I have such fond memories of being little and sitting at my parent’s wicker coffee table with ‘art’ supplies from my dad’s then home office. The ends of the coffee table were meant to hold magazines but if I put my feet into the bottom part and sat my behind on the outer part those ends were the perfect little bench for me to sit at and create. My art supplies sometimes consisted of highlighters, BIC pens, rulers, and legal paper but it didn’t matter. I would get lost in the creative zone, and now remember even at such a young age I found joy in the process of creating.
While I’m currently in the middle of a transformative season, I’m going back to my roots and remembering my inner joy is found in creating. Paired together with recent lifestyle changes and a massive diet overhaul, the content in today’s post was inspired by so many things! I’ve always admired those beautiful soap bars you see at art shows or in health food stores, and was intrigued enough to learn to make my own.
I’d love to encourage you to read all about the different ways to make soap because there are MANY. But for the sake of avoiding lye in my home and having to invest in a lot of extra materials and tools to make cold process soap, I opted to take the melt and pour route and will be sharing that with you here today. This means I’m not messing with scary chemicals in my kitchen, having to wait weeks for the soap to cure, and I can keep the process simple and easy (because for me sometimes the joy is found in the simplicity of something).
I purchased all of my supplies with the exception of the wavy soap cutter (you can find that here at Michaels), online at Bulk Apothecary. They are a wonderful one stop shop for homemade beauty products and I’ve loved learning more over the last year about what they have to offer. Even though the melt and pour soap is pretty easy, there’s been some trial and error so scroll down for my experiences and beautiful photos from my friend, Sam so you too can also make beautiful homemade soap.
An easy way to think about melt and pour versus cold process soap is to think about the different ways to bake a cake.
To save time and ensure you get perfect results you could use a cake mix to bake a cake. You can even doctor it up by adding in extra goodies like sour cream for moisture and chocolate chips for more flavor. This is similar to how melt and pour soap works. You start with some of the work done for you but you still get to do the fun part.
Then cold process soap is made in a similar fashion to baking a cake completely from scratch. You pull together many many different ingredients and elements, and then create your soap from the ground up. The process takes much longer. Both approaches result in yummy, beautiful cakes (most of the time) but the way you get there is up to you.
So with that being said, choosing the melt and pour route was perfect for me. I picked my favorite base, this creamy cocoa butter base with a very subtle scent, and came up with just a couple other items I could add into the soap to make it a bit more personalized. Since I wanted to keep the soap as natural as possible but still a step up from ordinary, I decided to add in my own organic rolled oats (straight out of the package from the grocery store) and a little bit of this to emphasize that comforting smell of honey, oatmeal and milk.
To start, I cut my cocoa soap base into smaller manageable cubes and placed in a microwave safe bowl. I microwaved the chunks in 30 second intervals, ‘stirring’ the chunks in between until I had somewhat of a liquid consistency. By the time you get the soap melted to a desirable consistency it will be VERY hot so make sure you’re careful especially if tackling this project with kiddos or pets around. I’ve read some people like to make this type of soap over a double broiler but the microwave has always worked well for me. I also just use a fork to stir the pieces around.
Once the entire mixture is smooth and creamy you will add in your choice of scent. I would say no more than 1 tablespoon is enough but you can start by dropping in a few drops, stirring the scent in, and then smelling the mixture to see if it’s strong enough for you. Unlike baking, a slight deviation of ingredients or quantities isn’t going to mess up the end result so that’s the great news.
For this particular soap, I wanted some variance in color for the final product, a technique more suited for cold process soap, but I knew I’d have to get creative.
Since I knew I would need 3 pounds of the cocoa base (the base comes in 1 pound blocks) to fill up my soap mold, but I knew I would want to tint part of the mixture to then add into the creamy white base and create visual interest, I had to make two mixtures separate of one another. So one mixture was about 2.5 pounds of the cocoa butter base with my chosen scent, and then other was the remaining half a pound of cocoa butter soap which I then added 1/4 of a block of THIS too. A very tiny bit of the color block goes a very long way! Adding just a pinch of the block gave me that creamy rose taupe hue I loved so much where as adding any more probably would have been far too brown for my liking.
As you can see below, I had two bowls of two mixtures and I was stirring both to keep the mixture from cooling too fast which would allow the surface to start ‘filming over’.
I’m sure there’s an official perfect temperature you should wait for your mixture to get to before pouring it into the mold (and truth be told I am not sure what that is) but I try to wait as long as possible before my soap starts getting too thick. The thickness of your base is called ‘trace’ and in cold process soap making the trace is what allows you to get really creative with swirls of color and fun textured soap tops. Since it’s harder to do with melt and pour soap I had to make a guess and then when it felt right, pour it into the mold.
So I poured in my scented 2.5 pounds of melted cocoa butter soap.
From there, I waiting a couple minutes to let the white base firm up a little before drizzling in the remaining half a pound of taupe colored cocoa soap. My intention was to have the taupe mixture drizzled in enough so that once I cut into the soap the two colors would have a harmonious look together. Additionally, because I used a taller soap mold (versus the standard wide one) I knew I would need this taupe mixture to help fill the entire mold and make a complete bar.
Because the heat of the mixture can make the silicone mold slightly expand, I pushed my two mixing bowls up against the side to hold the mold upright (you can see this slightly in the above right photo). As the mixture started to cool and harden, I added my oatmeal to the top. Some of the oatmeal will sink deeper into the soap which is a nice exfoliating touch where as most of it stays on top for more of an aesthetic approach. Either way I love the oatmeal and think it’s the perfect accent.
After a few hours or a full day if you can wait that long, your soap will be ready to remove from the mold! Pull the sides and ends back away from the hardened bar and gently push the bottom to get the whole bar loose. It should pop out perfectly. Here’s what it will look like before you cut it into individualized bars. You can see how the taupe soap I added in at the end really created a subtle but beautiful watercolor effect.
From there you can start cutting your soap into individual bars in whatever size you’d like. This part is my favorite!
And because I have been giving these bars to friends, family and neighbors as gifts, I had Alex of Prairie Letter Shop pen the soap variety on the top of these sweet kraft boxes. Since melt and pour soap is very heat sensitive and a pretty creamy soap to begin with, I would suggest wrapping each bar in a wax or parchment paper before placing them in the boxes.
You can find the boxes here along with a variety of other box and packaging options.
Aren’t they beautiful?
I can’t wait to one day try my hand at cold process soap so I can get a little more creative with textures, colors and add ins but for now melt and pour soap making is quite the therapeutic activity for me. It’s also been a wonderful, ready-to-go, homemade gift to bring to dinner parties, friend dates, and more. It seems everyone loves soap so I am happy to keep giving the gift of clean and soft hands!
Have you ever made soap? Was it cold press or melt and pour like my project here? And if you were to make soap, I’d love to know what type of soap would be your favorite. Comment below and I’ll share my favorite dream-scents with you too! Xo