If you'd like to get started with soap making, but you're afraid of the cost involved, this post is for you. You really can start making soap without spending much on supplies and ingredients. I hope these frugal soap making tips help you feel you can dive right in with this delightful craft, without sacrificing your budget!
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For those of us who are "makers" by nature, I think it's common to yearn for learning a new craft every so often. For me, this seems to happen about about every three months. I suddenly get the itch, and just have to try my hand at something new.
The tough thing about picking up a new artistic interest, though, is that most new skills are also accompanied by a fresh supply list of tools and ingredients. So even if it's a craft that will end up saving money in the long run (like soap making!), buying the supplies and ingredients to get started can feel like a real hurdle - especially if you're on a tight budget.
Getting started with soap making doesn't have to be pricey though. I recently dove back into making soap (lots and lots of soap), and I've learned some tricks for getting started without spending much. These frugal soap making tips help save money on supplies, so you can start soap making even on a tiny budget.
Tips to save money, when you start making soap
If you've been putting off trying your hand at making your own soap, because of the expense of getting started, I truly hope this post leaves you feeling that you can jump right in. It honestly doesn't take much to create a good bar of soap, and chances are good that you've probably got many of the supplies you need, already in your kitchen and pantry. Let's chat first about how to save on the supplies you'll need.
Tips for saving money on soap making tools
Honestly, the most expensive soap making supplies can be all of those great soap molds that are available. It's easy to spend $30 or more on a good loaf mold, but you really don't need to - especially not at first!
You can use almost anything as a soap mold - from yogurt containers to milk cartons. You truly don't need to spend a cent. This post from Bramble Berry has excellent tips on soaping with "upcycled" molds.
If you're feeling crafty, and don't mind spending a few dollars for supplies, you can also check out this great little tutorial from Making Our Sustainable Life, with full instructions for making your own adjustable wooden loaf mold.
You'll need containers for measuring your oils, water, and lye. Just like with soap molds, you can re-use a container you already have. I work in small batches, and prefer old peanut butter containers for measuring my water and lye. Just be sure they're containers you can dedicate to soap making, once you use them.
Mixing spoons, and heat-proof spatula
You'll want a non-reactive spoon for mixing your water and lye - stainless steel or wooden spoons work well. And a silicone spatula is very useful when you're pouring the soap into your molds. If you don't already have a spoon and spatula you can sacrifice to your soap making stash, you can almost always find suitable ones at a thrift store, for nearly nothing.
Accurate kitchen scale.
This is a must-have, that you might actually have to spend a bit on. You need to be able to accurately weigh your ingredients, and you want a scale that measures to the hundredth of an ounce, if possible. The more accurately you measure your ingredients, the better your soap will turn out. This scale does the job well, and it's still under $12.
You also really do need this. It takes forever to mix soap to trace by hand, and that totally sucks the fun right out of soap making. But chances are, someone you know may have an extra immersion blender you can have, if you just let folks know you're on the lookout for one. Both of mine were given to me by friends or family who had an extra and were getting rid of them. It's also worth asking in your local Facebook "Buy Nothing" group, to see if anyone has an extra they'd like to see go to good use. If you do end up needing to buy one, it's ok to get a cheapie. The one I use for soap making is this $11 immersion blender, and it's worked well for me for years.
You'll only need this if you're making hot process soap (my favorite method right now!) Crock pots can often be found very cheaply at yard sales and thrift stores, and often are $5 or less when you see them second hand like this. Keep in mind that you'll want a 6 or 8 quart model if you want to do larger batches, like 3 pounds or so, but it doesn't need to be anything fancy. This is the crock pot I use for soap making.
Gloves and safety glasses are a must, but you can pick these up at the dollar store. Those are what I use, and I find these gloves, and these goggles to work just fine. So for $2, your safety supplies are covered. Don't forget to wear a shirt with long sleeves, too!
Ways to save money on soap making ingredients
Buy good quality lye that's meant for soap making, in modest quantities
When I first jumped into soap making, I took the plunge and bought several pounds of lye all at once. However, I think it's a far better plan to start with buying a small amount of good quality lye, so you're not investing much in a hobby you're just getting started with. It only takes a few ounces of lye to make a pound of soap, so it goes a long way. Many sites will suggest you pick up lye at the hardware store, but that can really be hit or miss. I've read many, many tales of soap batches gone terribly wrong, because of inferior lye that was picked up at a hardware store. I suggest looking online for affordable lye with free shipping, that has good reviews specifically from soap makers. Something like this is a good way to start.
Use economical oils and butters
One of the most effective ways I save money on soap making, is to work with oils I can buy very inexpensively. Lard and tallow can be wonderful soap making oils, and for me, they're nearly free. I pay almost nothing for raw leaf lard or fatback, which I then render myself. So I'm always on the lookout for great soap recipes that feature a hearty percentage of lard or tallow.
Coconut, avocado, and olive oils tend to also be affordable oils. I buy mine at my local discount store, and watch the sales circular each week so I'll see when it's especially cheap. When I can get good coconut oil for about $2 a pound, I snap it up! As you get into soap making and find which oils you love working with, you'll find yourself noticing when your favorite oils come on sale.
Take a look in your pantry and see which oils you already have, that you can use for soap making. Then specifically look for soap recipes that make use of those ingredients.
Keep your eyes peeled for sales
While I do get many of my supplies locally, when they're on sale, I also enjoy ordering from Bulk Apothecary, and find they have amazing prices on many of the other oils and butters I like to work with. This is where I always get my shea butter and castor oil. In fact, if you use this link, they'll give you $10 off your first order! Also be sure to sign up for their mailing list so you'll get notified when they have their sales. Making use of those introductory coupons and sale promotions is a great way to save on the items you can't buy in town!
Mountain Rose Herbs and Starwest Botanicals can also have good prices on soap making ingredients, and I highly recommend getting on the mailing list for each of these suppliers as well. You never know when they might have a sale, and free shipping can be a game changer when that promotion comes around!
Choose essential oils that pack a punch
The cheapest way to make soap is not to scent it at all - but where's the fun in that? It would be tempting to buy some inexpensive fragrance oils, but those synthetic scents are so damaging to our bodies, it's just not worth it to me. Real essential oils are honestly the best way to add a natural fragrance to our soaps, while bolstering our bodies' health, rather than damaging them.
Since essential oils don't come cheap, I really suggest working with ones that provide the strongest scents with the smallest amounts. Woodsy scents (think fir and pine) and hearty herbacious ones (think lemongrass, mint, rosemary and eucalyptus) can be some good bets. They also hold onto their scent in soap much longer than lighter scents like citrus.
Another way to save on essential oils is to make use of more common, inexpensive oils that are readily available - lavender or pine, for example, rather than frankincense or rose.
It's also good to keep in mind that you don't need that much oil for a small batch of soap. There are a lot of sites out there that suggest higher amounts than are really beneficial. In my opinion, this post from Modern Soapmaking is the resource when it comes to learning about amounts for specific essential oils, as used in soap making. No other resource I've found comes close to this level of information, and I recommend it as a must-read for any natural soap maker.
Saving money with your methods
Use tested recipes from soap makers that you can trust
This is one of my strongest suggestions for really saving money when you're starting out. There are so many soap recipes available online, and honestly - there are plenty that aren't that great, or are even published with errors that can lead to failed batches. When you're first getting started, look for recipes from a highly-rated soap making book, or from well-known blogs that specialize in soap making. The Nerdy Farm Wife, Simple Life Mom, and Healing Harvest Homestead all have excellent, reliable recipes.
Even then, it never hurts to run every recipe through SoapCalc before you try it. This is an incredibly robust, online soap recipe calculator. You can input a recipe you'd like to try, hit "calculate recipe" and then "view", and it will show you the characteristics of the soap that your recipe should produce. If something seems off (like the amount of lye SoapCalc calls for being significantly less than the recipe, or the "cleansing" properties of your bar showing up as next to nil), it may be worth holding off on that recipe and trying a different one for now.
Make smaller batches of soap
Keep in mind that just because a recipe you want to try makes 3 pounds, doesn't mean you have to make that much. Carefully calculate half or even a third of that, to make a small batch. This way you're getting to perfect your soap making skills by making multiple batches and trying different recipes, without using up so much of your ingredients on one big batch of soap.
Don't toss out any failed batches - you might be able to save them!
When you're getting started, all of your soap making efforts may not be successes, even if you use good ingredients and a great recipe. (Have I told you about the time I was so afraid of under-cooking my first batch of hot process soap that I let it cook for five hours? Soaping FAIL.)
Don't throw out that messy, ugly batch yet. When you're done crying over it, read this post from soapqueen.com, which may still help you turn it into usable soap. It might still be ugly, but at least you'll probably be able to use it, so you're not losing all those ingredients you just invested in your batch of soap.
Well, these have been my best frugal tips from the trenches of beginner soap making. I really do hope they make you feel like you can take up soap making without much investment at all.
I've found soap making to be such a joy, and it really does save our family money now that I'm making all of our soap. Making your own won't save you money if you're comparing it with something like Dial or Irish Spring. But if you've been buying all natural soaps that are free of parabens and other synthetic compounds, making your own soap can definitely be less expensive!
Read Next: Handmade Christmas Soap Recipes
For those of you with a few (or a few hundred!) batches of soap under your belt, what other tricks do you have for saving money on your soap making? I'd love to hear about them!
Happy soap making!
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I would like to know if you have a hot press vegan coffee coconut and oilve oil soap receipe that you can share thank you?
Leigh Ann says
Thank you so much for this great info. I am a maker as you call us. I have been wanting to make soap for awhile but have been scared of trying.
Go for it, Leigh! You got this!!! Thank you so very much for the kind words, and if you have questions or I can help in any way, don't hesitate to reach out, ok? Cheering you on!
Thank you for this post. Couldnt have at a better time. I've been buying cold pressed soap for years and have been itching to try my hand at it for twice as long. But the lye and trace and possibility for burns intimidated me. With covid-19 keeping me in doors I'm running low on my soap stash. I guess now's the time to face my fears and just go for it!!! Thanks for the encouragement!!!
There's never been a better time! I'm cheering you on from over here - if I can help in any way, just let me know!!
I was looking for the recipe on how to make your own soap,bit I didn't find it???
good ideas, but you do not need an immersion blender. I’ve been making soap for 13 years. I hand stir. Only one of my soaps takes a while to come to trace (pure coconut oil formula I n a salt soap). The rest of my soaps come to trace in 5 minutes of less. Castile takes 3 minutes! When I started making soap, I did have this problem of long stirring until I realized the pomace olive oil I was using was adulterated (with soybean oil). For the past 12 years I’ve never had this problem, as I have a reliable source for that oil. If you are stirring forever, I would look at your soap recipe (make sure it has olive oil (not extra virgin—pomace) and May e try a different supplier of that oil. Manyponace oils out there are adulterated and that will affect your stir time in a big way.
I'm just another soap maker, and I've been making soap for about 7 years now, here in the United States and in El Salvador, where I've spent some time in a rural area.
I felt the need to mention that it's not always easy to find pomace oil, to those who don't know, a class of olive oil that's extracted from what's left of the olive pits and flesh after everything else could be. There are NO chemicals left in the oil that can be considered dangerous to the skin, but the unsaponifiables are very high which means that it makes a very conditioning bar of soap.
However, it also comes to trace VERY quickly, which is why, when combined with other ingredients that also accelerate trace, means you dint need to use an immersion blender. You can use a heart resistant spoon or spatula to stir the mixture to trace.
I sincerely apologize for making this reply so long but I wanted to make sure that anyone reading this post understood why pomace oil behaves the way it does, and why you sometimes don't need a stick, or immersion, blender, but most of the time you do.
Palm, olive, lard, canola, almond, and sometimes rice bran oil are all oils that will take some time to come to trace. Especially lard and olive. From personal experience, I can tell you that it took me HOURS of stirring, before I finally just put my batter on the stove because I didn't have either a stick blender or a crock pot, to cook my soap. I did make soap but it wasn't fun, it was a complete nightmare!
So, you want to make soap, and have it be fun? Get a stick blender, and a scale, even if it doesn't weigh down to the hundredth of a gram.
Join the forum at http://www.soapmakingforum.com for THE best advice from the best soap makers anywhere.
Great read & good information however your link to Bulk products to purchase . I believe it's Bulk Apocarthy forgive if I spelled it wrong , it doesn't give you 10.00 off your purchase for new customers. That was a bummer. Considering that I really wanted to purchase an oil. Just letting you know for others that read this. If they offered you anything for referrals they aren't honoring the coupon.
Hi Letisia, thanks so much very much for letting me know! That REALLY is a bummer, and I'm disappointed to hear that they didn't honor the code for you. I've just chatted with their support team and should hear back from their management tomorrow about this issue. If it doesn't get resolved, I'll definitely remove that discount code from the post. Again - thank you so much for letting me know about it!
Whitney Maybelle says
Making hot process soap is so rewarding. I am loving the way they are turning out. I have been using Peppermint and Eucalyptus and It is the best winter soap and shower decongestant ever. I love the idea of using dried fruits or herbs as a packaging garnish! I look forward to seeing what comes next.
Thanks for including a link to Modern Soapmaking in your post! You readers might also enjoy our EOCalc.com. It makes it easier to figure out safe amounts of common essential oils to use in your soaps, either your blends or the ones we provide for inspiration.
And a quick tip for your readers...be careful of thin plastic reused containers when measuring your fragrance. Concentrated essential oils or fragrance oils can eat right though...many soap makers have been shocked to find a pool of fragrance on their work surface after measuring their fragrance! Consider glass or stainless steel instead.
But my first mold was absolutely a reused milk carton!
Stephanie, thank YOU so much for taking the time to share your expertise with our readers! These are awesome tips, and that Essential Oil Calculator is fantastic! Thank you again so much!!!
Emma. I love this would like yo make my own soap or even better earn a living out of it. Please help. Thanks
Hi Emma, thanks so much for your kind comment. I've been getting quite a few emails with similar questions, so I'll try to get a post written soon that shares exactly how to make my favorite (super easy!) soap recipe. And while I don't have a soap business myself, I know some amazing folks who do. Let me see if we can get some pointers for you, with getting that soap business up and running!
Yes I would love to have your homemade soap recipe
Linda, I have been meaning to share some of my favorite recipes! Your comment is a good reminder I need to make that happen soon!
Debbie Abshear says
Your blogs are wonderful but very hard to read. Especially with that side bar on the left for sharing. It cuts into the text along the left side so you have to continually scroll to read around it. The pop up ads at the bottom aren’t too bad.
Debbie, thanks so much for letting me know! I'm always trying to improve the reading experience for my followers. Can you let me know if you're reading on mobile or desktop? I will definitely see what I can do! Thanks very much for taking the time to let me know- I appreciate it so much!!
Karen Merhalski says
GREAT article! I have always wanted to try making my own bar soap! I will definitely be trying some in the near future.
Thanks for the kind words Karen! I've been especially enjoying making hot process soap lately, since it's ready to use right away and doesn't take weeks to cure - nothing like instant gratification!
Just a word on hot process soap. I've been making my own soaps for close to 7 years now, mostly cold process, but a few hot process batches as well. Something I learned along the way is that no matter which process you use, cure times should still be at least 6 weeks regardless.
The reason is that though saponification (the chemical process of fats and alkali combining into soap) takes place fairly quickly during hot process, just as in cold process, the soap salts still need time to "align". I don't know how else to explain it without sounding like a complete science snob. This is called curing by those that make soap, and it squeezes out more moisture, creates a more substantial bar of soap that lasts longer, makes better lather or suds, and ends up leaving the skin feeling more luxurious.
In essence, the longer a soap bar sits, the better.
And one more thing? There's a forum, http://www.soapmakingforum.com. There's all kinds of people obsessed with soap, so many willing to help novices and experiencedalike with any questions. There were a few even who got together and created a brand new lye calculator, that's LOADS better than soapcalc, which frankly, has seen better days.
So, thank you for this post! Reminded me of when I started making soap and how scared and excited I was. Now I just look around my kitchen, save a few shipping boxes, and I'm off to the races! Oh, and one thing I took to heart from the veterans at that forum: never use glass for making soap. The lye etches it and next thing you know, you're holding the handle or a piece of the bowl, and the rest of the soap batter is everywhere. Just saying.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your tips and experience! I appreciate that so much! I'm off to check out that forum you shared, and please - never feel bad about sounding like a science snob! Geeking out over the science of things makes my little heart tick. Thanks again for the kind words and wisdom from a veteran soap maker!