Environmentally-friendly craft soap making
May 22, 2014 4:10 PM   Subscribe

I am going to be getting soap making supplies (melt & pour process) as a gift for a family member. I know nothing about soap making - but I do know that the soaps should be as environmentally-friendly and as allergy-safe as possible. What kinds of ingredients should I be looking for?

I think they might enjoy adding scents or colors, but not if it's going to make the soaps all "HEY ALGAE here is your growth formula" or contain harsh chemicals or allergens. What is the best gentle and effective soap base for this purpose? Are there any commercially-available colors or scents that might work? Or is there a soap base that is naturally pleasant-smelling / not overwhelming that could work on its own?

The supplies need to be commercially-packaged - no homegrown herb infusions - and available either at craft stores such as Michael's / Joann Fabric or online.
posted by expialidocious to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
We had a soapmaking meetup here in Portland recently and the meetup thread had a LOT of good info about soapmaking from very simple, natural ingredients.

I don't know what melt and pour process is, but basically, we used a bunch of different oils (olive, coconut, jojoba, etc.) mixed with lye and added some essential oils for scent. And then we just stirred and stirred until they started being soap. All environmentally friendly and (depending on a particular person's allergies) non-allergenic!

(I made "shampoo" bars which turned out to not be great as shampoo, but work wonderfully as regular soap. The recipes are here.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:21 PM on May 22, 2014

Response by poster: Melt & pour means there is no lye involved. You start with a soap base in which the oil or whatever is already saponified.
posted by expialidocious at 4:26 PM on May 22, 2014

Soap base is basically unscented soap, which you melt and add ingredients to (fragrance or essential oils, colorants or herbs) and then pour into molds.

As far as environmental, that depends. All soap is made from lye (sodium hydroxide, the same stuff that's in your drain cleaner) mixed with fats or oils (lard, olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, etc.). The caustic base in lye mixes with the fatty acids in oils and makes soap, via a process called saponification.

So I would say there is no real harm to buying a block of unscented soap base, because it's basically neutral at this point. There is some concern over using palm oil, as big companies tear down rain forests to grow palm plantations (think Cargill and Dove), but for a single person, that is, a small time crafter, a tiny bit of that will not harm the environment as much as a huge corporation would.

In short: buy the soap base, and consider essential oils over fragrance oils, which are artificial additives. Think clays instead of artificial colorants, and dried herbs and clays.

On preview: I see you know about soap base instead of making it from scratch, so I will give you my recipe (tho' I make soap from scratch), spearmint oil and about 1/4 cup of wet chopped dried spearmint. It's easy, cheap and everyone loves it. About 2 oz. of spearmint oil per 5 lbs.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:31 PM on May 22, 2014

You might want to check out Wholesale Supplies Plus, they carry a wide variety of soap making supplies.

Another good one is From Nature With Love. Click on Skin Care on the sidebar menu to get to the essential oils and other items.

Again, essential oils are good because they are natural plant essences, fragrance oils are artificial (for instance, there is no such thing as lilac essential oil, that is artificial). It's pretty clear on both sites which is which.

Another good recipe is rose geranium and adding pink French clay. It's not as cloying as rose (nor as expensive, but still nice). My husband actually loved that one and the clay helps stiffen it a bit.

One thought to consider is getting this person a gift certificate, because designing recipes is half the fun, so if they want to do a lemon soap, it can be with litsea cubeba essential oil (heavenly!) and chopped lemon grass or lemon peel, or even cornmeal for a gardener's hand soap. Memail me if you want more info, but hopefully this will get you started.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:47 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of the Brambleberry melt and pour soap bases, especially the Shea butter base. Protip: you can buy essential oils from Brambleberry, but because of their flammability, your shipment will have to go ground instead of air. I prefer to buy the soap base online, and hit up Whole Foods or the hippie co-op for essential oils to scent the soaps.
posted by instamatic at 4:53 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

One version I've had go over very well is Oatmeal-Cinnamon --- use plain old uncooked oatmeal, run (dry) through a blender, plus ground cinnamon. The oatmeal is great for skin, and the cinnamon makes it smell good.
posted by easily confused at 5:17 PM on May 22, 2014

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