For the longest time, I have wanted to make soap but was intimidated by the process. I envisioned donning my pandemic-ready overalls, goggles, and three layers of gloves so that I could safely work with lye. I have since learned that with care, I do not have to go quite that far but still, I was just not ready to take that step.
About six months ago, I learned about something called melt and pour soap base. Melt and pour base is a block of premade soap with nothing added. All of the work to create soap from oils and lye has been done, leaving the fun part of adding color, fragrance, and molding into bars to you. The more I read, the more I was hooked so I purchased some supplies and got started.
There was no looking back. I have learned that making hand-crafted soap from melt and pour base is addictive and is both a highly creative process and superbly rewarding hobby. I just can’t stop making soap and love giving my precious bars away to friends for no reason at all. Just because.
One of those friends loved her soaps so much that she asked for more. And then she asked me to teach her how so she could make her own and give them away to her friends. So there I was, one day, teaching my friend Nancy to make soap and within an hour or two, she was an expert. Her husband told me I created a soap-making monster. Now I don’t know about that but with all of that experience behind me, I decided to memorialize a beginners guide to making soap.
Given that pursuing your passions, including hobbies, is part of living a strategic life, I share with you what I know so far about making no-lye soap, along with some tips and tricks that will pretty much guarantee success.
Why Make Soap?
Before we start let us get this question out of the way.
One day a few weeks ago I was making soap while my husband was playing golf with his buddies. When he mentioned to them that I was making soap, one of them asked why?
Why, indeed. Have you ever checked the ingredients in most store bought soaps? Most are a concoction of detergents, chemicals, and lathering agents along with synthetic fragrances. Here is what the FDA says [source]:
Today there are very few true soaps on the market. Most body cleansers, both liquid and solid, are actually synthetic detergent products. Detergent cleansers are popular because they make suds easily in water and don’t form gummy deposits. Some of these detergent products are actually marketed as “soap” but are not true soap according to the regulatory definition of the word.
On the other hand, true soap is made by combining fats or oils and an alkali, such as lye. In simplistic terms, the lye reacts with oils in a process called saponification, to create a block or bar of finished soap. There are no artificial anything’s in true soap which means there are no irritants or toxins or hormone disruptors to give your grief. That is not to say that store bought soap is bad, but rather that I prefer to use as few chemicals as possible on my body and in my home.
In addition to knowing what is in my soap, the process of custom crafting something so useful for both myself and gift-giving is irresistibly fun and rewarding. And while not exactly budget-friendly, the cost of a nourishing and natural bar of DIY soap can be as low as $1 a bar which is far less than the $8 to $10 charged at specialty stores, soap boutiques, farmer’s markets, and craft fairs.
How to Make Goat’s Milk and Honey Melt and Pour Soap
For first-timers, I suggest making a Goat’s Milk and Honey Soap. The only add-in is a bit of honey although I do like to add a drop of two of yellow liquid colorant to enhance the color. Honey makes a super nourishing bar of soap and this very simple soap is still my husband’s favorite for washing his face in the morning. Although making melt and pour soap is easy, please read through the directions as well as the tips and tricks before getting started. While there are no Gotha’s, there are some decisions you will need to make about what you want your soap to look like and it is best to know your options from the get-go.
1 pound of Goats Milk Melt & Pour Soap Base (or other melt and pour soap base)
1 – 2 teaspoons Honey
Microwave Safe Pitcher, Jar or Bowl
Silicone Spatula or Wood Skewer
Soap Mold (Like this or this)
Isopropyl Alcohol in a Spray Bottle
Liquid Soap Colorant (I use yellow)
Essential Oil or Fragrance Oil
1. The first thing you need to do is to chop the block of melt and pour soap base into small cubes. The exact size does not matter but the smaller the cube, the more evenly your base will melt. I like to use a soap cutting blade but a good chef’s knife will work just fine.
1 pound of melt and pour base will make 4 to 6 bars, depending on the size of your mold and the height of each bar.
2. Place the chopped base into a microwave-safe container. When I first started soaping with melt and pour, I used a Pyrex measuring pitcher. These days, I use plastic BPA-free pitchers that have a long spout that facilitate what I call “the pour”.
3. Melt your base in a microwave oven using 15 – 30 second bursts. Following each burst, give the base a good stir using a silicone spatula or a wooden skewer. Repeat this process until the base is completely melted. Note that you want to melt the base, not cook it. I have found that melt and pour soap base begins to melt at about 120 degrees and, depending on the type and brand, will be fully melted at about 150 degrees.
4. Although you can make a perfectly lovely soap without adding honey, doing so will, in my opinion, make an extra-nourishing bar. In this step, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey to your base after it is melted. Be sure to mix well because if you don’t the honey will pool in the bottom of the mold and will end up gloopy. I like to use a small whisk to blend in the honey but that is optional.
The more honey you use, the softer the soap so if you want a harder bar, use less honey.
5. If you are planning to use a colorant, add it now. Add the colorant a drop at a time until you reach the desired color. Because goat’s milk soap base is white, your soap will be a lovely pastel color. Stir well.
6. If you desire, add fragrance or essential oils now. My rule of thumb is one teaspoon (about 5 ml or 85 drops) of essential oil per pound of base. And yes, that is a lot and it can be expensive. You can also use fragrance oils which are less expensive but since I want to create a more natural soap, I stick with essential oils. As a beginner, I recommend that you skip this part until you become comfortable with the process. And remember, you can make a lovely bar of soap without any fragrance whatsoever. As a matter of fact, in some instances, a fragrance-free soap may be desirable, especially for sensitive skin.
7. You are now ready to pour your soap into a mold. I highly recommend using a silicone mold because it will be really easy to remove your soaps from the mold after the fact. Before pouring your soap into a mold, spritz it with alcohol. Fill your mold and again, spritz with alcohol. This will eliminate small bubbles that tend to appear on the top and bottom of your soap.
6. Let your soap harden. This will typically take an hour or two although you can hasten things along in the refrigerator. When hardened, remove the soaps from your mold and voila! You now have soap.
7. The final step optional. If you are making a large batch of soap and will not be using the bars right away, wrap them in plastic wrap or shrink wrap. This will prevent them from sweating although, to be honest, I have left my bars unwrapped for a month or two and have not had a problem.
Melt and Pour Variations
There are many variations you can make to customize your soap, including swirled soap, tie-dye soap, layered soap and more. You can add glitters, or embeds, exfoliants such as coffee grounds, poppy seeds, dried herbs, and a thousand other variations. I will be sharing some of my favorites but in the meantime, a good source for ideas is YouTube or Pinterest.
Here are a few of the soaps I have made:
Tips and Tricks for Making Melt & Pour Soap
- Melt and pour base is very forgiving. If you goof up your bars, simply re-chop,re-melt and start all over. It is as simple as that.
- Never oil your silicone molds. The oil will interfere with your base and inhibit the look and feel of your base. The beauty of silicone molds is that you do not have to worry about sticking.
- Silicone molds are not required. You can use an existing loaf pan or muffin pan, or craft molds out of milk cartons. All that being said, silicone molds are the bomb and once you use them, you will never go back!
- After each pour, spritz with alcohol. This will remove air bubbles and will allow the layers (if used) to stick together.
- A good thermometer is useful. I use a laser thermometer but before I made that investment, I used an instant-read which is more reliable than a meat thermometer.
- Do not begin your pour until your base is between 120 and 130 degrees F. You can usually go as low as 110 degrees before the base starts to set up and clump in your melting pitcher. This is especially important if you are using multiple colors since anything hotter will simply mix and muddle the colors together and not keep them separate.
- Fragrance is your most expensive ingredient. I use essential oils and they can get expensive. I do most of my “practicing” without fragrance so that I can re-melt and start over if needed. The rule of thumb for using EOs is 1 tsp per lb. 1 tsp is an entire 5ml bottle or 85 drops.
- You are better off buying the individual ingredients than getting a melt and pour soap kit. The quality will be higher and the value greater for less money in the long run.
- If you decided to add herbs or flowers to your soap, ensure that they are fully dried and not fresh from the garden. Fresh herbs and flowers will turn your soap brown over time and for lack of a better way to say it, your lovingly made bars of soap will be ugly.
- Finally, and this is general info, taking a commercial bar of soap and grating it then reforming it is called re-batching. It is not the same as melt and pour base and you will be disappointed with the result. Been there done that in my Backdoor Survival days. Also, most supermarket soaps have lots of chemicals in them and are nowhere near as natural as a pure goat’s milk, shea butter, or glycerin soap. Dr. Bronner’s and of course, custom-crafted soaps are an exception.
What About Lye aka Sodium Hydroxide?
All soap, including the ingredients in melt and pour, must go through a process called saponification. Saponification is the process of converting a fat or fats into soap by treating them with an alkali, usually lye. And let’s be honest, lye is hazardous to work with. Using it in its natural form requires diligence, safety precautions, time and equipment. This is not something we all want to do, at least not at the beginning of our soap-making journey.
There are those that will say that melt and pour is not real soap. I care to differ. Melt and pour base is soap that has had the hard work or mixing oil and lye done for you. It is still lye-based, but totally cured and ready to use.
Will I ever want to start working with fats and oils plus lye? Most likely, yes, because there are things you can do with cold process soap that you can not do with melt and pour. They include fantastic swirl patterns, peaked tops, and all sorts of fancy designs. But am I ready to do that now? Nope. I want easy and fun coupled with a fantastic product.
A Word About Soap Bases and Colorants
Let me start by saying this: all soap bases are not created equal. Some are natural, with no artificial additives. Some are organic if that is important to you. And some contain additives that you may deem undesirable, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (a foaming agent) also known as SLS. Although SLS is considered a low-risk toxin, it can cause skin and eye irritation and as well as organ system toxicity. So while it pretty much guarantees a good lather, why take a chance? I even take extra care to use SLS-free shampoos. But that’s just me.
When I first started, I purchased my base using a 40% off coupon at Michael’s. The cost was low, about $8 for a two-pound block of base soap, and it was a great teaching tool. Alas, the Art Minds base at Michaels was not a natural as I prefer so I now use the brand SFIC, which is commonly available online at stores such as Brambleberry and Bulk Apothecary, or the Earth’s Secret brand which you can get on Amazon with free shipping.
My favorite goat’s milk bases are by the SFIC and Earth’s Secret. Both contain 10 percent goat milk so they feel creamy and moisturizing on the skin. Here are the other ingredients:
Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Safflower Oil, Glycerin (kosher, of vegetable origin), Goat’s Milk, Purified Water, Sodium Hydroxide (saponifying agent), Sorbitol (moisturizer), Sorbitan oleate (emulsifier), Oat protein (conditioner), Titanium Dioxide (mineral whitener used in opaque soaps)
Of course, there are many other excellent bases, these just happen to be my favorite at the moment.
Soap colorants are something I am still experimenting with. The first colorants I used were again, from Michaels as well as from Hobby Lobby. They were inexpensive and vibrant, if not altogether natural. I have been very happy with them and can recommend them.
On the other hand, I am now interested in moving to a 100% natural colorant and have started using herbs, spices, and mica colorants. These must be pre-mixed and they take far more experimentation to get the color right. The micas, especially, are more expensive than the herbs and spices out of my cupboard but to me, they are worth it.
As I mentioned earlier, stay away from food coloring and water-based colorants. If you are looking for soap colorants on Amazon, read the reviews. Many will say flat out that they do not work well with melt and pour. To me, it is not worth the risk.
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Summing It All Up
I am having a blast making soap and after being a Dr. Bronner’s gal for the last 8 or 9 years, it is a change to have to actually learn to use bar soap again. That said, transitioning back to bar soap has been totally worth it. What has surprised me the most is how soft my hands have become and, in the case of soaps I have made fragranced with essential oils, how pure and refreshing the smell is compared to the bar soaps I used years ago. Right now I am most in love with peppermint soap!
Finally, I feel that I should mention that while soap making is not a cheap hobby, it is not overly expensive. Unlike some hobbies, with soap making, you can actually use what you make and give away rest. Be forewarned, however. Your gift recipients will ask for more; it is that good!
I am totally addicted to making melt and pour soap and can see myself moving on to cold process soap, hot process soap and the use of oils and lye at some point down the road. I never would have guessed that which just goes to show you that life can sometimes be quite surprising.
Yours for a Joyful Life,
Here 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, load molds, mica colorants, and a variety of other types of bases. For now, though, these are the basics I recommend for beginners.
Goats Milk Melt and Pour Soap Base: I prefer a soap base without SLS (sodium laurel Sulfate) and this is a good one. It comes on a 2-pound block and free prime shipping.
6-Cavity Silicone Daisy Flower Mold: This is my favorite ornamental silicone mold. 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.
6 Cavities Silicone Soap Mold: This is my second most favorite soap mold. Having a bar soap to mix and match with a flower-shaped soap creates some interest when making gift sets. Plus, it is nice to wrap them with a ribbon or a piece of twine.
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.
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