Making your own soap can be a fun and rewarding hobby. Experimenting with different colors and scents allows you to be creative, while making something you can sell or give as a gift. There are several different methods for making soap, some of which involve using the chemical lye, which can be expensive and dangerous for some younger soap makers. Learning how to make soap without lye, however, is simple and produces results that are just as beautiful and just as good for your skin.
What Is Lye?
Lye is a corrosive, alkaline chemical that is used in a number of soap making methods to create the saponification that creates soap. Nearly all commercial forms of soap, including liquid soaps such as hand soap, are made using a form of lye called potassium hydroxide. When the lye comes in contact with oils or fats, it starts a chemical reaction that turns the fat into soap. Most courses in soap making rely on something known as cold process, which is one way of using lye to form soap.
Unfortunately, lye is also extremely corrosive and can be dangerous. Using the wrong types of utensils, or getting the lye on your skin or in your eyes can be extremely hazardous to your health. That’s why many beginning soap makers choose to use soap making methods that do not rely on lye. These may involve using glycerin soaps, or making a plant-based soap out of materials that also work like the saponification process. While making lye soap will give you more choices for soap style and opacity, you can still make soap with nearly endless colors, scents, and additives all using one of these simple soap making methods.
How to Make Soap without Lye
There are numerous ways you can produce soap without lye. Some methods rely on a melt-and-pour technique that melts down glycerin, or in some cases Ivory soap, and adding in scents and colors to personalize it. Other methods can produce soap using beeswax or plants. All are valid soap making methods; which one you choose to use depends upon your personal choice and comfort level with the craft. For example, young children might enjoy the melt and pour method, while more earthy and creative types may want to experiment with beeswax and plants.
Keep in mind that if you truly want to make a bar form of soap from scratch without relying on melt and pour glycerin, that this isn’t possible to do without lye. In this case, using a method like this can introduce you to the world of soap making and the fun that you can have with colors and scents. If you choose to try your hand at making soap with lye at a later point, you will already have your scents, colors, and molds all ready to go.
Glycerin Melt and Pour Method
This is a very simple method for making glycerin soap. You can color or change the additives in the soap to personalize it, or even suspend things like herbs or small toys inside it to give as gifts.
- Glycerin block
- Sharp knife
- Double boiler
- Soap dye or colorant
- Herbs or other additives
- Cut the glycerin into 1-inch pieces and place them in the top half of a double boiler.
- Melt the soap in the top half of the double boiler, stirring occasionally and very gently as it melts.
- Add in the fragrance and dye one drop at a time until it reaches the color and scent that you desire.
- Stir in any herbs or additives you wish. Remember to stir very gently so as not to introduce bubbles into your soap.
- Pour your soap mixture into your molds and allow them to cool for at least 2 hours.
- Remove the soap from the molds; it is now ready to use.
Soap from Plants
There are several plants that are very high in saponins – the substance that makes soap foam and clean. Making plant-based soap is not the same as making soap bars. Instead, this process produces a liquid soap that can be used as hand soap, shampoo, or even a laundry detergent. It is extremely gentle, and good for people that are sensitive to chemicals and additives in other forms of commercial soap.
Keep in mind that this form of soap does not last forever; if you choose to make it, do so in small batches and plan on using within a month to keep it fresh.
- 1/2 cup soapwort leaves or roots
- 4 cups distilled water
- Enamel pan
- Essential oil
- Tea tree oil
- Place the soapwort and distilled water in a large enamel pan.
- Simmer on low heat for about half an hour, or until suds begin to form in the pan when stirred.
- Add a few drops of tea tree oil to give it some antibacterial properties, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil to enhance the scent.
- Allow the mixture to cool and place in an air tight bottle or container until ready to use.
This recipe for oatmeal soap also uses a melt and pour method, using a type of soap base that can be easily found at most craft stores. The addition of the oatmeal helps make it a great moisturizer for your skin; you can also choose to use goat’s milk, honey, or beeswax along with the oatmeal to customize your soap and enhance its skin soothing properties.
- 8 ounces clear soap base
- 8 ounces opaque soap base
- 1/2 ounce finely ground oatmeal
- 1/2 ounce of essential oil
- 1/2 ounce of honey, beeswax, goat’s milk, or other additives you plan on using
- Soap colorant
- Melt down the two soap bases together and stir very gently to combine.
- Add any fragrance, colorants, or additives and stir them gently together.
- Add the oatmeal to the soap mixture. The key is to have the oatmeal ground as finely as possible so it suspends inside the soap and doesn’t just settle to the bottom of the bar.
- Continue to stir very gently until the oatmeal appears to be well distributed throughout the bar.
- Pour the soap into molds and allow it to harden overnight.
- Remove from molds and use.
While soap making without lye does rely on glycerin, it is still a lot of fun to play with the scents, colors, and additives that can help to make your soap unique. Try experimenting with herbs, sea salts, sugar scrubs, fun prizes hiding inside the soap, and lots of skin enhancing ingredients. Many people enjoy the light moisturizing properties of glycerin soap, and gladly purchase it or receive it as a gift, especially when it also contains unique scents or additives.
Once you get started on making your own soap, you may want to take a few courses in cold process soap making or in milk soap making so that you can get better acquainted with the actual methods of making soap. If you find that you enjoy making glycerin soaps, but want to branch out more, you can also take a course in advanced soap swirling to learn how to get intricate and unique color variations in your soap that will help them to stand out from a crowd.
Learning to make soap can be a fun and challenging process, or a fun and easy one. Which method you ultimately decide on depends upon your level of commitment, and your comfort level when working with chemicals. Try your hand at learning how to make soap without lye first to see how ready you are to start making more intricate soaps, and enjoy the creative process.