An Overview Of Soapmaking Methods

There are two main lines of thought on soapmaking methods that identify the soapmaker: those who prefer to make soap from a pre-made soap base and customize it, and those who prefer to have full control over the soapmaking process from scratch.

For those of you who would prefer to make customized soap from a pre-made soap base, I will discuss the two soapmaking methods. They are Hand-milled or rebatching and Melt and Pour.

For those of you that would prefer to create unique soaps, want to make sure you approve of every ingredient, and want to experiment with all the natural ingredients, and want to find out what comes about from all your mixing and matching. Then the two main soapmaking processes for you are the Cold Process and the Hot Process.

There are other soapmaking techniques such as liquid soapmaking and transparent soapmaking, I will provide an overview of these as well separately, but they are basically part of the hot and cold soapmaking processes the only difference is they use Potassium hydroxide rather than sodium hydroxide.

Hand-milled or rebatching soapmaking

With a few kitchen tools and the one main ingredient that is creativity, the possibilities are virtually infinite. Hand-Milling or rebatching offer a viable solution to soapmakers who don’t want to work with caustic soda. It is also a way to reclaim those handmade soap disasters that you don’t now what to do with.

Those of you who are aiming for quality natural products it is of course very important to purchase your natural pre-made soap base from reputable suppliers.

Commercial bases

There are a few commercial soap bases that you can use for your hand-milled or rebatch soapmaking. You can use soap flake which is found in the laundry isle if most supermarkets, unfragranced Marseille soap, and unfragranced bath bars that are meant for children or babies with sensitive skin.

In general commercial soap bases don’t liquefy completely and usually have to be scooped into the molds rather than poured. Because these bases are industrially made you can’t guarantee all natural results, but you can add to them making them better for, and softer on your skin.

Commercial soap bases are a great way to get started on hand-milling or rebatching and build your hand-milled soapmaking techniques.

All natural bases

You can use all your Cold Process and Hot Process soap in hand-milled or rebatch soapmaking with excellent results. All your soaps that didn’t turn out, off cuttings, and scraps can all be hand-milled and made into wonderful new soaps.

Soaps made with a high amount of unsaturated fats (liquid at room temperature) are easier to mould due to their softer consistency after cooking. While soaps made with saturated fats (hard at room temperature) usually give you soaps that harden quicker after moulding.

Some soapmakers like to make large batches of unfragranced, color free soap, with the minimal of ingredients and without any supperfatting (adding more oils after cooking), to be hand-milled and customized when the need or want arises. Some soapmakers also make large batches of natural soap base specifically for people like you, who prefer to hand-mill rather than work with caustic soda.

Melt and Pour Soapmaking

Melt and Pour soapmaking is quick easy and trouble free. Melt and Pour soap bases are ideal for people who want good looking soap bars, but are not completely concerned with them being truly “natural”.

Chemically speaking glycerin is an alcohol, and is a by-product of the saponification process. It is basically the refuse of the chemical bonding between the three fatty acid molecules of the oils and the alkali molecule, which leaves the fourth molecule Glycerol unbound and easily extracted from the soap. Natural handmade soap is full of the glycerol molecules which are called glycerin which contribute to its skin friendliness and mildness. In industrial soapmaking, the natural glycerin is reclaimed from the soap paste and is purified then shipped out as a separate product. It ends up getting added to industrial made soaps, and cosmetics.

In industrial made Melt and Pour soap base, glycerin is added to a glycerin free soap base, together with the additives that make this product melt and solidify easily, as well as other synthetic additives – to the point that the finished product can’t even be called soap in some countries by law. Melt and Pour soap base is inappropriately called glycerin soap or glycerin blocks. If you are after a natural soap, then it would make no sense to re process an industrial product that is typically just as good or bad as store bought soap.

If you still want to use Melt and Pour soap base then you can find Melt and Pour soap base in both transparent and opaque, at your local craft stores and from soapmaking suppliers. There are many types of soap base available to you as a soapmaker. The basic three are clear glycerin, whitened glycerin, and white coconut oil soap bases. You can get the basic three Melt and pour soap bases with goat’s milk, coconut oil, olive oil, hemp oil, or avocado added to them. These ingredients make the melt and pour soap base friendlier on your skin by adding extra moisture to the soap base and if you didn’t want to color your own you can even get colored soap base.

The difference between clear glycerin soap base and whitened soap base is that a white mineral pigment called titanium dioxide is added and has a lower melting point than regular glycerin base. The difference between the glycerin bases and the coconut base is it is made with 100% coconut oil and is not whitened glycerin soap base with added coconut oil and it has a higher melting point.

The soap bases come in many different forms you can get them in blocks, bars, buckets, slabs, soap sheets, pre formed inserts such as butterflies, stars, hearts or in soap cubes, curls, noodles and shavings. You can buy just the base or in kits. The kits usually include fragrance or essential oils, moulds, colors, and the base.

Cold Process Soapmaking

Cold Process soapmaking is a soapmaking method where saponification is created by exploiting the natural heat created by the chemical reaction of the fatty acids in the oil/fats and the alkali in the Lye/water solution. Although in spite of the cold process name you do need a heat source so that you can melt your oils/fats and bring them to a proper temperature before adding in your lye solution.

Soap made using The Cold Process Method is ready to use once the saponification process is completed and there is no lye left in the soap. The happens within a period of time and can vary between a few hours to a couple of weeks or longer, this depends on variable like mixing speed and time, the temperatures and durations of the what’s called the gel phase.

With all the cold process methods, there are a couple of variations to the cold process soapmaking method which I will also explain and they are the “cold process oven process” and the “discounted water cold process”, you will need lots of patience as you will need what’s called “curing” time. This curing time is crucial to obtaining the perfect bar of soap, curing time allows for the soap bars to loose excess water, become milder, longer lasting, creamier and richer in lather as the time goes on. You will need a minimum of 4 weeks of “curing” time no matter what recipe or type of cold process method you use (except for some pure olive oil soap which can take up to 6 months). If you happen to be one of those people who have loads of patience you can wait even longer, you and your customers (if you plan to sell) will be rewarded with a truly superior bar of soap than if you just waited the minimum curing time.

Please check back again soon as I will be adding an overview of the hot process and two other cold process soapmaking methods as soon as I get my notes in readable condition.


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