How to Make Soap at Home- Beginner’s Guide to Soap Making

By Melissa Norris | How to articles

Oct 27

If you’ve been wanting to learn how to make soap at home, then this beginners guide to soap making is your episode. We’ll be talking about the different ways to make soap, when to choose which method, and how to get started with cold process soap making with lye water.

The pioneers of old used lye, which they made from wood ash and water until it formed lye, then it was mixed with either tallow (beef fat) or lard (pork fat) to form their soap. They didn’t have the benefit of science we do today to make sure it wasn’t too harsh (aka too much lye).How to Make Soap at Home

Listen in to the Pioneering Today Podcast where we focus on old-fashioned wisdom and skill sets in a modern world to help you create a more self-sufficient home and well stocked larder.

This is episode #119 How to Make Soap at Home- Beginners Guide to Soap Making


Today we have many oil choices, all of which allow you to custom your soap based on what you want from it. We’ll be diving deep into those oil choices shortly.

It seems when people begin questioning the ingredients and wisdom used in commercial products, they start by replacing the items in their pantry or their cleaning and body care items. And the soap you’re using to clean your body is no exception.

No matter which path we start down, once you start, you end up looking at the ingredients in everything you come in contact with.

Not only is homemade soap a healthier alternative when you use natural nourishing ingredients for your skin, but it’s less expensive to make it at home than it is to buy it. Score!

But making homemade soap can be a bit confusing and scary, so let’s break it down.

I often hear people ask ” how to make soap without lye ?”

To answer that you have to understand the role of lye in soap, let’s be very clear, all soap has lye in it. But there is a method you can use without dealing with active lye, and that’s melt and pour, see below for more info.

Lye is one of the main ingredients necessary to create soap, you can’t have soap without it. Sodium Hydroxide is the form of lye we use when making bar soap.

The chemical process of soap

The formula for soap:

Alkali base (lye) + water + acid (your oil/fat) = soap

Sodium Hydroxide (known as lye) is your base and when combined with an oil (considered the acidic part of this equation) it goes through the process of saponification. This means when you mix the two together they start a reaction that converts it into glycerin (the fatty acids combine with the hydroxide ions) and your soap.

Soap is made when your base ingredients go through the chemical process of saponification.

All soap, regardless of the kind, it goes through the saponification process and has lye in it.

Why should you avoid store bought soap

Most commercial bar soaps at the store are closer to detergent than actual soap, because they’ve stripped out the glycerin in order to sell it (more profit) but this soap doesn’t contain the moisturizing benefits found in glycerin. They also contain synthetic dyes, fragrances, and other additives many of us want to stay away from.

Store bought soap is harsher on the skin and I find it feels like it leaves a layer behind. When I use homemade soap I notice a difference immediately.

3 Ways to Make Soap at Home

  1. Melt and Pour- you are using a base that has already underwent saponification
  2. Cold Process- mixing lye and oils together to create the saponification process, involving a curing time
  3. Hot Process-mixing lye and oils together with heat to shorten the saponification process

Which soap making method is right for you

Melt and pour is when you purchase the base (someone has already done the saponification process for you) you can add your own additives from natural colorants, scents, herbs, or bentonite clay, then you pour it into your mold and you have usable soap with in less than 24 hours.

Benefits of melt and pour soap:

Making melt and pour soap is a project you can do with really small children and kids because you’re not dealing with active lye. It can be a great entry way for people who are nervous about the lye.

Some people say melt and pour is not real soap making (who would have thought there would be so much division when someone is trying to make a better product than store bought), but I disagree.

I am picky on the melt and pour base I will use, I don’t petroleum, parabens, or propylene glycol. It is still more frugal to customize a melt and pour base than it is to purchase this item from the store and you still can control the ingredients and create a customized bar. You can get goat’s milk base, shea butter, glycerin, etc. but make sure you read the ingredients listed on the base before purchasing.

In today’s freebie, grab our resource page where I’ve done the research for you and share my favorite places to order (for both price and ingredient reasons) here. Click here to get your FREE Soap Making Resource Charts and Supplies 

Once soap has went through the saponification process, the lye is no longer active and is safe to use

If you want to know how to make soap from scratch, then the next two methods are for you, my friend!

Benefits of cold process soap:

Cold process soap is my current favorite because you really get to customize and control every single ingredient in your soap. Each oil has specific properties and reasons for using it in your soap recipe, I’ve got the most common ones listed for you in today’s freebie.

In general, cold process soap creates a smooth and creamy bar, with tons of options for customizing it’s scent, colors, and additives with herbs, spices, and essential oils.

How to make cold process soap safely

  1. Mix your lye with your water (and always pour the lye into the water and not vice versa to avoid a dangerous eruption) and allow it to cool.
  2. Mix your oils together (melting any that are solid when room temperature) and allow oils and lye to cool to the same temperature near 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Add your lye water to your oils and mix until it reaches the tracing point. Trace is where you can drip the soap on to the top layer and see a line on the top.
  4. At this point you add in your herbs, spices, natural scents (I don’t use synthetic colors, dyes or fragrances).
  5. Pour it into your mold, wrap it up with a blanket or towel for 24 hours to keep it insulated so it doesn’t cool off too quickly.
  6. At the 24 to 48 hour mark, cut your soap into bars and allow it to cure.
  7. Cure bars for 4 to 6 weeks in a single layer on a cookie sheet, flip bars once a week so they cure evenly.

As it cures, the soap continues to go through the saponification process and the bar will harden up. You don’t want your bars to be too soft (we want it to last when in contact with water) and you also need it to finish out the saponification process so it’s not too harsh on your skin.

How to Stay Safe with Lye

  1. Slowly add your lye to the water. It immediately gets as hot as boiling water and never pour your water into the lye, it can cause an eruption reaction.
  2. For the first few minutes lye water will let off caustic fumes. The fumes themselves can burn your airway and the lye water itself can burn your skin. Do not lean over or breath in the fumes.
  3. Safety gear. Where long sleeved shirts, pants, shoes, safety goggles, and gloves! Your hands are the closest part to the lye because you’re stirring it.
  4. You must have good ventilation. Mixing it outside is best, but if indoors make sure it’s under an exhaust fan and excellent ventilation, no kids or animals running through or around!
  5. The fumes are done letting off after the first few minutes. I mix my lye water outside and then bring it in after a few minutes.

It’s easier to prevent the injury than it is to treat one!

Benefits of hot process soap:

Hot process soap is made in a slow cooker or a pot on your stove and it goes through the saponification process and the gel phase before you pour it into the mold. This means it’s in the pot and under heat for about an hour or so. It doesn’t have the longer curing time but it’s not thought to be as creamy and a different finished texture. I personally haven’t used the hot process method.

Properties of oils for making homemade soap

Let’s talk about the different properties each type of oil gives to your homemade soap and how to chose which type of oil in your soap.

Homemade soap can be (and should be in my opinion) superfatted. Superfatted means there’s extra fat left behind to create a more nourishing bar of soap, instead of just enough to be used during the saponification process.

My top oil picks for soap making (click on the photo below for our FREE oil properties chart all done up for you!)

Coconut oil is common and found in many soap recipes. It’s cleansing and helps create a hard bar of soap.

Palm Oil is not always harvested responsibly, so take care in purchasing this, it does help create a good lather, is long lasting and helps create a hard bar. Grab today’s freebie to find the sources I use and the chart of oil properties.

Olive Oil is very moisturizing to the skin with Vitamin E and K and also creates a creamy soap.

Lard and tallow help create creamy soap, lather, a hard bar and a white color (many people prefer a mixed bar)

Castor Oil helps the lather to stay longer when you’re using it and as a humectant, it helps draw the moisture down into the skin (similar to beeswax)

Avocado Oil creates a medium lather, great for the skin, especially face
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Resources for Making Soap at Home :

Grab my favorite bases and supplies to make your soap at home, including my the oil properties chart done for you in an easy to read and print chart
Click here to get your FREE Soap Making Resource Charts and Supplies 

For step-by-step instructions, videos, and guides to make your own natural soap at home with ease and recipes, including Pumpkin Roll Soap, $38 in coupons click here for more information on the Hand Made Masterclass

Episode #115 5 Tips from the Pioneers to Increase Self-Sufficiency 

Now that you know how to make soap at home, which type are you going to make first?

About the Author

Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.

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