While frequent, thorough hand washing has always been a very important part of personal hygiene practices, its importance has skyrocketed recently as COVID-19 spreads around the world. Proper handwashing works better than hand sanitizer, but you do need to do it properly, and for long enough—I found this video from CBC really helpful for upping my handwashing game. Anywho, I formulated this hand wash to be suitable for lots & lots & lots of handwashing. It smells pretty, lathers beautifully, and glides around for ages so you can happily scrub-a-dub for the recommended handwashing time. Let’s dive in!
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The aims of this formulation are as follows: 1) Create a hand wash that can be used extremely frequently and is as gentle on the skin as possible while still being an effective cleanser, 2) Create a hand wash that is easy to quickly make in large batches. You can easily customize the scent & colour, meaning you can make a different batch for every member of the family or every sink in the house. I’m currently operating with different batches in each bathroom and the kitchen, which I figure makes my home a veritable handwashing buffet.
I’ve blended three different surfactants together for this hand wash. Non-ionic Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, anionic Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS), and amphoteric Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside is our primary surfactant, contributing 4.8% active surfactant matter to the overall formulation (Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside is 60% active compared to 26% for SLeS and 30% for the Cocamidopropyl Betaine). I like Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside for a lot of reasons; it’s naturally acidic (unlike the rest of the glucosides, which tend to be very basic), it’s very mild on the skin, and it’s also a great solubilizer.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS) really amps up the lather and cleansing, delivering all kinds of gorgeous, luxurious bubbles. The liquid format I have is a very thick liquid, but not terribly concentrated at just 26% active—meaning we end up with just 2.6% active SLeS in this hand wash. Cocamidopropyl Betaine rounds out the blend, making everything milder and boosting flash foam.
Now, you might notice I’m calling this a hand wash rather than hand soap. That’s because I’m a bit pedantic and this formulation doesn’t contain any soap. True soap is saponified fats, made by combining oils with a strong base like sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH), while this hand wash gets its foaming & cleansing power from non-soap surfactants (soap is also a surfactant!). That said, this hand wash is very similar to what most people think of as “hand soap”. Hand wash/soap products from brands like SoftSoap, Sapadilla, J.R. Watkins, Attitude, Mrs. Meyer’s, Green Beaver, and many more are not true soap, though the product names often include “soap”. I recommend giving this post from Simple Skincare Science a read to help understand why non-soap surfactants can be a lot easier on the skin due to their ability to be acidic. This FAQ is also worth a read.
Another gentle boosting element: including some Cromollient SCE, a water-soluble emollient that helps make surfactant products milder. I also included a lot of glycerin to try and keep the hand wash from being too drying. When made as written the pH of this hand wash comes to ~5, which is great for helping our acid mantle stay intact and healthy.
You can have some fun when it comes to the fragrance and dye; I’ve made several batches of this in the last few weeks and have had a lot of fun choosing different fragrances and colours. Even though I find this hand wash to be pretty dang easy on the hands, there’s still only so much handwashing my hands can tolerate, so I’ve also been using lots of my Moisturizing Repair Cream. It’s the bomb, especially for ultra-dry super-clean hands. Stay safe, and let’s get sudsy!
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Hand Wash for Lots of Handwashing
269.98g | 53.995% distilled water
0.025g | 0.005% water-soluble dye
75g | 15% vegetable glycerine
40g | 8% Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside (USA / Canada)
50g | 10% Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS) (USA / Canada)
40g | 8% Cocamidopropyl Betaine (USA / Canada)
2.5g | 0.5% fragrance or essential oil of choice
2.5g | 0.5% Liquid Germall Plus™ (USA / Canada)
20g | 4% Cromollient SCE
Weigh the distilled water and dye into a beaker or glass measuring cup. You are unlikely to be able to weigh out the dye due to the very small amount; what I did was weigh about half the water into the measuring cup, and then dip a clean spoon or glass stirring rod into the bag of dye so there was just a tiny amount on it, and then swished that spoon around in the weighed-out water before topping it off to 54% distilled water. If you’re making a 5kg batch you’ll likely be able to weigh it out properly, but the dip-and-swish method works well for a 500g batch (and that’s quite a lot of hand wash for the average household).
Weigh the surfactant phase into a second beaker or measuring cup, ensuring it is large enough to hold everything. Stir to combine, and then gently add the water and dye, breaking the fall of the water by pouring it onto a spatula or down the side of the beaker. Gently stir the mixture to combine; you can also cover it and leave the surfactants to dissolve on their own. I find this mixture comes together pretty easily without a lot of time or stirring—for a 500g batch you should be able to gently stir for about 2 minutes, leave it for 15 or so minutes, and then give it a bit of a swish and it’ll be all nicely blended.
When you have a uniform mixture it’s time to incorporate enough Liquid Crothix to thicken the hand wash to your desired end consistency. (You can put this hand wash in a foamer-top bottle if you wish, but I find it performs better as a thickened hand wash—it’s just a bit more viscous than foamer pumps tend to like so it doesn’t dispense as smoothly as it could.) Add 3% Liquid Crothix (15g for a 500g batch) to the hand wash, stir gently to combine, and leave the hand wash to sit for a few minutes before adding more as needed—after the initial 3% addition I’d drop it down to 1% additions (5g for a 500g batch). I usually end up adding 20–25g Liquid Crothix to a 500g batch of hand wash.
Once you’ve reached your desired end consistency you’re done! Transfer the hand wash to one or more pump-top bottles and use to wash your hands as usual. Make sure you’re washing well and often!
When made as written the pH for this hand wash is ~5, which is great. If you make any changes I highly recommend testing the pH and adjusting if necessary.
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this hand wash contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative, this project may eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 500g (1.1lbs)—approximately 500mL (16.91 fl oz).
- To learn more about the ingredients used in this recipe, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! If I have not given a specific substitution suggestion in this list please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
- The dye is optional; replace it with more water if you choose to skip it. I like choosing a dye that matches the fragrance I’m using, like something orangey red for a peachy scent or something blue for an ocean-y scent.
- Do not use an insoluble pigment like an iron oxide.
- You can try a mica, but you will need more (probably around 1%) and you’ll need to make sure you thicken the hand wash enough to keep the mica suspended.
- You could use propanediol 1,3 or propylene glycol instead of glycerin.
- If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page.
- If you’d like to learn more about the surfactants used and compare them to ones you might already have so you can make substitutions, check out this page and read this FAQ.
- I don’t recommend swapping out the Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside as it is both a surfactant and a solubilizer. If you choose to swap it out I would choose a different non-ionic surfactant, like coco glucoside. Keep in mind that the other glucosides are much more basic than Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, so you will also want to test & possibly adjust the pH of the end product if you use a different glucoside. You likely won’t need an additional solubilizer thanks to the Cromollient SCE and all the other surfactants, but keep an eye on things.
- If you are going to swap out the Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS) I would choose a different liquid anionic surfactant. Be sure to compare their active surfactant matter values and adjust the formula to keep the total ASM close.
- To simplify things you could use a pre-blended mixture of surfactants like Iselux Ultra Mild, BSB Liquid Surfactant, Plantapon TF, and Miracare Soft 313. Use at 26% instead of the Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS), and Cocamidopropyl Betaine.
- You could use Olivem 300, water-soluble shea butter, or PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil instead of Cromollient SCE. Generally speaking, you’ll want a water-soluble emollient. (If you use PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil you’ll need to incorporate it a bit differently as it is a soft solid—combine it with the glycerin, gently heat and stir until the mixture is uniform, and then proceed with adding the surfactants.) In a pinch, replace it with more distilled water.
- If you don’t wish to thicken this hand wash you can put it in a foamer bottle, but I do prefer the thickened version.
- You could also try incorporating 2% carrageenan (iota) for thickening; reduce the water by 2% and whisk the carrageenan into the glycerin before proceeding with adding the surfactants. If you try this I would start with a 100g (3.5oz) batch so you can perfect the viscosity before scaling up.
- I did try salt thickening with this; it didn’t work, but if you make surfactant changes salt thickening may work.
- You could try different gums, but I find carrageenan has the best feel + is the least fussy (I love hydroxyethylcellulose, but it can go a bit weird in surfactant products).
- You can use a different fragrance oil or essential oil.
- You can buy everything you need from Voyageur Soap & Candle, assuming you swap the Cromollient SCE with PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil.
The water-soluble dyes were gifted by YellowBee.