Saturday, August 2, 2014

Advice for Beginner Soapmakers

Hi everyone, I hope you all are having a great summer! I have been very busy, but feel bad for neglecting my soapmaking and blog :( Now, I am feeling the pressure to start building my inventory back up with fall approaching and the Christmas holiday season not too far behind it. This summer heat seems to suck up all of my energy, but I must buckle down and get back to work!

I love getting emails from readers, and I always appreciate it when people take the time to email me and share their successes after trying a recipe or technique I have shared on my blog. It motivates me to continue to share my soapmaking journey with you. So, thank you for your support and encouragement!

I received a question from Stella, and thought it was a good one to share for anyone who is wanting to learn how to make cold process soap. I think her experience mirrors a lot of our own experiences, and I thought I would share her question and my answer as a post, in hopes that it might help others too:

Hi Cee, I happened upon your site through soap making wanderings and I am so glad I did. I have only just begun my soap making journey and I'm so excited. I've been soaking up help and information, do's and don'ts from all over the internet. I'm only doing melt and pour soap at the moment as I want to be able to sell my soaps at markets and fairs around South Australia, as a hobby at this stage. I know that if I go with CP I have to register with NICNAS if I intend to sell, so I'm leaving that avenue for a bit. 

Do you have any advice for a beginner soap maker? many thanks Stella 

Hi Stella, thanks so much for stopping by and welcome to the wonderful world of soapmaking! I too started my soapmaking journey by making melt and pour soaps, and I still love to make them as well as cold and hot process soaps. I’m glad to see you have done so much research already before jumping in, that is definitely a great start. I could fill up a whole page with advice for beginner soapmakers, but I will try to narrow it down to a few digestible points for you!

1. Always run any recipes you want to try through a lye calculator; even the recipes you find from reliable sources can have calculation errors in them. Also, as I am sure you have learned by now, there is also some misinformation on the internet about how to safely make cold process soap, and I hope you have been able to spot and differentiate between the good information and the misinformation. Find reliable sources and stick with them! 

2. Document everything. Take notes of every single batch you make. This blog was my way of documenting the soaps that I have made, but you should also keep a notebook with lots of notes and observances of each batch that you make, including writing down the recipe each time and how the ingredients behaved (did the fragrance accelerate your soap or affect the color? did your soap gel? how was the feel and lather? did the fragrance last after curing? etc). You will not be sorry that you took the time to make these notes; being able to look back and reference any soap batch you made will be invaluable, and will ultimately save you time and money (and frustration!) in the future.

3. Always, always test your recipes and ingredients. There is nothing worse than working really hard on a beautifully colored and decorated soap, only to find out that the vivid colors will bleed onto a washcloth, or that your fragrance will fade or change the color of your soap by the time curing is complete. Some surprises don’t show up for several weeks to months, so it is always best to give your recipes lots of trial and testing time. For instance, I made this Christmas soap and the red color ran; not enough to stain a washcloth, but it was good to be able to test this and warn people before I gave it away:

4. Recipes with milks and/or natural sugars (like honey) will heat up, so make sure you make an allowance for this when planning your batch (whether to gel or prevent gel, for example). Here is an example of a batch that heated up, and I ended up with a partial gel and some flaking:

5. Most ‘failed’ soap batches can be saved, either by chopping it up and adding it to another batch or by rebatching it (unless it is lye-heavy, then those ones would have to be tossed). Here is an example of a batch I had to repurpose here:

6. Fancy recipes with lots of ingredients aren’t always better, sometimes you just can’t beat a basic 3-oil or 4-oil recipe.

7. Patience is key. I can’t emphasize this enough…mostly because I am still trying to learn this…lol.

8. Join forums, ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to experiment and step outside the box. Just because something doesn’t work for one person, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. For example, our skin shouldn’t be able to tolerate a 100% coconut oil soap (normally it would be far too cleansing/drying), but I learned that you can make a great 100% coconut oil soap here:

9. Introduce yourself to other soapers and join swaps. This is a great way to try out other soaps and compare qualities to see what you like in a handmade soap and how you can improve your recipe. The other soapmakers I have connected with have been incredibly supportive, and we still email each other when we have questions or need advice, I always know I can count on them!   

10. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don't feel like a failure because your batch failed or didn’t turn out the way you had expected. I have learned more from my unsuccessful batches than I have from my successful ones. And remember to have fun….sometimes jumping into selling can turn soapmaking into more of a production line and stifle creativity; be careful to make sure you strike a healthy balance between the business and creative aspects. Take your time and enjoy the hobby stage, you will not regret the time you took to carefully experiment to make sure you have recipes and techniques that you and your (eventual) customers love!

I hope this information has been helpful, and when you are ready to jump in and get started, I have put together a thorough basic cold process tutorial with step-by-step instructions on the How Do I Make Soap blog, which you can find here:

I would love it if some of my fellow soapmakers would chime in with their best advice for anyone starting out...things you wish you would have known before you made your first batch of soap. Looking forward to hearing your advice, and wishing you all the best with your soapmaking Stella! :)

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