Soap making is not just a great way to get creative and make beautiful homemade gifts, it's also a true art form. There is a little bit of chemistry involved when it comes to making soap, but don't let that intimidate you. The basic principle of soap making is mixing an acid with a base, such as an alkali. Sometimes that alkali is a chemical called lye, which is a caustic salt and comes in the form of sodium hydroxide. Extra care needs to be taken when working with lye, so if you use a homemade soap recipe that calls for this chemical, make sure to wear protective goggles, a mask and gloves. The lye doesn't remain in the finished product, it's only the catalyst for the chemical reaction that occurs during the process.
But enough of the science lesson! If you prefer to avoid using lye, there are plenty of recipes that don't call for it as well as pre-made soap bases you can purchase that are safe to use, especially if you want to involve kids in the soap making process. Now that you know the basics, let's get creative and make some soap!
Before You Begin
Before you get started, pick a homemade soap recipe (we have compiled a versatile list of recipes) and gather your ingredients, or purchase a pre-made soap base to use. Make sure that any tools that you use, such as a bowl or a whisk, are never used for food preparation again. There are various soap making methods, but the best one for beginners is the melt-and-pour method that is ideal when using a lye-free, pre-made soap base.
If you are using lye, take extra care and work in a well-ventilated area. Protect yourself with goggles, a mask and heat-resistant gloves.
Equipment / Tools
- Silicone mold
- Heat-resistant container (bowl, saucepan, etc.)
- Gloves, goggles and mask (when using lye)
- Soap base (either purchased pre-made or ingredients from your chosen recipe)
- Essential oils
Prepare the Mold
First, prepare your soap mold. Use a silicone mold which can be purchased online or at any craft or kitchen supplies store. They come in various shapes and sizes, from basic square or rectangle ones to more festive shapes such as stars or hearts. Set the mold, as well as any essential oils you'll be adding, out so that you have everything on hand once you're ready to pour the soap mixture.
Melt the Soap Base
Using the melt and pour method, begin by melting your soap base. If you are using a pre-purchased base, check the instructions on the packaging for exact melting instructions. Usually, you can either melt your base in the microwave or on the stove. If you want to use your microwave, place the soap base in a heat-resistant, microwave-safe container such as a bowl and microwave it for short segments of time, say 10 or 20 seconds at a time, until it has fully melted.
If you prefer melting the soap base on the stove, use the double boiler method. Place the soap base in a heat-proof container such as a bowl, then fill a saucepan with water so it's about a third of the way full. Place the heat-proof bowl inside the saucepan, and let the water come to a slow boil over low heat until the soap has melted.
Remove from Heat and Whisk in Oils
Once the mixture has melted, take it off the heat. You'll need to work pretty quickly at this point, which is why it's important to have all your tools ready before you get started. If you are using essential oils to add a scent to your soap, now is the time to do it. Whisk the oils into the melted mixture very gently so that bubbles don't form and it stays nice and smooth.
Pour the Soap
As soon as you've mixed in your fragrance, it's time to pour the soap into the silicone mold. Fill each of the mold segments with the same amount of the mixture so you get nice and uniform soaps to give them a professional look. Fill each of the segments all the way to the top.
Let It Set
Let the soap set and don't move the mold until it has. This could take anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day, check your recipe or soap base packaging for exact setting times. Once it has fully set, pop each of the soaps out of the mold and they're ready to be used or packaged to be given away as homemade gifts for friends and family.
Sodium Hydroxide. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.