How to Make and Sell Homemade Soap
By: Plain Direct
September 27th 2023, 12:00:00 am
Soap making is an ancient art that is believed to have started as early as 2800 BC. For thousands of years soap was made in the home, but today the soap industry is dominated by a few large companies mass producing and selling soap internationally. As studies behind the ethics and materials used have come out, many people have begun going back to the roots of soap making and crafting their own soap from scratch at home. Today we are going to take a look at the benefits of making your own soap, the processes used, and how to scale your soap-making operation to turn it into a business.
Before we get started, we want to emphasize that you should be making your soap in a well-ventilated environment with the proper safety equipment. Soap is made with sodium hydroxide, or lye, which is a caustic substance. We will cover how to safely handle lye as we go through the soap-making process.
The Benefits of Making Your Own Soap
Many people begin thinking about making their own soap when they have a negative experience with commercially made soaps. Many commercial soaps contain manufactured ingredients and allergens that can cause bad reactions or are bad for the environment. Also, when consumers look for natural alternatives they are often met with high prices. Homemade soaps clean just as well as commercial soaps, without all of the additives and allergens. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest benefits of making your own soap.
Handmade Soap is More Affordable
As with most DIY alternatives, homemade soap will often save you money when compared to other organic soaps on the market. Making your own soap requires an investment up-front in tools and materials, but over time you will cover those costs with a lower price per bar if you are making it yourself.
Handmade Soap is Easier on the Skin
One of the biggest reasons people turn to making their own soap is to avoid allergic reactions that can occur with commercial soaps. Commercial soaps often contain artificial ingredients to add scents, bubbles, and colors to the soap. Ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, which is meant to make the soap more bubbly, is a very common allergen found in many commercial soaps. Triclosan is also a very common allergen and is an ingredient found in most antimicrobial soaps. Lastly, almost all commercial soaps have artificial fragrances made up of various chemicals, many of which are known allergens.
When you make your own soap you get to decide every ingredient that goes in to avoid allergens that will affect you or your family. Handmade soap only requires 3 ingredients: oil, lye, and water. Depending on the purpose your soap will serve, you can decide to add more ingredients that won’t cause a negative reaction to your skin.
Handmade Soap is Better for the Environment
When people think of environmental problems, soap probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but petroleum-based soaps and detergents can be detrimental to the environment. Firstly, most commercial soaps come in plastic bottles, which aren’t sustainable. Also, when petroleum-based soaps enter the waterways they push oil further down, which has a negative impact on marine life.
Handmade soaps are often made using organic, sustainable ingredients, and aren’t made with petroleum and other harmful chemicals. You choose what you put in, and if you have the mindset of an environmentalist, you can make your soaps as sustainable as possible.
Handmade Soap Tools and Ingredients
No matter how you make your homemade soap, you will need to invest in some tools and ingredients to get started. You may already have many of these tools and ingredients in your home, but we’ve created a comprehensive list of everything you will need to get started.
Soap Making Tools
- Scale: When you are making soap by hand you measure the ingredients by weight, not volume. You don’t need to buy an expensive scale, just make sure it is as accurate as possible so your soap doesn’t come out too oily or lye-heavy.
- Thermometer: Depending on the soap you are making, you will want to combine your ingredients when they are at a specific temperature. A candy thermometer or infrared thermometer works great and makes sure your ingredients are combined at the correct temperature.
- Immersion Blender: Some soap-making purists prefer to stir their soap by hand, but that can become exhausting, especially if you plan on scaling your soap-making into a business. An immersion blender will quickly combine your ingredients without the strain of hand-stirring.
- Safety Equipment: We always recommend that soap makers wear goggles and rubber gloves while they are making soap. Soap-making can be messy, and you don’t want splashes getting into your eyes or hot soap on your hands.
- Mixing Containers: When you are mixing your soap it is important to have the correct containers to avoid spills and chemical reactions with container materials. For example, don’t ever use aluminum containers when mixing lye, it will cause the aluminum to crack and release hydrogen gas into the air. We recommend stainless steel pots, Rubbermaid containers, plastic buckets, or glass mixing bowls.
- Heavy Duty Mixing Spoons: Spoons or mixing spatulas are essential to the soap mixing process. We recommend sturdy spoons or spatulas that can withstand heavy mixing.
- Slow Cooker: If you decide to make your soap using the hot process, you will need a slow cooker to heat your soap ingredients. We will cover the hot process method later in this blog post.
- Soap Molds: Soap molds are what you will pour your soap into when you are finished mixing to give them shape. We love using silicone molds because they are flexible which makes it easier to remove the soap once it has set. We recommend starting with rectangles, but as you get your confidence you can get creative with more unique molds.
Soap Making Ingredients
Soap is made by combining three ingredients: water, oil, and sodium hydroxide, also known as lye.
- Water: We recommend using distilled water to make your soap. Distilled water is consistent, and ensures that you aren’t introducing any other foreign minerals or chemicals into the soap. You can also scent your water with herbal tea which can help with your soap's color and add a nice subtle scent.
- Oil: You can use a wide variety of oils and butters to create soap, but soap sets best with oils that contain saturated fats. Saturated fats make soap bars harder so each bar lasts longer. There are tons of oils out there that make great soap, it really comes down to your preference for feel and smell. Some very popular options include avocado oil, almond oil, castor oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil.
- Sodium Hydroxide (Lye): Sodium hydroxide allows the soap to saponify, which means it encourages the oils and fats to lather and foam into a soap. In the days when handmade soap was commonplace you could find lye at any supermarket, but today it is a little more difficult to obtain. There are lots of online sources and some hardware stores that sell 100% lye products.
- Scents/Colorings: You certainly don’t need to add any scents or colorings, but we love using essential oils to add beautiful scents and therapeutic elements to soap.
The Handmade Soap-Making Process
Now that you have gathered your tools and ingredients, it’s time to make some soap! Today we are going to focus on hot process soap making, which we have found is the easiest process to start with. There are other, more involved, soap-making processes like cold process and milling that we may cover in future blog posts.
Hot Process Soap Making
Hot process soaps are made using a combination of water, lye, and fats or oils. This mixture is then heated up to speed up saponification. Let’s take a look at each step in hot process soap making so you can try it out on your own.
Step One: Prep Your Materials and Mixing Area
The first step may seem obvious, but it is important to get your materials ready and organized so you know where everything is when you need it. We also suggest laying wax paper down on top of your counters so you don’t have to scrape soap off of your counters and cleanup is as easy as removing the wax paper. It is also a good idea to get your molds ready so when your soap is ready to enter the mold you can complete that step immediately.
Step Two: Melt Your Oils of Choice
For this step, put your Crockpot on low heat and add your oils and fats. Since your Crockpot is on low, melting your oil may take a few minutes. During this time we typically get started with our water and lye mixture.
Step Three: Mix Lye Into Water
When handled correctly, lye is completely safe. However, it can have a bad reaction if not handled properly. To mix your water and lye, put on your safety equipment and add water to your stainless steel or plastic container. Always mix your lye into water! Pouring water into lye can cause a bad chemical reaction that can be dangerous. Stir the water with your spatula as you are sprinkling lye in, being careful not to splash.
The chemical reaction that the lye will have with the water will make the mixture hot and may put off fumes. We suggest mixing your water and lye in a well-ventilated area and avoiding the fumes as much as possible. Stir the mixture until the lye is completely dissolved.
Step 4: Prepare Melted Oils
Once you have mixed your water and lye, it’s time to check back on your oils. If they have fully melted and the recipe calls for them, you can now add in your liquid oils. Once your oils have melted and you have added your liquid oils, grab your thermometer and keep an eye on the oils’ temperature. Once the temperature reaches 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to combine your lye mixture with your oils in the Crockpot.
Step 5: Combing your Oils and Lye Mixture
Once your oils have reached the correct temperature, it’s time to add your lye mixture to the Crockpot. Remember, the lye mixture is caustic so use extreme caution as you are pouring it in, don’t be afraid to take it slow. Next, get your stick blender and slowly stir the liquid before you turn it on. Turn your stick blender on low and pulse blend the mixture while slowly making your way around the pot.
Alternate between pulse blending and manually stirring the mixture for about 10-15 minutes. Your goal here is to get the soap to “trace,” which means that the mixture of water, lye, and oils has emulsified and won’t separate. You can tell you have reached trace when you remove your stick blender from the mixture and it leaves trails behind it.
Step 6: Allow Your Soap to Cook
To cook your soap, leave the Crockpot on low and cover it. We suggest periodically scraping the sides of your slow cooker and stirring if the bubbling gets too aggressive. The cooking time will vary from recipe to recipe, but it is usually within a half hour and an hour. You can tell if your soap is finished cooking when it becomes translucent, almost like Vaseline. It will also be waxy to the touch, which you can test with your spatula.
Step 7: Add Fragrances
Once your soap is finished cooking, remove your Crockpot’s inside pot from its base and allow it to cool. Some soap makers prefer to remove the slow cooker’s inside pot just before it is done and let the pot’s residual heat finish it off.
Allowing your soap to cool before adding fragrances ensures that the fragrances don’t dissipate, leaving you with a weak-smelling soap. This is especially important if you plan on adding goat’s milk or honey, as the sugar in those ingredients will burn and turn your soap brown if you add them while it is hot.
Step 8: Add Your Soap to the Mold
The last step in your soap-making journey is here! Now that you have added your fragrances it is time to add your soap to the molds you had prepared. Scoop your soap mixture into the mold and use your rubber spatula to smooth it out. It’s going to be tempting to try to get every soap mold perfect, but timing is very important. If your batter cools down you may have a hard time getting the look you are going for, and the mixture will be much more difficult to work with.
One of the reasons we love using the hot process soap method is that it takes much less time to be usable. Some soap makers say that you can use hot process soap almost immediately, but we recommend waiting at least 24 hours, or as long as 4 weeks. The more you wait, the harder the soap gets, which will last you longer once you start using it.
How to Turn Soap Making Into a Business
Once you catch the soap-making bug you may find yourself producing too much soap for you and your family to handle. It’s at this time that many people decide to try to monetize their soap-making into a part-time or full-time business. At Plain Direct we love supporting small businesses and offering a platform for them to sell their products. If you’re thinking about turning your soap-making hobby into a business, we’ve provided some helpful tips to get you started.
Registering Your Business
The first step in turning your soap-making into a business is registering your business. Legitimizing your business with an LLC, sole proprietorship, or corporation will cover you legally, and make your life much easier during tax season. Each state typically has a portal that will guide you through the steps needed to register your business.
Sourcing Your Materials
When you are making soap in bulk, material costs can add up quickly. When you scale your soap-making operation, we recommend extensively searching for lower prices on quality materials to keep your overhead costs down. As a hobbyist, you are probably purchasing your soap at retail prices. As a business, you should be searching for wholesale outlets that give businesses a discount when purchasing in bulk. There are great options online and wholesale warehouses all over the country where you can buy wholesale soap supplies in person.
As the amount of soap you make grows, you will more than likely need more space to keep all of your supplies and tools organized. Now that you have an idea of how you make soap, use that knowledge to organize shelves and bins with materials that are easy to access and secure. At Plain Direct our classifieds are filled with shelves and furniture perfect for storing soap making tools, ingredients, and your finished soap bars.
Also, as we discussed earlier, soap-making should be done in a well-ventilated room to avoid inhaling the fumes from the sodium hydroxide. When you are producing soap in bulk this is especially important, because more soap means more fumes. If you are making your soap in a room with lots of windows and doors, this can be enough ventilation to support a small soap-making operation. Also, if you have a range hood that vents outside this will drastically decrease your exposure to fumes.
If you are concerned about your exposure to fumes, it may be time to rent a space or create a space on your property with a proper ventilation system. Plain Direct classifieds are filled with new and used sheds that can be converted into the perfect soap-making space.
It’s fun tinkering around with recipes as you make soap for your family, but if you start a business you will want to fine-tune your recipes so you are delivering a consistent product to your customers. This should be done before you launch your business to avoid dealing with disgruntled customers in your first few weeks of business. Lock in your ratios, scents, and colorings so you are confident you can make a consistent soap that your customers will love.
Design Your Packaging
As your soap makes its way into physical and online retailers, the first thing customers will see is your packaging. Designing a compelling package for your soap is essential to grabbing your customers' attention and convincing them to buy. If you are new to graphic design, Canva is a great option that makes it easy for anyone to create beautiful logos and packaging.
If you still don’t feel confident creating your own, it may be worth investing in a graphic designer to take your branding to the next level.
Marketing Your Brand
Marketing is a very broad term, but a great place to start is developing an online presence. We recommend building a website that will be your online storefront. It’s easier than ever to set up an E-Commerce store to sell your products online and, as you make connections with local businesses in your community, you can send them there to learn more about your products and business.
Trade shows are also a great way to get your soap-making business off of the ground. Do some research to find wholesale and retail trade shows in your area to showcase your products and make long-lasting business connections.
Start Selling Today
If you want to start selling your products immediately, Plain Direct is a great place to start. Selling your soap products on Plain Direct is as easy as creating an account and making listings. In addition to your own marketing, Plain Direct’s marketing plan drives qualified customers to the site, extending your business’ reach and online presence.