Whilst many of us dabble in making our own balms, body butters, scrubs and more, diving into the world of soap making can often seem a little more complicated and overwhelming. With good reason, there is melt and pour soap making, cold process soap making, and hot process soap making; you may also have read about milling and rebatching. That is a lot to take on when starting, so this is about demystifying the process and helping you decide which method is right for you.
Before we get into the different methods, let us take a very quick whistle-stop tour of what soap is and how it is made. In a nutshell, soap is created by mixing butters, fats and oils (acids) with sodium hydroxide (alkaline) and water. A chemical reaction occurs, and you have soap. Soap making is just chemistry - but don’t worry, you absolutely do not need a GCSE in chemistry to get to grips with it.
Now that you know the chemistry basics, what about the different soap-making methods?
Melt & Pour Soap is exactly what it says on the box, and the chemistry bit is already done. You melt your pre-made soap base and customise it to your preferences with colours, fragrances and designs. There are so many different soap bases available now that finding one to suit your needs will be easy, and you can find a great selection here on the website. The soap base itself does differ from a traditional cold process soap with some additions to enable you to melt it down, but it is still soap and created from fats and sodium hydroxide. Melt and pour soap making is great for those who want an easier way to create their own soap bars and the freedom to be creative with colours and scent.
Cold Process Soap is the traditional method of making soap. Here you are making soap from scratch using your raw materials, a combination of butters and oils, water and sodium hydroxide. Cold process soap making offers so much flexibility in creating bars with different properties, i.e. extra bubbly, conditioning, creamy, hard, long-lasting bars and so on. The list is endless, and there are also an infinite number of designs, patterns, and colourways you can create. It requires understanding how it all works, how the ingredients can impact your finished bar, and using sodium hydroxide yourself. This aspect often puts want-to-be soap makers off, but rest assured, anyone can do it once you have nailed the basics. If in doubt, take a soap-making class, either online or in person, as you are almost certain to have questions, but once you have made that first batch, you are sure to be hooked.
Hot Process Soap has some similarities with the cold process in that you are making your soap from scratch with your raw materials; however, it involves ‘cooking’ your soap (usually in a slow cooker), which speeds up the chemical reaction between all the ingredients. It has a more rustic appearance and is less flexible around colour and patterns but is more forgiving regarding what can go wrong. The washing up is also much easier - always a bonus!
Milling and Rebatching are similar and not a soap-making ‘method’. They both involve taking a pre-made soap, grating it, and heating it with water. Milled soap will generally have fragrance, etc., added after this process. Rebatched soap is usually used to fix a batch of soap that has gone wrong.
These are the main terms you will see when looking at how to make soap, and each has its own pros and cons. Which do I prefer? For me, it has to be the cold process. Being something of a soap science geek, I enjoy the chemistry behind it (absolutely not a requirement), but I also love the ability to create something from scratch and that no bar ever looks the same. Each method has its place; whichever you choose, creating your own soap bar is satisfying and fun.
Melt & Pour Soap
Written for Mystic Moments by Keri Squibb - The Soap Coach