Soap making is a fun and surprisingly easy enterprise for a hobby or even a small business. Once you gather the basic supplies, you have hundreds of soap making options at your fingertips. Choosing the best soap making supplies for you will boil down to your personal soap preferences and how much time you want to invest in the process.
There are two approaches to soap making: “cold processing,” which requires lye and a curing period before the soaps are safe to use, and “melt-and-pour,” in which a pre-made soap base is used. In cold processing, you have full control over your ingredients but have to follow careful steps to ensure your soap turns out well. In melt-and-pour, there are no careful steps to follow and no curing period, but you have no control over the ingredients.
While both kinds of soap contain glycerin, the term “glycerin soap” is used to describe transparent soaps. In addition to traditional cold processing, glycerin soap can be made melt-and-pour style. Making transparent soap from scratch is finicky and demands a practiced hand to master.
Whether you make the base yourself or purchase one, all transparent soaps contain alcohol. The alcohol can make the soap dry out your skin, especially in ready-made bases where you have no control over the ingredient ratios. If you have sensitive skin or intend on using the soap as a body bar, glycerin soap may not be for you.
If you choose to cold process, you will find there are hundreds of oil and additive options for you to make your soap with. Each has its own pros and cons. First decide whether you want your ingredients all-natural, organic, vegetarian or vegan. This will narrow down your options. Those concerned about ecologically-friendly soaps may also want to avoid palm kernel oil, as whether or not its sustainable is hotly debated.
Additives such as mica for coloring, essential oils for fragrance and extra conditioners such as lanolin are fun to play with, but the lifeblood of your soap will be your base fats mixture. Soaps need a balance of lather, conditioning and hardness that all oils affect differently. Many websites are available to help you choose your fats, but most soap recipes use a combination of olive, palm kernel and coconut oils.
Olive oil is the primary ingredient in most soap recipes and is used for conditioning. Coconut oil lends lather and palm kernel hardness. Whenever you decide to swap out an oil, try to replace it with one that has similar properties for a balanced bar. For instance, those looking to avoid palm kernel oil can replace it with babassu oil or a combination of non-drying fatty acids and other conditioning oils.
Once you have your fats mixture, you can have a blast with fragrance, color and additives from seaweed to clay. The fun of soap making comes from trial-and-error. There is no ultimate recipe. Soap making is all about your personal preferences and what works best for you.