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Soap making 101
February 3, 2008 10:25 PM   Subscribe

I want to start making soap. But I don't know where to start.

I've been trying to search the internet for a good book or a good website, but I'm starting to get overwhelmed. Does anyone have any experience with an insightful book or a helpful website? Or just tips and tricks of the trade? I think I just want to start out with some plain bars and work up to the fancy looking stuff.
posted by MaryDellamorte to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mefi's own dejah420 makes soap (her site is linked in her profile). Mefimail?
posted by rtha at 10:41 PM on February 3, 2008


You might try making rebatch soap or Melt & Pour glycerine soap, just to see if you like the general process before shelling out the not-inconsiderable amount of money you need to make cold process soap from scratch. Glycerine is the easiest- it's simply melt, scent, color and pour. It cures in an hour or two, and it's very inexpensive to get started. (All you need is 1 color, 1 scent, 1 block of m&p soap base, and 1 mold.)

Rebatching is a little more complicated- it's shredded cold-process soap that you melt on your stove-top, but you have to be more precise with temperatures and consistencies. You color and scent it, then mold it. Rebatch takes anywhere from a day to a few weeks to cure completely, depending on what you added and in what amounts.

I buy my supplies from Brambleberry. I just like the quality of their supplies, and their sales and grab bags are a great way to get LOTS of soap supplies for very little money. They also have tutorials, recipes and tips for free on the site to get you started- and to keep you going, if you decide you want to go all the way with cold-process soap. (For glycerine, btw, I suggest trying their Goat's Milk M&P base- it feels and lathers the most like cold process soap out of the M&P bases available, in my opinion.)
posted by headspace at 10:57 PM on February 3, 2008


Oh, oh, I absolutely have advice!

When I decided I wanted to make soap (real cold process castile soap, to upgrade from melt and pour (boring)), I bought a bunch of well-reviewed soap-making books on Amazon, and now you get to benefit from my experience and only have to buy one!

Smart Soapmaking is so by far the best soap making book. It's a tiny little slip of a book, but it's clearly written and, most importantly to me, it's the only one I found to be progressive and up-to-date with technology and the latest facts (like using an immersion blender, and whether or not you need to "test for trace" - you don't, yay!).

I can't recommend it highly enough. The author distills the information so well you'll regret having ever spent time worrying.

And she has a website.
posted by birdie birdington at 11:27 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whip Up recently had tutorials on making soap for a "Craft with Kids" month thing:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
posted by like_neon at 1:13 AM on February 4, 2008


Craftster has forums for people making soap and make-up.
posted by heatherann at 6:25 AM on February 4, 2008


The book Soap: Making it, Enjoying it is also very good, she really holds your hand through the entire process, warning you of what might happen if your temperature gets too low (soap will separate, can be revived) or too high (soap will curdle, can't be revived) and precautions to take when handling lye. And this is the only book I know of that really walks you through the process of rendering beef fat, an ingredient that is used in many soaps.

Make sure you use 100% lye; many supermarkets don't carry 100% any more, but most hardware stores sell 100% Red Devil lye.

Get a good kitchen scale, preferably digital that can read fractions of an ounce. Also a good kitchen thermometer, even two if you don't like rinsing one off every time you need to check the temperature of both your lye-water and your oils.

Personally, I find the "melt and pour" soaps silly--what's the point? You're not really making soap, you're just choosing molds that you like and getting soap in those molds. This book, and others, show you how to really make it. Just MHO of course.

These guys are very good for bulk supplies such as coconut oil. Coconut oil is an essential ingredient in most soap recipes and is, in fact, almost impossible to find anywhere outside of soapmaking suppliers. The only place I've seen it is in a health food store where a tiny jar sells for about the same amount as a whole gallon at a soapmaking supply place.

I've been making soap for 10 years, feel free to MeMail me with any questions.
posted by Melismata at 7:44 AM on February 4, 2008


Camden Grey has very reasonable prices on base oils, butters & essential oils. I used them exclusively when I made CP soap because their products were great, their shipping was reasonable and their customer service was outstanding.

Susan Miller Cavitch is the reigning Soap Queen in my book and every soaper should have "The Soapmaker's Companion" on their bookshelf!

I would recommend starting with Melt & Pour (M&P) soap to get your feet wet so you can get accustomed to adding essential/fragrance oils, working with herbs and other additives and decide if this is something you want to pursue before investing in a lot of oils and equipment. Be wary of soap bases that contain ingredients such as propylene glycol, sodium laurel/laureth _______, etc. The purpose of making soap is to make as pure a product as possible so why would you want to make something that contains the same harsh ingredients that commercial soaps do?

M&P soap bases have come a LONG way since I began making soap in 1999 and it's now possible to buy 100% natural bases in varieties such as cocoa butter, goat's milk, honey and others. I buy my soap bases from Peak Candle because their shipping rates have worked out to be the best for me. Bramble Berry (mentioned above) also carries all natural bases and you can even find some on eBay (read the ingredients!).

There are zillions of online soap forums (fora?) including The Soap Dish and the aptly named The Soap Making Forum as well as groups on Yahoo and many, many more.

I made soap for five hours yesterday and loved every minute of it! Prepare to be addicted!
posted by zach braff's mixtape at 8:34 AM on February 4, 2008


Thanks everyone for the awesome answers, I'm really excited to get this started!
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:32 PM on February 4, 2008


I find that making soap can be as basic or complex as you want it to be- all soap is made by just mixing fat+lye, but depending on the type of fat you use, any dyes and perfumes you use, you can make it much more exciting.

If you're making soap from scratch, lye and (some) fats are not expensive so it won't matter terribly if you stuff up a few batches. Try a simple recipe from one of the sites already mentioned, and don't be afraid to experiment. As long as you're careful with the lye (use gloves and eye protection, do not use aluminium pans/utensils) then you'll be right.

For what it's worth, I really like using a mix of coconut oil and olive oil, it lathers really well and softens skin too.
posted by indienial at 3:47 AM on February 5, 2008


I second the Soapmaker's Companion. For mail-order soap supplies, I've had good luck with Majestic Mountain Sage's essential oils.

My favorite essential oil mix is my homage to Thai food: to the Soapmaker's Companion basic recipe, add 2t lime, 2t lemongrass, 2t coriander, 1/2t ginger, 1/2t basil.

Do be aware that lye fumes can be really unpleasant, especially if you live in a small apartment in which it's not easy to get away from the lye solution while it's cooling. You'll want to have good ventilation.

Have fun! Making soap is great.
posted by sculpin at 10:31 AM on February 14, 2008


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