A well-made, handcrafted bar of soap is a small luxury. But can you make soap without lye? And where do you find easy soap recipes for beginners and soap making resources?
If you’ve compared handcrafted soaps to commercially made detergent bars, you’ve probably noticed that the homemade versions smell better, soften your skin, and are creamier. They’re also less likely to cause allergic reactions, since commercially made bars contain chemical detergents, petroleum-based products, and artificial fragrances that can irritate the senses. Detergent bars also have the natural glycerin removed, which is the most moisturizing part of soap.
It makes sense why homemade soap is so popular. Have you researched how to make homemade soap? Easy procedures become more complicated once you involve lye. It’s so alkaline it’s highly caustic, and mishandling can cause burns or blindness. Scary, isn’t it?
But the truth is that you cannot make soap without lye.
Not from scratch, anyway. But while searching easy homemade soap recipes, beginners discover that you can melt down or rebatch previously made soap, producing a fantastic bar without ever coming in contact with lye because that step has already been done for you.
Melt and Pour
The easiest of easy soap recipes for beginners, this method is so easy you can do it with children. The only danger is overheating the soap. Simply melt the soap in the microwave, add fragrance and color, pour into molds, and let it harden again.
Melt and pour soap is not organic or even natural. The typical ingredients include propylene glycol, sorbitol, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium palmitate, sodium myristate, sodium starate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, glycerin, triethanolamine, and sodium laurate. Most of these chemicals are necessary to produce a base that can be melted and cooled again and again while retaining cleansing and conditioning properties. It is still milder and safer than most detergent bars because it comes unscented and often uncolored. Someone who is allergic to dyes and perfumes can often enjoy a melt and pour soap made with mineral colorants and essential oils.
For a quick, low-commitment gift idea or a group project, melt and pour soap is best. Friends can sit around a crock pot with liquefied soap, color individual soaps, and let them harden before the night is through. Children can handle the soap once it has cooled slightly but is still viscous. And you can work with cooking utensils, again using them for food once the soap has been washed away.
To make melt and pour soaps, first purchase a soap base. These are found in craft and hobby stores and online. Several versions are available, such as bases made with olive oil, coconut oil, or goat milk. Even clear glycerin soaps, perfect for suspending glitter and small toys, are sold in large blocks.
Do not use candle colorants or fragrances for any soaps. They are not cosmetic grade and could hurt you.
Find colorants made specifically for soapmaking or cosmetics. Choose artificial dyes or natural pigments and micas. Though the artificial colorants are much more vibrant, they can cause allergic reactions with some people. Micas, clays, and mineral powders are the safest colorants.
Fragrances can be anything that is cosmetic grade, though essential oils and soapmaking fragrances last longest. Do not attempt to use juice because it will upset the base’s balance. Flower petals are fine to make the soap pretty but it will not enhance fragrance.
Soap molds can be anything that doesn’t easily melt. Recycle rigid cold cut containers or butter tubs. Shop specifically for soap molds. Or purchase silicon cupcake pans which are available in many cute shapes. Be sure you can easily remove the soap once it’s hardened; because it’s not flexible, glass is a poor choice for a mold.
Within a microwave-safe container such as a glass measuring cup or a ceramic bowl, heat the soap just until it is melted, stirring frequently for larger batches. Remove the soap from the microwave and stir in colorants and fragrance, using one to two teaspoons of fragrance per pound of soap. If you’re making a variety of soaps, pour enough base for each soap into a separate bowl before customizing. Soap that hardens too soon can be microwaved again. Pour soap into molds and set in a cool area until it hardens. If you need the mold again soon, place the hot soap in your freezer just until it completely solidifies.
Melt and Pour Ideas
Botanical Soap: Choose either a clear or an opaque base, depending on which effect you want for your finished product. Scent soap with either fragrance oil or essential oils and use colorants matching your fragrance. Before you pour the soap into the molds, sprinkle in dried botanicals such as lavender pods, rose petals, or crushed mint leaves. Botanicals will be visible within clear soap and will be slowly revealed as opaque soap is used.
A Child’s Surprise: Select a clear base if you want the surprise to be visible or an opaque soap if you want your child to find the surprise as he uses the soap. Find small plastic toys which will fit completely into your soap mold. Melt the soap and mix in colors or fragrances which will not irritate the child’s senses. Place the toy within the mold and pour in soap to completely cover it. Let the soap harden. If you don’t want any of the toy to be visible, first pour a thin layer of soap into the mold and allow it to harden before placing the toy atop and covering it with melted base.
Parfait Soap: What’s pink plus white plus blue? A beautiful combination for a baby shower gift. Use the same soap base for all three layers. After melting the soap, color/fragrance a portion then pour it to fill about a third of the mold. Allow this to cool on the counter or in a refrigerator/freezer before beginning the next layer. Scratch the top of the hardened layer with a knife or fork to give it better adhesion. Color and pour the next layer, chill it, scratch the top, and color/pour the final layer. Let the soap cool completely before unmolding.
Crystal Gems: Choose either clear or opaque soap, though clear makes a better finished product. Colorants which will not turn your base cloudy are usually not natural but are much brighter hues. Select a good glitter: craft glitter is often scratchy because of the large particles. Instead look for a product that resembles a pearly dust or ground mica. Melt soap then mix in colorant, fragrance, and glitter. Pour into molds in the shape of gems, such as specialty soap or candy molds.
Rebatching is an easy soap recipe for beginners who want to avoid petroleum-based products. It uses previously made soap that has been ground down and melted. This is also called milling or hand milling. French-milled soap has been finely ground down then rebatched with color and fragrance added. Rebatching lets you retain the best qualities of another soapmaker’s product while avoiding lye and customizing the bar for your own needs.
To make homemade organic soap without lye, you must rebatch a previously made bar. Soap that was originally cold processed or hot processed can be the most natural. The process involves oils, water, and only the lye necessary to turn the oils into soap. If the amounts are correct, the lye will completely convert during saponification and will no longer be present. This means you can rebatch a bar made with organic olive oil and no colorants/fragrances then mill it into your own hypoallergenic castile soap.
You can rebatch without paying full price if you ask a soapmaker for her ends and trimmings. She may sell or give them to you to avoid taking time to rebatch them in her own studio. Ugly soap, which was made with the best intentions, can be rebatched as long as the initial ingredient ratio was correct. Never rebatch soap that failed because the soapmaker used the wrong ingredients or quantities because it may be dangerously lye-heavy. But if the soapmaker allowed a good recipe to overheat or if the color “morphed,” offer to give the ugly soap a good home. Or find a good bar of soap with minimal fragrance and color, allowing you to add your own.
While rebatching is appropriate for older children, it is not recommended for younger kids because it gets very hot and can be hard to handle. Consider wearing gloves and long sleeves. Be sure your molds can handle high heat.
Heat a crock pot to low. Grate down the soap, using a cheese grater or food processor. Place the shavings into the crock pot with just enough liquid to moisten it and allow it to melt. This can be water, milk, or even tea. Stir often to avoid burning as the soap slowly liquefies. This can take an hour or so, depending on batch size. Rebatched soap will never be smooth like melt and pour will; it’s thick, gloppy, and textured. Once the soap is soft enough, mix in desired fragrances, colorants, and additives. Scoop the hot soap into heat-safe molds, pressing down and tapping the molds against a counter to remove air bubbles. Allow the soap to cool completely before unmolding.
Rebatched Soap Ideas:
Green Tea Soap: Grate down a bar that is lightly colored and unfragranced. Add brewed green tea as your liquid. Once the soap has melted, add a spoonful or two of matcha powder and perhaps a “green tea” fragrance oil from a soapmaking supplier.
Goats milk Oatmeal Soap: Mill bars that are made with a simple lightly colored base or out of goat milk. Add goats milk to melt down. Once the soap is viscous enough to add ingredients, stir in oatmeal and, if desired, fragrance oil. Honey added at this stage will probably turn into sticky pockets within the soap so instead consider a honey-scented fragrance.
Cocoa Soap: Melt down a basic soap bar or one made with cocoa butter. Spoon in a little pure cocoa butter, though not too much or your finished product will be too oily. Add liquid such as water or milk. Once the soap is melted, stir in cocoa powder and a chocolate-scented fragrance.
Many options of easy soap recipes for beginners are available online or within print books. Experiment with additives. Unlike cold process soap, which may cause certain ingredients to burn or turn volatile, melt and pour and rebatched soaps allow you to add simple products safely.
Originally published in 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.