Can you make soap without lye? Learn how to make handmade soap without handling lye, with this complete guide to the melt and pour soap making method.
You’re super excited to start making your own handmade soap, already imagining the dreamy bars you’re going to create for yourself, for gifts, and maybe even a soap making business down the road.
And then you discover… LYE.
And that puts a snag in your soapy dreams faster than a horse bolting for an open gate. Maybe you:
- Don’t feel comfortable storing or handling lye (i.e. it scares the bejeebers out of you)
- Have small children and don’t want to be making soap with lye while they’re underfoot (good call there, Mama)
- Don’t want to invest a bunch of money into aaaaallllll of the tools, supplies, and ingredients needed to make soap only to find out it’s not really your thing
But there is a way to make soap without lye: it’s called the melt and pour soap method.
The melt and pour soap making method is perfect for beginning soap makers. There is no need to handle lye. You can get started today and use your own handmade soap bars tomorrow.
Excited? Me too!
Read on to learn how to make soap without lye, with the melt and pour method.
Can You Make Soap Without Lye?
New soapers commonly ask, “can you make soap without lye?” The precise-but-contradictory answer is both yes and no.
YES, you can make soap without ever handling lye yourself.
NO, chemically-speaking, soap itself cannot be made without lye.
Soap is made by blending oils (like olive oil or coconut oil), a liquid (water, goat’s milk, etc.), and an alkali (lye).
Lye is needed to convert oils into soap. Without it, you can stand there stirring until the cows mosey home and never have anything in your pot other than oil and water.
(To dig deeper into the how and why lye is needed to make soap, check out this article: 8 Common Questions About Soap Making With Lye.)
When making soap completely from scratch, using oils and water, lye must be used. Soap made in this way is done by either the cold process method or the hot process method.
But there is a third soap making method called the melt and pour method.
When making melt and pour soap you DO NOT need to use or handle lye. The lye step has already been done for you!
What Is Melt and Pour Soap?
The melt and pour soap method utilizes a premade soap base. Just like with other soap methods, melt and pour soap base is made with lye. But the lye step is done by the soap base manufacturer.
Melt and pour soap is made without ever touching lye yourself.
Purchase the premade soap base, cut it into chunks, and melt it down on the stove top until it becomes liquid. Then, stir in whatever your little soaping heart desires.
The melted base is poured into a soap mold, and left to cool and harden back up. Once that is done, you pop the soap out of the mold and it’s ready to use. Yep, that easy!
Melt and pour soap making is sometimes called the soap casting method or glycerin soap making.
What Are the Ingredients In Melt and Pour Soap Base?
Ingredients vary by manufacturer, and the type of base you use, but these are the most common ingredients you will find:
Oils and Butters
Coconut, palm, safflower, and olive are the most common oils used to make melt and pour soap base. These may be listed in the ingredient deck by their common names or by their INCI names (or international nomenclature).
Don’t be scared away by ingredient lists containing things like sodium cocoate or sodium palmate. These are the INCI names for saponified oils (AKA oils that are now soap).
So, sodium cocoate means saponified coconut oil, sodium palmate means saponified palm oil, sodium olivate means saponified olive oil.
Sodium hydroxide is the chemical name for lye. So if you see this in your ingredients, don’t worry.
Although lye is needed to make soap, there is no lye present in melt and pour soap base.
It has all been chemically converted to soap during the saponification process.
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Are There Different Types of Melt and Pour Soap Bases?
Don’t think because you’re using a premade base that you’ll be limited with your soap making.
Melt and pour soap bases come in a huge variety, including:
You craft with all melt and pour soap bases the same way. You can even mix bases to make your own custom soap.
There are other base options, too, if you need specific formulating requirements or have ingredients you’re looking to avoid. Melt and pour bases also come in:
There’s definitely a melt and pour soap base out there that will fit your needs.
What Is a Suspension Soap Base?
Certain ingredients, when you add them to melt and pour soap base, have the tendency to either sink to the bottom of your bar (like oatmeal) or float to the surface (like lavender buds and dried herbs). This isn’t a problem if that’s the look you’re going for, and can give your soap a pretty, layered look.
But what if you’d like the additives evenly dispersed throughout the entire bar? That’s where a suspension soap base comes in.
Suspension base is a specific type of melt and pour soap base that allows additives like oats, dried herbs, and flower petals to remain evenly suspended throughout the bar. Your additives will not sink or float.
Suspension bases aren’t a necessity, though admittedly they make things easier. You can use any soap base and get the additives to stay evenly suspended throughout the bar by following these three steps:
1. Don’t allow your soap base to get too hot when melting. You want the base to just melt and then remove from heat.
2. After adding your additives, continually stir and wait until the soap base starts to thicken before pouring into mold.
3. Immediately pop your mold into the refrigerator to quickly cool and solidify the soap.
By doing these three things, the soap base solidifies before the additives can either float or sink, keeping them gloriously suspended throughout the bar. It takes a bit of practice, so don’t give up if it doesn’t work perfectly for you the first time.
But if that sounds too fiddly to you, buy a suspension soap base and you won’t have to worry about it.
Ready To Get All The Soap Making Details?
If you’re ready to jump right in, grab my free Quick-Start Guide to Making Soap Without Lye.
It’s the perfect printable step-by-step of the melt and pour soap making process that you’ll refer back to again and again as you craft your melt and pour soap bars.
It also includes a cheat sheet with common additive measurements, including fragrance and essential oils, so that you always know exactly how much “fun stuff” to add to your melt and pour soap creations.
Is Melt and Pour Soap All Natural?
In general, melt and pour soap bases are NOT 100% natural.
The vast majority of melt and pour soap bases contain, at least in part, synthetic ingredients such as propylene glycol, sorbitan oleate, sodium laural sufates etc. These ingredients are used to help the soap base melt more smoothly and easily.
That said, there are manufacturers who create melt and pour soap bases using only naturally-derived ingredients. The resulting soap base is mostly natural, with ingredients found in nature or created from natural ingredients.
One caveat, though. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not, as a rule, regulate the term “natural.” That means that each manufacturer determines for themselves what constitutes as natural. So, an ingredient that is created in a lab, as long as it is a bio-equivalent of a natural substance, can be deemed natural.
As a consumer, if finding the most natural melt and pour soap base option is important to you, reading the ingredient list is going to be your best bet.
While melt and pour soap bases aren’t 100% natural, you can find bases that are made from naturally derived ingredients as well as free from SLS, SLES, detergents, and parabens. Plenty are also cruelty-free and not tested on animals, if that is also a concern of yours.
I personally use and like the melt and pour bases from From Nature with Love, but shop around and find a base that works best for you.
The Benefits of Melt and Pour Soap Making
Melt and pour was the very first soap making method I started with, and I still think it’s the best method for beginning soapers.
Some benefits of melt and pour soap making are:
It’s easy and inexpensive to get started. All you need is the base, and whatever additives you’d like to add to your soap, many of which can be found in your kitchen (like honey, oatmeal, and dried herbs).
You don’t need special tools or supplies. You can use the pots, bowls, spoons, and spatulas that you have in your kitchen.
The process is quick. Cold process and hot process soap making is a multi-step affair that can take several hours. A batch of melt and pour soap can be made in 30 minutes, or less.
Melt and pour soap is ready to use immediately after cooling. Did you know that cold process soap must cure for at least 30 days before it’s ready to use? Not melt and pour, baby! As soon as it’s cool, you can pop it from the mold and use it immediately. Instant gratification.
You can create bars with melt and pour that you can’t with other soap methods. Those super pretty clear or stained-glass looking soap bars? THAT’S melt and pour soap, friend! Because melt and pour soap base come in transparent options, it opens up an entire new world of soap making possibilities. Create transparent soap that suspends herbs or glitter. Embed other soaps, small toys, or dissolvable photo paper. Or simple make bright, bold colors. Melt and pour soap making is super creative and fun.
The Drawbacks of Melt and Pour Soap Making
Really, the biggest drawback of melt and pour soap making method is you don’t have 100% control over your ingredients. You are limited to the bases you can purchase.
Also, you could find a base you really love and the manufacturer decides to stop making it, or changes their formulation. You’re at the mercy of the soap base manufacturers. (And don’t underestimate how deeply you can fall in love with a specific soap base, friend!)
Is Melt and Pour Soap “Real” Handmade Soap?
Yes, ma’am, it certainly is!
Melt and pour soap base is made with oils and lye. It lathers and bubbles. It smells good. You wash with it and get clean.
Sounds like real soap, in my book.
Because I love food analogies, think of it this way…
Cold process soap making is making a cake completely from scratch. Melt and pour soap making is making a cake using a boxed mix.
The end result is still cake, right? And both are still tasty.
But there are some purist soap makers who believe that if you’re not making soap completely from scratch, you’re not “really” making soap. And they can be really vocal.
Seriously. I’ve had students tell me about, and I have personally witnessed, people being jumped on and brow-beaten in some online soap-making groups because they make melt and pour soap and have the audacity to call themselves real soap makers.
Can I just say… that’s cow patties.
Listen, melt and pour soap is made from the same bulk ingredients as other handmade soap methods. There are many roads that lead to the same destination.
And never let someone else make you feel like you’re not a legitimate soap maker because you’re making melt and pour soap.
If you make melt and pour soap you are a REAL soap maker, and you’re making REAL handmade soap.
If someone tells you different, you send them over to talk to me, friend.
What Supplies Do I Need To Get Started Making Soap?
You probably have all the things you need to make melt and pour soap in your kitchen right now. How’s that for easy and inexpensive, friend?
You can use your regular kitchen tools for both melt and pour soap making and cooking.
Just wash well between uses, obviously. Your cooking pots and utensils will be extra-sparkly clean; it’s soap after all!
Important thing to note here: While you can use your regular kitchen tools for melt and pour soap making, cold process soap making requires separate tools and implements.
You’ll need just simple kitchen tools to get started making melt and pour soap:
- Pot or double boiler
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Non-serrated knife and cutting board, for cutting your soap base
- Silicone spatulas or spoons for stirring
You’ll also need molds to pour your soap base into. Here are some soap mold options:
Silicone soap molds: These are my absolute favorites! You can use specific silicone soap molds, or silicone baking pans (like these super cute heart pans). Silicone molds release the soap bars really easily, are relatively inexpensive for their longevity. You may even have a few in your kitchen right now, or you can buy them at any store that sells soap making or baking supplies.
PVC soap molds: These molds also come in fun shapes, and you can find them with cute sayings like “goat milk“ and “handmade.” Because they are made from a stiff plastic, they do require a firm hand to press the soap from the mold and will eventually warp or crack over time.
I personally have a stash of both silicon and plastic soap molds I’ve collected over time. You can buy these online or at craft stores.
Loaf molds or baking pans: If you like the look of tall, rectangular bars, you can get that with loaf soap molds or silicone baking pans made for baking breads. With loaf molds, you pour the entire melted soap batch into the mold, slicing into bars after the soap has set up.
Box lined with freezer paper: There’s no need to spend a lot of money on a soap mold, especially when you’re first starting out. Boxes lined with freezer paper work just fine, and it’s what I have my students use when they take a soap making class with me.
Shoe boxes or similar work perfectly. Tape freezer paper to the inside, shiny side up, and you’re ready to go. Pour in soap base and slice into bars when firm. Only use freezer paper, though; wax paper or parchment paper just isn’t tough enough for the job.
A Spritz Bottle With Rubbing Alcohol
This isn’t a necessary tool, but it makes your finished soap bars so much nicer looking. After pouring into the mold, give a light spritz over the surface of the soap. Rubbing alcohol removes air bubbles, and also helps layers adhere when you’re making layered soap.
You’ll need a small spritz bottle that gives a small mist, rather than a streaming squirt. You can find these bottles in the cosmetics aisle of your local drug store or big box store, where they sell the travel-sized bottles of shampoo, lotion, etc. They cost just a few dollars.
All of these tools can be found wherever soap supplies are sold. I’ve got info on some of the best places to buy soaping supplies in a section below, so read on, friend.
What Can I Add to Handmade Melt and Pour Soap?
What is the most exciting part of making handcrafted soap? Adding all the fun extra ingredients, of course!
All the fun extra “stuff” that you add to your soap are called additives. And you have so many options, like:
- Dried herbs
- Dried flower petals
- Fragrance or essential oil
- Color, either soap dyes, food coloring, or natural colorants such as clay, finely ground herbs, and spices
It’s easy to go a little crazy buying up EVERYTHING when you’re shopping, because there are so many amazing ingredients you want to try in your soap making.
My recommendation is to buy only the smallest size of the ingredient you’re interested in first, even if this is only a sample size.
You’ll save yourself some money while trying out new ingredients. And if you find you don’t like a particular ingredient, you haven’t spent much on it so it’s not a big loss.
Buying only small sizes at first also stretches your budget so that you can try more ingredients for your dollar. Once you’ve found ingredients you absolutely love, you can buy bigger sizes next time.
But never think you have to buy a ton of additives to make melt and pour soap; you really don’t! Shop your kitchen first.
Things like oatmeal, honey, herbs, dried tea leaves, and spices, make awesome handmade soap ingredients and you already have them on hand. Kitchen skin care ingredients for the win!
By the way, if you’re interested in learning how to craft more 100% natural skin care products all with ingredients found in your kitchen, you’ll definitely want to enroll in my FREE Handmade Skin Care for Beginners E-Course. I’ll show you how to make 7 amazingly-effective products for the face, bath, andy body. Sign up now and I’ll send you the first lesson!
Is There Anything I Should Not Put In Melt and Pour Soap?
While you can get super creative with fun add-ins, there are a few things you should NOT put in your melt and pour soap. They are:
Fresh herbs or fresh flower petals: These will immediately shrink and wilt in your soap base (turning a weird shade of greenish-black) and can mold or rot inside of your soap. No good.
Fresh fruits or veggies: I’ve seen many melt and pour soap recipes online call for the addition of fresh berries, or slices of cucumber. While they may look pretty at first, these fresh ingredients will also rot or mold inside of your soap. Fresh ingredients aren’t safe to use. If the ingredient would spoil out on your kitchen counter, it will spoil in your soap.
Oils, butters, or beeswax: Adding any of these ingredients will greatly impact your soap’s lather. As in, your soap will not lather at all. Melt and pour soap base is already balanced in terms of oils, so it does not take well to the addition of more.
Crayons: Just, no. There are better ways to color your soap. There is no way of knowing exactly what is in that crayon, so you probably don’t want to be using it on your skin. Also, the crayon’s wax base can interfere with soap lathering.
Where Can I Get Melt and Pour Soap Base and Other Soap Making Supplies and Ingredients?
Melt and pour soap base can be found at your local craft store, such as Hobby Lobby or Michael’s. Craft stores also sell a small selection of fragrance oils and colorants, and a large selection of silicon baking molds (check the cake decorating aisle).
For even more melt and pour soap base options, as well as more molds and additive ingredients than in your soapiest dreams, check out online soap making suppliers. My favorite places to buy include:
- Amazon: I use them for soap molds and tools like silicone spatulas. Sometimes I get soap base here too. (I am an Amazon affiliate)
- Bramble Berry: They have a nice selection of soap base, fragrance, and molds.
- From Nature with Love: My favorite place to buy soap base!
- Mountain Rose Herbs: They have a lovely collection of cosmetic clays to add natural color and beneficial qualities to your soap. (I am an affiliate for Mountain Rose Herbs.)
- Rocky Mountain Oils: Essential oils to naturally fragrance your soap (and they’re a non-MLM company.)
- Wholesale Supplies Plus: This place literally has anything and everything for making soap, and any other handmade skin care product you can thing of.
Not only can you find soap bases at these suppliers, but you can also get soap fragrance and essential oils, color, specialty herbs and other additives, soap molds, and anything else you could dream up to add to your handcrafted soap.
For the more common ingredients, it’s perfectly OK to get those at your grocery store.
How Many Bars of Soap Can Be Made Per Pound of Melt and Pour Soap Base?
An average-sized bar of soap weighs in at about 4 ounces; guest-sized soap bars are about 2 ounces. So, 1 pound of melt and pour soap base makes 4 average-sized soap bars or 8 guest soap bars.
Most melt and pour soap bases come in 2 pound packages, so you’ll get approximately 8 average-sized bars of soap per package of soap base.
Of course, you’ll want to check the weight on the package of your melt and pour soap base to confirm.
Many manufacturers also sell melt and pour soap base in 5 pound blocks. If you really go for it and buy a 5 pound block, you’ll end up with 20 finished bars of soap!
Does Melt and Pour Soap Need to Cure?
Cure is the period of time after soap is made when it is left undisturbed to lose water and harden. Cold process soap typically cures for 30 to 60 days before it is ready to use.
Melt and pour soap does not need to cure. It can be used immediately after unmolding.
The melt and pour soap base has already gone through the soap making process before it reaches your lovely soaping hands.
Once your melt and pour soap has completely cooled in the mold (about 4 to 24 hours after pouring, depending on the mold) pop it out and your soap can be used right away.
How To Store Melt and Pour Soap Bars
Melt and pour soap bars should be wrapped individually in plastic wrap or cellophane to store. It should not be packaged in boxes, wrapped in paper, or left exposed or “naked.”
The key to storing melt and pour soap is to protect it from exposure to air and humidity. Otherwise soap bars will develop “glycerin dew,” damp and sticky beads of glycerin across the surface of the bars.
How To Store Melt and Pour Soap Base
Store unused melt and pour soap base in its original packaging, or in a plastic bag, tightly sealed to keep out air. Soap base should be stored at room temperature–not too hot and not too cold. A closet in your house is the perfect storage place for melt and pour soap.
Avoid storing your soap in the garage (too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter) or in a damp basement or cellar, or even in the bathroom, as the humidity causes small droplets of liquid glycerin to appear on the surface of your soap. This is called glycerin dew.
Soap that develops glycerin dew is still safe to use. In fact, the dew washes off after the first use or two. Still, it’s not pretty, feels sticky, and is messy if the bar is in a box or wrapped in paper.
Why Do Melt and Pour Soap Bars Melt Away So Quickly?
There are a few reasons why melt and pour soap bars don’t last as long as some other types of soap, especially store-bought bars.
First, melt and pour soap base is created in a way to ensure it melts down easily. So, the base itself is always much softer than other forms of handmade soap. A softer soap means it melts away more quickly.
Melt and pour soap also contains high amounts of glycerin, a humectant that helps make skin care products more hydrating.
Glycerin attracts water. Which is good when it is incorporated into a skin care product. Glycerin pulls moisture from the air (and from deeper layers of the skin) to the skin’s surface, thereby keeping your skin well-hydrated.
But what works wonders for your skin doesn’t work well in the soap dish. If you leave your melt and pour soap sitting in a wet soap dish, you’ll come back to a puddle of mush because glycerin works to pull the water from the dish into the soap bar.
To ensure your soap lasts as long as possible, keep the soap bar dry. Don’t let it set in a wet soap dish, and let the bar dry out between uses.
These bamboo soap trays are perfect for keeping your soap raised up out of any standing water, and allowing the bars to thoroughly dry. I keep all of my handmade soap bars sitting on these and it helps them last much longer.
What Is the Shelf Life of Melt and Pour Soap?
Melt and pour soap bars, if they’re kept wrapped in plastic, can easily last for five years or more. The fragrance may have faded, but it’s perfectly safe to use.
The base, however, is easiest to use within a year. Soap base continues to lose moisture and dry out. Because of this, older soap base doesn’t melt down as easily and will stay a bit thick even when it is melted. This makes it a bit harder to work with.
Still, melt and pour soap base doesn’t go bad. So, if you have an older melt and pour soap base it’s still OK to use. Just sprinkle it with a bit of water or add a teaspoon or so of liquid vegetable glycerin (per pound soap base) as it’s melting to loosen it up a bit.
How To Make Melt and Pour Soap
So, now you’ve got a really good handle on what melt and pour soap is–let’s get crafting! You’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how easy melt and pour soap making can be.
The basic melt and pour soap making steps are as follows:
1. Cut melt and pour soap into approximately 1 inch pieces.
2. Place the soap base pieces into a pot and warm over low heat until melted.
3. Stir in your herbs, color, fragrance, etc.
4. Pour melted soap base into a mold and spritz lightly with rubbing alcohol.
5. Let set until completely cooled. Pop out of the mold and it’s ready to use!
Check out the melt and pour soap making tutorial to learn exactly how to make your first batch of melt and pour soap. I walk you through the steps from beginning to end!
Roundup of Easy Melt and Pour Soap Recipes
Once you have the basic idea down, you’ll want to try making lots of different bars. Soap making is addictive (felt I had to warn you!) But the cool thing about making soap, is it’s useful. And once you use it up, you get to make MORE!
Here are some melt and pour soap recipes to get you started. Feel free to use these as a jumping off point for your own custom creations.
Happy soap making!