How to Make Soap: A Beginner Soap Making Guide

Learn to make your own soap for personal use or as gifts for others.

By: Laura Plack & Rebecca Gonner, Editors,
How to Make Soap A Beginner Soap Making Guide

Soap is something everyone uses (or hopefully uses) in their everyday life. You can make your own soap by following this How to Make Soap tutorial. When you make soap at home, you can personalize the color, scent, shape, and general benefits of your soap. This tutorial will explain the basic instructions for making a standard bar of soap, but as you become more confident, you can start adding more ingredients to make it moisturizing soap, bug-repellant soap, or exfoliating soap. There are so many sudsy possibilities once you have the basics of soap making mastered. Homemade soap makes a great gift for friends and family on holidays; especially if you make holiday-themed soap, like adorable gingerbread man-shaped soap.

Getting Started: An Introduction to Soap Making 

For now though, we are going to start with the basics of melt-and-pour soap recipes. With this step-by-step tutorial, you will be making soap in no time. When you make your own bath products, you gain full control over what goes in to your soaps, lotions, and scrubs. With a product you use on your skin as much as soap, it’s nice to know exactly what you’re getting into. Check out this basic soap making recipe and be the master of your bath products.

The History of Soap Making

Did You Know?

Soap is created by the chemical reaction of a fatty acid with an alkali metal hydroxide. It is used primarily for washing, bathing, and cleaning. Soaps for cleansing are obtained by treating vegetable or animal oils and fats with a strongly alkaline solution. The earliest recorded evidence of the production of soap-like materials dates back to around 2800 BC in ancient Babylon. It is believed that they made soaps with fats boiled with ashes. The Ebers papyrus (Egypt, 1550 BC) reveals that the ancient Egyptians bathed regularly and mixed animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to produce a soap-like substance. There is also evidence of various forms of soap used in Ancient Rome, Ancient China, the Middle East in the 12th Century, and in Medieval Europe.

Soap making was initially an exclusive technique only done by soap makers. Over time, recipes for soap making became more widely known, but soap was still expensive. The price of soap was significantly reduced in 1791 when a Frenchman (LeBlanc) discovered a chemical process that allowed soap to be sold for significantly less money. In the mid-nineteenth century, soap for bathing became a separate commodity from laundry soap, with milder soaps being packaged, sold and made available for personal use. Liquid soap was not invented until the nineteenth century; in 1865, William Shepphard patented a liquid version of soap. Now there a multitude of soaps for all different kinds of cleaning. We can even follow a soap recipe and make our own customized DIY soaps in our own homes.

How to Make Homemade Soap

Basic Soap Making Ingredients and Tools

  1. Clear soap base
  2. Soap coloring
  3. Vitamin E (It's great for your skin!) [You can just get the capsuls of vitamin E that they sell at the drug store, you won't need too many.]
  4. Essential oils (You can pick your essential oils for its scent or its skin benefits or both!)
    Learn how to add essential oils to soap
  5. Soap tray/mold (You can make cool shapes or just have one big mold and then cut your soap bars when it's hardened.)
  6. Heat-proof bowl (like glass)
  7. Spatula and Knife
  8. Medium/Large sized Pot
  9. Oven Mitts
If you want to try natural soapmaking (no artificial dyes, perfumes, or additives and working with lye), check out this guide to Beginner Natural Soapmaking Ingredients!

Beginner Natural Soapmaking Ingredients

Basic Soap Making Recipe

  1. Cut your soap base into cubes (the small pieces melt faster than a giant chunk of soap base).
  2. Place your soap base cubes into your heat-proof container.
  3. Fill your pot partway with water, you’ll be making a double boiler, so remember to leave room for the water to rise when you put the heat-proof container in the pot.
  4. Place the heat-proof container into your pot, and put the pot on the stovetop over medium heat.
  5. Stir the soap base as it starts to melt.
  6. When your soap base is fully melted, add your fragrance, coloring, and vitamin E. Start by adding small amounts to see how it looks and smells, you can always add more.
  7. Turn off the heat and use oven mitts to remove the bowl from the pot and pour your soap into your mold. Let your soap harden. To be safe, it’s best to just leave it overnight.
  8. Remove from the mold and enjoy!

Moisturizing Homemade Soap Recipe

Cold Process Soap and Hot Process Soap: What is the Difference?

The above soap recipe uses a melt and pour method, using a soap base. There are a few other ways to make soap. One is rebatching which uses already finished soap. Another is making soap from scratch. This method, includes making soap from raw materials. A few basic steps include mixing lye, preparing fats and oils, combining lye and fats/oils, and adding natural colors and fragrances (usually from essential oils). If you want to make soap from scratch there are two basic methods: cold process and hot process.

Many steps are similar in terms of making soap. In both processes, you will have to prepare the Lye solution, prepare the oils/fats, and pour Lye into the oils to create an emulsion. 

***Safety First: Use caution when handling lye. Make sure you have the right equiptment. Always wear safety goggles, gloves and long sleeves and follow a tutorial on the proper way to handle lye.***

Here are some differences in the soap making process:

Cold Process:

  1. Fragrance, color and other additives are added when the soap gets thick like a pudding and then poured directly into the mold.
  2. Soap bars will be smoother, lighter, and nicer looking.
  3. You have to wait several weeks before using your soap.
Learn How to Make Cold Process Soap!

Hot Process: 
  1. Soap bars have a rough, rustic appearance.
  2. The soap bars can be used faster than cold process soap bars.
  3. Hot process soap requires a longer cooking time.

Check out these Simple Milk and Honey DIY Soap Recipes to get a better idea of the differences between cold process and hot process soap making.

BONUS: Find out how to make soap in a few more ways with these fabulous DIY tutorials!

Simple Milk and Honey DIY Soap Recipes

Why Should You Make Your Own Soap?

There are many reasons to make your own soap, but here are few of the most common reasons:

  1. Customization: You can control the ingredients (know what's in your soap and customize the chemicals and scents to fit your needs)
  2. Budget: When you make soap in batches, it can be cost-effective.
  3. Gifts: Homemade soap is a thoughtful and easy to personalize DIY gift idea.
  4. Fun: Making your own soap is a relatively easy (and addictive---you can make so many different kinds of soap) practice. It makes for a fun hobby!

Beginner Castile Soap Recipe

How and Where to Store Homemade Soap

The best way to store soaps is in a cool and dry place. It's important to remember that if placed in direct sunlight, soapy colors and fragrances may fade. It is best to find the coolest and darkest area of your home to store your homemade bath products.

Some other things to remember:

How to Store Cold Process Soap: 

  1. Cold Process Soap needs cure for 4-6 weeks.
  2. Store in a well-ventilated space. 
  3. Keep in a cool, dry place.
  4. Ideally, should be exposed to air flow.
  5. Many soap makers use a baker's rack to store their handmade soap on while it is curing.
How to Store Melt & Pour Soap
  1. Due to the Glycerin in Melt & Pour Soap, the soap needs to be wrapped right away to avoid moisture.
  2. Once the homemade soap is completely hard and cool, remove it from the mold.
  3. Then, store the DIY soap in a dry, cool place until you’re ready to use.
  4. Make sure to avoid excessive heat, or your soap will melt. 

Here are some of our favorite DIY bathroom storage tutorials:

Bathroom DIY Storage Shelves

The Best Soap Making Recipes

Additional advice in this article provided by:

Stephanie Gerber from Hello Glow

Tracy Ariza from Oh, The Things We'll Make

Marie Rayma, Humblebee & Me

Mermaid Silk DIY Shampoo Bars

What's your favorite soap scent?

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My scent favorites are very dependent on the season. In the spring/summer I like fresh, ocean-inspired scents. In cooler weather, I love peppermint/crisp mint scents.


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