Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel
I’ve been making soap on and off since 1999. Making soap is fun and rewarding and it can be as simple and economical as using three ingredients: oil, lye and water.
Making your own soap is nice too, because, like cooking, you can control what ingredients go in it and reduce the amount of chemicals that come into your home and go down the drain. Commercially made “soaps” aren’t necessarily soaps at all. Most of them are detergents, and they are made with long, unpronounceable chemicals that most of us have no idea what they are.
Yesterday I made an entry about my recent Cold Process soap making extravaganza that, like a sailboat, capsized, but I was eventually able to right the soapy ship. Initially, I posted pictures of the whole process on Facebook, but then a friend’s question inspired me to write yesterday’s and today’s posts on our blog. She asked me to post how much I paid for the supplies, and asked if making handmade soap is economical. She thought it might be a good idea to make some for Christmas presents.
Soap does make a lovely gift, and yes, it’s economical…
You’ll have to bear with me as I break it down.
There’s a caveat though: I can’t really answer with any authoritative gusto. I’m not an expert in soap making, and because I don’t sell my soap I don’t calculate how much each batch actually costs. But here’s the nugget of the caveat: just because you’re reading this on the Internet doesn’t make it correct, or makes the author an expert in the subject.
I’ll share what information I can. You can take it from there whether it’s financially in your best interests to foray into soap making and draw your own conclusions after doing more research on your own.
The library is an excellent resource. Take a soap making class through local continuing education classes or community college. Call some local soap making suppliers too. They might even offer classes. When you call the supplier and talk to someone over the phone, make sure the person you’re talking to actually makes soap. Sometimes these places just hire people to sell their stuff but they don’t know how to make soap and can’t answer your questions properly. Talking to actual soap makers can be really informative as they can give you answers to questions you didn’t even know you had!
With that said, you will need:
2) Know-how in the form of careful reading, research, classes, help from other soapers or a combination of these things
4) Supplies/ingredients (ie. oil, lye, etc.)
5) Space for air drying your finished product
Let’s start with 1) basic soap making equipment.
You’ll need the following, but this list is by no means exhaustive:
The books you selected from the library or bought new or used will give you a more comprehensive list.
You can get a lot of this stuff at dollar stores or second hand/ thrift stores. If you buy an enamel pot, make sure it doesn’t have any chips in it as lye will corrode the exposed metal.
Always have vinegar handy to pour onto any lye if it spills to neutralize it.
It’s often suggested that you keep your soap making equipment separate from other household equipment, especially cooking equipment. You might find this a nuisance, but it’s a good idea. The reason for this is because if you don’t clean up really, really, really well after making soap and neutralize everything that’s come into contact with the soap, you risk having your cooking implements contaminated with a caustic substance that will get into food.
If you decide to use your cooking pots and utensils for soap making, make sure you wash everything thoroughly after use. Use vinegar. Neutralize. Check the pH using pH strips or phenolphthalein. Be overly cautious. Safety, safety, safety cannot be stressed enough.
But don’t trust what I tell you. Go read a book. Or two. Or many.
Which leads me to 2) Know-how in the form of careful reading, research, classes, help from other soapers or a combination of these things
Personally, I only own three soap making books and a pamphlet. They are
– Handmade Soap: A Practical Guide to Making Natural Soaps by Tatyana Hill
– Cranberry Lane’s Natural Soap Making Guide This is a pamphlet I got from a local soap making supply company when I started making soap.
– Making Natural Liquid Soaps by Catherine Failor
There are lots of good Websites too. Here’s a thimbleful:
Already you can see that soap making requires some careful preparation and initial expense.
Let’s move on to 3) Recipes:
The best recipes are the ones you’ll find in books designed for the beginner soap maker. Even though there are millions of posts about how to make soap on the Internet, the best resource is still a book. (Have I stressed this enough?) Go to your local library, sit down, peruse the books on soap making at your leisure. Borrow your favourite books with the best directions, clearest pictures and simplest ingredients. Choose recipes that aren’t overly complicated or have too many ingredients, and don’t worry about terms like “super fatting,” “SAP value” or lye calculators and such. Just read the instructions carefully and follow a simple recipe. If you get hooked, you’ll learn as you go and you’ll be making fancy soaps soon enough.
Now that you have your equipment, know-how and recipes, you’ll need to get 4) Supplies/ingredients.
Your recipe will clearly state what you need. Shopping around for the best prices – buying some things from grocery stores and others from soap supply companies – while initially takes time, eventually saves money.
For instance, we live in New Westminster, BC. I buy my olive pomace oil locally from a store called Denny’s Farm Market. Their least expensive 3 litre (101 fl. oz) container of pomace oil is about $13.00 CDN. A soap supplier I went to recently was selling theirs for $16.00. A local natural fine foods store called Galloway’s sells a 30ml (1 fl oz) bottle of organic lavender essential oil for $16.99 CDN. PriceSmart in Burnaby sells a 10ml (.3 fl oz) bottle of non-organic lavender essential oil for $6.89 CDN. About 6-7 years ago I bought a 3kg container of lye (sodium hydroxide) from Home Hardware for $26.00. I’ve just started to run low, so last week bought a 1kg bottle from Voyageur Soap and Candle in Surrey for $7.95. Their prices drop as the quantities increase.
You’ll need 5) Space for air drying your finished product.
You won’t need a lot of space, of course, but you’ll need to put aside your soap where it can sit and cure undisturbed for several weeks. Your recipe and how soft it is or how much water it retains will determine the amount of time you’ll need to wait for it to harden and cure. The bars of soap will need air flow all around them. Be patient.
Sometimes you’ll find a light dusting of lye form on the surface of your soap. This can usually be scraped off, but you might find the soap is still too alkaline, in which case it shouldn’t be used for body soap and is best used as household soap, ie. laundry soap, bathroom cleaner and for cleaning floors and dishes, etc.
CONGRATULATIONS! We’re half way there! We’ve gotten our equipment together, done tons of reading, asked questions, taken some courses, found the perfect recipe for our first batch of soap, bought our ingredients, and cleared room in a closet for drying the soap! Hoorah!
Now let’s talk MONEY.
Or sing it.
Cha cha cha!
So, is making your own soap economical?
Well, you could just go and buy a really awesome bar of homemade soap for about $5.00 from a farmer’s market that will last about 3 weeks or longer in the shower. From that perspective it’s not very economical.
However, over the long term if you plan on making soap frequently, to use around the house and give away as gifts, then yes, it is economical.
As I mentioned earlier, my soap becomes many things, laundry soap, household cleaning soap that I use in the bathroom and for cleaning floors, hand washing soap for delicate clothes, and as hand soap in the kitchen and bathroom (‘though lately I’ve been filling up my plastic pump bottle with liquid hand soap from The Soap Dispensary in Vancouver. My next foray into soap making will be liquid soap so I can make shampoos and hand soaps.
As you can see, if you plan on maximizing the usage of your soap while reducing the purchase of other soap-like products you’d otherwise buy, it is economical to make your own soap. Eventually your equipment pays for itself, the ingredients are less expensive than the cost of buying numerous different detergents and soaps, and your soap could last at least a year, maybe two before you need to make another batch.
And that’s just for personal household use.
If you get really good at making soap, you can sell it and begin to profit from your hobby. Or, if you decide not to sell your soap, you can package it beautifully and give it away as gifts. As you get better at making it, you’ll get faster too. If time is money, then you’ll be saving money by decreasing the time it takes to prepare your soap. You can’t do anything about speeding up the curing time. Soap will cure on it’s own schedule. Soap is like a wizard. As Gandalf told Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, “A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” By the way, that’s one of Neil’s favourite quotes. 🙂
Now to answer my friend’s other question: How much did it cost me for this batch of soap?
It’s a bit hard to answer because I bought some things in bulk that will be used for future projects, but the following breakdown will show the actual prices paid for the ingredients I needed. I also had some ingredients already.
I estimate that I can make approximately 8kg (17lbs) of soap out of most of these ingredients, with the exception of the essential oil. That’s a one shot deal (and wasn’t enough, by the way. Triple the amount would have made it smell much nicer). Some things, like the phenolphthalein, will last for years. Here’s what I bought:
Total = $83.34
The first batch yielded 4kg (8lbs 13oz) of soap before drying. It will get a little lighter as the water evaporates and the soap hardens.
Now, I’m not about break everything down to figure out exactly how much my recent batch of soap cost. If you want to do that for your own soap, fill your boots! But just for fun, let’s arbitrarily say my total cost for this batch was $42.00.
Rocky Mountain Soap Co. sells 100g bars of soap for $5.25 CDN. How do I know this? I checked online.
4kg = 4000g. At 100g/bar, I could get 40 bars out of this current batch. 40 X $5.25 = $210.00.
Or, to put it another way, $42.00 ÷ 40 = $1.05/ 100g bar of soap.
If your soap smells divine and makes a creamy lather and leaves the skin feeling soft, and you want to give it away as gifts then I’d say this is pretty economical, even if you had to buy a digital scale, candy thermometer and large pot!
Now if you don’t want to go through all the hassle of getting the equipment, supplies, ingredients and spending a lot of time learning how to make soap, there’s a great alternative! It is “melt and pour” soap.
Basically, it’s cold process soap that’s already made and cured that you melt, add scents, colorants and other additives to, and pour into molds. You don’t have to worry whether the soap is alkaline or not, or if you’ve got the lye to oil ratios right, or anything! That’s all been done for you. It’s still economical, and much, much easier to make. And it’s much safer to do with kids as there’s no lye to contend with. They love helping and making their own soap too!
But don’t take my word for it. Go to your local soap supplier and check out their selection and decide for yourself.
So, there you have it folks, an epic post about the economics of homemade soap.
We’ve very unscientifically concluded that yes, making your own soap can be economical, but requires initial capital expense. This can be done on a budget by going to thrift, dollar or second hand stores, repurposing items from around the home, or you can buy most of your equipment at soap supply and kitchen stores.
We’ve also determined the importance of educating yourself about how to make soap by either reading the instructions carefully, taking classes, or asking experienced soap makers for help, or preferably a combination of all of the above.
We’ve established that safety is paramount when making soap during the initial stages because of the alkalinity of sodium hydroxide (lye).
Finally, we’ve concluded that while making homemade soap from scratch is fun, challenging and rewarding, for the casual soap maker, an excellent alternative is the “melt and pour” method especially if the finished product is intended for gifts or even sale.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this post! I really appreciate it. And I sincerely hope you enjoy your adventures in soap making!
It is no lie:
I cannot write a lai
About a puddle of lye.