Ann Bramson is one of the pioneers of handmade soap-making, which many people are learning. In her book Soap, Gramson says, "Where the hard pastel-colored bars sold at the drugstore are anonymous and indifferent, homemade soap has character. It charms...it smells good...feels good...is comforting in ways which real manufactured soap can never be."
Soaps back then and soaps made today are made from the same basic chemical process, but the ingredients are different.
By carefully choosing a combination of quality oils, then adding your favorite fragrance and stirring in a pleasing colorant, your soap suddenly becomes a charming creation of character that commercially manufactured soaps can't even begin to compete with.
There are four basic methods you can use to make soap at home, and you can choose whichever method appeals to you the most.
4 Basic Methods to Make Soap at Home
Making soap with a melt and pour base is similar to using a cake mix. It is a safe, easy, and convenient method of soap-making, and you don't need a lot of special ingredients to do it. With melt and pour soap making, you buy pre-made blocks of uncolored, unscented soap 'base' from a craft store or soap supplier.
Then you melt the soap base in a double boiler or even in the microwave. As soon as the soap base is completely melted, you can add fragrance, color, and any other additives you may want to add, such as essential oils. Pour the mixture into molds, and as soon as the soap hardens it is ready to use.
All you need to make melt and pour soap is a clean workspace, a microwave or double boiler, a couple of spoons or whisks, molds for the soap, some melt and pour soap base, and any fragrance, color, or additives you want to use.
The benefits of using this method are that it is easy and inexpensive, there is no need to work directly with lye, and your soap is ready to use as soon as it hardens. The downside is that the only ingredients you have control over are the color and fragrance, so it is not quite as 'natural' as other methods.
Many soap base manufacturers add chemicals to increase lathering, or to allow the soap to melt more easily. Your soap is only as good as the soap base you purchase.
The Cold Process or From Scratch Method
Using a cold process to make soap is like making a cake from scratch. You control everything that goes into the mix, but you'll need a more complicated setup and you'll need to do some research first to learn about the process. You must first heat animal fats or vegetable oils in a large pot until they're approximately 100 degrees.
Slowly add a mixture of lye and water and blend well before adding the fragrance, color, or other additives. Pour it into the molds and it will harden within 24 hours, but it shouldn't be used until it cures, which will be about four weeks.
The pros of the cold-process are that your soap will be truly made from scratch, and you control all the ingredients and the quantities of each that you use. You can tailor your recipe to make an unlimited number of variations of soap.
The downside to the cold process is that you'll be working with lye, so you need to learn about it and how to handle it safely. You'll need more ingredients and tools, it takes longer to make, and there is more careful cleanup involved. An obvious downside is that you'll need to wait several weeks before your soap is ready to use.
The Hot Process Method
Making soap using a hot process is just a more lengthy variation of the cold process. The soap is not only mixed and heated, it is actually cooked. The hot process also uses lye, and takes just as long to harden and cure, so the same pros and cons apply to this method.
The Rebatching Method
The process of rebatching is a good one to use for soaps that haven't been used, or soaps that didn't mold properly. To rebatch soaps, you simply grind them up, add milk or water, melt them, and then re-blend them. You can also add different or stronger colors, and add other fragrances or other elements. Mold and cool them as you would usually.
Soap making may seem difficult, but it isn't. Whichever method and ingredients you use, you can make great soap. Just work patiently, and follow instructions carefully to begin with. Once you're familiar with the basic steps involved, you can then let your creative inspirations flow freely into the mix and make your own works of soap art.