Soap Wizards

                  Soap Making Guide

Introduction

Soap making is a craft as old as recorded history.  Tradition has it that soap was discovered many years ago at Sapo Hill in Greece.  Apparently, the ancient Greeks traveled to this sacred place to give burnt offerings to the gods.  They would sacrifice animals over an open fire and the grease or tallow would drip into the coals of the fire.  Later, it would rain and the water would percolate through the ashes of the fire.  This would result in the natural formation of lye which would act upon the fat remaining in the fire pit and would saponify this soap, thus making natural soap.  Soap is nothing more than fat which has been converted into soap through the chemical action of the lye (or sodium hydroxide) with the fat.

Although this is interesting history, we are more concerned with the action of soaps and the benefits that they bring to us.  Soaps break the surface tension of water and, by binding with both the molecules in the water and in the fats or oils, they allow water to flush away grease, dirt, and grime, thus cleaning our skin and clothing.

Modern soaps are generally made by large chemical companies from the fats and oils generated by the meat packing industry.  They are made in large vats, under controlled conditions.  The finished soap is then pigmented, scented, and pushed through an extruder into the shape of a large noodle which is then pressed into individual bars of soap.  This type of soap will typically have the glycerin removed to make the soap harder.  It also makes the soap more harsh to the skin.

Often, the soap will be ground up, reprocessed (milled) and then shaped into bars.  Double and triple milled soaps tend to be the hardest and the most expensive.

    1. Types of Soap

  • Cold Process Soap
  • Melt & Pour Soap
  • Joy Of Making Your Own Soaps
  • A Family Project
  • Tools Needed
  • Melters
  • Melting Small Volumes of Soap

2. Loaf Soaps VS Individually Molded Soap Bars

  • Making The Inserts
  • Slicing Tray Molds
  • Inserting The Curls
  • Different Kinds of Molds

3. Colorants

  • Essential Oils Versus Fragrance Oils
  • Adding Ingredients To Soap Base

4. Starting a Soap Business

  • Where to Sell Your Soaps
  • How To Package The Soaps
  • Labeling Requirements
  • Using Rep Organizations

5. Soap Recipes

  • Luscious Watermelon Soap
  • Peach Melba Soap
  • Soap Bouquet
  • Lovely Lavender Soap
  • Creamsicle Soap
  • Glow in the Dark Dinosaur Soap Eggs
  • Jelly Roll Soap

Types of Soap

Cold Process Soap

For the past several years, home crafters have enjoyed making their own soaps through a procedure known as "cold Process".  These soaps are simply made by the addition of sodium hydroxide to various fats and oils along with pigments and scented oils.  Your local library or favorite bookstore will have many books detailing the various techniques and ingredients that can be used to make cold process soaps.  If quality ingredients and suitable care are exercised in the crafting of these soaps, you can easily produce a very fine product that will be gentle to the skin, long lasting, and produce any type of suds from large bubbles to small creamy bubbles.

The positive aspect of this cold process soap is that you can produce a very fine quality soap that will be long lasting, effective, and inexpensive to make.  The downside is that these soaps must be very carefully crafted to totally eliminate any trace of the sodium hydroxide that was used to saponify the fats.  If any of this chemical remains in the soap after it has finished curing, the soap can be very injurious to the skin and the eyes.  For this reason, many soap crafters will superfat their soaps to make certain that there is no residual lye in their finished soap.

Another important safety consideration for the soap crafter is personal safety.  The sodium hydroxide necessary to make soap is highly caustic and is very dangerous to use.  Adequate skin, lung, and eye protection must be exercised.  Another important note; this chemical must be kept away from young children and pets.  You don't want to saponify them.

Melt & Pour Soap

                 

Melt and Pour Soap is just like any other soap but with one major difference.  This soap is made with the addition of a solvent that allows the soap to be re-melted after the saponification process has taken place.  Another important consideration for the soap crafter is that this soap base has been made in a laboratory under controlled conditions and there will be no free lye remaining in the soap base when you receive it.  It is, therefore, safe to be used around pets and young children.

Melt and pour soap, as with any soap, can be made from a wide combination of different fats and oils  In addition, there are many chemical additives that are used to "enhance" the finished product.  For our purposes, we will consider two types of melt and pour soap.

The first would be soap bases made from animal fats.  These soaps are very inexpensive to produce and will tend to clean well.  The down side is that they tend to have a disagreeable odor and they are made from animal byproducts.  Many people tend to feel that both of these characteristics are undesirable.

The most popular type of melt and pour soap is that made using all vegetable glycerin and other plant derived components.  This type of soap is made from vegetable based fats and oils.  In addition to leaving the naturally occurring glycerin in the soap, additional glycerin is added to the soap during the manufacturing process.  As with all of the other ingredients, this glycerin will have been extracted from vegetable sources.  They typically will be available in both translucent and opaque varieties and will often be shipped in bags, tubs, molded blocks or plastic trays.

Not all vegetable glycerin melt and pour soap bases are created the same.  Several manufacturers will "enhance" their soap by the addition of chemicals that are not essential to a good soap base.  Also, the use of unrefined oils or the use of the lower refined fractions of these oils will save money.  These are still all vegetable glycerin soaps but they will not have the pleasing fragrance and light color of the more expensive soap bases.  Another factor which causes confusion for the consumer is that there are many ways to craft a M&P glycerin soap base using different ingredients and varying percentages of these ingredients.  To further confuse consumers, not all manufacturers report their ingredients the same way.  It is possible to state a product's ingredients in such a way that two ingredients listings might appear to describe two vastly different products but they may be the same product.  Only a chemist or professional formulator would know the difference or realize that they describe the same product.

Joy Of Making Your Own Soaps

What could possibly compare to the fun of making your own soaps?  These soaps are used by the whole family on a daily basis.  They can be custom tailored to your own particular likes and dislikes.  You can vary the color, the scent, the design, the size, and the shape of the soap.  In addition, you can decide whether you wish to use essential oils or fragrance oils as well as possibly the addition of botanicals and other natural and unnatural ingredients.

When all is said and done, these soaps will have your own personal stamp on them.  They will be less expensive than store bought glycerin soaps, and you will know exactly what they contain.  You can vary the soaps to meet your own personal needs.

A Family Project

This form of soap crafting can most certainly become an enjoyable family project.  It is not only economical and practical, but it is fun.  The added advantage of melt and pour soap is that it is also very safe around children.  There are no caustic chemicals and the temperatures are low enough that even small children can handle the product safely under proper supervision.

This process can be as simple as melting a few ounces of soap in the microwave and pouring the melted soap into simple candy molds, and as complex as crafting soaps that are sculptured into works of art.  If you have ever seen the delightful shapes and designs that European craftsmen make with marzipan, you can imagine the truly wonderful and intricate shapes that can be crafted from this soap base.

Tools Needed

You can begin molding the soap with as few tools as a tuna can for a mold and a measuring cup to hold the soap while it is melting in the microwave oven.  As your skills increase and the complexity of your designs increases, you will want to add to your tools, molds, and other crafting equipment.

Melters

A simple roaster oven (shown at left) or a double boiler are perhaps the best ways for a person to start with Melt & pour soap.  The microwave oven also works well but is not recommended for larger batches of soap.  Melt & pour soap is a fairly complex combination of several ingredients.  As such, it should not be stressed beyond certain limits.  The heating method you use should not expose the soap base to temperatures above 160 degrees F and should not allow undue evaporation of volatile elements in the soap.  Think of the soap as you would a white sauce on the stove.  If you melt the soap over direct heat on the stove top, you fun the risk of exposing the soap in the bottom of the pan to temperatures of more than 160 degrees.  This will scorch the soap base and will affect both the color and the smell of the soap.  In other words, don't burn the soap.  The heating method you use should gently raise the temperature and not burn the soap.

The second consideration when melting soap base is reducing or eliminating evaporation from the soap base.  Your melt and pour soap base will contain both water and propylene glycol.  If water evaporates out of the soap base, your soap will become harder and more brittle.  This will make the soap more difficult to cut without crumbling.  It will also change the chemical structure of the soap and will affect the clarity of the clear soap base.  The transparency of the clear base is primarily a function of the index of refraction that the soap base exhibits.  In other words, all clear soap bases will apear clear when they are in a liquid state.  When they harden, however, they will change the way that they deal with light passing through the soap.  The more that the light rays are bent as they enter and leave the soap base, the more cloudy the soap will appear.  Altering the water content of the soap base during heating will change the index of refraction of the soap as it hardens.  Remember that soap is actually a salt and we all know that salt has a crystalline structure.  We can't see or feel it but it is there.

Another volatile element in the soap base is propylene glycol.  The primary function of the propylene glycol is to act as a solvent.  This solvent is what allows the soap base to be re-melted.  If the propylene glycol is driven out of the soap base during heating, two things will happen.  First of all, the ability to re-melt the soap will be affected.  This will continuously increase the melting temperature of the soap as the propylene glycol is driven off.  Secondly, the propylene glycol will affect the index of refraction and the hardness of the soap just as the water.  Remember also that propylene glycol has many of the moisturizing properties of glycerin and is good for the skin.

Any heating method you choose should be designed to minimize the loss of volatile elements from the soap.  This consideration becomes more important as the larger amounts of soap base are being melted.  Because larger volumes of soap will take longer to melt, this will expose the melted soap base to a longer period of possible evaporation.  The soap should be covered with a lid which will allow the evaporated water and propylene glycol to condense on the lid and be returned to the melter.

Melting small volumes of soap

If you are a small volume home hobby crafter, you might consider melting your soap base in a microwave oven.  With the oven set on 50% power, you can melt a pound or two of soap base very quickly and safely.  Be certain to watch the soap base during melting and to not apply heat any longer than necessary to reduce the soap to a liquid.  Do not boil the soap.  Remember, you want to minimize the loss of volatile liquids and you want your soap base to be no hotter than necessary for crafting.  When microwaving, it is helpful to cut the soap into small blocks of perhaps 1" square to facilitate melting without boiling.

Larger volumes of soap should be melted in a double boiler.  By suspending the soap over a bath of warm water in a covered pan, you can gently raise the temperature of the soap to approximately 140-160 degrees F without unduly stressing the soap base.  The cover will keep the water and propylene glycol in the soap and you will not change the transparency, hardness, or scent of of the finished product.  Be certain that the cover of the pan is shaped in a way that will return the condensed liquids to the pot and not allow them to drip onto the stove top and be lost.  Another method that we have used quite effectively is the electric roaster oven.  These roasters have an inner liner that leaves an air layer between the heating surface and the soap container.  They also condense the volatile liquids and return them to the pan.

When you are ready to begin melting large volumes of soap, you will probably want to consider the purchase of a water jacketed melter that has been designed specifically for this purpose.  These units will generally be heated electrically.  The typical features found in these melters are as follows:

                                             

10 Gallon Melter                 25 Gallon Melter                              70 Gallon Melter

  • They will be made of stainless steel.
  • They will have an electric heating unit somewhere near the bottom of the melter which is removable and replaceable.
  • They will have an un-insulated lid that will allow the water and propylene glycol to condense and be returned to the melter.
  • There should be an opening near the top of the melter for topping off the water level and a site glass which will allow you to determine the water level in the water jacket.
  • A good melter will have a thermostat setting on the heating unit as well as a thermometer which will show the temperature of the water in the water jacket.
  • Near the bottom of the melter, there should be be a stainless steel gball valve and spout for drawing off the melted soap.
  • Provision should be made for allowing the addition of a valve heater to the melter.  Melt and pour soap will be drawn out of the melter at approximately 20 degrees F above the gel point. (gel point approximately 120 degrees)  This means that the soap will cool during its transit through the valve and will often plug the valve.  A good valve heater will minimize or eliminate this tendency.
  • Another good addition to the melter is a provision for a mixing system.  The white soap will contain titanium dioxide which is a fine powder that is in suspension in the soap.  If the melted soap stands for a few hours without being stirred, the titanium dioxide will tend to settle to the bottom of the melter.  Before drawing off a new batch of soap, you must open the melter and stir the soap.  By opening the lid, you are releasing a certain amount of heat, water, and propylene glycol.  The mixing system will eliminate opening the lid and will miimize this loss.  Although the mixing system is not necessary, your melter should have this provision in the event that you should decide to add it at a later time.

Bar Soaps 

   

 

Bar soaps have been a staple in the market since the earliest introduction of modern soap making.  They are a convenient way to make, sell and use soap.  The advent of loaf soap is a relatively recent innovation.  In today's market, the easiest way to make bar soaps is to pour the scented and colored soap into small bar molds.  Simply let cool to room temperature, unmold, and wrap in plastic wrap or shrink wrap them.  Shrink wrapping makes the nicest presentation and is cheaper in the long run than wrapping in plastic wrap.  We offer a couple of

Loaf soaps offer a number of creative and fun departures from the most commonly sold soaps.  First of all, they are a creative medium that is ideally suited for the home crafter.  The loaf of soap provides a way for home crafters to insert exciting and different shapes into the individual bars of soap which are cut from the loaf.  From waves to squiggles to heart, to lines, ad infinitum, can be introduced into the loaf.  When the individual slices are cut from the loaf, these individual designs jump out from the loaf.  It is exciting and fun to create these designs in the loaf.  Even more exciting is the fact that the many designs that are incorporated into these loaves cannot readily be made by modern machinery.  In today's modern world of mass production techniques, loaf soaps are one of the remaining media where hand craftsmanship remains.

There is still a strong market for bar soaps and even these can be effectively hand crafted.  The creation of a myriad of shapes, pigments, multi-colors, fragrances, and the addition of shapes and botanicals will keep the maker of bars busy and occupied for a lifetime.  Such innovations as rubber ducky soaps, branded soapss, personalized bars, and the like, have no limits.

It is the loaf soaps, however, that the market finds so exciting at the present time.  They commandhigh prices and deliver a great deal of creativeness and quality in this world of machine made and standardized products.

Making the Inserts

The exciting thing about loaf soaps is the many different shapes and colors that can be inserted into the loaves of soap.  Basically, you will want to make a design that will run the length of the loaf mold.  This can be accomplished by making long strips of soap that will run the length of the mold or by making sveral curls or other shapes that can be laid end to end along the length of the mold.

There are several ways you can make the thin strips of soap that you will use to fill the mold.  We will explore just a few.

Slicing Tray Molds   

Purchase a plastic tray that will serve as a mold.  We recommend something like a drawer divider.  The one we prefer is made by Rubber Made.  It measures 2" high, 3" wide and 12" long.  You will fill this mold with liquid soap (either white or clear base) and mix in your colorants until you have the exact color tht you want.

We recommend that you not put any fragrance in these slicing trays for two reasons.

  1. Many of the plastics do not tolerate the scent oils and you may want to use this piece of soap for several different soap designs.
  2. If you put scent in the curls, they may clash with whatever scent you have elected to use as the main scent in the bar.

We recommend that you let your slicing tray molds sit covered overnight before using them.  This is not absolutely necessary but we tend to like the feel of the soap bar after it has been brought completely up to room temperature over several hours.  If you do not use the entire bar during one crafting session, just wrap the remainder in plastic wrap until you wish to use it again.

When you are ready to make strips of soap from the bar, you may simply take a thin bladed knife and draw it towards you across the top of the bar.  The advantage of using the knife is that you can make the curls vary in thickness and can easily taper the ends as you enter and exit the bar.  It adds a certain design flair and interest to the curl if you vary the thickness.  Be certain that you use a long bladed, thin, and narrow knife blade.  A boning knife or fish filleting knife works very for this purpose.

   Another tool that you will find very useful is the .  The plane we recommend will have a 2" slot that will give you a very consistent width and thickness of soap strip.  Another advantage is that this method is very fast.  You can make a strip of soap every second using this method and they are very consistent.

Although most brands of planes will work for this purpose, we believe that we have found the best brand and we offer it to our customers on our web page.  Te main reason we do this is that it is very difficult to find this particular model in the stores.

Another very common way of making thin, flat soap for curls is to simply pour the hot soap out on a cookie sheet.  This will make a thin, flat, and consistent pancake that will cool quickly.  As soon as the pancake has cooled, simply peel it off the cookie sheet and pour another.  Then you may take a knife or pizza wheel and run it across the pancake to make your strips.  The disadvantage of this method is that care must be taken to make the strips a consistent width if you are placing curls end to end in your loaf mold.

Inserting The Curls

When you have made several strips of soap, you will want to form them into different shapes.  Curls, squiggles, loops, hearts, and many other designs can be formed from these strips.  Simply place them either consistently in the mold end to end or lay them in randomly.  The choice is yours and will determine the final design of the soap.

             

We recommend that you not refrigerate the curls and that you not use curls that have accumulated beads of moisture from the air.  This could affect the adhesion of the curl into the surrounding soap base.  If your curls pick up moisture from the air, we recommend that you spritz them with some form of pure alcohol.  We do not recommend vodka because drinking alcohol will contain over 50% water and we are trying to eliminate water between the layers of soap.  Depending upon the shape of the curl and its intricacy, you may also be able to wipe them off with a cotton towel.  For this purpose, we recommend that you consider using our SoapLock/Bubble Buster.  This product contains mostly alcohol and it will help dry out the curls and provide better adhesion in the loaf.  It is also excellent for breaking up those little bubbles that tend to form in the soap when mixing in colors and fragrances.

When you are satisfied with the curls, place a few in the bottom of the loaf pan.  Then fill the loaf mold approximately 1/2-2/3 full of soap that has been scented and/or pigmented.  Then lift the curls off the bottom of the loaf pan to make certain that there is soap base under the curl and tip the curl to make certain that there are no air bubbles left in the curl.  This will eliminate voids i the finished soap bar and will encapsulate the curl into the bar of soap.  When the curl is on the surface of the finished soap bar, there is a greater tendency for the bar of soap to crack apart at this point.  Encapsulating your curls and shapes completely into the bar will not assure that the bar will not fall apart but it helps reduce this tendency.

Virtually any type of container can be used for making soaps.  Some are much better than others, however.  We strongly discourage cast iron and aluminum molds from being used.  They will react with the soap and may leave traces of metal in the soap loaf.  This will often discolor the loaf and is generally not a good idea.

Another type of mold to avoid is one with square corners and straight sides.  These will all make removal of the finished loaf from the mold more difficult.  Our favorite type of mold is a flexible plastic mold with no square corners and no straight sides.  Your finished loaf should easily pop out of such a mold.  When looking for plastic molds, we recommend that you look for molds made of polyethylene, PET, or polypropylene.  They will not react with the soap base or with the ingredients in your fragrance or essential oils.

Many crafters will use Pringles cans, cat food cans, PVC pipes and other similar forms.  These all work very well and the only downside might be the difficulty of removing the finished piece of soap.  A little experimentation will lead you to to the right mold for your chosen design.  We don't favor lining your molds with oil or plastic film.  Of the two, oil might be the preferred method but it does leave a pasty surface on the soap.  If using foil or film, it is virtually impossible to remove the resulting creases from the finished product.

Colorants        

There are two basic types of colorants used in soap making.  They may be broken down into Natural versus Unnatural or Pigments versus Dyes.  We will use the latter terminology.  Both types of colorants will serve the soap crafter well but they have very different characteristics.  When these are understood, most will want to use both in order to obtain maximum flexibility in their designs.  The natural colors or pigments generally come from nature.  They are the ochres or oxides of naturally occurring minerals.  They might be called red ochre, ultramarine blue, brown oxide or any number of similar names.  The four basic characteristics of this type of colorant are:

  1. The colors tend to be less vibrant and more earth toned.
  2. They do not dissolve in water.
  3. Their use in clear soap base will reduce the clarity of the soap.
  4. They will not bleed.

In other words, a curl or shape made from these colorants will not bleed its color into adjacent colors.  A jet black curl placed in a white soap base will stay that way and will look exactly the same for months or years.

The unnatural colors or dyes are not products of nature.  They come out of the chemistry lab and are used daily in food and other products such as cosmetics, soaps, and other common uses.  These dyes are generally referred to as FD&C colors.  These letters stand for Food (F), Drug (D), and Cosmetic (C).  Some of the colors will be FD&C which means that they are approved for human consumption in food and drugs as well as being approved for topical application as cosmetics.  Others will have only the D & C designation which would eliminate their use as food colorants.  For our purposed in soap crafting, we really don't care about the designation.

The main features of these dyes are:

  1. They tend to be vibrant in color.
  2. They dissolve in water.
  3. They are available in an almost infinite variety of colors.
  4. Any two can be mixed to form a third color.
  5. Their use in clear soap will not affect the clarity of the soap.
  6. The colors will bleed into the surrounding soap or cosmetic base.

Working with both types of colorants is quite similar.  When adding color to your soap base, we have found it best to mix the colorants with hot water.  Adding the powder directly into the melted soap will tend to make the powders clump together much the same way that flour will make a lumpy gravy if not thoroughly mixed when adding to hot water.  There is a slight difference between the two types of colors, however.  Because the dyes dissolve readily into hot water, only a very small amount of water is necessary when dissolving the dyes.  When liquified, simply add to the melted soap base and stir until completely blended.  Because the dyes are dissolved, there is no chance that they will settle out and sink to the bottom of the soap base.  Even if not completely blended, the colors will continue to spread throughout the soap even after the soap has hardened.

Natural pigments tend to behave somewhat differently.  These substances do not dissolve in water.  As with the dyes, we recommend that the pigments also be mixed with a small amount of water but, in this case, you will be making a slurry.  When you have added enough water to make a smooth slurry, gently mix the pigment into your soap base.  The hotter your soap is when you add the pigments, the less viscosity the soap will have and the more you will find a tendency for the pigments to settle to the bottom.  For this reason, we recommend that you add natural pigments to your melted soap base when it has cooled to perhaps 130 degrees F.  At this point, the soap will be somewhat thicker and will reduce the tendency of the pigments to settle to the bottom of the pan.

We have dealt with the use of dyes and pigments at some length in this section.  Hopefully these techniques will assist you in working with the powders.  If this seems like too much of a hassle, we recommend that you consider purchasing our liquid dyes and pigments.  Our pro Dyes and Pro Pigments have been professionally blended with a glycerin base and can be added drop by drop to your soaps and other cosmetics.

They are easy to use and their liquid form makes it very easy to replicate your recipes over and over again.  Also, they are safe to store in liquid form and will not develop mold and bacteria which often happens with hydrated dyes.

Essential Oils Versus Fragrance Oils

Basically, there are two ways to scent your soaps.  You can either use fragrance oils or essential oils.  Many books have been written about essential oils and you should become familiar with some of them.  At the risk of over simplification, here is the difference between the two types of oils.

  1. Essential oils are extracted from the natural products such as flowers, grasses, seeds, leaves, roots, barks, mosses, resins and the like through pressure, steam, or chemical means.  They are the natural oils of the product.  There has been nothing added to enhance or change these natural oils in any way.
  2. Fragrance oils are any type of fragrance that is not totally natural.  For example, you might take an essential oil or combination of essential oils and add a preservative, a scent enhancer, or some other product to the essential oil to improve it in some way.  That would immediately make the oil a fragrance oil.  Iven if the product is 99% essential oil with some other product added, it is technically no longer an essential and must be sold as a fragrance oil.

We tend to favor fragrance oils (FO) in our soaps.  They tend to be much less expensive than most essential oils (EO) and they are available in a wide range of different styles.  For example, you may obtain a pound of rose oils by pressing or otherwise extracting the EO from a ton or more of rose petals.  You can imagine what a costly process it must be to grow all of these roses and then to pick the petals off all of them and process those petals.  When you are done, you have something called a rose petal EO.  Now, imagine better living through chemistry.  The chemists can synthesize the smell of roses for a few cents.  Furthermore, they can vary that scent and can easily come up with dozens or hundreds of variations on that theme.  A fragrance oil house may have many rose fragrances to choose from.  This would also apply to all of the other common fragrances.

Bottom line, we prefer FO's because of their cost effectiveness and because we have the opportunity to shop for just the right scent to complement our design.

Essential oils, however, are very popular in soap.  Not all of the EO's are prohibitively expensive and many of them are quite nice.  You will probably find that EO's are closely associated with aromatherapy.  This is a rapidly growing field in North America and more people are getting into it every day.  This guide is not intended to make you an expert on  EO's.  We encourage you to find a good book about them and learn what you can.  You should know that some EO's can be quite dangerous to some people and when used in certain applications.  If you are going to use them in your soap, you owe it to yourself and to your customers to learn exactly how to use them effectively and safely.

Adding Ingredients to Soap Base

Most M&P soap bases on the market today are made from vegetable oils and glycerin.  Generally, they are very gentle to the skin and do not need the addition of other ingredients.  While some are more gentle than others, most of the available bases are excellent products without any further additions other than colors and scents.

Some crafters,  however, will wish to add other ingredients to modify the soap base.  Some products incorporate well and others may not.  As a general rule of thumb, botanicals and other solid ingredients should be added dry.  They will become re-hydrated to a certain extent by drawing moisture out of the surrounding soap base.  These ingredients can be added after melting and just before pouring the soap base into the final mold.

More commonly, crafters wish to add more fats and oils.  Some of this tendency to want to superfat comes from previous experience in making cold process soaps.  In most cases, this superfatting is counterproductive.  Good glycerin soap base is already superfatted with the glycerin and the addition of more fats and oils may tend to break down the integrity of the soap base.  Some additional oil can be safely added to most soap bases, however.  Some will wish to add vitamin E, others aloe vera, and still others may wish to add such exotics as emu oil.  We have also heard that some crafters wish to add shea butter and bee's wax. The latter is added in an attempt to produce a harder bar of soap.  The addition of any of these oils to M&P soap will have both positive and negative effects.  The positive effects would be any result that the crafter expects to be added by the incorporation of their ingredients.  The negative effect would be a reduction in cleaning power and lathering characteristics of the soap.  Although soap bubbles play no role in the cleansing effect of soap, most consumers look for a certain amount of lather.  By adding oil to the soap base, this lather will be diminished.

One way to assure that a soap base will continue to produce large bubbles is to increase the detergent levels of the soap base and anothr would be to add certain chemicals such as sodium laurel sulfate to the base soap.  This would produce a soap base that is more harsh to the skin without the addition of these oils.  In other words, this type of soap base would require the addition of more oils and humectants by the crafter.  We would recommend that you obtain a good soap base that does not require these additional materials.

Starting A Soap Business

As with any business, you must try to cover all of the bases.  This means:

  • Work out a business plan.
  • Work out a financial plan
  • Take care of the legal paperwork (to incorporate or operate as a proprietorship)
  • Look into insurance issues
  • Determine your market
  • Talk to your banker
  • Identify your market
  • Decide on an accounting system so you can generate invoices, purchase orders, and otherwise keep track of business progress

Your local library will have many books to help you with your business plan.  All businesses are different but they all share the same basic business elements.  If you want to operate and grow a successful business, you will take the time to make certain that all important bases are covered.  Those businesses which fail are those who fail to develop a plan or those who fail to follow their plan.  Understand that your plans will change as the business evolves but planning is important none-the-less.

Where to Sell Your Soaps

Many soap crafters will begin by selling their soaps to friends, neighbors, co-workers and the like.  Generally, it is best to start out small and close to home.  This will give you a chance to find out what the market wants, how much they will pay, and what it might take to ramp up the business to higher levels.  Over a period of weeks, you will begin to finalize your designs and your product line.  You will also have a better understanding of how much time you will have to devote to the business and what levels of inventory might be necessary to support the business.

You next step might be to sign up for craft fairs and other venues where hand crafted products are sold.  It is important to understand that flea markets are usually not a good venue for this type of product.  Most people who attend flea markets are looking for bargains.  This often means junk or distress merchandise.  Hopefully, your carefully hand crafted soaps would not fall into this category.  Typically, glycerin soaps will retail for approximately $1.00 per ounce of product.  This would allow you to wholesale the product for $0.50 per ounce and make $0.25 profit.  Craft fairs are a perfect way to perfect your craft and build volume.  For some crafters, this remains their primary method of retailing their product.

Another retail opportunity is the local gift shop.  They are accustomed to purchasing this type of product for retail sale.  Whether you specialize in loaves, slices or bars, most gift shops are already selling these products.  Often they will appreciate handling locally produced products such as yours.  It is particularly important to feature the local production and those features of which you are most proud.

How to Package Your Soaps

Melt & Pour soaps must be packaged in plastic.  This is important because any water as well as propylene glycol will evaporate if exposed to air.  This would cause shrinkage of the product over time and soaps with inserts would tend to deform with shrinkage due to stresses caused by the presence of the inserts as the bar or slice shrinks.  Another factor to keep in mind is that your customers tend to think of soap in the same way they think of food.  This a very personal item and they don't care to have other people handling the product before they use it.  Your plastic packaging options would typically be plastic bags, Saran Wrap or some other form of plastic wrap, or inexpensive shrink wrap systems.  We tend to prefer the shrink wrap systems for three reasons:

  • Shrink wrapped bars and slices tend to provide the best protection and looks the best.
  • Over time, shrink film is cheaper than most films.
  • Shrink wrapping is 2 or 3 times faster than hand wrapping the soaps.

Shrink wrap systems can cost several thousand dollars but they don't have to cost that much.  In fact, the less expensive systems tend to perform better for the small soap crafter than the larger systems.  This is because the big machines are geared for high volume.  It might take a day's production just to tune in the machine so that it will make a nice looking product.  Look for systems such as these which are easily affordable and which will pay for themselves very quickly.

                     

                    Intermediate System      Hand Sealer        Heat Gun

We tend to feel that the intermediate system is the best value.  It is a little more expensive than the entry level system (hand sealer, heat gun, & shrink film) but is easier to use.  If time is money, you will appreciate how the intermediate system transports, cuts, and shrinks the film.  Everything is together in one package and works together.  Either way, whichever system you choose, your product will have a professional look and feel.

You might also consider packaging your bars along with a soap saver.  Typically, hand crafted soaps such as yours will be purchased for someone else as a gift.  Adding the soap saver will still keep the retail price under $10.00 and makes a more presentable hostess gift.  If the bar is tied to the saver as a complete package, it will sell very well.  There are several types of soap savers on the market.  We prefer yellow pine.  It stands up very well, does not crack, and we have never know it to mold in the bath or shower.

                                        

                Premium                       Wave                      Economy

Product Labeling Requirements

Generally, soap does not need to be labeled, M&P soap probably doesn't need to be labeled, and cosmetics must be labeled.  If you have product labeling questions, this link will take you right to the FDA web page for further information.FDA web page  Generally, we tell our customers that M&P soap is a soap and not a cosmetic.  We tell our customers what they really want to know about our soaps.  Most customers want to know:

  • The soap is crafted by hand here in the U.S.
  • This is a glycerin soap.
  • All ingredients are derived from plants.
  • There is never any animal testing done with the product.
  • Our soaps are hyperaligenic.

What may work for soaps does not work for cosmetics.  To be safe, we advise that all other products carry a complete list of ingredients.  These ingredients should be in INCI format and should be comelete.  Be certain that liquid and other bases you are working with come from the supplier with a proper list of ingredients for you to copy onto your labels.  Remember that the product label needs to accomplish a number of things:

  1. To identify you as the manufacturer and give the customer some way of reaching you
  2. To help sell the customer on the quality of the product you offer
  3. To satisfy government requirements and advise the customer of ingredients that may be dangerous to them

The following is a brief list of the products you will want to properly label:

Remember, the customer needs to know why you feel you are offering a superior product to them.  Often, the label is the only opportunity you will have to sell a particular customer.

Using Sales Rep Organizations

In the U.S. alone there are thousands of sales representative organizations.  They will present your product to retailers and take orders from them.  For this service, they demand a fee which is normally 15% of the retail sale price.  While this may sound like a great deal of money, please consider what they might offer to your company that you could never achieve for yourself.

  • Most rep organizations have contact with several thousand gift stores
  • They call regularly on these clients and sell them other products
  • The gift store owner trusts their rep to only offer products they know will sell and that are provided by vendors who can perform
  • The store owner will tend to make time for the rep whereas they often do not wish to deal directly with a manufacturer
  • Carrying only one product, you could never have contact with all the gift stores you need to sell to
  • Your time is better spent producing and marketing your products rather than driving all over the company
  • The rep company usually has a permanent showroom and participates in regularly scheduled gift shows

Using rep organizations is almost all upside with little downside.  There are some things to be aware of, however.

  • Gift stores often require Net 30 purchase terms and frequently will pay only in 45-60 days.  This stresses your cash flow.
  • Even though you don't have to solicit the sales, you are still responsible for collecting the money.
  • Clients of your rep will often place their orders direct with you but you still need to keep track of and commission the rep on every sale.
  • Certain employees of rep organizations will range from good to bad.  Although some of the rep employees may love your products and do very well, others may not like your product and do a very poor job for you.  This can effectively block you from certain parts of the territory that you know should be good markets but don't perform because of a bad sales person.
  • You will be responsible for providing adequate samples and literature for the reps.  This can be expensive.
  • Depending upon the particular market, you may be asked to help share the cost of certain trade shows.

On balance, most manufacturers will find that rep organizations can make or break your business.  Understand that you may need to hire and evaluate 5 to 10 sales rep organizations to find just one good one.  This can be expensive and time consuming but when you find a good one, the results can be wonderful.

Recipes

Note: Our customers have submitted several recipes for your consideration.  Soap Wizards has not tested these recipes and does not warrant their effectiveness nor their technique.  Because we have not tried them nor evaluated their utility, we cannot assist you in your efforts to duplicate them.  Having said this, please check them out and have fun with them!