How Can I Improve Lather in Homemade Shampoos?

Woman lathering up shampoo in her hair while showering.

I’m sure you’ve been there. You find a new homemade shampoo recipe, whip it up, and take a moment to savor your new creation and appreciate the aroma wafting from the bottle.

At the first opportunity, you grab your new shampoo and hurry off to the bathroom. 

As you massage your homemade shampoo into your scalp and hair, you glance at your hands to see if they are covered in fragrant bubbles… only to find zero bubbles and no frothy lather, just creamy shampoo and a few stray hairs.

UGH. Disappointing, right?

How can I improve lather in homemade shampoos? Using a foaming soap dispenser is the easiest way to increase the lather of your homemade shampoo. Increasing the amount of soap, lather-supporting oils, sugar and glycerin in your recipe while decreasing the amount of anti-lather oils can be effective too.

Those new to making their own shampoo are often surprised and frustrated to find that the lather aspect of their shampoo is seriously lacking. Don’t be discouraged though. 

There are a few tricks that can help improve the amount of lather produced when you wash your hair. Let’s get started.

What Causes Lather?

We, as consumers, have grown to expect rich, bubbly lather from store-bought shampoos. In fact, if one you purchased didn’t produce lather, you’d probably assume it was defected in some way. 

Many people have no idea what exactly causes our beloved hair products to lather and are rather disappointed when their homemade product results in very little, if any, lather.

To understand what causes lather, we need to delve into the realm of science for a minute.

You probably know that plain water on its own isn’t great for making and holding long-lasting bubbles. The same is true with a bar of dry soap.

However, when the two are combined, voilà, mounds of little bubbles we refer to as lather.

You see, water has a fairly strong surface tension. (Have you ever endured a painful belly flop? Thank surface tension for that.) 

Soap is a natural surfactant that decreases the surface tension of the water, allowing bubbles to form.

As well as reducing surface tension, soap traps water molecules in between two layers of soap molecules, with the soap molecules’ water-repelling end (hydrophobic) facing away from the water molecules. 

As you wash with a soap product, the friction created traps tiny air bubbles on your skin or hair.

The hydrophobic ends, in their eagerness to get away from water molecules, attach themselves to the air bubbles, quickly surround them, and lather begins to form. 

Because of the soap’s surfactant properties, the water’s surface tension is low enough to allow the lather to remain stable, at least for a while or until it is washed off.

Here’s a neat video that demonstrates the power of water’s surface tension and the effect that soap has on it.

Is Shampoo Lather Necessary?

Contrary to what many may believe, lather is not an indicator of a shampoo’s ability to clean.

Remember that lather is really just a bunch of little air bubbles that have been trapped by soap molecules, so a lack of lather does not mean that your shampoo is no good.

It simply means that your shampoo might be lacking a bit in surfactants.

Most shampoos on the market are loaded with surfactants and synthetic foaming agents to produce lots of lather that customers expect.

After all, the whole point of making your own shampoo was to avoid these potentially harmful substances, right? 

So, take comfort knowing that while your shampoo may not produce buckets of lather, it is likely much safer and better for your hair and scalp than store-bought alternatives.

Does Homemade Shampoo Lather?

Some homemade shampoos will produce a fairly decent amount of lather, but others may not make much at all.

It really depends on the ingredients you choose to use when mixing up a batch.

I use a simple recipe with pretty basic ingredients:

Here’s what kind of lather it produces, and yes, that squirt bottle in the sink is what I use to store my shampoo.

Lather from a homemade shampoo on hands with a squirt bottle in the background.

Ways to Increase Lather in Your Homemade Shampoo

Now that you know that lather isn’t really necessary, you may still crave all those little bubbles as you wash your hair because, come on, who doesn’t love bubbles?

Use a Foaming Soap Dispenser

This is the easiest and surest way to turn your homemade shampoo into a luxurious, foamy lather. You can find these in the houseware section of many stores or on Amazon. 

The glass foaming dispensers are lovely, but I personally prefer the plastic versions so if I drop it in the shower, I don’t have to worry about broken glass everywhere.

Another option is to buy the foaming dispenser tops and use any regular mouth canning jar that you like.

This definitely adds a nice, farm-style look, but again, glass in the shower may not be the best idea.

Increase the Amount of Soap in Your Recipe

The more surfactants, or soap, in your shampoo recipe, the more bubbles you’ll wind up enjoying.

Don’t go overboard here, as you don’t want to strip all the oils from your scalp.

Just add a little more than the recipe calls for each time you make a batch until you achieve the desired lather.

Tip: Don’t wait until you’re in the shower to test for lather. While you’re making your shampoo, place a few drops in your hands and rub them together. Not enough lather? Add a bit more soap.

Use Enough Water

I actually stumbled upon this trick when bathing my dog.

Wet your hair thoroughly and add the shampoo, smoothing it down the length of your hair.

Before you start scrubbing, wet down your hair again – not enough to rinse off the shampoo, just enough to dilute the shampoo. 

The soap in your shampoo needs water to react with.

If your hair is just damp, you’ll not get much lather and the shampoo will be more difficult to rinse away. Add more water to your hair, and the problem is solved.

Cut Back On Oils

Nourishing oils like jojoba and olive oil are often added to shampoos for moisturizing qualities, and that’s a good thing.

However, oil is a lather killer. If you cut back on the amount of added oils, you’ll find that lather improves.

I share some terrific recipes that don’t call for oil other than essential oils here.

Experiment With Various Natural Additives

Aloe vera gel and juice are believed to have a positive effect on shampoo suds.

The gel can be tricky to fully incorporate into the other liquids in your recipe, but the juice will mix nicely and boost lather in the shower.

While oils are generally bubble destroyers, some may actually help with lather.

Castor, babassu, argan, or sweet almond oil (just a few drops) might have a positive effect on the amount and stability of shampoo lather. 

Sorbitol is a naturally occurring, water-soluble sugar alcohol derived from glucose found in fruits and berries.

It is known for its sud-producing abilities in homemade personal care products. I like Modernist Pantry’s Pure Sorbitol Powder.

Ingredients containing sugars, like honey, fruit purees, milk, and sorbitol are often added when making homemade soaps to boost lather.

Why? Well, sugar increases soap’s solubility, allowing lather to be produced more easily and remain stable longer.

Scientific American claims that adding plain sugar and glycerin to regular dish soap produces a combination perfect for children to use when blowing bubbles. 

The sugar and glycerin slow the evaporation of water in the bubbles, thus making them last longer.

This may very well be worth a try in homemade shampoos. 

Glycerin is produced naturally during the saponification of soap and has wonderful hydrating properties, so it certainly won’t hurt your hair. 

Sugar, as we now know, can help increase lather and is exfoliating, so it may help to gently remove dead skin cells from your scalp. Win-win!