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July 09, 2018

Traditional cold process soap making is a satisfying low tech craft which can be done with the minimum of equipment in your own kitchen. A couple of stainless steel pans, and a selection of oils. Put on your safety goggles, introduce an alkaline, and a lot of stirring, and hey presto, you’ve mastered the art of saponification. A batch of soap can be whipped up in an evening. You’re not quite done though, your soap will need a good long cure of at least four weeks to fully harden.


The road to that perfect bar of soap is not without its bumps, you might encounter as I have done over the years such issues as false trace, acceleration, stearic spots, DOS (dreaded orange spots), fading scents, volcanoes, soda ash, to name but a few. However, the global soap making community is a generous one, with forums and resources to help you along the way. Like most things, practise makes perfect.


As your experience and confidence grows, you can begin to tailor your soap to your own needs. Different oils in different proportions will make your soap more long lasting, or bubblier or creamier. You can try different scent combinations, or experiment with colourants. Not everything you do will work, of course, but there is enormous fun in trying.


You might find out as I did that too much coconut oil, lovely though its bubbly lather, made my skin feel tight and itchy whereas lots of olive oil felt just right. You might also make ethical decisions along the way, such as not to use palm oil and to only work with organic oils.


As it’s hard to make soap in small numbers, you will have probably more soap than you know what to do with and you can begin to share with your family and friends. Wrapping your soap in paper or piece of fabric will prevent knocks and scrapes, and hold in the scent for longer. It also gives you a chance to flex a little more creative muscle.


You might be tempted to sell your extra bars at a local fete or craft market, but bear in mind you will need to prepare and maintain a product information file, which will contain material safety data sheets for all your ingredients, a safety assessment from a cosmetic chemist and details of your good manufacturing practice. You will need to keep records of every batch of soap that you make. If that all sounds expensive and laborious, it is. However, it’s a legal requirement so it’s non negotiable. There is a serious message that as a soap maker you have a responsibility to keep the people who use your soap safe.


Soap making is a rewarding and creative craft that results in something genuinely wonderful. After using your own handmade soap, you will be hard pressed to ever buy it again. It might take a little time to fully master, but once you do, you’ll find yourself lying in bed dreaming up new recipes. Or maybe that’s just me!


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