Until recently, I believed handcrafted soaps were best left to the artisans who make and sell them in specialty stores and boutiques. But thanks to my dear friend Donna, who makes soap every December for holiday gifts, I learned that handmade soap is easy and attainable for everyone.
Placing homemade soap by your kitchen sink is a constant reminder of care and warmth in an otherwise cold string of winter months. With only a few basic supplies and pieces of equipment, you can create enough soap to last you until spring.
In one afternoon, we whipped up three different batches: a festive pine (with clear glycerin base, fresh pine needles from the backyard, and pine essential oil), a lemon-rosemary (with clear glycerin base, fresh lemon zest, and rosemary essential oil), and a rosemary-lemon (with a goat milk base, fresh rosemary, and lemon essential oil).
What Soap Base to Use?
Making soap the traditional way—with lye—requires special protective gear, and if you’re not careful, can be reminiscent of that infamous scene in Fight Club. Melt-and-pour soap base takes the danger out of the process and is more convenient for use at home.
The soap bases range from goat milk and shea butter to glycerin and aloe vera. Some are more naturally moisturizing than others, which allows you to pare down the olive oil in your recipe. When you want to show off your ingredients—like fresh citrus zest or chopped herbs—a clear glycerin base is your best bet.
What Add-Ins to Use?
The best part about making your own soap is adapting the scents and textures to your liking. If you want something with exfoliating properties, use oats or poppy seeds. For more floral soaps, you can use lavender essential oil or dried rose petals. For soaps that act as antibacterial and cleansing agents, use lemon or rosemary.
As a general rule, a mixture of fresh ingredients and essential oils will yield the most nuanced soaps. The possibilities are endless, so have fun with it!
How Long Does it Last?
The soap should be utilized within 3 to 4 months, due to the use of the fresh ingredients. If you only use essential oils, the shelf life of the soap will be a bit longer, but why wait? The soap will smell the strongest and freshest if you use it immediately.
Sources for Soap Base and Essential Oils
Pine soap with a clear glycerin base, fresh pine needles from the backyard, and pine essential oil.
How To Make Homemade Hand Soap
What You Need
2 pounds melt-and-pour soap base
4 to 8 teaspoons organic olive oil
2 teaspoons essential oil
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh herbs, zest, etc.
Cutting board and knife
2 saucepans (one smaller than the other) or a large microwave-safe bowl
Teaspoons, wooden spoon, and a ladle or spatula
Candy molds, clean milk cartons or other recycled materials like cans
Small spray bottle
Prepare the water bath: Fill a large saucepan about halfway with water and place on the stove over medium heat. Insert a smaller saucepan into the center of the larger one and allow it to heat.
Cut the soap base: Cut the soap base into 1/2-inch cubes and place into the smaller saucepan. With a wooden spoon, stir the soap base cubes occasionally until completely melted.
Add remaining ingredients: Remove the smaller pot from the stove and immediately add in olive oil, essential oils, and fresh ingredients. Allow the mixture to cool slightly (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally to make sure the fresh ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the base.
Prepare the molds: If you are using solid candy molds like the ones we used, spray them with a light coating of cooking oil. If you’re using flexible store-bought molds, or recycled containers, you don’t need to spray them.
Pour the soap: Gently ladle soap base into prepared molds and give 1 or 2 quick sprays of the rubbing alcohol to remove any bubbles that form on the surface.
Cool the soap: Allow soaps to cool completely (about 1 hour for smaller molds and up to 4 hours for larger molds). Once cooled, remove soaps from the molds. Less flexible molds may be more difficult, but a quick 30 minutes in the freezer should loosen them up.
- Once the essential oils are mixed with the olive oil in the soap, they are safe to use on skin, but in their natural state, they can be harsh and burn you. Just be mindful of this and keep essential oils away from your skin and eyes while pouring them into your soap base.
- You can also melt the soap base in the microwave, at 30-second intervals on 50% power. Stir after each interval until the base is completely melted.
- If you’re using milk cartons, cans, or other recycled materials as soap molds, make sure to wash them well ahead of time. Once the soap has set, remove from container and slice with a large knife into even bars.
(Image credits: Lauren Kodiak)