The Top 3 Soapmaking Techniques
“They are handmade, cold-processed soaps” is my typical marketing pitch. Some people understand what a “cold process” is, but others don’t and many are curious.
There are 3 most common ways to make soaps: Melt and Pour, Cold Process, and Hot Process. They differ in both the techniques and the ingredients used. Melt and Pour is the easiest method. The cold and hot processes are more complicated and require practice, as well as deeper understanding of the techniques and how ingredients will react with each other. My first experience with the cold process method felt like a science experiment. It is indeed science, combined with art!
Melt and Pour
If you are interested in soap making, Melt and Pour is a good way to start. As the name suggests, in this technique you melt a solid glycerin soap base, add colorant and fragrance, pour the mixture into a mold, and wait for it to solidify. Unmold it, and Tada! you have a soap. The soap base can be pure glycerin or may contain additives such as goat’s milk, olive oil, shea butter, etc.
Melt and Pour is good for beginners because you don’t need special equipment. All you need is either a double boiler or a microwave (to melt the glycerin), molds, and optionally a thermometer. Since Melt and Pour is quick and easy, you can experiment with colors, add herbs, essential or fragrance oil. Once set, the soaps unmold easily so you can use molds in various shapes and forms. The ingredients for melt and pour are available at craft stores.
Cold Process (CP)
Cold-Process (CP) Soap Making involves the mixing of oils and lye (sodium hydroxide in solution with water). This triggers a chemical reaction called saponification. Sodium Hydroxide is highly reactive and requires careful handling for your safety. Please read more about safety handling of lye in my previous post.
In Cold Process, the Oils must be heated to a certain temperature before mixing with the lye. When they are mixed, the reaction occurs and the temperature rises further, so safety precaution is required. Cold-process soaps need at least 24 hours to cure, which ensures that the saponification process is complete and soaps are safe to use. After the curing period, the soaps are still very soft and easily melt in water. I give them 6-8 weeks to harden and then they are ready to sell.
Colorants, fragrance/essential oils, and additives generally cooperate well with Cold Process. It is an ideal method to layer different colors, swirl and apply other creative soaping techniques. It takes practice and some trial and error to master the process. CP soaps are believed to be gentler to the skin than the melt and pour ones. I find them to be more natural, more moisturizing, and over all better for the skin than any other types of soaps.
The Hot-Process technique is a faster version of the Cold-Process technique. It still involves mixing Lye and Oil, but instead of waiting 24-48 hours for the saponification process to run its course, heat is applied for 2-3 hours to accelerate the reaction. After mixing lye and oil, it is put inside a heat source like an oven, crock-pot, or double boiler. The mixture will thicken and then it is transferred to a mold to solidify and harden.
Hot Process produces a thicker and less smooth texture, and it is more difficult to layer with colors, swirl and apply other creative techniques. This method produces soap with a rustic look that some prefer.
My favorite method is the Cold Process, as I find it easier to be artsy. I love playing with colors and enjoy working with additives such as dry flowers, sparkling micas, and others. The end products hold fragrance well. For beginners I recommend the melt and pour, but if you want to proceed right away to cold process or hot process then be sure to read lots about soap making and learn about the different types of oils, the saponification process, and most importantly safety.