Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Easy Homemade Soap

I've always loved glycerin soaps, but they can be pricey to buy. Glycerin soap is more gentle - better suited for babies, children and other people with more sensitive skin. I like the way they look, too. They come in clear, opaque or solid and endless variations of color and design.

Regular soap is made from a base of mixing vegetable or animal fats with lye crystals. The glycerin is a by-product of that process, that separates out when those are combined together. It is part of the natural chemical make-up of the fats. Even though it is chemically separated in the process, in the "cold process" method, it is mixed back into the soap, because the glycerin moisturizes and softens the skin. Commercial soapmakers separate the glycerin out. It is used in lotions, creams and for a plethora of other things, or to make pure glycerin soap.

I know several people who make their own soap at home, and the internet is full of soap-making instructions. It doesn't look terribly complicated, but the lye must be handled very carefully. You need to wear protective clothing and eyewear because it will burn your skin, can be fatal if swallowed, will remove paint, and the vapors can damage your lungs. I've never wanted to mess with that, so I discovered the ease of what is called "melt and pour" soap. You just buy blocks of glycerin and by-pass the combining the fat and lye step. It's quick, easy, safe to do with children, and inexpensive. It's also a lot of fun because you can be creative with colors, scents and design.

Melt and pour soap base can be purchased on the internet, from a craft store, or from a local wholesale source if you have one. I've also found it on E-bay. Craft store prices are much higher. Our local craft store sells it for about $10 per pound. Bulk sellers list it on E-bay for about $4 - $6 per pound. I bought it from a local soap maker who also sells the soap base and scents to home crafters. She sells it for $2.36 - $2.95 per pound, depending on the quantity you buy. One pound will make 4 of the large 4 oz. size bars. You can usually buy glycerin soap in the stores for $2 to $6 for a 3 1/2 or 4 oz. bar. I made smaller bars; about 2 to 3 ounces, and the cost came out to around 35 or 40 cents each.

Melt and pour soap is made by melting the glycerin, adding your scent and color, and pouring it into the mold. It's that simple, unless you want to get a little more creative by layering colors or embedding objects or other soap pieces. You will need a microwave safe container (glass, not plastic) or a double boiler to melt the glycerin in, scents, coloring, a spoon or stir stick and the mold to pour the melted soap into. I also use a spatula to clean the container out with, and you will need a knife if you pour it into a large container, instead of individual molds, so you can cut it up after it's cooled. A glass measuring cup will work for the microwave if you are only making a couple of bars of soap at a time. For larger batches, a double boiler is preferable.

I found that the double boiler was easier for melting the soap base consistently and mixing everything in while it maintained a good constant melt temperature. With the microwave, you have to melt it in short intervals of about 15 to 20 seconds, stirring between each one, which also made more foam on top. In the double boiler, it melted easily without the danger of over-heating, and I could stir it around gently with the stick without forming any foam on it.

To make a double-boiler, you need a pan to heat water in, and another pan or glass container that will sit on top of it, preferably with a good fit to keep the steam in. Keep the water hot and steaming without touching the top container. (NOTICE: You cannot re-use the pans or other containers and utensils that come in contact with the hot soap for food, so you may want to go to the thrift store and buy a few used items that can be saved only for soap making.)

Cut the glycerin block into small pieces before melting. This is the pink soap in the double boiler, after adding the scent and color. If you stir very slowly, and only enough to push the unmelted pieces down until they are all liquid, it will not foam or form bubbles. When a few bubbles form, spray the top with Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol, and they will disappear.

Instead of buying individual molds, I poured most of my soap into bun pans that I bought at the dollar store, and then cut them into squares. In this picture, the blue soap is already cut and wrapped in plastic wrap.

For the green soap, I used a soy milk box, washed it out and coated the inside of it with Vaseline. You can use a milk carton, a loaf pan, candy molds, popsicle molds, or anything else that has the size and shape you want. If you spray your container with Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol right before you pour the soap in, it should come out easily. When the soap is cooled and set, turn the container upside down and gently twist it, push in the center, or if it is a very solid container and the soap doesn't want to come out, you can put it in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes. The soap will shrink slightly. Then run warm water on the bottom of the container and the soap should come right out.

I bought both clear and white soap bases. Some of the white base, I cut up into slivers, slabs or chunks to put in the melted clear soaps for design. The lavender and pink soaps were made from the white base. Here are some pictures of the finished bricks of soap and the bars after they are cut:

The lavender soap was made by melting and coloring some of the white soap base, and then adding pieces of uncolored white soap. For the pink soap, I cut up and added all the scraps that I trimmed off the bricks of clear soaps after they were finished. It gave it a nice confetti look. The hot soap has to cool to about 125 degrees before adding pieces if you don't want the pieces to melt. Putting them in while the soap is hotter and allowing them to melt creates a different look that you might like, or you can let them melt and then swirl them with a knife or stir stick.

If you make your soap with different colored layers, allow each layer to cool enough to be solid on top before adding the next layer of soap. Spray the first layer with Witch Hazel first so the layers will bond together, or they might separate after they are cooled. It's a good idea to spray your solid pieces that you add so they don't cause your soap to chip or crumble where the pieces are not bonded completely.

Wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap to keep them fresh longer. Glycerin draws moisture from the air, so if left unwrapped, it will "sweat" by forming beads of moisture on itself. I made all 6 batches of soap in about 3 or 4 hours. It's such an inexpensive way to stock up on something both needed and nice to have. You can make one big batch in a short amount of time and stock up your storage supplies. Or, they can make very nice gifts. I made the soap this year as Christmas gifts for all our family and friends and only spent about $45 for all my supplies! Something both attractive and useful. I didn't have time to post it in time for a Christmas gift idea because I made them the day before Christmas Eve! But I hope you'll all try some soap-making this year. Have fun experimenting with design and color and have both nice gifts to give away and plenty of soap to add to your preparedness supplies. And all for very little cost!


  1. I've got to try making soap! These are so beautiful, and with your clear and detailed instructions I think I can do this. Thanks for inspiring me. I have a new winter project now.

  2. I loved this idea, one question. I have a crock pot that I usually have wax in (I use it to pour on my dryer lint in a cardboard egg carton as a fire starter), should that work instead of a double boiler?

  3. Hi Ivie's. A crock pot works great for soap making. I don't know about the wax issue. I guess just try a small batch and see if it comes out OK. I don't think the soap is real touchy, except for over-heating it. If it gets too hot, for too long, it will have a nasty smell and poor consistency. Let me know how it goes.

  4. Love these soaps! What a fun and practical project!



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