Do you ever notice the difference between those pretty, clear bars of soap and a traditional-looking bar of soap? That those clear ones usually have something neat imbedded in them? Or that those normal-looking soaps feel better when you’re washing with them? Well, that’s because those are two different types of soap!
You may be surprised to hear that there are actually three main ways of making soap. All three have their own set of pros and cons, but each soap maker has their favorite methods.
The first type of soap is known as melt-and-pour. Melt-and-pour, which I’ll refer to as MP from here on out, is a soap base that is purchased (you can buy it from your local craft store, or order it online), scented, and colored to suit your taste. Some amazing looking soaps have been created with MP base, and due to its aesthetic it is very popular.
One of the key benefits of MP soaps is that their process is incredibly safe. If you can use a microwave, you can make a nice MP soap. It’s very easy to work with, and makes a great project to share with children.
One reason that we don’t mess with MP is that the soap will sweat, so it must be wrapped in plastic, and plastic just doesn’t jive with us. We also fail to see how you can call it “soap making” when it’s really like soap manipulating. It’s like ordering a pizza and saying that you “made” dinner.
Also, many people say that it’s a lye free soap, but that’s just not true. If it’s real soap it was made with lye, they just didn’t have to deal with that part of it because they purchased the already saponified oils. To be perfectly honest, no soap should contain lye, since the lye is the alkali that turns into a salt after it’s been introduced to oils. Any soap that still contains lye is a testament to how poor of a reader of recipes one is.
The next type of soap is known as Hot Process or HP. This is a soap that is made with the traditional lye and oils method, but the entire process must occur under heat. To make HP we use a crock pot we designated for soap making. All of the oils and butters are melted and heated in the pot when when lye water is added to it. Then it’s cooked until you’ve forced saponification.
The benefits of a HP soap is that it has a much shorter cure time, it has an easy project clean up, and you’re making your own soap from start to finish. The problem with HP soap, is that the nature of it doesn’t allow you do make intricate designs with color.
Finally, we come to our favorite type. Cold-process or CP. They call it cold process, but that’s a little misleading because the soap does get warm from the chemical reaction, it’s just that no outside heat is added to the process.
CP is the traditional way to make soap, and it can take a long time to cure a bar, but you have much more time to work to get interesting color patterns. It’s the messiest clean up of all of these projects, but we think it’s worth it due to the blend of feel and aesthetic that those other two processes fall short on.
Now, that’s not to say that we never use those other two methods, because we do. There are certain recipes that just do not do well as a cold process soap, so we have to hot process them. They never come out looking pretty, but they are amazing soaps. And to make our felted soaps, I’ll often throw in some cubes of MP to my crock pot of CP soap scraps to re-batch. It just makes felting soap so much easier with a little MP.
Next time you’re at a craft fair and see a few vendors, be sure to ask them what process they like to use to make their soaps and why. We’re all different.
Keep clean and carry on,