Super-Simple, Liquid Soap Making … No Lye!

I’ve spent the last few weeks investigating the techniques for making my own soap at home. I had a simple project in mind: I just wanted to make a lightly fragranced, gentle liquid hand soap.

In our household, we garden, we cook and we have 4 cats and 3 dogs; in other words, we go through gallons of liquid hand soap weekly! But cheap commercial hand soaps are harsh, laden with antibacterials that we don’t need on a daily basis, and most are too perfume-y for my liking.
The higher-priced liquid soaps (I love Caldrea hand soaps B000N8SUA6, for example) smell better and feel nicer on the skin, but whoo boy, are they expensive!


Initially, I was discouraged to find that almost all soap recipes start from scratch, using raw lye. Yikes! I didn’t want to make the sort of equipment investment that requires – like goggles! Dedicated pots, pans & measuring cups! Long sleeves! Stand-by vinegar bottle for first aid!
Nope, not for me.  

So I veered off into the less-respectable, less-documented soap making methods. If you don’t want to handle lye, that means either rebatching or melt-and-pour.

Using either of these methods, you start with pre-made soap. It still has lye (all soap is made with lye), but the lye in this case is “saponified”: chemically changed into a non-caustic substance. Authentic soap makers may scoff, but these methods let you make soap in your kitchen without needing a biohazard suit. Or with pets and/or children underfoot!

Even though I started with the supposedly foolproof “melt & pour” technique, my, um, creative modifications to the process made that first project almost a complete disaster. I even hatched a Krakatoa-level eruption in the microwave! But my second attempt yielded exactly what I wanted: a small batch of gentle, good-smelling, liquid hand soap.

I’ll document this more successful version, and share what I learned from the first failure.

How to Make Simple, Small Batch Liquid Soap

Ingredients:

  • ¼ pound "Melt & Pour" Soap Base
  • 2 cups Distilled Water
  • Soap Coloring (if desired)
  • Soap Fragrance or Essential Oil (if desired)

Tools:

  • 4-cup Microwave-able Measuring Cup
  • Stick Blender (or whisk, or spoon)
  • Recycled pump-style soap dispenser, or other container for your finished product

Purchase “melt and pour” soap base. For your first attempt, you might as well buy this stuff at a local hobby store; later, if you find you like making your own soap, you can scout for higher quality formulations, better prices & larger quantities on the Internet. 

For my first experiment, I used a translucent glycerine soap base, which I found too drying even though it's labeled "moisturizing". On my second attempt, I used an opaque white shea butter soap base that I liked much better.
Both came in 2-pound blocks from Hobby Lobby like the one shown here. 52001 Glycerin Soap Block

Next, cut up the soap base. Because I wanted to make a very small batch, I used only one-fourth of a pound. I cut away the quarter pound from the 2-lb block I’d bought, following the convenient cut lines, and sliced it thinly into a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup (microwave safe).
  • TIP: In my previous experiment, I actually grated the soap, which was messy and time-consuming. I found that melt & pour soap base melts so easily that grating is not necessary, slicing works just fine.

Now melt the soap base. The soap package instructions suggested heating it in the microwave for 40 seconds on High, which worked for me. Then I stirred the melted soap to make sure all the slices were completely melted down … you don’t want any un-melted chunks in there.

Next, add the water to thin the soap so it will dispense through a pump. You’re supposed to use distilled water for soap making, but I confess I used bottled water because that’s what I had on hand. After experimenting, I found that 2 cups of water was just right for my blend.
  • TIP: Bear in mind, I’m working at 7,000 feet elevation in a very dry climate; at sea level in high humidity, for example, you might need less water. Start with less, say 1-1/2 cups. Mix it in, let it sit, see if you like the consistency, then add more water if needed. (You’re working right in the measuring cup, so you can always stick it back into the microwave to re-melt if it sets up on you.)
To thoroughly mix the soap and water, I used a stick blender. You could probably use a wire whisk or even a spoon, but the stick blender is really fast and effective ...
and besides I love kitchen gadgets. B000PJ7NYM I got my stick blender at a yard sale for $1.00, but you can also get one on Amazon.com (Cuisinart makes a good one).
  • TIP: I used a spoon to mix my first batch, and had problems with the soap and water separating later. But the soap base I used for the second batch is supposed to hold “inclusions” in suspension better, so I don’t know if the better blending in Batch #2 was due to the stick blender or the different soap base. I’ll report back as I research this further!
Allow the soap and water mixture to cool in the measuring cup. There are two reasons for this: one, you want to be sure you’ve added enough liquid so that the soap doesn’t “set up” too thick to dispense, and two, your fragrance oils are heat-sensitive, and will stay more fragrant when added to a cooled mix.

When the soap mixture has cooled, you’re ready to add color and fragrance, if you like. While most soap makers measure by weight, in a small batch like this one you’ll measure by volume.

I added 6 drops of green soap colorant (also called soap dye, but not food coloring!) to my white base and got a very pale green tint that I liked. You can get soap dye in single bottles, or mixable sets, like this one. /assets/item/thumbnail/375659.jpg

For the fragrance, I concocted a mix I christened “Cedar Berry”, measuring the essential oils by droplet directly into the soap mix:
  • 12 drops Bergamot essential oil (a “top note”)
  • 8 drops Bayberry essential oil (a “middle note”)
  • 4 drops Atlas Cedar essential oil (a “base note”)
Notice that this formulation is three parts top note, two parts middle note, and one part base note. I got this from one of the dozens of soap making books I read, and I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember which one. I’ll try to find the book again at the library and let you know.
  • And here’s another tip: you can economize on a lot of things, but not your essential oils. I used a really cheap Lime essential oil for the first batch, and it smelled like a blend of lime Koolaid and industrial cleaner. Yuck.
Blend again, thoroughly! I used the stick blender to completely mix the color and fragrance into the soap base. Using a funnel, I then poured my product into two pump-dispenser soap bottles that I’d rinsed out and saved for this purpose … and ta-daa! Custom liquid soap.


Notes for Next Time:

As I empty more commercial soap bottles, I’ll try different fragrances and formulations. That’s the beauty of working in such small batches: experimentation is cheap!

I’d like to try adding emollient oils to the mix – like olive oil, since I already have it in the pantry! – and maybe coconut oil, too. I think I may have to add an emulsifier as well to make the oils mix properly. Or, instead, I might try the other melt & pour soap bases available with the emollients included.

I’ll try different fragrance oils, maybe even purchase a pre-mixed scent instead of combining my own. Turns out, I’m not very good at perfume making, and if each scent I mix requires 3 different essential oils, then it's not economical, either.

And eventually, when I run out of melt and pour soap base, I’ll try purchasing cold-process soap base to work with, using the rebatch method.

Stay tuned, and happy Scavenging!

--Margaret, a.k.a. MaggieBelize
 

What did you think of this article?




Trackbacks
  • No trackbacks exist for this post.
Comments

  • 1/15/2008 12:19 AM Taya wrote:
    It's easy to understand what she try to say and a joy reading with a bit of humour. Thanks.
    Reply to this
  • 2/4/2008 7:26 PM Dakota wrote:
    I was looking all over the net for this info! Thanks
    Reply to this
  • 2/6/2008 3:57 PM William Conde wrote:
    Where can I find essential oils in Belize?
    Reply to this
    1. 8/27/2008 7:48 AM MaggieBelize wrote:
      Some years ago there was a health food store in San Ignacio (Cayo district), called the Green Dragon, that carried some basic essential oils ... If it's still there, let me know!
      Reply to this
  • 4/19/2008 9:09 PM Denise wrote:
    Enjoyable to read.I have been dabbling with all kinds of soapmaking for a while,done a lot of web research and read afew books.But, I did not know that one could use melt and pour base to make liquid soap!
    Thanks Margaret for giving me something else to try.
    Reply to this
  • 7/9/2008 9:07 AM michele squires wrote:
    Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!
    To the point, love your sense of humor, easy to understand! A delight! I am lucky to have found you!!
    Reply to this
  • 8/23/2008 9:55 AM Angela wrote:
    Hello, I am new to soapmaking and I am interested in trying this method. However, I was wondering if you use any preservatives to prevent bacterial/microbial growth in the finished product. This may not be an issue if you use the soap very quickly or refrigerate it, but I'm wondering what you think the shelf-life would be for the soap. I've read that homemade formulations should always have some amount of preservative to prevent spoilage or microbial growth. Thank you for this information. I really look forward to trying this!
    Reply to this
    1. 8/27/2008 7:44 AM MaggieBelize wrote:
      No, I'm not using any preservatives, nor do I refrigerate my soaps. However, I make small batches that we use up within 6 months, and we live in a cool, dry climate. Under these conditions I haven't seen any problems with my finished products.

      However, if you are concerned about this, perhaps you could blend in a bit of commercial liquid soap with antibacterial properties? I'd try it in place of some of the distilled water.
      Reply to this
  • 8/26/2008 9:28 PM Wynetta wrote:
    I have been totally obsessed with finding soap that lathers well but doesn't cost tons of money. I have been mixing dollar store soap with little bits of more expensive soap to get better lather for less money. Then I thought "why not make my own" and I have looked all over the internet looking for natural soap recipes. I was not interested in dealing with th 'lye' issue either. Your advice is bar far the best that I have come across so far, thank you for posting it. I will be making my own soap very soon!!
    Reply to this
  • 10/13/2008 5:04 PM Cindy wrote:
    This is the exact information I have been searching for. Thank You!
    Now Im off and soaping!
    Reply to this
  • 11/15/2008 7:25 PM Libby wrote:
    Thank you so much for this, I have been searching the internet for months now for instructions on how to do this. Well done!

    I'd like to add a few things. Caster oil (found in the drug store with the laxatives) will add loads of bubbles. Start with 1 1/4 tsp. melted in with 1/4 pound of melt & pour (M&P). It works great with M&P as a bar soap, don't know how it works with the liquid soap, you might need more, or less. It won't hurt to add more.

    You could also tinker with the M&P before turning it into liquid soap by adding something like Shea butter or shea oil. Add around 1 - 2 Tbs. per pound mixed in well with the melted soap (melt both together & stir, stir, stir). This way all of the qualities in the Shea haven't been lost to the lye process, they're right there waiting for your hands.

    If you find the soap's separated after it's completely cooled the next day, hit it again with the stick blender. I make my own laundry soap and discovered that after letting it sit overnight, it separates all over again, so the second blending seems to do the trick.

    Cheers,
    Libby
    Reply to this
    1. 2/1/2009 1:19 PM Karen wrote:
      Do you use melt and pour base for laundry soap? If so - maybe you could post your recipe?

      Thanks,

      Karen
      Reply to this
  • 4/6/2009 1:10 PM Rocky Black wrote:
    Great recipe and article about super simple soap making! Thank you. I am having trouble with one thing: after heating and stirring, I have a very airy and bubbly solution. Not just surface bubbles but it almost looks like a meringue. Any thoughts? Thank you very much!
    Reply to this
  • 4/16/2009 9:45 AM Roni wrote:
    I was thrilled to find this and can's wait to try it. I will also add in the castor oil as Libby suggested, and the shea butter. I have all the ingredients so today may be the day. I will try to let you all know how it turns out. Now my question: Glycerin M&P soap is very mild, and I wonder if anyone has used this for Shampoo??? I do make soap, and in years past a bar I made was great on my hair. And of course I didn't think to write down the what I did...
    Maggie, I was hoping to see how your "other" results turned out...but nothing has been added on that...Oh Well. I will make this up and see what results I get.
    To Rocky Black: Glycerin soap will show every stir in the bubbles. Most of them will arrive eventually to the top of the mold/container. As I do molds for the M&P glycerin soap I know that a light spritz of Rubbing Alcohol in a spray bottle takes care of that....not too much just a light spritz.
    Reply to this
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.

 Name

 Email (will not be published)

 Website

Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.