Possibly the most often expressed sentiment I hear, when it comes to soap making, goes something like:
“I want to make soap, but I’m really scared of the lye!”
That is a completely justified fear and one that I shared for a very long time. It took months of research before I felt comfortable enough with the idea and even then, I had my husband handle it for the first few batches.
I would like to tell you that if a complete chicken like myself can now handle lye like a pro, then you should be able to do so too, one day!
However, until you’re ready, or if you just aren’t interested in that aspect of soap making – I’m here with a work-around to help you create your own unique herbal soaps, without handling the lye part. It’s so safe, your children can help you!
What Soap & Cake Have in Common
Making soap can be compared to making cake. You can either go to the store and buy a ready-made cake from the bakery section OR you can buy a box of cake mix to whip up at home OR you can buy the individual ingredients to make one from scratch.
In the same way, you can buy ready-made bars of soap OR you can buy a pre-made mix (melt & pour soap base) OR you can buy the oils, lye, etc needed to make your own from scratch (cold process or hot process soap.)
Each step you take further away from the made-from-scratch version, you have an added price to pay. Convenience is not only more expensive, but you also have to put up with extra ingredients, preservatives, and unpronounceable chemicals.
I have yet to find a melt and pour soap base that does not have a sketchy additive or two in it. (If you’ve found a completely natural one that is palm free, please leave me a note in the comments so I can check it out!)
However, let’s do a quick comparison of ingredients in the melt & pour base I’m going to use in this post (from Bramble Berry) and Dove Beauty Bar (just because that’s a random one I remember using as a kid):
Melt & Pour Soap Base: Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Safflower Oil, Glycerin (kosher, of vegetable origin), Purified Water, Sodium Hydroxide (saponifying agent, i.e. lye), Sorbitol (moisturizer), Sorbitan oleate (emulsifier), Soy bean protein (conditioner)
Dove Beauty Bar: Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, stearic acid, sodium tallowate or sodium palmitate (that’s animal fat or palm oil that has been reacted with lye), lauric acid, sodium isethionate, water, sodium stearate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium cocoate, fragrance, sodium chloride, tetrasodium EDTA, trisodium etidronate, BHT, titanium dioxide
See that both of those have lye (sodium hydroxide) in the ingredients? Making soap without lye isn’t really possible, whether you are a large corporation or home hobbyist! However, you can pay the extra bit of cost and have someone handle that part for you, which is what we’re doing here today.
The Fun Part
Okay, now it’s time to get creative!
These projects revolve around a block of clear melt & pour base that I purchased from Bramble Berry. There are several other suppliers out there, along with your local craft store – shop around until you find a base whose ingredients you like (they are surprisingly diverse!) I chose this one because it had the least amount of additives, than others I had looked at. I also like a clear base because I like how the colors shine through, in jewel like tones.
1. Melt The Soap Base
To melt the soap base, cut it into chunks and place in a glass measuring cup. You can either use a double boiler or heat it in your microwave for 30 seconds at a time, until it turns to a smooth liquid.
2. Prepare Your Molds
I picked up a pack a little square molds at my local craft store for just a few dollars, but you can also try silicone muffin pans, candy molds, paper cups, frozen juice containers… look around your kitchen and get creative!
Lightly spraying your mold with a tiny bit of oil and then wiping it smooth, will help with release. (Though I forget as often as I remember and it still usually works out okay.)
3. Add Colors, Scent, Herbs & Flowers
Now that you have a liquid base to work with – you can do all sorts of things to it!
To add dried flower petals to the top of your soap, pour a very thin layer of melted soap base into the bottom of the mold. Sprinkle your flower petals on and let this set up for about ten minutes before adding more soap.
A few ideas for natural colorants (Where to buy):
- green: French green clay, chlorella powder
- yellow: finely ground safflower
- orange: annatto seed powder
- pink/red: rose clay, alkanet root powder, beet root powder
Start with about 1/8 teaspoon per pound of soap base. Make sure to mix your colorants with either a tiny bit of water or oil first or even a small amount of soap (in a separate cup) until they are smooth. That way you don’t end up with chunks of unmixed powder in your soap. (You will have specks though.)
If you’d like to add honey and/or oatmeal, try adding two to three teaspoons per pound of soap base. Make sure your soap has thickened up a bit, before stirring the oatmeal in or it will all settle to the bottom of your mold. Poppy seeds and flecks of vanilla bean can be handled the same way.
- Cinnamon (use sparingly)
- Ylang Ylang
If you’d like to add herbs, try rubbing the leaves through a fine mesh sieve first, to break them down into a powder of sorts. (You can also use a small coffee grinder.) This will be easier on your drains than larger pieces. To avoid all of your herbs settling to the bottom of your soap mold, let the soap mixture thicken somewhat before stirring them in.
Below, I’m rubbing dried peppermint leaves through the sieve. I added them to the green soap shown in the photo at the top of this post, along with peppermint essential oil, French green clay and chlorella powder. Keep in mind that some items such as dried mint leaves & lavender buds will eventually turn brown, so don’t rely solely on those for color & decoration.
4. Finishing Up!
Once you’ve colored and added and layered to your heart’s content, then it’s time to pour your soap into your selected molds.
You might notice a few bubbles across the top. If you spritz them with rubbing alcohol, they’ll magically disappear!
Once poured, let your soap sit for an hour or so to harden before trying to unmold. If you find it won’t come out easily, you can pop it in the refrigerator for a short while and see if that helps, but do that as a last resort. Refrigerating or freezing will make your soap prone to getting beads of moisture on it. (I learned that the hard way!)
You can read an excellent post on how to keep that from happening: HERE.
Once your soap has completely cooled, wrap it up tightly (plastic wrap will work great.)
This is just an overview of melt and pour soap! There are so many other things you can do with it. SoapQueen.com has tons of projects you might like plus a google search will surely turn up dozens more!
Using melt & pour soap can be a fun hobby all on its own, or you can use it as a stepping stone to making your own from-scratch soap. When you’re ready for that, check out my Soap Making 101 post for more details.
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