 16 ounces olive oil
  • 9.6 ounces coconut oil
  • 6.4 ounces soybean oil
  • 4.5 ounces lye (sodium hydroxide)
  • 11 ounces water

Follow basic soap-making instructions to create your soap. If you don’t have these exact oils, you can certainly create your own recipe; just focus on more earth-friendly oils and don’t use any artificial colors or fragrances.

Basic Liquid Soap for Camping

This recipe uses a zero-percent lye discount. If you don’t mind the soap being slightly cloudy and want it to be a bit milder, use a 1-to-2-percent lye discount instead.

The recipe is composed of:

  • 67 percent olive oil
  • 33 percent coconut oil

To make about three pounds of soap paste, the recipe needs:

  • 16 ounces olive oil
  • 8 ounces coconut oil
  • 5.4 ounces potassium hydroxide
  • 16.2 ounces water

For liquid soap, follow basic liquid soap-making instructions—but leave out step seven, the neutralization step.

And remember that natural and green doesn’t have to apply to just camping. These recipes are perfectly good for everyday bathing and showering too.