When I become passionate about something, be it prepping, essential oils, CBD, adult coloring or ballroom dancing, I go all in. By that I mean I spend hours embracing my new passion, learning as much as I can about it, and spending hours practicing and enjoying my craft. Reading between the lines here at Strategic Living, you know that my latest passion is soap making. Hot process, cold process, rebatch, and melt and pour, I do it all. It is the latter that I do when time is short and I don’t want to mess with lye and the associated safety precautions and cleanup.
Melt and Pour soap takes a lot of the work out of soap making. Because it starts with a premade base, you can focus on your inner creative self by customizing your soap with colorants, fragrance, additives, swirls, and fancy shapes.
For those of you that are new to the soap making world, there is one name that stands out as somewhat of a legend when it comes to making soap naturally. Her name is Jan Berry and she is a prolific do-it-yourselfer when it comes to DIY body care projects. When I learned that she was coming out with a book on Melt and Pour Soaps I knew I just had to have it and let me tell you, if there is such a thing as an MP bible (MP is the acronym for Melt and Pour), this is it.
Today I am thrilled to share a brief review and interview with Jan and, in my usual Book Festival style, offer up a print copy of her new book, Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps, in a giveaway. More about that in a moment.
Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps
The first thing I want to say about this book that it is gorgeous. Yeah, I know that it should not matter but truth be told, I have purchased enough books to know that pictures do help. So do callouts and suggestions in colored blocks that help when using the book as a reference.
Putting that aside, the first sections of the book go into great detail about the various bases you can purchase (clear, goat’s milk, shea, honey and more), and the ingredients that make up the base. The equipment you need is listed along with nice-to-have items. One nice thing about MP soap making is that most of the tools you need are already in your kitchen and because you are not working with raw lye, you can use them for food preparation after the fact. Melt and pour soap base is, after all, soap, and not at all toxic.
For the more advanced melt and pour soaper (meaning someone who has graduated to their second or third batch of soap), there is a section on infusing soap with herbs and flowers. I was surprised to learn that I can infuse the melted base with Calendula petals add it’s healing goodness to my soap while coloring it naturally to a golden yellow.
Before getting to the recipes themselves, there is an extensive tutorial, again with pictures that make will make the melt and pour process a cinch.
An Interview with Jan Berry, Author of Easy Melt and Pour Soaps
1. Let us start out by learning a little bit about you. I consider you a legend when it comes to soap making. Tell us about that and how you ended up where you are today.
Thanks for the kind words!
I started making soap when my son was a toddler, about 16 years ago now. He was allergic to everything and had terrible eczema. It was impossible to find soap he didn’t react to, so I decided to make my own. It was a rough start – my first several batches were complete failures, but I kept on trying until I finally had success!
Once I got the basics down, I started experimenting with infusing a wide variety of flowers and herbs from my garden into my soaps, both for fun and their potential skin benefits. A few years later, I shared some of my favorite experiments on my website, such as lemon balm, rosa rugosa, and dandelion & honey soaps, and they received such a positive reaction, it inspired me to keep making and sharing more!
It’s a circular effect of sorts and I fully credit the encouragement and questions from my website readers for helping to shape me into a better and more adventurous soapmaker.
2. In your latest book, you describe various techniques for creating beautiful, handcrafted soap using melt and pour base and natural ingredients. That said, many experienced soapers refer to a melt and pour base as “toxic junk”. Can you comment on that?
Yes, definitely. I felt the same way in the past!
There are indeed some soap bases out there with a lot of extra junk in them, but with a little digging you can also find some solid offerings too. I lean towards using SFIC brand, since their website shows their motto is “as natural as we can make it”, and they also offer palm-free options for those who want to go that route. You can find quality artisanal style bases at places like Essentials by Catalina and from some handmade sellers on Etsy.
Finally, cold process soapmakers can make their own melt and pour base from scratch, to control every bit of the ingredients. (I’ll have some natural melt-and-pour-from-scratch recipes coming to my website this fall/winter!)
3. Making soap can become a very expensive hobby, especially when using essential oils and natural colorants. What tips do you have for beginners to help them keep the costs manageable?
For cold process soap, my best tips would be to start with a small sized batch of soap and use ingredients from your local grocery store, such as olive oil and coconut oil. Use an empty milk or juice carton as a mold, instead of investing in expensive molds. Consider making an unscented soap to start with (my favorite kind of soap!), then move on to using commonly available essential oil such as peppermint or lavender, which tend to cost less than others.
For melt and pour, I would invest in a small online order to get a high-quality base since the ones in craft stores sometimes leave a lot to be desired. Bramble Berry has a sampler pack that’s a great deal, or if you’re specifically looking for palm free base, try Soap Goods.
As with cold process, choose an inexpensive essential oil to start with, such as peppermint or lavender. Try infusing your soap base with herbs and flowers that you can pick or buy locally (like dandelions or sunflowers for a pretty yellow color, or violet leaves for a lovely green), before purchasing natural colorants.
4. Speaking of fragrance, how long can we expect the fragrance to last in an unused bar of melt & pour soap.
That’s going to vary, depending on what kind of essential oil(s) and your chosen blend, and how much you use, but in my experience, the scent is long lasting (for many months) and still around when I’m finishing up a bar.
I use EO Calc to determine the amount needed for a recipe – https://www.eocalc.com/enter-your-own-blend/ – and personally prefer the lighter amounts, but if you want a strong scent that stays around longer, use their maximum safe rate guidelines.
5. Your Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps book includes gorgeous photographs. Clearly, you made a lot of soap while developing these 50+ recipes. What the heck do you do with all of the soap that you make?
Thanks! My house overflows with soap sometimes, depending on which project is in the works! 😊
Every book recipe is made multiple times over as it’s tested and perfected, so I end up with hundreds of bars that need new homes. For the first few months after I’ve finished photographing, I stored everything in large storage totes, loosely grouped according to their book chapter, just in case I need to take more pictures for the publisher.
After that, I save out a few items for our personal use, then hand out the rest by the boxfuls to family members and friends, and they take what they want and pass along extras to places like local food banks, or give as gifts to groups of teachers or nurses.
** The above photos are reprinted with permission from Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps by Jan Berry, Page Street Publishing Co., 2019. Photo credit: Jan Berry
6. I started soaping using the Melt and Pour method, then moved on to Hot Process. Once I became comfortable using lye, I purchased your book Simple & Natural Soapmaking which features Cold Process soap making.
In your opinion, what criteria should be used to select one soap making process over another?
The ultimate factor to consider is which one feels right and appeals most to you, and your convictions. For example, my daughter is adamantly against the thought of handling lye, so has zero interest in making cold or hot process soaps. However, she has a great time getting creative with melt and pour soaps.
When my son was a toddler and had allergies and ultrasensitive skin, melt and pour soapmaking wouldn’t have been right for me, since I couldn’t find a soap base free from all of his allergens. Now that he’s older and outgrown most of his allergies though, he can use many melt and pour soaps just fine. (Fun side note: He actually helped test recipe ideas, melted and mixed, and gave a bunch of suggestions to improve the projects in the melt and pour book!)
Cold process soapmaking is good for those who want complete control over the ingredient list and for those with ultra-sensitive skin, since a well-made gentle recipe is difficult to beat.
Hot process is basically cold process + cooking time, so would have similar qualities and benefits as cold process, but with a little added speed bonus for those who want to use their soaps sooner.
All three methods are valid ways of soap crafting, so there really isn’t a wrong choice as to which path, or paths, you take to express yourself through soap!
7. To date, what is your favorite soapmaking article on the TheNerdyFarmwife.com website?
Definitely my troubleshooting post, “What’s Wrong with My Soap?”. I invested a lot of time into writing it up, but it helps answer many of the most common questions I receive.
I find myself referring to it all the time, and hope to expand the information in it when I give my website a much-needed update this winter.
8. I believe that living a strategic life is something each person must do on their own terms. How do you quantify living a strategic life and what goals have you set to ensure that you live a joyful life going forward?
I love that belief and I love this question!
For me, the biggest struggle is balancing what I need to do to keep my online business flourishing, with the desire to spend as much time as possible enjoying my home, family, and the beautiful outdoors around us without the distractions of social media and the internet. There’s also a conflicted feeling I carry about the very real problem of online information overload, so when setting goals and making plans, I ask myself – am I being truly helpful, or am I just contributing to the clutter?
I set yearly goals and a key word or phrase (such as “the year of no” – where I decided not to feel guilty about saying no to things, even if they’re good things). Over the last few years, I pinpointed tasks I’m especially not good at or find time consuming, and outsourced them – (website maintenance, email management, Pinterest pinning). I don’t stress about posting on social media unless I have something new or interesting to share, and if it doesn’t take away from a more pressing task at home.
These decisions have helped refill my happiness meter. Running a website is a never-ending to-do list and you have to consciously set stop points or it will overwhelm your life. (I’ve been there and done that a few times, and it’s not good for your physical or mental health!)
My husband and I work together and often daydream out loud about our joint dreams and goals (which include an even simpler, more localized, and possibly off-grid life), and that keeps me motivated and joyful about our current online work!
9. Privacy concerns notwithstanding, where can we find you on social media?
10. Is there anything else you would like to share with my readers here at Strategic Living?
If you like natural body care product ideas, making soap, or are looking for creative uses for herbs and garden flowers, come visit me at my Nerdy Farm Wife site!
Note: This giveaway is now over.
To enter the giveaway you will need to use the Rafflecopter below. There are multiple ways to enter so chose as few or as many as you like.
As is my usual style, you can earn multiple entries by answering what I like to call a “giveaway question” in the comments below. The question for this particular giveaway is very simple:
Pursuing your passions is very much a part of living a Strategic Life. What passion, hobby, or type of experience motivates you to be the best you can be?
Note that if you do leave a comment, you still need to indicate you have done so in the Rafflecopter.
If you are experiencing a problem accessing the Rafflecopter widget, try this link instead: Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps Giveaway
Fine Print: This giveaway will end on November 26th at 12AM MST. The winner will be notified by email. The winner must confirm within 48 hours or an alternate will be selected. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian mailing addresses only.
A Word About Melt and Pour Soap Bases
When I first started making soap, I visited my local hobby store and purchased their MP base. The result was gorgeous soap that lathered well and smelled heavenly. I was hooked. Remember when I said I was all in when it came to pursuing my passions? Well, after a few initial batches, I started doing some research on the MP bases that I was using.
Holy moly! All melt and pour soap bases are different. Some are clear and others are a white or cream color. Others include Aloe, Honey, Oatmeal, Shea Butter, Goat’s Milk and more.
But beyond these attributes, some contain sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) and others do not. So what is the problem with SLS? SLS is a highly effective detergent that removes the protective oils from the skin and can cause major irritation. It also will strip oils from the hair and dry it out. That is a reason that most hairdressers will recommend sulfate-free shampoo for treated hair.
The choice to use SLS in body care products is totally a matter of personal preference Personally, I chose sulfate-free products for both body and care products but again, that is just me.
Another thing. I learned is that most hobby store soap bases are not soap at all. Instead, they are predominately synthetic and detergent-based, much like most of the bar soaps you purchase at the grocery store which if you take time to check, you will learn that they are called beauty bars, and not soap. They contain little or none of the traditional oils used in soap making such as coconut oil, olive oil, soybean oil, palm oil, or lard.
All that said, there is nothing wrong with choosing a synthetic soap product if that is your choice.
But if it is not your choice to use detergents on your body, steer away from hobby store synthetic MP bases and bases that contain SLS. Many of these bases will be labeled 100% natural but some are not so you have to dig into the ingredient list.
As of this moment, I have found a few brands that use no SLS in any of their bases. One is SFIC and others are Saponify and Our Earth’s Secrets. There are many other brands that sell detergent-free bases but not exclusively across their product line. Here’s the thing: the cost is no more than the synthetic stuff. Not only that, many stores both online and off private label SFIC melt and pour bases so be sure to ask if you are shopping locally.
When it comes to the type of base, I like to keep things simple so my favorites are Goat’s Milk (see recipe), Shea Butter, and Clear. Here are some of the melt and pour soaps I have made:
Summing It All Up
One of the easiest and best melt and pour soaps I have made is a Goat’s Milk and Honey soap. I wrote up a tutorial in the article Super Simple Goats Milk & Honey Soap for First Time Soapmakers. This is a super-nourishing soap without any fragrance so it is reasonable in cost to make. It does not require a cure time and is good to use right away: perfect for gift giving.
But there is so very much more to soapmaking than this simple recipe. Using Jan’s new book, I have learned how to infuse herbs and flowers in my base to give it a beautiful, natural color, and I have learned how to add exfoliants and create fancy patterns. There is even a recipe for making sugar scrub cubes to use in the shower. This book is going to keep me busy for a very long time! As far as I am concerned, Easy Homemade Melt & Pour Soaps is a must-have for every soapmakers library.
If all of this soap making stuff sounds good to you, I hope you will enter the giveaway to win a copy of the fantastic book for free!
Yours for a Joyful Life,
If you are impatient and prefer to purchase a copy of Jan’s new book now, you can do so using this link. The book is available in both print and Kindle format.
Saponify Goats Milk Soap Base: Lucky you if you have a soap supply store near you. If not, you can purchase soap bases online. I have found that the Saponify (a detergent-free brand) is one of the most reasonably priced melt and pour bases on Amazon, plus Prime shipping is free.
Below is a sampling of the supplies that I use myself and recommend for beginning soapers. Truth be told, as addictive as soap making can become, you will soon be adding laser thermometers, a variety of silicone molds, mica colorants, and a variety of other types of bases. For now, though, these are the basics I recommend for beginners.
6 Cavities Silicone Soap Mold: This basic mold creates a beautiful, well-sized bar of soap.
6-Cavity Sunflower Mold: This is one of my favorite ornamental silicone molds. Coupled with the bar soap mold above, I can mix and match soaps in a gift bag and create a special gift for someone I care about.
Liquid Soap Colorant: Liquid colorants are far easier to use than micas and powders so I recommend starting with something like this 3-pack. You can also find similar colorants at Michaels or Hobby Lobby plus you can use a coupon to get them for 40% off. Be aware that water-based colorants such as the type used in food or in bath bombs are not suitable for melt and pour soap.
Soap Cutting Blade: A soap cutting blade will make chopping your base into small cubes a cinch but a good chef’s knife will also work just fine.
Norpro 3.5 Cup Measuring Pitcher with Funnel Spout: One advantage of these over a glass, Pyrex measuring cup is that the handle does not get hot. Also, the long, funnel spout does not drip at all, making it useful in the kitchen and not just for soap making. It is BPA-free.
Etekcity Digital Kitchen Scale: For less than $10, this scale will serve double duty in the kitchen. I don’t know how I ever got along without it.
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