Making soap today is more of a pastime or hobby than a necessity. But, for people who enjoy a creative pursuit, modern melt and pour methods make it easy to make soap at home. Grabbing a book from your local library is another easy way to learn how to make soap.
Soap making has been around for more than 5,000 years. Until the 20th century, people would make soap from a concoction of melted animal fats (lard), water and lye, known as lard soap or lye soap. But, because it is so difficult to make, few people attempt to make lye soap anymore.
Modern soap making methods include the hand-milled technique and melt and pour. Melt and pour soap provides the most efficient and safe method. Hand milling takes more effort, but generally produces a superior bar of soap.
To make your own soap at home, you'll need a microwave, large glass measuring cup, stirring spoon, soap base, fragrances, colorants, and soap molds of your choice. There are hundreds of choices in scents as well as coloring combinations. If you are just learning to make soap at home, begin with soap making recipes written by an experienced soap maker.
Hand milling begins with grating several ounces (roughly 200 or so grams) of natural soap, commonly found in whole foods stores and sometimes in hobby stores. Water is added to the grated soap base and the mixture is carefully heated until melted. Before pouring the melted soap into the molds, the soap-maker adds her desired combinations of scents, coloring, and natural additives including grains, herbs or spices.
Melt and pour soap kits and supplies are commonly available in hobby stores everywhere. With adult supervision, children age 12 and up are capable of making melt and pour soaps. The soap base comes in easy to measure, one-ounce (about 28g) chunks. There are several types of base used to make soap, including clear and opaque soap bases made of glycerin, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, shae butter, or olive and aloe.
It is important to use only fragrances and dyes specially formulated for soap making, and only in recommended amounts; other types of additives, or too much of some approved additives, can cause skin irritation.
Soap fragrances can be artfully blended to create pleasing and unique combinations. The different scents are broken into three categories, known as notes. The main scent is known as the “predominant note.” Secondary notes, known as “blenders,” are used to enhance the main scent. Lastly, “contrasts” add a lively little kick known as low notes.
Color mixing for soap making can be a little tricky. Dyes used to make soap are extremely concentrated and it is easy to ruin a batch of soap with too much experimentation. Try experimenting with soap coloring in a four-ounce (about 113g) glass of water. The water method offers a good preview of color mixing for clear glycerin soaps, but does not work as well to predict the color of opaque soaps.
Molds used to make soap come in a variety of shapes, from the typical bar or oval to elaborate floral molds. In general, most molds are between two and six ounces (56 to 170g) in volume.
A lot of the fun of making your own soaps can be in packaging the creations for gift giving. Some fancy tissue paper and ribbons, a special piece of pottery or a decorative box can go a long way to dress up your homemade soap.