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Mastering Liquid Hand Soap Formulation: A Comprehensive Guide

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Liquid hand soap formulation is a complex yet fascinating journey from raw materials to the finished product that we use daily. It involves selecting appropriate ingredients, understanding their roles, and blending them in precise proportions to create a product that cleanses effectively while being gentle on the skin. This article delves deep into the intricacies of hand soap formulation, providing a comprehensive insight into the ingredients, processes, and innovations in this domain.

Basics of Hand Soap Formulation

Understanding key ingredients in liquid hand soap

The foundation of a good liquid hand soap lies in its ingredients. The primary components include water, surfactants, co-surfactants, emollients, thickeners, preservatives, and fragrances.

The role of primary surfactants: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Surfactants are the backbone of hand soap formulations, with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) being the most common. They help in breaking down oils and dirt on the skin, making it easier to rinse them away.

Co-surfactants and Their Role

How co-surfactants like Cocamidopropyl Betaine work

Co-surfactants, or known as secondary surfactants such as Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Dodecyl Dimethyl Betaine, enhance the foaming and cleaning abilities of the surfactants, while also adding a layer of mildness to the formulation, reducing potential skin irritation.

Washing hands with foam hand soap

A Review of a Classic Sulfate-based Hand Soap Formulation

SLES 70%5%Surfactant for cleaning and foaming
SLS 92%1.50%Surfactant for degreasing and foaming
CAB 35%5%Co-surfactant enhancing foam and reducing irritation
CDEA1%Foaming agent, provides a creamy feel
Glycerin1%Humectant for moisture retention
EDTA-2Na0.10%Chelating agent for formulation stabilization
Aroma Essence0.40%Provides fragrance
Pigment0.02%Imparts color
Preservative MIT 150.10%Prevents microbial growth, extends shelf life
Deionized Waterto 100%Solvent, forms the base of the formulation
HPMCq.sAdjusts viscosity to the desired level
Citric Acidq.sAdjusts pH to the range of 6-7.6 (neutral pH to be mild on skin)
A typical Sulfate-based Liquid Hand Soap Formula


  1. Water Phase:
    • Begin by measuring the required amount of deionized water in a stainless-steel mixing vessel.
    • Heat the water to about 60-70°C to ensure a conducive temperature for the dissolution of other ingredients.
  2. Surfactant Phase:
    • In a separate vessel, measure and mix the surfactants – SLES 70% and SLS 92%.
    • Warm the surfactant mixture to around 40-50°C to ensure smooth blending.
  3. Co-surfactant and Foam Boosters:
    • Add CAB 35% and CDEA to the surfactant mixture, continuing to stir to ensure a homogenous mixture.
  4. Thickening:
    • Once the surfactant and co-surfactant mixture is well-blended, slowly add the salt to the mixture while stirring continuously to achieve the desired viscosity.
    • If further thickening is needed, HPMC can be sprinkled slowly into the mixture while stirring continuously to avoid clumps.
  5. Adding Humectants and Chelating Agent:
    • Allow the mixture to cool down slightly before adding glycerin to retain moisture.
    • Add EDTA-2Na to act as a chelating agent, helping to stabilize the formulation.
  6. Color and Fragrance:
    • Add the aroma essence and pigment to the mixture, stirring well to ensure an even distribution of color and fragrance.
  7. Preservation:
    • Once the formulation has cooled down to room temperature, add the preservative MIT 15 to prevent microbial growth and extend the shelf life of the soap.
  8. pH Adjustment:
    • Lastly, check the pH of the formulation. If necessary, use citric acid to adjust the pH to fall within the range of 6-7.6 to align with the natural pH of human skin.
  9. Final Check:
    • Ensure that the pH is within the desired range, and that the viscosity, color, and fragrance are as desired.
    • Your sulfate-based liquid hand soap is now ready to be packaged and used.

The steps outlined provide a structured approach to creating a sulfate-based liquid hand soap ensuring that each ingredient is incorporated effectively to result in a well-formulated, effective, and skin-friendly product.

This particular liquid hand soap formula is meticulously crafted to ensure effective cleansing while being gentle on the skin. The formulation employs a blend of surfactants like Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) alongside a co-surfactant, Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAB), to achieve a robust cleaning and foaming action. The addition of Cocamide DEA enhances the foaming property and imparts a creamy texture to the soap. Glycerin is incorporated as a humectant to retain moisture in the skin, ensuring that the soap doesn’t leave the skin overly dry.

Hand soap liquid with thick luxurious texture

Formulating Sulfate-Free Liquid Hand Soaps

Why consider sulfate-free soap?

Sulfate-free soaps are gaining popularity due to their mild nature and less irritative properties compared to traditional sulfate-based soaps.

Ingredients and procedure for making sulfate-free liquid hand soap

Creating a sulfate-free hand soap involves using alternative surfactants like Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Alkyl Polyglycoside and incorporating natural ingredients like glycerin to ensure moisture retention.

An Example of a Sulfate-free Hand Soap Formulation

Creating a sulfate-free hand soap formula requires substituting traditional surfactants like SLS and SLES with milder, sulfate-free alternatives. Here’s a simplified formula for a sulfate-free liquid hand soap:

Cocamidopropyl Betaine5%Mild surfactant for cleaning and foaming
Decyl Glucoside5%Mild, non-ionic surfactant
Glycerin3%Humectant for moisture retention
Xanthan Gum0.5%Thickener
Citric Acidq.spH adjuster to bring the pH to the range of 6-7.6
Aroma Essence0.4%Fragrance
Preservative (e.g., Phenoxyethanol)0.5%Preserves the formulation, prevents microbial growth
Deionized Waterto 100%Solvent, forms the base of the formulation


  1. Water Phase: Heat the deionized water in a stainless-steel vessel to around 60-70°C.
  2. Surfactant Phase: In a separate vessel, mix Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Decyl Glucoside, and warm it slightly to around 40-50°C to ensure a smooth blend.
  3. Mixing: Slowly add the surfactant phase to the water phase while stirring continuously to ensure a homogenous mixture.
  4. Thickening: Allow the mixture to cool down to room temperature, then slowly sprinkle Xanthan Gum while mixing continuously to avoid clumping. Mix until it reaches the desired thickness.
  5. Adjusting pH: Slowly add citric acid to adjust the pH to the range of 6-7.6. It’s advisable to use a pH meter for accuracy.
  6. Adding Preservative and Fragrance: Once the desired pH is achieved, add the preservative and aroma essence while stirring continuously.
  7. Final Check: Check the pH again and adjust if necessary. Your sulfate-free liquid hand soap is now ready to be packaged.

This formula provides a sulfate-free alternative that is gentler on the skin while still offering effective cleansing and a pleasant user experience.

Hand soap liquid with different color

Special Formulations: A Look into Unique Hand Soap Recipes

Use of coconut shell-activated charcoal in hand wash formulations

Activated charcoal, derived from coconut shells, is gaining traction in hand wash formulations for its detoxifying properties.

The formulation of pearl liquid hand wash

Pearl liquid hand soap is known for its luxurious feel and shimmering appearance, achieved by incorporating pearlizing agents, commonly Ethylene Glycol Distearate, in the formulation.

Moisturizing liquid hand soap formulations

Innovations in soap formulations have led to the development of moisturizing hand soaps that combat dryness and leave the skin feeling soft and nourished.


The future of liquid hand soap formulations

The realm of hand soap formulation is continuously evolving, with a strong emphasis on developing products that are not only effective in cleaning but also in promoting skin health.

Summary of key takeaways

The journey from understanding the basic ingredients to exploring specialized and innovative formulations underscores the vast potential in the domain of hand soap formulation.

Frequently Asked Questions

A. What are some of the most commonly used emollients in hand soap formulations?

Emollients are crucial in hand soap formulations as they help to soften and moisturize the skin. Some commonly used emollients include glycerin, aloe vera, and various natural oils such as jojoba oil or almond oil. Each of these ingredients contributes to a more nourishing and skin-friendly soap.

B. How can natural ingredients be incorporated into hand soap recipes?

Many natural ingredients can add value to hand soap formulations. Essential oils can provide natural fragrance and potential skin benefits. Oatmeal, honey, or aloe vera could be added for their soothing properties. Remember, though, that it’s crucial to research each ingredient to understand its properties and potential impact on the soap’s overall formulation and shelf life.

C. What are some safety considerations when formulating my own liquid hand soap?

Personal safety should be a priority when formulating your own soap. Always wear protective gear (gloves, goggles) to avoid direct contact with raw ingredients. Ensure proper ventilation in your working area as some ingredients may release vapors. Also, be cautious while handling lye or other bases.

D. How to thicken my hand soap liquid?

Thickening your liquid hand soap can be achieved by adding a thickening agent to the formulation. Here are general steps on how to do that:

  1. Salt: Adding a small amount of table salt acts as an economical thickening agent. After your soap is mixed and ready, add the salt in water solution slowly while stirring continuously until the desired thickness is achieved.
  2. Natural Gums: Xanthan gum or guar gum can also be used as natural thickeners. They need to be carefully dispensed and blended into your soap mixture to avoid clumping.
  3. Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose (HPMC): Another effective option is HPMC, a versatile thickening agent often used in personal care products. Gradually sprinkle HPMC into your soap mix and stir well until your soap reaches the desired viscosity.

Remember that when using thickening agents, always add slowly while stirring continuously and never add them directly to acidic ingredients. The pH and the salt concentration of your formulation may affect the thickness, so it’s essential to always test a small batch first.

E. What role do preservatives play in liquid hand soap formulation? Are they safe?

Preservatives play a crucial role in liquid hand soap formulation. They prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes, thereby preventing spoilage and extending the product’s shelf life. This is particularly important when the soap contains ingredients that can degrade over time or when exposed to certain conditions (like heat and moisture).

As with all ingredients, the safety of preservatives depends on their specific type, how they are used, and in what concentration. Most preservatives used in cosmetic and personal care products, including hand soaps, have been assessed for safety by regulatory bodies such as the U.S. FDA and EU’s SCCS and deemed safe for use in specified concentrations.

Commonly used preservatives in soap making include Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, and Potassium Sorbate. However, some preservatives have been linked to potential health concerns, so it’s essential to carefully research each one before use.

Ultimately, it’s also important to realize that the risks associated with microbial contamination from not using preservatives in water-based products like soap can be much higher than the potential risks from the preservatives themselves.

Written by:
Jun Xie
Jun Xie
Jun is the head of R&D at Yeser Chemicals. He holds a master's degree in Chemical Engineering and Technology. After joining Yeser Chemicals in 2013, he has been dedicated to researching and developing new coconut-based green surfactants and their safe uses in Home & Personal care products. In addition to serving as the Head of R&D at Yeser Chemicals, Jun is the director of the Guangdong Green Surfactant Engineering Technology Research Center and a member of the Standard Committee of Guangdong Daily Chemical Chamber of Commerce.

Yeser Chemicals is a leading producer of CAPB, CDEA, CMEA, EGDS, and other various Coconut-derived surfactants.

By self-manufacturing and 3rd-party toll-manufacturing, we provide a long list of safe ingredients, including surfactants, conditioners, thickeners, etc.,  used in Home & Fabric Care, Personal Care, and Cosmetics.

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