If you want to make homemade soap, there are 4 ways you can go about it. You really need to choose your method first so you can look for information and recipes specific to that method later on. The equipment you need will change depending on your chosen way too.
- Melt and Pour
- Cold Process
- Hot Process
- Hand milling
Melt and Pour aka Glycerine Soap, Soap Casting, MP
I would strongly recommend that you start with this method. It is easier, safer and more forgiving than the others. You can even do it with kids and it teaches you the basics about colours and fragrance. You start with a soap base, melt it in a microwave or on the hob (the same way you melt chocolate), add colour and fragrance then pour into a mould. As soon as it has set, you can remove it from the mould and it is ready to use. You can add other oils and other extras such as petals, oats and seeds, but you are limited to how much you can include. If you make a mistake, or the soap hardens, it can be melted again without a problem.
Cold Process aka CP, Lye Soap
This is how you truly make soap "from scratch" or from raw ingredients. It involves the use of Lye (NaOH, Sodium Hydroxide, Caustic Soda) which gives off harmful fumes and is corrosive. You can't get this on your skin at all so proper safety precautions must be taken. This method requires more equipment and you need to use large quantities of oils to add to the lye. Even though it is called cold process, the chemical reaction causes the liquids to heat up. You have more control over what goes in to soap made this way but you also need to be precise with your measurements. Failure to do this can make your soap unusable. This kind of soap needs to be left to cure for several weeks. This cannot be remelted on its own so if you do make a mistake, you can sometimes rework the soap using the handmilling method, unless it is lye heavy (it will have white crystals on the outside). This would be dangerous to use on the skin and should be disposed of as a caustic material.
Hot Process aka HP
This is the same as cold process except that the soap needs to be cooked to evaporate the excess liquid. Even though this means it takes longer, this additional step means that there is no curing time. Your soap will be ready to use as soon as it has set. Again, this means working with lye so it is not suitable to do around children. Some mistakes can be handmilled unless it is lye heavy.
Handmilling aka Rebatching, French Milled Soap
As mentioned above, this technique is great for putting mistakes right. As you do not have to add extra lye, it means you do not have to work directly with lye. You could also buy readymade lye soap and use that for this technique. The soap is shredded and then mixed with a liquid such as water, milk or even fruit juice, and heated up. Colours & scents are added before it is poured into moulds and left to set. This does need to be left to cure for several weeks so if you are impatient, this method is not for you!
Hopefully, by now you have a good idea of how soapmaking works and if this is something you would like to try. If you now know which technique suits you best, you now need to go and research A LOT. You could just search for your chosen method online for recipe ideas and more information, join a soapmaking forum or buy some books.
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Making Natural Soaps by Sally W. Trew with Zonella B. Gould
- The Everything Soapmaking Book by Alicia Grosso
- The Soapmaker's Companion by Susan Miller Cavitch
- The Natural Soap Book by Susan Miller Cavitch
- 300 Handcrafted Soaps (melt and pour) by Marie Browning