Making Soap Without Lye (Sort of)

Make your own herbal soap without handling lye

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. (Here’s an article I wrote about why we need lye, so you can learn more about why it’s necessary for soapmaking.)

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 kind 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 accept less control over the ingredients. For example, it’s difficult to find palm-free melt and pour base.

Let’s do a quick comparison of ingredients between my Shea Butter Bastille Soap Recipe and SFIC Shea Butter Melt & Pour Soap Base and Dove Beauty Bar (just because that’s a random one I remember using as a kid):

Shea Butter Bastille (Cold Process) Soap Recipe: Olive oil, distilled water, shea butter, sodium hydroxide (lye), castor oil.

SFIC Shea Butter Melt & Pour Soap Base: Coconut oil, palm oil, safflower oil, glycerine (kosher, of vegetable origin), shea butter, purified water, sodium hydroxide (saponifying agent), sorbitol (moisturizer), sorbitan oleate (emulsifier), soy bean protein (conditioner), titanium dioxide (natural mineral whitener).

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 they all 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 have someone handle that part for you, which is what we’re doing here today by using ready-made melt and pour soap bases.

 

Melt & Pour Soap Block

The Fun Part

Okay, now it’s time to get creative!

These projects revolve around SFIC melt and pour soap bases. I like them because their motto is: “As natural as we can make it.”

 

1. Melt The Soap Base

To melt the soap base, cut it into roughly one-inch chunks and place them in a glass measuring cup. You can either create a makeshift double boiler by putting the cup down into a saucepan with a few inches of water, and heating on low heat until melted. Or, you can heat it in your microwave for 20 to 30 seconds at a time, until it turns to a smooth liquid. (Tip: Cover the melting container lightly with a saucer if using the double boiler method, or a piece of plastic wrap if using the microwave method. This helps it melt more evenly and so it won’t dry out.)

 

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!

If you have a detailed mold, spritz it with rubbing alcohol before pouring in the melted soap, so the details stand out better.

 

Setting Calendula Flowers in Melt & Pour Soap

3. Add Colors, Scent, Herbs & Flowers

Now that you have a liquid base to work with – you can add colors and other fun ingredients!

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

Start with about 1/8 teaspoon per pound of soap base. For best results, mix your colorants with a small amount of rubbing alcohol before blending into the melted soap.

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 cooled below 135°F (57°C) or 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.

Essential oils can be used to add a lovely scent to your creations. (Look for quality essential oils at Mountain Rose Herbs.)

  • Peppermint
  • Lemon
  • Orange
  • Spearmint
  • Cinnamon (use sparingly)
  • Bergamot
  • Ylang Ylang

If you’d like to add flower petals to melt and pour, know that most will turn brown or discolor. Calendula petals will hold its color, and bachelor buttons (cornflower) will keep their pretty blue when sprinkled on top.

 

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 soaps completely cool, about an hour or two, before trying to unmold.

Once your soap has completely cooled, wrap it up tightly (plastic wrap will work great.)

 

Melt & Pour Row of Soaps

This is just an overview of melt and pour soap! There are so many other things you can do with it.

 

Did you enjoy this soap tutorial?  If so, be sure to sign up HERE for my newsletter, so you can get my latest soap ideas, herbal projects and other DIY recipes sent straight to your inbox each month!

 

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71 Responses to Making Soap Without Lye (Sort of)

  1. Erin S. says:

    I suppose I’m lucky in the fact that my job is in a laboratory and I’m used to working with acids and whatnot that require using caution and personal protective equipment–it’s true though that as long as you’re careful, methodical and don’t rush things that working with lye can be very safe. This was a good overview for those who are afraid at first to give lye a try. Love your blog, follow you on Facebook and Pinterest and enjoy all your ebooks! Keep up the good work!

    • Jan says:

      Thanks for the kind words! I absolutely agree; lye can be very safe when handled properly. I hope this overview will be a nice gateway into helping others get more comfortable with the idea of making soap in general, and that some will gain the confidence to try cold process soap (my favorite method!) next. :)

  2. charlotte says:

    You can buy suspension soap base, so your herbs can be all the way through the soap. They sell it at michael’s craft store.

  3. Teri says:

    Or… you can just buy your stuff… which is what I prefer :-)

  4. Oh I just love how these natural soaps turned out! The colors really make each one of them pop. =)

  5. Jenn says:

    I’ve stayed away from soap making because of the lye. I’m sure I could do it if I read up on it enough and had the right equipment. But with two toddlers in the house, there is no way I could do it while they are awake and when they are asleep I’m usually bone tired and brain dead. LOL Not good for working with potentially dangerous ingredients. So, thank you for sharing this. This is something I can do now and try making soap from scratch when the kids are older.

    • Jan says:

      Hi Jenn! I can completely remember that feeling. :) It’s much easier now that my kids are older. The melt & pour method though is fun for kids to help with, no matter what age. Have fun making your soap!

  6. tirrell says:

    is it true
    that the lye in the melt & pour base no longer is lye during the process? I heard that it changes. but I dont know when it what stage.

    • Jan says:

      Hi tirrell! Melt & pour base has no active lye left in it, and neither will properly made homemade soap. The oils in the recipe start reacting immediately with the lye to make soap when they combine.

  7. Taleda says:

    I buy all my soap bases from Bramble Berry and have for 3yrs. I mainly use Shea, Honey, Aloe but I’ve used their Hemp, Clear & White. Never had a “bad” batch, the bases are so incredibly versatile and user friendly I am always amazed with what they accept and continue to come out SOAP: cleansing with abundant lather (some people gotta have that lather!) I add different butters, oils, botanicals, herbs, powders, aromatherapy, premium aroma oils … salts sugars seeds, veggie & fruit powders for coloring … the possibilities are endless.

    Good Post! Thank you!

    • Jan says:

      I LOVE Bramble Berry’s products as well. :) It sounds like you have made some amazing soaps! Great ideas, thanks!

  8. Ann says:

    I used a melt and pour base and I cannot get it to lather. The place I purchased it from recommended I add liquid soap…this did nothing! Then I was told that they have had NO issues with NOT lathering and left it at that. I’m now confused as to what to do…look for, etc. What should I add? Or what is making it not lather?
    Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you

    • Jan says:

      Hi Ann, I’ve never ran into that before. Even if adding liquid soap did help, that sure is a lot of trouble for you to go through for something that’s supposed to be quick & easy! I have to wonder if you got a bad batch or something? I’d try a new source. One place to try is brambleberry.com – they have such nice customer service that if you did run into a problem, I think they’d be a lot more helpful than the place you purchased your product from.

    • Kimberly says:

      It doesn’t lather or it doesn’t bubble up? The lather can be creamy, thick or thin, bubbly or a bit of both and some where in between. Some people think that lather must equal bubbles which is why I ask. Take the plunge and make some soap, yes with lye. I was worried at first too and thought for sure I’d do something wrong. Honestly once I did it I was hooked!! I also find I like HP soaping as it is no longer caustic after it goes through gel phase and is ready to use immediately though I do try to wait a week or two. Try it! You’ll love it! I promise!!

  9. I have been making my own soap, bath products, & candles for over 40 yrs. When I discovered melt & pour, I was in heaven. I get my base at http://www.wholesalesuppliesplus.com They have a wide variety of bases including an all natural. Over the yrs. I have done a lot of experimenting with this base, I add different oils in small quantities & to make it harder I use palm kernel oil. The sites I use also: Brambleberry, Sweetcakes, Majesticmountainsage. For unusual oils I use FromNaturewithLove, they are expensive though. I do use other sites on occasion also.

    • Jan says:

      Hi Sheila, Thank you for all of the great resource ideas! :)

    • I love wholesale supplies plus too-they have a great list of all natural melt and pour soap bases which I use. I love Brambleberry too I just found your blog when I was looking for a natural eye wash-and found your calendula eye wash-making it now-I have some of my own flowers that I froze.

  10. Tammy says:

    I am so happy I came across your post on fb!! I teach middle school Family and Carreer at a small Christian school. I need to have projects that are not too time consuming, fun, and relatively cost effective since much of the expense is out of pocket. I think my classes would really enjoy making these soaps…..even the boys! ;) Any suggestions/”recipes” for beginners would be greatly appreciated! They could also use these as gifts!

    • Jan says:

      This would be a great project for middle school kids! :) I suggest that you browse through http://www.soapqueen.com. She has sooooo many great ideas! I’ve made a camouflage cold process soap many times before and I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen a melt & pour version out there. (The guys in my family like it, so that might be something your boys would enjoy too!) Something you could do, is just offer up a selection of materials and let them come up with their own unique recipes. That’s what I do with my kids & their cousins. :) But, if you have a few kids that might dump everything in, you can offer up a little formula that they can follow. (i.e. up to 3 teaspoons total of additives such as oatmeal, poppy seeds, dried spices, cosmetic clay, honey, etc.)

  11. Debi Hodges says:

    I am making homemade soaps for favors to be given away at my Granddaughter’s wedding. I need a no-lye easy way to make this, adding oils and things like lavender buds, ect. I will need enough for about 250 people.

    • Jan says:

      Hi Debi! Sounds like melt & pour might work out well for you. One thing to note about lavender buds (and other herbal additives) is that they will eventually turn brown, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when planning. With such a large amount that you need to make and the importance of the occasion, I suggest that you write to one of the online suppliers and work directly with them to order exactly what you’ll need. I love the idea of homemade soap favors! Congratulations to your granddaughter! :)

  12. This is kind of new to me but really looking into getting started so thanks for much for sharing your info. :-)

  13. Audra says:

    I used to be afraid of lye, but then realized that if you aren’t afraid to use bleach then you shouldn’t be afraid of the lye. Now I’m ok with it – I just make sure to use gloves and goggles. (And when my children were little I’d make my soap at naptime.)

    • Jan says:

      Yes, that’s exactly how I view it too! Great idea about making it at naptime when you have small children. :)

    • Kimberly says:

      Audra isn’t it addicting? I was afraid too but then realized as long as you respect the lye and work carefully then it’s a snap! I take precautions too wearing gloves and glasses and an apron. Nap time is a great time to soap or while they are playing gate off the area you are working in to keep them safe! Happy soaping!

  14. P J Kielberg-McClenahan says:

    A friend and I make melt and pour soap on a regular basis. I have found that a crock pot works best for melting a large quantity of base. No reheating, or overheating in the microwave. I just ladle it into a measuring cup and add color, herbs or emollients.

  15. Mary Goldsmith says:

    Instead of buying soap from the store , make your own low in lye , plain soap. When it cures let the kids melt it down to make their own herbs and such. Then you will know what is in it!

  16. Kathy Glenn says:

    I have a question regarding the melt and pour soap base. I have read a lot about adding herbs but I would like to make it more moisturizing by adding either shea butter, cocoa butter, vitamin E, or maybe a little lanolin. Will that work or will it ruin the soap base? Thank you in advance.

    • Jan says:

      Hi Kathy! I think if you add anything, it’d have to be in low amounts. You could melt up a small experimental batch, separate it, add something different to each section, then test how it affects the soap’s look and feel. You can also buy different bases that already have extra moisturizing properties. If you check with the people at BrambleBerry.com (or wherever you buy your base) they should be able to let you know more of what you can and can’t add to their different formulas. I do find that the clear base (like I used in this article) leaves my skin feeling a wee bit dry, so I think it’s a great idea to experiment with adding moisturizing ingredients!

  17. Daniel says:

    Kathy,

    Be careful when adding additional oils to M&P bases. The additional oils can throw the mixture out of balance and either run the batch or make the bars super soft. I personally stay away from M&P bases; as they contain some type of alcohol and can be drying on the skin. Albeit, better than commercial soaps, but nowhere even close to a good handmade CP soap. You can find good bases out there, just look and understand the ingredients. Don’t be fooled by misleading terms. Sorbitol is an alcohol used to lower the soap’s melting point. All soap is glycerine soap; as glycerine is a byproduct of the soap making process. What they don’t tell you is that in M&P soap they have to add additional glycerine to counteract the drying properties of the alcohol used. Other than that, it’s a good project.

    • Jan says:

      Thanks for the information Daniel! I have to admit, I’m a cold-process junkie so am not as familiar with the wide spectrum of things you can & can’t do with melt & pour.

  18. Daniel says:

    As am I Jan! In fact, I am strictly a “From-Scratch” soap maker. I have seen quite a few people n my area trying to sell M&P soap as anything but… I look at lye much the same as I do with electricity. As long as you maintain a healthy respect for lye while you are working with it (Proper safety) it is rather safe. However, the moment you get complacent is when it get dangerous.

  19. crosswind says:

    Thx for sharing ly-free soap tips. You can buy sustainable Palm oil by Spectrum. I saw it at Whole Foods Market and Sprouts Market. I won’t buy any other palm oil, knowing what’s happening the the forest & orangutans.

  20. leah says:

    Hi, I love thus idea but am allergic to soy. All of the soap bases I’ve seen contain soy protein do you know of any that don’t? Thanks

  21. Can I still add more oils to the melt and pour soap base?

  22. Jan says:

    Many Thanks! I feel that you wrote this just for me :-) It answered my “soap base” question and gave me a lot of ideas on how to add beauty (scent & sight).

  23. Becky says:

    Can you use almond milk instead of coconut milk? I’m allergic to coconut.

    Or something other than the coconut milk for the base?

    • Jan says:

      Hi Becky, There is no milk mentioned in this post, so I’m not quite sure how to answer that. I think pretty much all melt and pour soap bases have coconut oil in them though. It’s hard to avoid coconut. (Though I’m working on a post about making soap from scratch without it!)

  24. Inny says:

    Hi Jan, thank you for this article. I am a beginner and will definitely try this. One question; I have seen when some people make soap from scratch they mention having to wait six weeks before using the soap, even six months (not sure which one is better). But in this case, do we have to wait until using the bar soaps? Or can we use them right away if it’s made from soap base? Thanks so much again!!!

    • Jan says:

      Hi Inny! If you’re using a ready made soap base, then you can use the soap right away. The company that made it, has already handled the lye and waiting part, so you don’t have to worry about it. :) When making soap completely from scratch, you should wait four to six weeks before using. If you have a really high olive oil soap, it usually benefits from waiting longer, in order to get a harder, longer lasting bar. You can still use it sooner though.

  25. ex army girl says:

    Dear Ms. Jan & Fellow Readers,

    I am extremely interested in making my own soap—I saw an intriguing process using a crock pot a while back & can’t wait to try it. The name of your post came up during a search & brought me here, as I know it is IMPOSSIBLE to make soap WITHOUT lye. PERIOD. The difference comes in whether YOU handle the lye or you PAY SOMEONE ELSE to handle the lye for you. I am going to apologize in advance as I think this is going to veer a tad off topic, but I am new to the site & am unaware of the proper place to post this, so here it goes….
    1. I see people using all sorts of expensive additives like poppy, chia, or flax seeds, etc. for exfoliation purposes. What about used coffee grounds? Friends, family, restaurants, or maybe even your church, I would hazard a guess one collection from any listed source would be more than enough for a batch as a trial for those non-coffee drinkers out there.

    If you collect but are not ready to make a batch of soap, spread the coffee grounds on a lipped baking sheet in a thin layer & bake for anywhere from 15-30 minutes—depends on how thick layer is—or until dried thoroughly with NO moisture to mold them. I did this when pre-heating the oven, or stick it in when baking/cooking or after done & use the residual heat as the oven cools down. Place dry grounds in a covered container until ready to use. By the way, coffee grounds are essential in making homemade geode type crafts as well.
    2. Kirk’s Castile CoCo Original soap—also comes in unscented—is a standalone with NO NEED to alter it in ANY way!! It is the most wonderful soap as it is unadulterated. Can be used on face, body, hair & you can even brush your teeth with it. Yes, you are not seeing things, I actually said BRUSH TEETH. It has helped my young child that has gone through puberty at an early age {genes, not cheap hormone laden food} get a handle on cystic like acne {along with 16 oz witch hazel & 5 uncoated aspirin added to it & used as a toner}. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Kirk’s. It brought back memories of the clean I felt as a kid & had not really experienced in many years. Rich lather in extremely hard water, rinses clean off skin with no film. A bit of soap scum look, but easy to clean off tub & shower.
    3. Has anyone made soap in a crock pot? Would a crock pot liner or turkey roasting bag work to speed clean-up & make it an easier pour into molds?
    4. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Lye This site has a 13 step procedure with pictures on making your own lye for soap making. I saw on a soap making forum that others were using Roebic brand 100% lye crystals {in other words, pure lye} but when I went to Lowe’s {plumbing department} to get it, it was $17 for 2 lbs. It started a fight with my husband over the “expensive” homemade soap rather than buying the pre-made store stuff. We are going to try this. I will eventually bye lye & then see which makes the better soap product in the end.
    5. I have a few questions in regards to using the lye water resulting from the process in #3. It will be winter soon here in the mountains, so while I would love to be able to evaporate off the liquid, not sure I will be able to.
    a. Does anyone have any idea how to figure the amount of lye is in solution?
    b. Can I just use this lye solution in place of re-hydrating lye crystals & NOT add water called for in the lye calculators?
    c. If I use the solution as is, would I measure the lye water in a liquid measure cup or still weigh it like the other ingredients for soap making?
    d. If I use it as is, would I need to add salt for hard bars?
    e. Would long cure times for soap batches using this lye water be reasonable to expect because of high moisture content?
    f. I think someplace while researching this homemade lye process I saw that lime could be added as a catalyst (?) possibly. Does anyone know if this is correct & the amount needed if it is?

    Thank you for your patience with me & my lengthy post. I am very happy that I have run across your site & will be eagerly devouring all aspects of it.

    • ex army girl says:

      errr, the process I refer to in comment #5 should be #4. Sorry.

    • Jan says:

      Thanks for the site links and information Ex Army Girl! Yes, coffee grounds are great in soap (I have a coffee and cream recipe coming to the blog this month or next.) :)
      Thanks for the info too on Kirk’s Castile soap – I’ll have to check it out!
      Re: Soap in a crockpot with a liner/roasting bag – it’s not really that hard to clean out once it has cooked. You can take a spoon and scrape out the residue and form it into a ball and you have ready to use soap. No waste! Any little bit leftover will come out if you soak your crockpot for a little while.
      I think my lye is around $11 or $12 for 2 lbs. It probably varies by region. You can get some on Amazon too (free shipping!) Two pounds of lye makes quite a bit of soap! You can probably get storebought soap cheaper. Homemade is just a world of difference on your skin and it’s nice knowing exactly what you put in it. There’s also the “I made this all by myself!” cool factor. :)
      I’m afraid I have no good advice about homemade lye solutions. You’d have to establish some sort of standardized alkalinity in order to get the results you want, but that is way beyond anything I’ve dealt with! Hopefully someone knowledgeable will see this and chime in!

  26. ex army girl says:

    Wouldn’t you know that right after I posted to your blog, I found another that answered some of my questions? Sounds about right…anyway I thought that you & your readers/followers might enjoy this site too, especially since I read that somebody referred to not having commercially available resources.

    countryfarm-lifestyles.com/make-lye.html

    Wealth of information on this site as well as on your site. I hope others will learn as much from both of you as I have today. Thanks again!! {;0}

  27. These came out so pretty too. I like the perfect square shaped look.

  28. mandy says:

    Do lye or melt and soap would harm skin I am saying beacuase I always perferd herbal cosmetics and cream to stay away from chemical substances. I am an beginner to just confrom do lye consisting soap would harm skin and environment.

  29. lynn Brealey says:

    I am recuperating from being rather ill this last number of months and am getting much better. I can tell because I am just now getting itchy fingers to start doing some hobbies again. So.finding your web site was a great joy!Thanks.

    • Jan says:

      Hi Lynn, I’m so sorry that you’ve been ill, but am happy to know that you’re feeling better! I’m glad that you enjoyed the web site and hope you continue to grow stronger each day!

  30. Tammy Bennett says:

    Jan ~ do you work with the white cream textured soaps? I like how they make it look marble like. Wondering if you had a how too on this?

  31. kim says:

    Hi Jan!! I stumbled on your website and like others, I’m fearful of lye. So I’m going to try this myself. and thanks for referring Berry store. I’ll give the a try Thanks!!

  32. Amanda says:

    Love your recipes! I use soap making supplies from Bulk apothecary (http://www.bulkapothecary.com/categories/soap-making-supplies.html). I love the price and quality of the items. What is the difference between Bulk and Brambleberry?

    • Hi Amanda, Both are great choices! The only main difference I can think of is in what types of items they carry, probably vary. If you’re happy with what you’ve been getting from them, then sounds like a great place to shop!