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Getting ready to pour into the mold.

SHAPE works with the poor in Burundi, inviting them to help us develop solutions to their most pressing problems – water, sanitation, food security, education, and business training. Releasing people from poverty can be accomplished by teaching men and women how to start their own businesses. The knowledge empowers them and allows them to support their families and provide an education for their children. Training is an important step that can help to break the cycle of poverty.

Making soap can be a source of livelihood in developing countries. There is a good market for it because soap is a necessity for sanitation and in is always in demand. SHAPE taught eight women the process of making soap and provided business training. John Mann, SHAPE Executive Director, demonstrated the process and the ladies made the second batch. This entry includes pictures and information on making soap.

Measuring the lye

Soap is a mixture of lye, water, and plant oils. The first step is to measure out the lye as the lady above is doing.

Mixing the lye and water

The next step is to measure out the water then slowly add lye to the water. The lye will become very hot after mixing with water. Lye is caustic so it is important to take special care when pouring. It is best to wear a mask, goggles, and to wear gloves if they are available. The fumes are strong, so this process should only be done in an area with proper ventilation.

Measuring the oil

Next, measure out the oils and then heat them to about 110 degrees before removing from the heat source. Burundi, Africa has a large supply of palm oil so they used it for the project. Olive oil, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil are some of the other options for soap making. Each oil has different properties that will affect the qualities of the soap – hardness, suds, or skin conditioning. Oils can be mixed in different quantities to vary these qualities. Coconut and palm kernel makes a hard bar for example, while olive oil is moisturizing.


The lye and water mixture should be cooled down to about the same temperature as the oil. Once the lye and water mixture is ready, it should be mixed with the oil and stirred rapidly to complete the chemical reaction that will make saponify the oils.

Lastly, essential oil, coloring or fragrance can be added. Examples of essentials oils include lavender, peppermint, or cinnamon oil. As the oil and lye react, the mixture will thicken. Pull the spoon out of the oil and dribble it off the spoon. If it leaves a trace, the soap is ready to be poured into a mold.

The next article for SHAPE’s news will include details and photos of the process involved with pouring soap, cutting bars, and how the ladies in Burundi used orange peels to add color and scent to the soap.

One response to “Soap Production in Burundi, Africa

  1. Andrew Vrbas says:


    My name is Andrew and I'm the founder of Pacha Soap Co. We are an organic soap company out of the United States and we are working to establish a soap company in Rwanda to help employ the local women and to provide soap for handwashing efforts in East Africa. I very much enjoyed your article and I wanted to contact you to see if I could visit your small cooperative in Burundi. I am in Rwanda right now and would love to make a trip down to see the soap making and offer any advice if possible.

    Looking forward to hearing from you!


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