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Making your own soap at home is a relaxing and creative pastime. Find out what you need to get started in our DIY soap guide.
Soap making is a brilliant creative craft to explore. You can learn to create your own colourful soaps, carve them into ornate designs or stock up on unique moulds.
As you gain confidence and experience, you can also add scent with essential oils and learn about skin-friendly ingredients such as shea butter.
The easiest forms of soap making require very little equipment and can even be attempted by children with adult supervision.
More advanced soap making techniques need some scientific knowledge and skill to get the recipes right.
In this guide, we’ll introduce some of the most common ways to make homemade soap, what equipment you’ll need to get started and tackle some frequently asked questions.
Follow the links below to jump to each section:
Melt and pour soap is one of the most popular and accessible ways to make your own handmade soap. It’s a good choice for beginners and even children can give it a go with some assistance from a grown-up.
This soap making technique involves melting a premade soap base and pouring it into a mould. You can add colours and fragrances to make your soap unique.
Once it’s in the mould, you simply need to wait for it to set and you’re done!
If you want to get into soap making, melt and pour is a good starting point because there’s so much you can do with it. For example, you can add dried flowers or carve it into different shapes like these colourful DIY egg soaps.
Melt and pour soap is safer than other forms of soap making, because you don’t need to handle lye which is a caustic substance. However, you still need to be careful when handling the melted soap to ensure you don’t get burnt.
Have a go and melt and pour soap making with this expert guide from The Soapery.
Cold process soap making doesn’t involve any heat, instead fats or oils are combined with sodium hydroxide (lye). The mixture (or batter) then undergoes a process called saponification – a chemical reaction which transforms the oil and lye into soap.
Once you’ve combined all of your ingredients including fragrance and other additives, the soap must be left to cure for a few weeks in order for the lye to be completely neutralised (around four to six weeks, depending on the recipe). After curing, no lye will remain in the bar. It will also allow time for all of the moisture to fully evaporate.
Cold process soap making is more suitable for experienced soapmakers, because it allows you to have much greater control over the ingredients that you use. For example, you can add essential oils for fragrance or add shea/cocoa butter to make the soap more moisturising.
You can also create lots of aesthetically pleasing designs in cold process soap, such as adding colourful swirls. This type of soap is opaque, unlike melt and pour soap which can be translucent.
However, you will need to take more safety precautions when working with cold process soap because lye is highly toxic.
Learn more about this technique with The Soapery's cold process soap making guide.
Hot process soap making requires heat to combine the ingredients before they are poured into a mould. The heat speeds up the saponification process.
One of the advantages of hot process soap is that it cures more quickly, so it can be removed from the mould within 24 hours. Although the soap can be used after 24 hours, it’s still recommended to cure your hot process soap for around a month as it will harden during that time.
While hot process soap is quicker to make than cold process soap, there are some trade-offs. It has a more rustic look than cold process soap and can be more difficult to add fragrances and essential oils.
Like cold process soap, hot process soap can be customised with your choice of ingredients.
Discover how to make your own hot process soap with The Soapery.
Made a batch of soap that didn’t go quite right or want to do something with leftover soap scraps? Don’t worry, you can rebatch them!
Rebatching is a soap making technique which is used to transform old soap into fresh new bars. This is a safe form of soap making because no lye is needed – the soap has already been through the saponification process.
To rebatch soap, you need to grate the soap, melt it down and then pour it into a mould to set. After it’s cured for a couple of weeks, your soap will be ready to use.
Rebatching is a brilliant way to reduce waste, so we’d highly recommend giving it a go.
When you’re learning about soap making you’ll come across lots of unfamiliar terms, which can be tricky to remember. Here are some common soap making terms which you may come across…
Saponification is a chemical reaction that occurs during the soap making process. It happens when fats or oils are combined with sodium hydroxide (lye).
During saponification, the fats or oils react with the lye to form soap. At the end of the process, all of the lye should have been consumed by the reaction with none remaining in the finished soap.
Saponification is an exothermic chemical reaction, meaning heat is released during the process. Due to the high temperatures involved, there is a high risk of burns and toxic fumes are released. Take a look at The Soap Queen’s excellent lye safety guide to make sure that you’re taking sensible precautions.
Always use lye in a well-ventilated space and wear protective clothing including goggles. And, of course, make sure you store lye in a secure place away from children and animals.
Before your soap is ready to use, it needs to go through the curing process. During the curing process, sodium hydroxide converts oils into soap via the saponification process. At the end of the process, all of the sodium hydroxide will have been used up.
The amount of time the soap needs to cure will vary depending on the soap making method that you have used. For example, melt and pour soap is ready to use after 24 hours, but cold process soaps need to be left to cure for 4-6 weeks.
Hot process soaps can often be unmoulded and used within 24 hours (depending on the recipe). It’s recommended to leave it to cure for four weeks to allow the water to evaporate, resulting in a firmer bar of soap.
Learn more about the curing process with this in-depth guide from Lovely Greens.
Trace is the stage in soap making when the oils and sodium hydroxide (lye) have emulsified. This step usually occurs as you mix the two together and you’ll notice that the liquid begins to thicken. When you can no longer see streaks of oil in the mixture, your soap will have reached trace.
You’ll often hear soap makers refer to a light, medium or thick trace, which helps them to determine when the soap is ready to pour into the mould.
The desired degree of trace in your soap making will vary depending on the results you want to achieve. In cold process soap making, for example, a light trace is best for creating swirls.
If you pour your soap into the moulds before it has reached trace, then the oils and sodium hydroxide will split apart and spoil your soap.
Superfatting involves changing the balance of oils and lye within your soap, so that some oils remain after the saponification is complete. You add more fat or oils than you need or reduce the amount of lye in the recipe in order for this to happen.
The purpose of superfatting is to make the finished soap more hydrating, which is better for your skin.
Display your soap with pride by making your own DIY soap dish at home. It’ll make your soaps last longer too!
Soap is made of fats or oils, which are combined with sodium hydroxide (lye). Essential oils and other additives are often introduced to soap making recipes to add fragrance and colour.
Check out our soap making supplies to find out what you’ll need to get started.
Soap is made by combining fats or oils with sodium hydroxide, which triggers a reaction called saponification. This reaction converts the fats into soap, using up all of the sodium hydroxide in the process.
The most popular soap making methods are melt and pour soap making, cold process soap making and hot process soap making.
If you’re new to soap making, it’s best to start with the melt and pour method. When you’re using the melt and pour technique, there’s no need to handle hazardous sodium hydroxide as that part of the process has already been done for you.
This form of soap making requires less equipment than other methods, so it’s a cost-effective way to get into soap making.
Melt and pour soap is the easiest method for beginners to try. You can even buy soap making kits with everything you need to get started.
DIY soap making tends to be more expensive than buying soap, as you have to buy ingredients in bulk. Homemade soap also has a shorter shelf life than store-bought soap.
For some forms of soap making, you also need to consider the cost of equipment (such as stick blenders), which will add to your costs.
The most important ingredients in soap making are water, sodium hydroxide (lye) and fats or oils. You need all of these ingredients to kick off the saponification chemical reaction to make soap.
No, lye is an essential ingredient in soap, because it’s needed for the saponification process. If you’ve made your soap correctly, there should be no lye left in the finished bars of soap.
The main risk of making soap comes from working with sodium hydroxide, which is sometimes referred to as caustic soda.
Sodium hydroxide is highly toxic and can cause burns, so you’ll need to wear protective clothing when you’re using it. Make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated environment too.
When soap is going through the saponification process a lot of heat is released, as it’s an exothermic chemical reaction, so even cold process soap making has a risk of burns.
You also need to be careful when handling soap if you’ve heated it up. Hot process soap can heat up to 104℃ (220℉).
Using certain kinds of oils in soap making can make your soap lather more. For example, coconut oil or castor oil can make your soap foam.
Another surprising ingredient can be used to make cold process soap lather: sugar! Ordinary granulated sugar from your cupboard at home will do.
Honey can also be used to make your soap lather more – and it smells delicious too.
If you’d like to get into melt and pour soap making, you should look out for ready-made bases to use.
These bases have already been saponified, so you just need to melt the base and pour it into the mould of your choice.
These bases can be customised with colours and fragrances, so you can really get creative!
Oils are a key ingredient in both cold process and hot process soap making. There are a wide selection of oils to choose from, including coconut oil, babassu oil and palm oil.
These oils all have different qualities, which can change the nature of your soap. For example, coconut oil will give you a creamy, hydrating soap, while babassu oil is often used for skin conditions such as eczema.
Many soap makers choose not to use palm oil, because it’s associated with deforestation.
You can also enrich your soaps with butters, which are usually combined with an oil. Cocoa butter is very nourishing for the skin, while shea butter works wonders for people with dry skin.
Mica powders are a great way to add colour and a bit of a sparkle to your soaps. They come in an array of beautiful colours and you don’t need to use a lot to create a batch of vibrant soaps.
Soap colourings and dyes can also be used to bring rainbow shades into your soaps. They can behave differently depending on the kind of soap you’re making and the PH of the batter.
Do some research before ordering your dyes so that you know how they’re going to behave in the soap that you’re making. Some dyes are less stable than others and can fade when exposed to light, while certain pigments can bleed into the colour next to them.
Sodium hydroxide, sometimes called lye or caustic soda, is necessary for making cold process and hot process soap. It triggers the saponification process that turns oils into soap.
As we’ve previously mentioned, sodium hydroxide needs to be handled with care because it’s highly toxic. Always wear protective clothing when handling it, make sure your working area is well-ventilated and keep it stored out of reach of children.
Sodium hydroxide can be bought in large quantities and is available from soap making suppliers. However, it is considered to be dangerous goods, so there may be extra delivery costs.
Essential oils can be used to transform a basic soap recipe into something truly special. You can experiment with different combinations to produce unique fragrances.
You need to be careful when adding essential oils to your soap recipes, as they can cause skin irritation if you add too much. According to EU guidelines, essential oils shouldn’t be more than 3% over your overall soap recipe.
Not all essential oils are suitable for soap making, so we’d recommend buying them from a specialist soap making supplier.
Be aware that some essential oils, such as gerianiol, may cause allergic reactions, so do your research before adding them to your soap.
Here are five brilliant essential oils for soap making:
Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils for soap making and it’s easy to see why.. It has a soothing fragrance and is often used to promote relaxation and a good night’s sleep.
Learn how to make lavender oil with Gathered’s easy tutorial.
Add some minty freshness to your soaps by adding a few drops of peppermint oil. Peppermint oil is good for the skin and is often used to reduce irritation and inflammation.
Introduce floral notes into your soaps by adding rose essential oils. Rose absolute is the most concentrated type of rose oil, but it can be expensive. Look for more diluted oils as an affordable alternative.
Rosemary oil has seen a surge in popularity recently. rResearch has shown that rosemary oil encourages hair regrowth and it’s believed to have benefits for your skin too.
Rosemary has a beautiful woody scent, which makes it perfect for soap making.
Wake yourself up in the morning by making yourself a zesty lemon-scented soap. Citrus fragrances are naturally uplifting and will help you to start the day on the right foot.
Ready to make soap? Here are some handy tools to help you on your soap making journey.
Hand blenders (sometimes known as stick blenders) are a useful piece of equipment for any soap maker. You don’t need to choose an expensive brand for this, as cheaper ones will do the job just as well.
A few bursts of a hand blender will combine your ingredients and help them to reach the trace stage in no time.
Make sure you only use your hand blender for soap making and keep a separate one for cooking! The same rule should apply to any pans or jugs that you use for soap making.
Silicone moulds are ideal for soap making and come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. The flexible nature of silicone makes it easy to remove your soap from the mould once it has fully set.
Silicone moulds are an easy way to create beautiful-looking soaps without putting a lot of effort into decoration. Your soap will simply take the shape of the mould and it’s an easy way to create a professional finish.
This soap mould set includes one set of plain moulds and one set that’s decorated with a pretty leaf design.
When you’re making soap, there are times when you need to check the temperature of your soap mixture. A digital thermometer is an important tool, as it helps you to get accurate readings.
This digital thermometer can accurately read temperatures up to 300℃ and turns off automatically if it hasn’t been used for ten minutes.
Accuracy is extremely important when you’re making soap, because measuring your ingredients incorrectly can mean that your soap recipe goes awry. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you’ve spent a lot of money on expensive supplies!
Kitchen scales can help you to measure out your ingredients precisely. This set of Adoric kitchen scales is accurate down to 1g, so you can make sure your recipes are just right.
Crock pots are really useful for hot process soap making, as it means you don’t need to use your kitchen stove. You’ll wonder what you ever did without one!
You can have a dedicated crock pot just for soap making – if you’re using it for soap making then it can’t be used for food preparation for safety reasons.
Melt and pour soap can be made in the microwave, so you’ll need a heatproof bowl to follow this method. These can be found in most kitchenware stores or online.
You’ll need plastic measuring containers for substances such as sodium hydroxide. It’s best to avoid using glass jugs for your sodium hydroxide, as the lye solution can heat up very rapidly to over 93℃.
Silicones spatulas can be used for stirring your lye mixture or mixing the soap batter. They’re flexible, so you can make sure that you get every last bit of soap into your moulds.
When you’re working with sodium hydroxide, make sure you are wearing gloves and goggles to protect your skin and eyes. Many soap makers also recommend that you wear long-sleeved clothing to protect your arms from any accidental splashes.
Soap making is a fabulously creative hobby. You can experiment with your own designs and invent your own unique fragrances.
You can learn satisfying skills such as soap carving, find unique moulds or play around with colour combinations. As you progress as a soap maker, you’ll learn how to tailor recipes to suit your skin.
The easiest soap making methods can be tried at home with minimal equipment and even kids can have a go with adult supervision.
When you’ve become more confident, you can move on to more advanced soap making techniques. These require more skill and scientific knowledge.
Take bathtime to the next level by making your own fizzy bath bombs! These bath bombs are scented with geranium oil to make the experience even more relaxing.
Discover how to make bath bombs with Gathered.
Sarah Orme is a UK-based linocut printmaker, digital editor, feature writer and award-winning podcaster. She's been editing the sewing and art sections of Gathered.how – and before that our sister website calmmoment.com – for over 3 years. She’s the host of Gathered’s We’ve Made It podcast and A Calmer Life podcast. She’s a keen crafter and artist and loves creating DIY tutorials for Gathered. Sarah has previously written features for The Guardian, In The Moment Magazine, Project Calm Magazine, countryfile.com, radiotimes.com and yourhomestyle.uk. She enjoys designing her own unique lino prints and dreams of opening her own online shop. She shares her work @sarahormeprints
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