Make It, Don’t Buy It: Simple Homemade Soaps

Try these two easy and unique herbal homemade soap recipes, infused with mint and calendula.

Oatmeal Soap

Vintage muffin tins make unique soap molds, and they’re cheap and easy to find at thrift stores.

Photo by Yuki Sugiura

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Just as it’s important to care about the quality of foods that go into our bodies, so too is it important to care about the products we put on our skin. Soap, one of the most ubiquitous body-care products, rids our skin of daily grime, makeup, dead skin cells and oxidized sebum. Yet, whether in the form of a body wash, foaming cleanser or bar, many soaps on the market are filled with harsh detergents that can damage our skin. For example, synthetic fragrances, often made up of a slew of chemical ingredients, have been linked to allergies and migraines; and the antibacterial chemical triclosan is a possible carcinogen. You can avoid these health hazards, save money and have fun by crafting your own soaps at home. It requires a few basic ingredients, doesn’t take a ton of man power and can be very cost-effective. Plus, they make great gifts!

The following recipes use the melt-and-pour method, a soap-making technique that uses a premade, coconut oil-derived soap base (available from soapmaking supply stores and websites) that is easy to melt using a double boiler or another gentle heat source. Once the soap base is melted, all you have to do is mix in your botanicals, natural fragrances and other additions, then pour it into a mold; let it sit for a couple of hours and voilà! Melt-and-pour soaps are fun to make with children and forgo the hazards of working with caustic lye.

Simple Soap Recipes

Energizing Mint Soap Recipe
Calendula, Honey and Oatmeal Soap Recipe

Soap Molds 101

Silicone soap molds are available at local craft stores or online soap-making supply stores such as Bramble Berry and Mold Market.

If you don’t want to spend money on extra supplies, pans and dishes already in your kitchen can work well, depending on how much soap you plan to melt. For example, you might make a solid soap bar in a bread pan, then cut the loaf into whatever size soap bars you like. Alternatively, make more decorative, rounded individual soaps with small ceramic ramekins or muffin pans. Vintage muffin and tart pans in interesting shapes make great soap molds and are often easy to find at thrift stores.

Before pouring soap into molds, be sure to spray with oil for easy removal or line with parchment paper or muffin liners.

3 Soapmaking Tips

At its core, making soap is a science. While there are numerous ways to make a single bar of soap, experience yields knowledge. If you’re willing to venture into the world of homemade soap, consider these three sound tips from expert soap-maker Jordan Henderson, owner of Soap Alchemy.

1. Measurements are critical to your success, so be as accurate as possible. Using grams is 28 times as accurate—28.35 grams makes up 1 ounce. Use glass kitchen scales that measure in grams and ounces, found online in the $20 range.

2. Use distilled water. Don’t rely on tap water or spring water, which contain minerals that may interfere with the soap-making process.

3. Start with a simple soap recipe. Once you’ve experienced the process of making your own soap a few times, feel free to move on to a more complicated recipe.

Drying Calendula Petals

You can grow your own calendula for soap or other skin-care products. Make sure you are growing the medicinal variety, Calendula officinalis, not a Tagetes species, which are ornamental marigolds. To harvest calendula, pick its flowers when they are fully open on a sunny morning after the dew has evaporated. Place them on a drying screen in a dry, shady, well-ventilated place and turn them once or twice a day until they are papery. Pull the petals from the buds and store them in a dark glass jar or other opaque container until ready to use. As well as using them for soaps and other beauty preparations, you can use calendula petals to add color to simple cheeses, infuse them into tea, or scatter them over risottos or pilafs.