How do I soap?
July 7, 2018 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Looking to dip my toes into soap-making, starting with melt and pour. What soap base is best to use? What molds are best? Where do I get dyes / scents? UK, if it makes any difference.

Full awareness that I'm probably beanplating, here, but this is part of my list of "things I've always wanted to try doing (and having come to the realization that I'm an adult and nobody's stopping me, damnit, I will do them)" so I would rather not get a disappointing result.
  1. Soap base. My local craft store carries a bunch of different bases, more specifically the Stephenson-branded ones that can be seen eg. here. Which one is most likely to give me a creamy, moisturising, lathery soap? I've heard goat's milk is good, but I'm literally just going off what I've read in tutorials I've googled up. Should I make sure to get something SLS free?
  2. Molds. Would silicone molds work? Or do I need something more rigid? The ones I saw at my local craft store (the ones here) felt very rigid and I'm worried I'd have issues getting the soap out afterwards.
  3. Dyes. Local crafts store only carries candle dyes, which... I'm assuming are not a thing I want to put in soap. I'm guessing neither is food colouring. Do I just search Amazon for "melt and pour soap dye" and grab a set of liquid dyes? I've seen tutorials mention using mica to dye soap but that seems like overkill for a first try, or is that the better route?
  4. Scents. Local crafts store only carries candle scents, and they all seemed very... blah, anyway. Four-packs consisting of "rose, fresh cotton, baby powder, seafoam". Do I just go find somewhere that sells essential oils and smell them until I find scents I like? Some tutorials suggested I could use "anything cosmetic-grade, including perfume", but that seems a bit... off to me, or am I wrong?
  5. Are inclusions a terrible idea? Some dried lavender, say? (If I'm going to just end up with it all clumped up at the bottom I may as well not bother, from my perspective.)
Bonus: once I eventually go into candle-making (which is also on my list of things I've always wanted to try doing), can I use the same dyes and scents for that?
posted by sailoreagle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have never made soap in my life but just recently fell down a YouTube hole watching the Royalty Soaps channel. She mostly does the more involved saponified oil soaps, but has a lot of melt and pour DIYs and videos about how to get started, her favorite products, where to get scents and colorants, etc. If I got a bug to make soap, I'd probably follow her advice.
posted by phunniemee at 4:23 PM on July 7, 2018

Hi! I don't have a ton of experience this because I've only been doing it a few months, but I make melt and pour dog soaps from 100% human-grade ingredients (and I in fact shower with my oops bars.) Goats Milk lathers beautifully. The colour is lovely just naked and is beautiful with dried flowers and lavender in it. It will also tint to the natural colour of whatever you put it in it. I get my oils from Holland and Barrett and use the pure essential oils, which I buy when they are buy one get one half price.

I'm afraid I don't dye mine so I can't help there -- I do layer them, though, solid white goat's milk and then translucent yellow-ish vegetable base for moisture.

I use silicone moulds from Ebay, they are interchangeable between soap/chocolate/whatever. You can spray them with rubbing alcohol to stop bubbles and they are easy to release soaps from.

It's work but it's also fun; I enjoy the making and I love the packaging!
posted by DarlingBri at 4:44 PM on July 7, 2018

I dabbled in this a few years ago and got my supplies from Bramble Berry. They're in the US, but they might give you an idea of what to look for at other stores. They also run the Soap Queen blog, which has a ton of tutorials and tips.
posted by radioamy at 5:39 PM on July 7, 2018

I’ve made quite a bit of soap in my life, but it’s all been the fiddly, lye and cold water and oil variety. (I think I also did tallow many years ago, but switched to Castille when I became vegetarian.)
I taught myself from books. Some of them covered melt and pour, too. YouTube is probably a great teacher.
Get dyes specifically for soap, not candle ones.
Your fragrances can be anything cosmetic grade. Essential oils are lovely. Don’t overdo it.
Your molds can be hard-ish. They don’t have to be soft for removal. The soap will pop out as long as they are shallow enough and the base is narrower than the opening.
Add-ons are fun. Yes, they sometimes clump. But if you do it evenly, it will mostly look like you meant it. And I just love scrubby bits in soap. One of my favorite things is to take a natural loofah, wrap all but the top very very tightly in a few layers of cling wrap, and stand it up in a can or other solid thing. Pour soap in through the top. Watch out for leaks, but when it works, you get a brilliant soapy loofah! Take off the cling-wrap and tah-dah!
Good luck!
posted by greermahoney at 7:49 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’ve been making soap for years, but it’s not something I can give you a crash course in here - there’s so many variables! I would suggest joining some of the many soap groups on Facebook. Most of them have a section of files that will answer most of your questions. They can also recommend suppliers in the UK.

Personally, when I was doing melt and pour, I bought small amounts of several brands and did some test batches. I didn’t like the Stephenson’s brand, I found it harsh.

One thing I do want to mention though, is that no, you absolutely shouldn’t use candle scents or dyes. You need to find ones that are skin-safe. Also, essential oils aren’t always skin safe - cinnamon, for instance, can be very irritating. Most places that sell soapmaking supplies will have a fragrance calculator to help with the amounts.

Soap Queen, mentioned above, is recommended often on the FB groups as a source for tutorials. Most online soapmaking suppliers will also have tutorials on their website.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:58 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have only made soap from scratch, that is, combining lye and oils to make soap. However, I can say that if you are doing melt and pour soap, into molds, if you put them into the freezer, they will release better.

I started making soap in my crockpot, that is not cold process, but hot process, and then putting it into log molds and also weird molds and things like Celtic design molds, and they released in the freezer, so there's no reason why yours shouldn't.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:58 PM on July 7, 2018

Ok, I don't do melt and pour, but I *do* make hot process soap. To answer a couple of questions:

1. Yes, goats milk soap is awesome and you can get it as melt and pour base. I am in the US, so most of the places I buy my gear from probably won't ship to you; as radioamy mentioned, Brambleberry is a great resource for new soapers and they carry an goat soap base or m&p that a lot of people like quite a bit. Wherever you get it from, definitely make sure it is SLS free.

2. Silicone molds should work. From what I know, melt and pour can be kind of sticky, so a sturdier mold should work better than a floppy one in terms of getting a better imprint. Lots of people use silicone chocolate molds for smaller soap shapes, what they call embeds. Getting it out should not be a problem if you are using single-bar molds. For hot and cold process soaps, the silicone molds we use can be quite floppy indeed. Usually for logs or blocks (which we cut down into bars) they are used more as liners for wooden molds, though there are certainly some that are very sturdy. I have one shaped like a coffee bean that is very rigid; to get the soap out at all, you need to turn it inside out and it is def flexible enough to accomodate that.

3. Never use anything made for candles. Neither the scents nor the colors are skin safe. Same for food coloring. Just cause you can eat it doesn't mean you want it on your skin. Food coloring can also stain *everything*. Soapmaking colorants are often called micas, even if they are just pigmemts and don't involve actual mica or even any sparkly elements. Googling M&P colorants or pigments should yield some decent results. These dyes are for HP and CP, but their FAQ says that people have used them for m&p with no problems.

4. Yeah, don't use candle scents. Essential oils can work, but you have to be careful about using ones that don't cause skin irritation or any adverse reactions. They can be very dangerous if used improperly. I use the soapcalc calculator, not sure if it will work with m&p. You can get some pretty good fragrance oils from Essential Depot (I believe they ship internationally) and they have info for how much to use and where. I would stay away from using perfume.

5. Botannical additives are fine to add if they are dried, but don't use fresh. They will rot right in/on the soap. Some of them do indeed sink right to the bottom with HP&CP, but with m&p it is easier to control the dispersement. Dried lavender should work well.

Hope that's somewhat helpful! Happy to follow up if you have more questions.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 8:13 PM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

OH and HEY, SoapCalc has an informative little page with tips for melt and pour success. It's got good info on calculating how much fragrance/essential oil to add based on weight.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 8:46 PM on July 7, 2018

For ordering and reliable supplies, I order everything except the moulds from Bomar. They do sell safe dyes, too. Shipping to the UK is a flat rate of £10.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:50 AM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

*waves to the other hot process soapers*
I didn’t expect there to be any other HP people on MetaFilter!
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:50 AM on July 8, 2018

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