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What are the Basic Soap Making Supplies?

By S. Mithra
Updated Feb 15, 2024
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For centuries, the old-fashioned method of making soap out of wood ashes, water, animal fat, and salt, served cultures the world over. In this two-step method, ashes, soaked and heated in water, make a harsh solution called lye. When mixed with lard, the lye creates soap, through a process known as saponification.

These simple ingredients were readily available to most people, from farmers in the American west, to weavers in India. All that's needed is a hot fire to burn the right kind of wood until the ashes are white. Common woods in America include the apple tree and palm fronds. The resulting lye can be saponified in wood or metal containers; iron or steel are fine, but not aluminum. Also, the caustic lye can burn skin or clothes, so it must be handled with care.

Commercial soap making supplies still rely on lye and fat. Soap made from saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature, will be hard and rich. These include shea butter, cocoa butter, palm oil, lard, or coconut oil. Unsaturated fats, when used as the primary oil, can give soap other qualities. Liquid oils, such as safflower, sunflower, canola, or olive oil, are moisturizing. Other more exotic oils, such as grapeseed, hempseed, macadamia, wheat germ, or almond oil, can be both fragrant and organic.

Cold-process soap making supplies are readily available to the home crafter. When you choose your own ingredients, you can customize soap for your skin type or favorite fragrance. There are countless additives that make soap luxurious and unique. Oatmeal, for example, acts as an emollient, leaving skin silky smooth. Crushed peach pits or walnut shells act as an exfoliant, gently removing dead cells, increasing circulation, and leaving skin with a warm glow. Spices, like cinnamon, vanilla, and peppermint, are a natural way to add texture and color.

No handcrafted soap would be complete without a personalized scent. Essential oils are extracts from natural sources. Just a few drops of lavender, myrrh, or ylang ylang will gently release perfume with lathering. There are also pigments to tint soap any color of the rainbow.

After all additives are mixed in, the soap is poured into a mold to cool, harden, and cure. Even this final stage has infinite potential. Plastic and glass molds come in every shape and size, from Zodiac signs to Celtic knots.

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Discussion Comments
By Speechie — On Nov 13, 2011

@aLFredo - Yes, there are different ways to make liquid hand soap and body wash. There are ways to make any kind of cleaning agent, especially soap. It really depends how organic and how "from scratch" you want to go.

The more homemade it is, the better for you it will probably be, but also the more time consuming and the more dishes and energy you will have to use too.

I like to do things the easy way, so I go for the easier at-home recipes, that include already-made base soaps like Ivory.

The quick recipe for making liquid hand soap that I have used involves grating one bar of ivory soap and placing it in a blender. Then you add one cup of boiling water. Then you mix in a tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon of glycerin and whip that all together. After letting mixture sit a couple minutes, you pour the liquid soap into an empty liquid soap dispenser. Now you are ready to wash/clean your hands, and you have saved a lot of money, a win-win situation!

I have not made liquid soap in several years, so I would double-check to make sure I got the measurements right on this liquid soap. You can also find out how to make all other kinds of liquid soap, like body wash and dish soap, just look it up on Wisegeek's main page.

By aLFredo — On Nov 13, 2011

I like soap solids in different shapes and colors for decoration in other people’s homes, but I personally only like to use liquid soap to wash my hands and body wash for the shower. I do not care to decorate with soaps because I feel as though if I decorate with them I should also use them and I do not want to use them.

I just do not like how messy solid soaps can get. The soaps I have used in the past smell and look wonderful, but they seem to leave a film on my hands. They also sometimes leave a film on the towel I use to dry my hands post washing my hands, which is especially odd since I take my time rinsing the soap off.

To be honest, I know getting soap as a present is a kind gesture, but I have to make myself use it because I hate to see anything go to waste, especially something someone gave me. From the posters comments', it seems that many people still enjoy making and getting soap though.

Is there a soap kit out there for making liquid soap? I would be very interested in that.

By SarahSon — On Nov 12, 2011

@andee - My first experience with soap making was when I took a class through my local adult education program on beginning soap making.

This was a casual, informative class that taught me how to make my own soap using cold-processing. Since then I have made a lot of different kinds of soap and haven't bought soap from the store since.

It is a lot of fun to experiment with different soap making ingredients such as oatmeal and crushed almonds. I love to add shea butter to my soaps to create a very soft, luxurious feel to it.

Experimenting with different fragrance and essential oils is also fun. You can find a scent for any person or season you want, and this is something I find myself making all year long.

I even bought a soap making kit for my niece for her birthday. She liked using fruit fragrance oils such as strawberry and cherry when she made her soap. There is no end to the creative ideas you can use when you make your own soap.

By andee — On Nov 12, 2011

If you are new to soap making and want a quick and easy way to get started, I would begin with melt and pour soap making.

There are several online companies where you can order this from and all you need to do is melt the soap and pour it into a mold.

You can get this soap in different scents and texture and when you use a unique mold, it makes a great gift for yourself or a friend.

I have used a clear glycerin soap base that smells like honey and almond and this looks very elegant when sitting in a pretty soap dish.

Now I want to expand a little bit and try making soap with cold-processing. Does anybody have any tips on how to get started with that?

By myharley — On Nov 11, 2011

@summing - I have been able to find reasonably priced soap molds at several places, both locally and online.

If you live anywhere close to a place like Hobby Lobby or a Michael's craft store, they have normal sized soap molds. Both of these stores also offer weekly discount coupons, which can really make a difference in the price.

They don't have a huge selection of molds, but I have always been able to find what I needed for a basic mold there.

Another option to consider is the dollar stores and even many Target stores. Most of the Target stores in my area have a section at the front of the store where you can buy items for a few dollars.

Usually you can find some great silicone molds here that won't break the bank. Many of these are seasonal molds which make it fun when you are wanting to give away some soap as a gift.

In my experience, I have found that working with silicone molds is so much easier than using plastic molds. The soap comes out of the mold so much easier and you never have to worry about breaking the mold - which has happened to me with plastic molds before.

I really enjoy natural soap making, and my friends and family like to receive these as gifts because they know that I use only natural ingredients when I am making my soap.

By whiteplane — On Nov 10, 2011

@summing - Good question. I am also wondering where you get animal fats? I don't even know where to get lard these days, let alone something more exotic. Also, I am a vegetarian and feel kind of weird about using animal fats in my soap. Is there an alternative?

By summing — On Nov 10, 2011

So, I think that I have everything I need to start making soap but I have not been able to find a soap mold. I would like to get one that makes normal shaped bars of a normal shaped size but I have not been able to find anything, either in stores or online.

Can anyone recommend a place where I might be able to find quality and inexpensive soap making molds? Better yet, can anyone suggest a way that I can make my own soap mold. This is the quintessential DIY project, might as well go all out.

By jonrss — On Nov 09, 2011

I have been making my own soap for years and I can't imagine myself buying a bar in the store. The process is so simple and the results are so great.

You can also make exactly the soap that you want. It can smell any way you want it to, it can have whatever texture you want it to have, there are all kinds of special ingredients you can add to benefit your skin. The level of variability is through the roof.

I usually make more soap than I could ever use myself so I give the surplus away to friends and family. Inevitably they are hooked. I have turned several friends on to soap making because they prefer what they can make themselves to what they are offered in the stores.

By anon17162 — On Aug 23, 2008

Essential oils are different from fragrance oils. Not to be confused; one is natural the other is synthetic.

By anon5099 — On Nov 13, 2007

hmm.. what kind of soap can this produce?

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