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What Method of Soapmaking is Right for You?

I recently received an inquiry from a lovely reader (I’m waving if you are reading this, PM!) about what method of soapmaking is the best one to get started with. And as all my perfectly amazing experienced soapmaking readers know, there isn’t really a right answer for that!

There’s primarily four types of soapmaking for bar soaps (in my opinion, anyhow): melt and pour, cold process, hot process, and milling. So, let’s talk about the different methods of soapmaking and why it just might be the best one… for you.

Melt and Pour Soapmaking

Melt and Pour Method of Soapmaking: A Cute Melt and Pour Project by SoapQueen.com
A Cute Melt and Pour Soap Project by SoapQueen.com

Commonly referred to as MP, melt and pour soap making is probably the easiest way to get started with soapmaking.

It’s as simple as buying a commercial premade base of soap, melting it down, adding in your goodies (like scent, color, botanicals, and more), and letting it set up.

Melt and pour soapmaking is perfect for you if you are afraid of handling lye for whatever reason (it’s really not that bad, I promise – there are hundreds of soapmakers who were once afraid and conquered that fear!)

The cool thing about melt and pour soap is that you can make translucent soap easily, and the design possibilities are actually get quite amazing.

Another plus side is that it’s a nice project to involve younger children in: I’ve made melt and pour soap with grade school aged children and scouting groups!

To get started, you need to purchase melt and pour soap base and anything you want to add to it. All soap bases are not created equal, most of the melt and pour soap bases at local craft stores are pretty crappy quality-wise. I recommend Bramble Berry, SFIC (many suppliers carry SFIC bases, hit up Google!), or Crafter’s Choice.

I don’t tend to blog about melt and pour soapmaking, so if you are looking for a good resource, you are in the wrong place. 😉 Soap Queen has a lot of melt and pour tutorials, including this rundown on melt and pour soapmaking.

Go Planet Earth has quite a few tutorials, so does the About.com Melt and Pour Soapmaking hub.

Cold Process Soapmaking

Cold Process Method of Soapmaking: Lavender & Cedar Modified Tiger Stripe Soap
One of my many cold process soap tutorials & videos!

Ahhhhhh, now we’re talking my language. 😉 Commonly referred to as CP Soapmaking, cold process soapmaking is making soap completely from scratch.

Yes, that means you are getting your sticky paws on lye and fats (oils and butters), and magically creating soap.

Well, it’s not really magic, but chemistry and art twisted into one extremely fun package of addiction.

The possibilities in cold process soapmaking are truly endless: you get to control every single ingredient you use (as long as you are using an alkali to fulfill the chemistry side of the process!)

I highly recommend reading a couple books (click here + scroll down to the bottom for my recommendations!) and/or taking a thorough cold process soapmaking class before you dive in, as it does require special safety practices and an understanding of a somewhat complicated scientific process.

Once you get a handle on the basics, I’m your girl – you’ll find plenty of recipes, tutorials, and resources here on Modern Soapmaking.

Plus, cold process soapmaking is probably the most popular method of soapmaking, so there are a TON of resources out on the web, including Soap Queen, Rebecca’s Soap Delicatessen, The Nerdy Farmwife, and Miller Soap. (And so many more…)

The downfall to cold process soapmaking is that it really has revolutionized over the past few decades, so some of the information you may find out there in books or online should really be taken with a grain of salt.

This method is perfect for you if you are interested in controlling all the ingredients in your soap, and have an interest in combining art and science!

Hot Process Soapmaking

Commonly referred to as HP Soapmaking, hot process soapmaking is almost exactly the same thing as cold process soapmaking, except a source of heat is used to accelerate the chemical reaction that creates soap (saponification.)

Hot process soapmaking rewards the soapmaker with soap that is ready sooner than cold process soap, but it can be more difficult to achieve swirls and complex design patterns that you’ll find in cold process soap. Modern day pioneers are finding ways around this problem in hot process soapmaking, though!

Jen Grimes of Loft Soap (who teaches at The Nova Studio) is the first person I think of when someone asks me about hot process soap, she loves hot process soapmaking the way I love cold process soapmaking. Again, it’s not the method I tend to use, but it doesn’t make it any less awesome!

Hot process soapmaking is great for the impatient soapmaker who wants to use fragrances that misbehave in cold process soap, or want a soap that is ready to use much sooner.

Milling

Also known as French Milling or Rebatching, this type of soapmaking is a combination of all the other methods, in the simplest form.

Most milled soap makers create their own cold process or hot process soap, and then remake it by shredding or grating the soap down, melting it by applying heat, and then adding color, scent, or other additives before molding it. However, it is entirely possible to purchase premade cold process or hot process soap to use for milling or rebatching.

While it’s not a very popular method, it’s perfect for the soapmaker who wants to craft true handmade soap creations without a lot of involvement with caustic lye solution, especially if they purchase premade cold process or hot process soap.

There are quite a few books out there that feature milled soap recipes and tutorials, but I don’t have any websites to recommend, unfortunately!

What method of soapmaking do you use and why?

Leave me a comment below, and tell me what’s up: what kind of soap do you make, and what do you love about it? There are so many different kinds of soapmakers out there, and I think they are all pretty fabulous people! 😉

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29 Responses

  1. Since I’ve only made soap the cold process way I would have to say it is my favorite. I am experimenting with colors and swirls and this method allows me the time to “play”.

  2. Hi Kenna, could you please talk about room temperature cold process? I’ve just discovered this and would like an opinion. Instead of waiting for the lye and oils to be the same temperature, you just add the clear lye water (as soon as it’s clear) to your oils and let the heat of the lye bring up the temp of the oils while at the same time this process lowers the lye temp – basically it’s just an energy exchange. Could this process lengthen the cure time of the soap? I love making soap, but REALLY hate waiting for lye temp to come down. Doing soap this way, there’s no waiting but I’d like to know what changes it might make to soap. Thank you and your site is awesome!!!

    1. Hi Debbie! Yes, I call that Thermal Transfer as room temperature to me is just using room temp oils and lye solution (which is what I do).

      How Thermal Transfer works for you will largely depend on your formula, for me, my formulas tend to be too heavy on saturated fats and there is not enough transfer to bring the entire mix to a high enough temp for gelling unless I use a catalyst. And I prefer gelled soap. One method of dealing with this is to stickblend the oils into a slurry before adding the hot lye solution.

      Your room temperature also plays a huge factor in this. Here, my room temp is typically 70 degrees or less. (In the winter, my workshop drops down into the 40s and 50s F….) But in a warmer climate, it would work much better.

      All the soaps I have made with TT for demonstration purposes have been about the same as CP, I haven’t noticed a longer cure time or anything.

  3. Hi i would like to try the HP and CP but it just seems or sounds too difficult… Am i wrong ..??
    I think the HP would be my first choice …. Any advise ??
    I do M&P now…but would like to try something new …

    1. Go for it, Tita! My opinion is highly biased, but I’d say you can totally start with HP. Whichever you start with, make it easy on yourself – go super basic and maybe just add a scent to an uncolored base. Otherwise, as I say in class, you may have a very *ahem* exciting time on your hands. 🙂

    2. The benefit of the internet is the huge availability of YouTube videos out there! Watch a few and see what process looks less daunting to you, and then give it a shot. 🙂 Good luck!

  4. I am also echoing Debbie’s comment about the room temperature cold process. Anything to cut the time down in the process would be neat in my book.

  5. Hi kena, i started with CP then i started reading about hp. I really like both. I make soaps that do not need design so i use hp and for the ones that i like swirls or more color i go with cp. Love the way you explain process very simple… Regards from México

  6. Oh man, Kenna, I’ve been asleep at the wheel to miss such a lovely shout out from you. Thank you!! You know Sister Cathleen over at Monastery Scents is the first HPer I think of (shhh, don’t tell my soap I’m cheating on it with a bar of hers in the shower…and some CP…and some MP…and some liquid soap. I know, incorrigible.).

  7. Yes, love making cold process soaps! (But why we get so addicted???) I started making milled soaps from failed cold process ones and came to love them too. Just something old timey special about them. Thank you, thank you, and thank you Kenna for all your generous helpful soapmaking information. Can hardly wait to try some of your soap recipes.

  8. Hello Kenna,
    Not sure you still check the comments on this site. However, can I use CP for 3D moulds? I am in a very remote location in the middle of the South Pacific on a coconut plantation.

  9. I started for with CP and love it. I tried melt and pour its cool for embeds and quick soap. I haven’t tried HP yet. I the fact that you don’t have to wait 4-6 weeks with HP, but to me it looks too rustic. I will be milling (didn’t know that’s what rebatching is) a soap that riced on me soon. I love your site I have learned so much.

  10. I LOVE CP Soaping. I enjoy the process of choosing my ingredients and colorants, but my favorite part is the design and swirl. I tell people all the time that it is my way of mixing art and science.

  11. I’ve always wondered why soap makers use essential oils and advertise their benefits to your skin when surely the caustic soda would destroy any of those benefits.
    To truly gain anything ( besides obviously the fragrance) beneficial to yor skin wouldn’t you have to add all the nourishing engredients in a milled process?

  12. Hi Kenna, iam into MP soap making is it possible to design and swirls, Or must it be a cold or Hot press process before u can design your soap?

  13. I do three of the methods of soap making that you mentions. MP, CP and HP for liquid hand and body wash. I’m not in need of funding yet but when the time comes it will be for advertisement/marketing that doesn’t reach out beyond my county. I think people should be told about the need to study how big they want to get because most of that part of their business will gauge how successful they feel in their businesses. I love making soap because of the combination of Science and Art. Always have been creative, and techy and beyond soap making never thought about science. I truely think discovery is at the heart of this sudden interest!!!🙌

    1. We absolutely encourage people to set goals so that they know what their version of success looks like, Catherine. We dedicate a module to this in our Soapmaker to Moneymaker class for start-up businesses.

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