• Nicole Salter

How to Make Your Own Soap


Are you a DIY type who's wondering if there is an alternative to buying mass-produced skin care products full of synthetic chemicals and harsh additives, or shelling out big bucks* for handmade soaps? There certainly is...and if you're willing to invest some time into learning basic techniques and some money into high quality raw ingredients, your happy, more natural future is only a short ways away. Big business (and for sure some small businesses, too) wants you to believe that soap making is just too hard, so you'll continue buying their product, but it's really not.

Of course, if you just aren't the do it yourself type, you can let SaltZ&Co make scrumptious natural bath soap for you! *You won't pay big bucks for them, either. But for those with a true roll-up-your-sleeves ethic and a desire to get creative, read on to find out how to make your own soap.

The Cold Process method is respected as 'from scratch' soaping

When nothing but the hard way will do, there's cold process soap. This is the ultra-natural soap that is often sold at farmer's markets in loaves and hand-sliced (though of course it can be molded as well). How it works, in a nutshell, is that animal fats (tallow) or vegetable fats (oils like coconut, castor, olive - basically any pure vegetable oils) are hand-blended with with lye (sodium hydroxide). A chemical reaction occurs called saponification, whereby the lye consumes the fats and creates an entirely new substance - soap. While the soap itself is fairly simple to mix and make, and lathers up well in the tub or shower, there are some drawbacks to making this kind of soap at home:

  • It takes 4-6 weeks to be ready to use, so you need plenty of clean, undisturbed storage space to 'cure' it (let the soap do its thing)...not to mention patience

  • Lye can be very dangerous to work with; you pretty much have to pull on on a Hazmat suit and goggles before making soap this way

  • Precise measurements are required to get everything right, otherwise you won't end up with the proper chemical reactions and/or it won't look or behave right

  • Some essential oils and fragrance oils, and other additives such as vegetable butters, clays and herbals, can affect the soap if they aren't added at just the right time or amount; they can 'break' the soap and render it unusable, or the scent can fade inexplicably during he curing process

  • It may take a long time and a lot of practice to become 'good' at making this kind of soap (producing a perfect batch every time and getting into the more complex additives)

If like me you're waaaaaayyyy too impatient to wait 4-6 weeks for soap to be ready, you can use the Hot Process method which works along the same lines as above, only a lot faster - you can even make soap in your slow cooker!

Melt and Pour has gotten undeserved scorn for being 'too easy'

Now, for those who don't want to churn butter like it's 1899, there's another way to make soap: the melt and pour way. SaltZ&Co uses this method for all our nourishing, wonderful soaps. It should come as no surprise to anyone that craft companies have already figured out that lots of people don't want to fuss around with dangerous lye and wait more than a month to use their finished product; they have designed pre-made bases that are ready to use because the oils have already had the lye added. The key to making this type of soap is all about the personal touches that transform the plain, unscented, soap block base into real soap that's amazing for your skin.

Basically with melt and pour, the butter is already churned; saponification has already occurred, now what? Compound butter. Melt and pour has been likened by scoffers to using a cake mix while cold process is like baking from scratch, but as someone who knows her way around a kitchen, I don't like the cake analogy; making cold process soap is more like milking the cow, harvesting the eggs and threshing the grain into flour first, then baking the cake from scratch. It's kind of a bit much.

Here are some of the benefits of the melt and pour method:

  • Still possible to achieve 100% natural soap, as fully natural soap bases are available for a premium price (this is what we use at SaltZ&Co)

  • Ability to control the ingredients and customize the soap with top of line essential oils, fragrances, oils, butters etc. without worrying about destroying the soap (as long as measurement rules and ratios are followed)

  • No handling lye

  • Able to make with children (a great family gifting project, for example)

  • Ready to use within 24-48 hours

  • Ability to make incredible designs such as layered soap

Beginner's Melt and Pour Soap Recipe: Pretty Lavender Soap

This is a soap you can make with the whole family and perhaps give as gifts, or just use as a natural, pretty alternative to store bought soaps. Here's what you need to get started:

-1 lb of natural soap base (I recommend Stephenson's Crystal Natural for clear soap, or the Voyageur natural shea butter soap pictured above if you'd rather have a creamy opaque soap)

-Lavender essential oil to your own tastes; start with 40 drops

-Red and blue all natural food colouring (or purple soap colour/mica colour/alkanet root)

-Small sprigs of lavender or lavender buds (as decor)

-Silicone soap molds (classic square or round is good for these)

-Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol in a spray bottle

1. Cut the soap into small cubes so it will melt evenly

2. In a glass measuring cup, melt soap in microwave 40 seconds at a time until completely liquid, stirring occasionally, or melt soap in a double boiler until completely liquid.

3. Check the temperature of the melted soap if desired - technically it shouldn't be above 150 degrees Fahrenheit, but for this simple recipe, it really doesn't matter so much, so if you don't have a thermometer we'll let that slide :)

3. Add 1-2 drops of each colorant or as needed until desired lavender colour is achieved

4. Add 40+ drops of lavender essential oil (to taste; it will smell much stronger in the hot soap than it will once the soap has cooled)

5. Stir well and slowly pour evenly into the molds you are using

6. 'Garnish' with a sprig or buds of lavender, which may sink to the bottom

7. Spritz surface of soap with rubbing alcohol immediately to remove any bubbles

Let cool and harden for 24 hours before popping out your soap. It is advisable to wrap your new soap immediately in plastic wrap to prevent shrinkage, but if you don't mind a little sweating in humid weather and/or shrinkage, package in waxed paper, boxes, cotton bags or paper bags or wrap. Please note that lavender will gradually turn brown in the soap within a few weeks; this is a natural chemical reaction, not rot!

Great natural soap is within anyone's grasp

No matter what way you want to make your own soap, soap making kits and ingredients can be purchased online. Yet despite the relative ease of making melt and pour soap, many won't have time to bother - even those who want a natural bar of soap that smells great and performs well. For you, there's SaltZ&Co. We love making natural bath soap and body care products, so you don't have to.

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