A guide to soap making methods
Soap Making is the process of producing soap from natural oils or fats. It is done by combining water and lye (sodium hydroxide) at a specific temperature. The resulting mixture is then heated until the oil separates out and floats to the top. This is called saponification and produces glycerin and fatty acids. Soap is made up of these two components along with sodium chloride.
Homemade Soap making is one of the oldest known processes used to make products such as detergents and cosmetics. The first recorded use of this method was around 4000 BC. In ancient times, people used animal fat to produce soap. However, the discovery of vegetable oils led to the development of modern techniques. Today, most commercial soaps are produced using synthetic chemical compounds. The main types of soap include bar soaps, liquid soaps, dishwashing soaps, hand washing soaps, and body wash. Bar soaps are usually made from tallow, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, olive oil, beef tallow, soybean oil, castor oil, and lard. Liquid soaps are typically made from coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil, almond oil, and palm kernel oil.
Melt and Pour Soap
This is the easiest way to make soaps. You simply purchase a pre-made bar of glycerin based liquid hand wash. They can be found in all sorts of flavors including goat’s milk, shea butter, aloe, coconut oil, olive oil, and more. The beauty about this method is that you do not have to worry about any formulations. Simply add your chosen oils and mix them together. The only downside is that you cannot customize the base recipe of the glycerin soap.
To make melt and pour soap the steps are very easy to follow. Cut the base into small pieces. Melt it, add color, fragrance or additives. Mix it well, pour into molds and allow to cool and harden. Once you remove the soap from the molds it is ready to use.
This is another benefit of melt and pour as it can be used immediately whereas all other methods require some waiting period. This is the only soap that can be made without lye.
Cold Process Soap Making
It’s called cold process because there is no external heating involved. Natural soap made using this method depends on the temperature and friction created by mixing the lye solution and fats together.
The process of making cold processed soap begins when you have a lye solution, which has been cooled to about 115 degrees F (46 C). You then add your fats and oils, and stir them together until they are well mixed. This is considered trace. Trace is when the oils and lye solution no longer no longer separate and you can see a faint “trace” of the mixture on top of the batter once you drizzle it. Once they are mixed together they are poured into a silicone mold or wooden mold. People who prefer this method generally due so because they can manipulate the thickness of the soap batter allowing them achieve more designs and intricate details.
Cold pressed soaps have the longest curing times out of all the types of soap. You usually need to let the soap sit for 4 to 6 weeks before you can use it.
Hot Process Soap Making
Get your slow cookers ready if you want to make hot process soap. Unlike cold press soap, hot process is made with the use of external heat. This is generally done in a crock pot, oven roaster or even on the stove top. I’ve even seen a demonstration of hot process soap made at a campfire over an open fire. It follows a similar process to cold process in that lye and oils are mixed together but its all done in the heating source (crockpot). Instead of pouring the soap at trace, it is cooked through all of the phases. This process can typically take up to 1.5 hours. The texture of the finished soap is more of a rustic look so this means you have fewer design options than other methods.
What’s the difference between cold press and hot press soap?
The primary difference between the two methods is the use of heat and time to cure. Cold process soap does not use heat. Hot process soap uses external heat to complete the saponification process in the pot. The finished product looks a bit different. Hot process soap can generally be used in two to three weeks but cold processed soap typically takes four to six weeks to fully cure. The decision is up to you as the maker. If you want to make intricate designs and swirls and have more of a polished, modern bar use the cold process soap method. If you want to use the soap sooner and aren’t as concerned with designs and swirling, try the hot process method. The good news is that both methods will create beautiful natural soap that you can be proud of.
Vegan Soap Making
Vegan Soap can be made using hot process or cold pressed method. It is made from plant-based ingredients such as coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil, avocado oil, almond oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, beeswax, lanolin, glycerine, and essential oils. In addition, it is non-toxic and eco-friendly. Moreover, most ingredients are inexpensive and easily available. Apart from this, there are several reasons why people should opt for vegan soaps over regular soap.
- First, they are cruelty free. They do not harm any living creature during their manufacturing process.
- Second, they contain less chemicals.
- Third, they are hypoallergenic.
- Fourth, they are biodegradable.
- Lastly, they are environmentally friendly.
Read the Vegan Soap Cookbook for step by step instructions and plant based soap recipes.
What if you don’t want to use lye?
Lye is a caustic substance and it is required to complete the saponification process. If you plan on making hot process or cold process soap you must use Lye water. Making soap correctly will ensure there is no lye in the final product. If you have a fear of working with lye I would recommend making melt and pour soap. This comes as a pre-made base where the manufacturer has already done the chemical reaction with the lye. This way you don’t have to do the lye to water calculation.
Technically you are making soap without lye if you use the melt and pour method. Any other method will require you to use lye.
What You will need to Start Making Soap at Your kitchen Sink
I have curated a list of my favorite supplies for beginners. Click here to access my shopping list of soap maker supplies for beginners. 80-90% of the things you need to make soap you can find around your house. It can be very enticing to go out and buy everything you see on the blogs and youtube videos but I strongly discourage this. Start off with the basics and slowly build your soap studio as you hone your craft and make a few batches of handmade soap. Here is what you will need to get started as a new soap maker divided into 3 categories: safety gear, supplies and ingredients.
Safety gear is a non-negotiable for soap makers. You want to ensure you are making a safe product with good manufacturing practices and ensure you are safe while making it. The good news is you only need two items:
- Safety Goggles for your eye protection when working with lye and raw soap batter.
- Latex gloves, rubber gloves or kitchen gloves to protect your hands and skin
Soap Maker Supplies and Tools
- Immersion Blender – This is also known as a stick blender and I consider the immersion blender the magic wand for soap makers. Get a quality stick blender as you will use it with all of your batches of soap.
- Mixing bowls for measuring ingredients and mixing soap batter. Get a variety of these. The dollar store sells them pretty inexpensively. Get them in a variety of sizes.
- Spatulas for stirring and scraping the bowls
- Pitcher for creating your lye mixture. This should be heavy duty plastic, avoid mixing your caustic solution in glass containers.
- Kitchen Scale for accurate measurements. In soap making we must measure in weight and not by volume. Using an inexpensive kitchen scale will ensure that you are measuring accurately every time.
- Soap Mold this can be silicone soap mold or wooden soap mold. I prefer the silicone mold as there is less clean up and prep time. The wooden soap mold is also nice if it has the silicone mold inside. Otherwise you will need to use freezer paper or parchment paper to line the mold.
- Sharp kitchen knife or cheese cutter for cutting the soap into soap bars
- Soap Cutter as you grow into a professional soap maker you will want to invest in a cutter to get even bars of soap.
- Stainless Steel Soap Pot for mixing larger batches of soap
- Crockpot for making hot process soap
- Cold Process Soap Recipe – Check out the new soap makers cookbook for step by step instructions and beginner soap making recipes.
Soap Maker Beginner Ingredients
- Sodium Hydroxide used to make the lye solution
- Distilled Water
- Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Palm Oil
- Lavender Essential Oil for scenting the soap
- Shea butter, Cocoa Butter or Mango Butter
7 Steps to make soap
- Prepare all your equipment and suit up for safety.
- Prep your work area by laying out all of your ingredients, supplies and tools.
- Measure out any additives to avoid needing to stop midway through the process.
- Make your lye solution – Always pour your lye into water.
- Measure and heat your oils using your kitchen scale
- Mix the ingredients until you reach trace. Trace is when you can see a faint trail of the batter on top and the oils and lye solution no longer separate.
- Pour the soap batter and allow the soap to cure. While your soap is in the mold it may go through gel phase and appear translucent before going back to an opaque color.
What is Gel Phase?
During the saponification process, heat is produced which causes gel formation. As the reaction takes place, the heat increases and the soap batter changes color. If you touch the outer surface of your mold, you’ll be amazed at how hot it feels.
How do you cure soap?
Curing is the process of allowing saponifying agents to completely dissolve into soap and allow water to evaporates from the mixture. Soap becomes hard, less greasy, milder, and without any lye in the final product. To cure your soap allow it to sit out in an open, well ventilated area and weigh them once a week. You will know your soap is cured because it no longer loses weight. Generally this process can take up to 6 weeks.
Resources for Beginner Soap Makers
Youtube Videos for soap making tutorials
Subscribe to our Youtube channel. I go live and post informative tutorial and demo videos weekly. We would love to have you in our live tribe! Youtube is a great place to go and learn from other makers. Find makers who you resonate with and learn from them.
Soap making books are a great way to expand your knowledge. I wrote The New Soap Makers Cookbook series for people like me who were just getting started and didn’t need or want all of the fluff. This series includes four books to get started on your journey.
- The New Soap Makers Cookbook – Ingredients for Success: deals with mindset of a soap maker and basic steps to get started.
- The New Soap Makers Cookbook – Making Cold Process Soap From Scratch: step by step guide to make soap using cold process method and beginner soap recipe suggestions.
- The New Vegan Soap Cookbook: How to Make Homemade Plant-based Soap: Step by step walk through and vegan soap recipes.
- How to Make and Sell Soap: Answers to the Top 50 Questions: Get answers and advice to the top 50 most common soap questions.
Live Soap School offers the best soap making courses online. It is packed with live and pre-recorded lessons along with a dedicated community for you to grow and share with other students. I created this program because it did not exist for people like me who were just getting started.
Do a google search for local classes near you. This will allow you to sit with an instructor and walk through the process and ask questions.
Events and Meetups
Find national, regional and local soap maker conferences and events. Live Soap School offers the Virtual Soap Summit which allows you to join from anywhere in the world for a live conference once a year. Scan the QR code to join the text squad to stay up to date on upcoming events, meetups, and live stream.
Make Soap With Me
Join us in Soap Nation. This is our new community app where we talk all things soap, online business tools, share recipes and more. Soap making can be an exciting new hobby or even a new business. Take the time to learn the process, gather your supplies and try it out. You’ve got this!