DIY Soap Making: A Beginner’s Guide

I have always loved soap. There’s nothing quite like the rush of fragrance when you walk into a soap shop. As a kid, I would spend hours smelling different soaps and enjoying the different ways soap could be molded, colored, and textured. Sometimes it even looked edible.

I started my soap making adventure with high ambition. I wanted a soap that would be healthy, all-natural, and filled with ingredients that I would have no fear of sudsing my body with. I wanted something that I wouldn’t be afraid to wash a baby with, wouldn’t cause breakouts, and would smell less like a synthetic perfume and more like I stepped into a Doterra commercial.

My First Attempt at Soap Making


My first try at soap making was complicated, stressful, and a somewhat frustrating experience. I had this brilliant idea of using my own fat source from a dead animal my husband hunted. For those of you thinking this is a brilliant idea, stop and don’t do it! 

It was not a good experience, my soap came out smelling like animal fat and not at all like the orange essential oil I wanted it to. 

If you have ever smelled a dead animal, you know that this was not a pleasant experience.

Although, my husband thought my attempt to be a totally-independent-survival-homesteader-hardcore-wife-turned-absolute-failure was completely hilarious.

Since then, I have learned that there is a cleaning process that must be done before using animal fat for home goods such as soap. I am still too chicken to try it and have henceforth decided to not use recently killed animals as a fat source.  I prefer olive oil instead because of the wonderful way it makes my skin feel. Also, because I can buy huge amounts online with ease and because I know with relative certainty that my soap will not come out smelling like meat.

Subsequent Soap-Making Attempts


While I have made soap a time or two, I am by no means an expert and still find the process very stressful and time-consuming. It’s a complicated blend of chemistry and cooking – the first of which I have never tried and the second of which I still make mistakes. 

So, I called up my good friend, Mary Joe, for help and she showed me a quick and simple recipe that is now going to be my go-to soap making recipe. 

If you are like me and feel daunted by the whole mess of dealing with lye, safety gear, and locking up your house away from your children and pets; you might be more inclined to try this versatile, easy, and safe soap recipe. 

Did you know? You can also make your own shaving soap. The advantage of shaving soap over an aerosol shaving cream is that it costs less and depending on how you make if can actually provide more hydration. By using additives such as Goat’s Milk, which has amino acids that can penetrate deep into the skin and attract water molecules to them, you can greatly increase your skin’s hydration.

Mary Joe’s Quick and Easy Soap Recipe


Step one, find a mold. The first step is one of my favorites!

You can find soap molds in many different, shapes, textures, and sizes. The world is pretty much your oyster when it comes to molds. The ones Mary Joe used can be found at Michaels but you can find even more soap molds online.

Here is a good silicone mold that will work well for almost any regular bar soap:

DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guidebest soap molds
DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guide

The silicone ones are useful because they are easy to bend to get the soap out and you can flip them inside out for easy clean up. For this recipe, all Mary Joe had around the house was plastic, so she used that. We picked a round shape for the soap because I wanted my soap to be relaxing and comfortable. On this day, I associated comfortable with a round bar of soap. 

Step two, find a scent. Deciding what fragrance you want to use is equally exciting! This is an especially fun part with this recipe because it works for making almost any kind of soap you want. If you’re making soap with kids, they are sure to have a blast picking out what scents and colors they want to use in their soap.

Soap Scents and Uses:


Problem Combinations
Stressed Lavender or Serenity Blend from Doterra, purple food coloring, sprigs of lavender of rosemary
No Energy Earl Grey tea leaves, peppermint oil, green food coloring
Cellulite Coffee grounds and cinnamon powder, brown food coloring, orange essential oil
Congestion Eucalyptus and lavender essential oil, blue food coloring
Respiratory Oregano essential oil with basil and other fresh herbs (can add one drop of eucalyptus too)
Acne Use a Glycerin Soap base and Tea Tree (Melaleuca) essential oil with a few tablespoons of honey

The possibilities really are endless. Your kids are sure to come up with even more possible concoctions. Just make sure to go light on the “hot” essential oils like oregano and cinnamon as they can burn skin.

My favorite scent is the scent of Tea Tree oil:

DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guidebest essential oils for soap making
DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guide

An easy way to come up with different essential oil concoctions is to simply buy the blends from your favorite essential oil supplier. For instance, essential oil companies like Doterra and Eden’s Garden both have blends which can take the guess-work out of the process. This will give you an idea of how you want your soap to be used and ensures you have exactly the right amount of ingredients. 

Finding the Right Essential Oil


Essential oil brands are numerous. There are too many to choose from, it seems. How can you possibly find the right brand?

Well, there is some good news and some bad news. The good news is that a few brands do exist that can be trusted, the bad news is that they’re generally more expensive. However, you will use less drops of oil using the good brands and you can be sure there will not be any impurities.

The best essential oil brands on the market are Doterra, Edens Garden and Nature’s Oil. These are trusted brands that have all been around a long time and have excellent quality. The scents from their oils are also powerful and long-lasting.


Step three, find the perfect soap base. A base is what you will use as your “cheat” through the soapification process. If you are like me and your laziness stops you from wanting to leave your house or you are simply too far away from the nearest craft store, have no fear Amazon is here!

Try out these soap bases that have all-natural ingredients:

Glycerin Soap Base

DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's GuideDIY soap making ingredients
DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guide

Glycerin is a plant-based product that is found in many skin care tonics and creams. It is a natural alcohol that works to hydrate the face. This hydration helps the skin to mature and age gracefully, doing wonders for your skin.

Dr. Wendy Bollinger Bollag and Dr. Xiangjian Zheng researched the positive affects Glycerin can have on the skin.  They found that Glycol works as a signal to the skin, letting the layers of new skin cells know at a faster rate when it is time to move to the surface and replace old and dying skin cells. They found that Glycol can help people with diseases such as psoriasis and non-melanoma skin cancers. Pretty useful stuff and a great addition to a soap recipe!

Vegetable Oil Soap Base

DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guidebest natural soap bases
DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guide

Do you need to moisturize or have sensitive skin? This vegetable oil soap base might be just what you need. Great for adding moisture to the skin but not so much that it might cause breakouts for those with oil and acne prone skin. This one is great because it is USP-certified and 100% pure. In addition, it is clear and odorless which makes it great if you like added your own scents.

Goats Milk Soap Base

DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guide
DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guide

Rich in vitamins and highly nourishing, goat’s milk can also help with hydration and anti-aging. It’s creamy and rich, adding a little extra thickness to the lather. This is great if you are looking for some self-care and indulgence and are constantly fighting dry, cracking skin.

Oatmeal Soap Base

DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guidebest oatmeal soap base for soap making
DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guide

Oatmeal is a great soap base if you are looking to make a soap that exfoliates but isn’t too rough on the skin. It’s also great if you are making a good all-around household soap that can be used to wash hands or clean the dirt and grit off hands after a day in the garden. It’s also nice to feel the texture of the oatmeal in the shower after a long, hard day of work.

For this recipe Mary Joe used 10 olive oil base squares to make medium-sized soap rounds. You can use however many squares you want, just plan your ingredients, molds, and dyes accordingly so you don’t run out.

best soap recipes

When you pull it out of the container it will look something like the picture above. Cut the number of squares that you want. She went with 10 and that created four small bars of soap.

Cut each square into small pieces and put in a microwave safe glass or ceramic bowl. Make sure not to use plastic as it might react with the base when heated causing a disaster..

Step four, heat. Microwave for 30 seconds and then check and see if the base is melted. You want it to look like the picture below.

DIY soap making

You might have to go for at least a minute or more depending on your microwave, but you want to check every 30 seconds or so because you don’t want a soap explosion you’ll have to clean up later on and you don’t want your soap base to burn. It’s hard to ruin a soap base but if you burn it the base will ruin because you have altered the soapification process.

You can also use a saucepan on very low heat or a double broiler to melt your base if you don’t like to use a microwave or you simply don’t have one. 

If you get a base that is already melted just heat for a short amount of time until the liquid is hot.

Step five, add the oils and colors. Once your base is melted, its time to add your essential oils and food coloring.

This is where it starts to get fun! You can add as many drops of essential oils that you want depending on the strength of the smell you are aiming for. Keep in mind that the smell will get less intense when the soap solidifies so you can make yours a little stronger than you want to in order to reach the perfect smell.

It’s okay to smell it. This is another benefit to using a soap base instead of making your soap from scratch. Be careful not to get too close but just put your nose close enough to smell the strength of the oil.

It is up to how strong in color and smell you want your soap. We wanted ours strong, but you don’t have to. I have a friend that is very sensitive to fragrance, so she would want to make sure to never add too much. The versatility of this recipe is one of the main reasons it’s my new favorite.

For this recipe, Mary Joe used seven drops of Serenity essential oil from Doterra. You can do 5-10 drops or less if you only want a hint of the smell.

DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guidebest essential oils for soap making
DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guide

Next comes the food coloring. If you prefer not to use food coloring in your soap you can skip this step. This step is especially fun for kids and yours will have a blast putting in their color and watching it swirl and deepen in strength.

DIY Soap Making: A Beginner's Guide

Mary Joe added four drops to hers because we were running out of purple food coloring, but again, it’s completely up to you. You should use between 5 and 10 drops. Swirl with a wood stick or medal spoon. Again, don’t use plastic.

Step six, pour the molds. Pour into molds and then add a few sprigs of whatever good smelling herb you happen to have around the house or in the garden.

Stir lightly with a stick so the sprigs are immersed in the soap liquid.

Step seven, set. Leave out the soap to set. There is no need to cover it with a cloth or cardboard for twenty-four hours like a traditional soap. You can even put it the fridge if you want to make the process faster.

Step eight, use it. When your soap hardens, its ready to use! Simply pop it out of the trays and enjoy your new soap. 

You might have to let it soften in a shallow pan of hot water if it will not come out of the mold. Just be careful not to let the water touch your soap. 

You can give your soap a final, creative touch by scraping it gently with a potato peeler around the edges. This will help remove slag pieces and keep the edges nicely rounded.

Enjoy your quickly made soap!


For quick reference, here’s the full recipe without all the details:

Mary Joe’s Soap Recipe (Basic Steps)


Ingredients/Supplies:

• Four mold squares

• Glass or ceramic bowl

• 10 soap base squares, cut into pieces 

• 5-10 drops of essential oil

• 5-10 drops of food coloring

Directions:

• Melt mold squares in microwave on 30 second intervals until melted in glass or ceramic bowl. 

• Add desired amount of essential oils and food coloring until color and scent is what you want.

• Stir with a wood stirring stick or metal spoon until blended.

• Pour into desired molds.

• Add herbs or “real” ingredients such as oatmeal or lavender sprigs.

• Fill to the top of the rim to ensure soap comes out of mold with little hassle. 

• Place in refrigerator to set about 20 minutes until firm.

• Take out and flip over to take out of mold. Might have to press on the bottom of the mold or place in shallow warm water to remove.

• Lightly brush and potato peeler against edges to smoothen. 

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