How to Make Your Own Soap

Illustration depicting different soap making methods
Illustration: Catherine Song. © The Spruce, 2018 

Making your own soap at home is easy, frugal, creative, and fulfilling. There's something satisfying about taking a bar of your own homemade soap into the bath or shower with you. Whether you are looking for a more natural alternative to commercial soap or are just a crafty person looking for a new creative adventure, making soap is fun and not too complicated.

There are several different methods of making your own soap. Once you understand the basics of how to make soap, you can get started right away.

Why Make My Own Soap?

“Where the hard pastel-colored bars sold at the drugstore are anonymous and indifferent, homemade soap has character. It charms… it smells good… feels good… is comforting in ways which manufactured soap can never be," says Ann Bramson, a pioneer of today's natural handmade soap-making community, in her book, Soap.

If you’ve never tried a bar of real natural handmade soap, you’re in for a treat. If you have tried one, and know just how wonderful it is, you’ll be surprised that making your own soap is not as difficult as you think.

Making Soap Is a Basic Chemical Reaction

Soap is the result of a basic chemical reaction between fats or oils and lye. That’s it. By carefully choosing a combination of quality oils, adding your favorite fragrance or essential oils, and swirling in a lively colorant, your soap suddenly takes on that charming character that commercially manufactured soap can’t even begin to compete with.

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Four Methods of Making Soap

There are four basic methods for making soap at home:

  1. Melt and Pour: A process in which you melt pre-made blocks of soap and add your own fragrance.
  2. Cold Process: The most common method of making soap from scratch with oils and lye.
  3. Hot Process: A variation of the cold process method, where the soap is actually cooked in a crockpot or oven.
  4. Rebatching: A method of grinding up bars of soap, adding milk or water, and re-blending them.

Each method has pros, and cons, and variations. Reviewing the two most popular methods, melt and pour and cold process, will help you decide which is right for you.


Melt and Pour Soap Making

Making soap with a melt and pour base is sort of like making a cake with a cake mix. What you lose in control of your ingredients and customization of your recipe, you make up for in safety, ease, and convenience.

With melt and pour soap making, you buy pre-made blocks of uncolored, unscented soap “base” from a craft store or soap supplier. You melt the soap base in the microwave or a double boiler. When the soap is fully melted, add fragrance, color and/or additives. Put it in a mold, and voila, you’re done. The soap is ready to use as soon as it hardens.

To get started with melt and pour soap making, you need:

  • A countertop or other clean workspace with a microwave or double boiler
  • A heat-resistant bowl for the microwave
  • A couple of spoons or whisks
  • Some melt and pour soap base
  • A set of measuring spoons
  • Fragrance, color, or additives, as desired
  • Something to mold the soap in

Pros and Cons of Melt and Pour Soap

There are some considerations for this type of process, including:

Pros:

  • An easy and inexpensive way to start making soap
  • No need to deal with dangerous lye mixture
  • You don’t need a lot of ingredients to start
  • Your soap is ready to use as soon as it hardens

Cons:

  • No control over your ingredients
  • Melt and pour is not quite as natural as other methods. (Many manufacturers add chemicals to increase lather or to better allow the soap to melt.)
  • Your soap is only as good as the base you purchase

Cold Process Soap

If making melt and pour soap is akin to using a cake mix, cold process is making your cake from scratch. You control everything that goes into the pot and you can make it as natural as you want. Your setup is a little more complicated and you’ll need to learn a few techniques of the craft first.

To make cold process soap, you heat the oils in your soap pot until they’re approximately 100 degrees. Slowly add the lye-water mixture and blend the soap until it thickens to trace. After the mixture reaches trace, you add your fragrance, color, and additives and pour it into the mold. The raw soap will take about 24 hours to harden and about four weeks to cure before it’s ready to use.

To get started making cold process soap, you’ll need:

  • A flat, uncluttered workspace with a heat source and access to water
  • Some animal fats or vegetable oils
  • A pitcher of lye-water
  • soap pot and some other easily found tools and equipment
  • Fragrance or essential oil, as desired
  • Natural or synthetic colorant, as desired
  • A mold to pour the raw soap into
  • A cool, dry place to let the soap cure

Pros and Cons of Cold Process Soap Making

This process has a number of considerations to take into account, including:

Pros:

  • Your soap is truly made from scratch
  • You control all of the ingredients in the soap
  • You can tailor your recipe into unlimited variations

Cons

  • You need to learn how to safely work with lye
  • You’ll need more ingredients and tools to start
  • It takes longer to make and there is more cleanup involved
  • You need to wait several weeks before your soap is ready to use

Whichever method you choose, you can make great soap. Work patiently and follow the instructions closely to start with. Once you’re familiar with the basic steps, you’ll be able to let your creative inspirations flow and make all sorts of wonderful soap creations.