Long before I was a soapmaker, I turned up my nose at melt and pour soaps. That’s not really “soapmaking” is it?
Once I began making my own soap I quickly learned there’s a lot more to soapmaking than lye and oils. The art of choosing colors, shapes, scents, and conditioners is a lot more time-consuming than bringing a batch of homemade soap to trace.
Now I know better. Melt and pour soap is a great place to learn the art of soapmaking, and without having to deal with the safety gear and fumes associated with lye.
Melt and Pour Soap Base
The first step to making melt and pour soap is choosing a base. There are a lot of options out there, especially as easy handmade crafts are becoming more commonplace in home kitchens. Thus far, I’ve had good experiences with the natural soap bases from Our Earth’s Secrets, and I used their Goats Milk Soap base when I made melt and pour goats milk and honey soap bars.
A clear glycerite soap base is great for adding colors for unique transparent soaps and works especially well for kid’s soaps where there’s a hidden treasure inside.
Here are a few other melt and pour soap base options:
- Shea Butter Soap Base
- Honey Soap Base
- Oatmeal Soap Base
- Olive Oil Soap Base
- Aloe Vera Soap Base
- Coconut Milk Soap Base
Most melt and pour soap bases, with the exception of goat’s milk versions, are vegan and don’t contain animal-based products like tallow. If that’s a concern for you, be sure to check the ingredients lists on the particular soap base you hope to use.
Heating Melt and Pour Soap
Regardless of the soap base you choose, the first step to making your own melt and pour soap is chopping the soap base into small pieces. This helps the soap melt evenly and quickly. Chop the melt and pour soap base into small pieces, roughly 1cm (1/2in) cubes.
It’s critical that the melt and pour soap base is melted with a slow, gentle heat to prevent burning. While you may be tempted to just toss the soap base into a pot on the stove, or pop it in the microwave for 5 minutes in one go, those are quick ways to ruin your soap. It’s really hard to ruin melt and pour soap, but burning it will do it every time.
Soap bases melt at around 120 degrees, so it doesn’t take much to melt them. If you’re using a microwave, melt the soap base in 30-second increments and stir in between each session. That helps distribute the heat and prevents burning.
Or, if you’re living back in the stone age like I am, and don’t have a microwave, a double boiler on the stovetop works just fine. Put a bit of water into a saucepan and place a heat-safe bowl on top. Bring the water to a low simmer and the steam below the bowl will gently melt the soap base.
Regardless of whether you’re using a microwave or stovetop to melt the soap base, it happens quickly. After about 2 minutes over simmering water, my soap base was about 80% melted.
At this point, turn off the heat and begin stirring. This will allow the last bits to melt with residual heat, and keep the soap at a nice low temperature making it easier to work handle.
Once the soap base has been gently heated, it’s time to incorporate add-ins and fragrances and then pour it into a soap mold of your choice. Let it sit for about an hour to cool and firm up, and then the melt and pour soap is ready to use. Simple as that.
Choosing the additives, colors, and scents is what makes a batch of soap unique, here’s some guidance and inspiration for your own unique soaps…
Melt and Pour Soap Additives
Once the soap base is completely melted, it’s time for the fun part! Here’s where you get to be creative and decide on add-ins to make the soap your own personal creation. This is where you get to add skin conditioners, colors, scents and exfoliants.
This is where an elementary school color wheel comes in handy. White soap bases tend to have a pastel hue no matter how much soap colorant is added, while clear soap bases will show brighter primary colors. How much colorant to add depends on the type of colorant you’re using, so read the instructions carefully.
Only use colorants designed specifically for soaps. They’re skin safe, and they won’t bleed, fade or cause skin reactions.
Avoid using food coloring, melted crayons and just about anything else you think might work. Just don’t.
Soapmaking colorants come in two main types, dry powdered mica colorants and skin-safe liquid soap colorants. Both are absurdly cheap and $10 will get you way more than you can use without some serious soapmaking dedication. It’s really not worth it to try to cheap out and use food coloring here, not when the right product is so inexpensive.
I’ll admit, I’m not one for strongly scented soaps. I like just the mildest hint of fragrance in my soaps if I add any at all.
Just like with colorants, avoid adding anything designed for candles or potpourri, that’s not going to be skin safe. Try gentle essential oils that are safe to apply in low concentration to the skin, such as Lavender Essential Oil or Orange Essential Oil.
Soapmaking guides say to add no more than 0.3 to 0.4 ounces of fragrance oils to a pound of melt and pour soap base, but exactly how much to add depends on the scent and your tastes. To me, 1/3 of an ounce is a lot of fragrance and way more than I’d ever use. I max out somewhere between a few drops to .1 ounce at most, but that’s my preference.
Soapmaking Oils & Skin Conditioners
Adding a bit of extra oil to a soap base helps create a nourishing soap that will help condition as it cleanses. The trick is to add enough to have an impact without adding so much that it makes the soap soft or greasy. For your first batch of melt and pour soap, either avoid adding additional oils or be very conservative.
In general, don’t add more oils than 1 to 3% of the total weight of the soap. For example, with 10 ounces of soap, you’d add no more than .3 ounces of additional oils. A tablespoon of oil weighs just under .5 ounces, which is the most you should add to a pound of melt and pour soap.
Other additives, like honey, also help to condition skin and you should follow a melt and pour soap recipe to get rough measurements if you’re experimenting with more exotic soap additives.
Solid Soapmaking Mix-Ins
Mix-ins like oatmeal, lavender, poppy seeds can be fun to add to soap. They add a bit of gentle exfoliation and help make a bar of soap unique and eye-catching. As you start, be conservative with solid additions because adding too much can prevent the soap from holding together.
Since you can use a soapmaking mold over and over again with many different batches of soap, they’re a great investment for future crafting. A creative shape can turn a really basic soap into an eye-catching gift with no other add-ins or fragrances needed. I use this round silicone honey bee mold for making solid lotion bars that fit nicely into extra-large salve tins, but as you can see below it also makes a beautiful batch of melt and pour goat’s milk and honey soap.
There are a lot of creative soap-making molds to choose from, and generally, they’re under $10 each. Most are made of durable heat-resistant silicone and will last a lifetime. The sky’s the limit, and there are literally hundreds of unique soap molds to choose from.
Making Melt and Pour Soap
Ok, let’s review.
- Melt the soap, carefully and slowly to prevent burning.
- Choose fragrances (if using), adding no more than .3 ounces per pound.
- Choose skin conditioners (if using), adding no more than 1-3% of the weight of the base (about 1 Tbsp. per pound)
- Choose exfoliants (if using) like oatmeal, fresh herbs or hunks of loofa sponge.
- Add in any mix-ins to the melted soap base and pour into molds
- Allow the soap to harden for about an hour
That’s all you need to get started making your own melt and pour soaps!
Advanced Melt and Pour Soapmaking
Once you’ve got the basics down, the sky’s the limit. Or, more accurately… your imagination’s the limit. Melt and pour soaps allow you to make just about any type of inventive soapmaking project you’d like, without having to deal with lye.
You’re basically starting at what soapmakers call “trace,” when the lye has reacted with the fats in a soapmaking recipe and you have a liquid soap base. Whether it’s melt and pour or regular lye-based soapmaking, the next steps are up to you.
The best resource I’ve seen for melt and pour soapmaking inspiration is the book Easy Homemade Melt and Pour Soaps by Jan Berry.
I love Jan’s work, and I’m a big fan of all her soapmaking books. The melt and pour soap-making recipes in Easy Melt and Pour Soaps will keep you crafting for years, and I can’t stress enough how much I love it.
Jan really takes something so simple as melt and pour soaps and elevates it to high art. Adding in layers, colors, nourishing oils and herbal botanicals…along with some of the most creative and stunning shapes and presentations imaginable.
More Homemade Body Products
Looking for more super easy homemade gifts? Try making any of these…