An Open Letter to New Soapmakers

So, you’re a brand new soapmaker. Welcome to the wonderful world of soapmaking!


As you’ve already realized, soapmaking is an attainable art, but one where a certain amount of knowledge is required. Chances are, you’ve asked for help from experienced soapmakers. Some of you, however, report a reticence to share from other, more experienced soapmakers. Fair enough.


It’s true that some soapmakers will not share information, instead expecting you to do your research and conduct your experiments to learn “the hard way.” Other soapmakers will share everything they know, perhaps to a fault. Most, however, fall somewhere in between. They want to help, but don’t want to feed everything to you on a silver platter.


Why? It’s because they know that the best knowledge is gained from experience and that shortcuts are seldom good teachers. Does that mean you have to tough it out on your own until you figure things out? No! As with everything, it’s not what you ask, it’s how you ask it that appeals to or rubs a veteran soapmaker the wrong way.


For instance, nothing turns off a veteran soaper more than hearing the following:


“I have never made cold process soap before, but want to sell soap at a craft sale in two months, so please give me a perfect recipe.” (Uh, no. No veteran wants to be part of a plan this foolhardy)


“I don’t want to waste ingredients and I’ve never used  ________, so please give me a foolproof recipe.” (Nobody likes to waste ingredients, but it doesn’t mean everything has to be handed to you)


“Hi, I want to learn how to make soap and where to get ingredients. Please tell me anything you know.” (Your question is too broad. We hardly know where to start.)


All of the above say, “I don’t want to work at it, but I will gladly take all you have worked for.” And yes, my colleagues and I have heard them all.


If you want to be a member in good standing of the the Happy Soapmaker Club, you’ll phrase your questions more like this:


“Hi, I’m a brand new soapmaker and eager to learn the craft. Please point me to a few reliable sources of information, so I can learn how to make soap the right way.”


“I’d like to add ____________ to my soap, but I’m unsure how to incorporate a new oil. Can someone help me or point me where to look for the information?


Do you see how the first set of questions come across as selfish and thoughtless of other soapmakers’ time and experience; whereas, the second set shows that you recognize the time and effort necessary to learn your new craft? Most of my colleagues are quite happy to help with specific questions and those that indicate you’re taking the initiative and time necessary to learn. Moreover, it’s simply true that experience is the best teacher, so resign yourself to the fact that not every batch will be “soap contest” worthy. We’ve all been there and continue to learn each day, so we expect nothing more or less from you.


Yes, welcome to the world of soapmaking, but be prepared to put some time and effort into learning your new craft!


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Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne, for the Saponifier


6 Responses to “An Open Letter to New Soapmakers”
  1. Cindy Craft says:

    I have been interested in soap making for a long time. My problem is, I’m trying to figure out just where to start. Should I start with cold process soap,, or should I jump right into soap making that uses lye? WHAT does one do? I have wanted to try it only for myself, not to sell it. I had a bar of goats milk soap given to me for Christmas and I have cherished it and used it sparingly. I love how soft my skin feels after using it. That is the kind of soap I would like to make. I have purchased a few publications on soap making and I read all I can to decide just where to jump in. I think I would rather stay away from lye soap, I never have cared for purchased lye soap. So I think that is out. I like to grow some herbs and dry them, so maybe I could incorporate some of these. I just wonder if you could suggest a starting place. I have trouble understanding some of the soap calculations, but I’m trying. The more I read the more I figure it out a little at a time. I would really like some guidance. If you can, would you give me some idea of where to start? THANK YOU Cindy Craft

  2. Kath Collard says:

    I appreciate the sentiment expressed in this article and concur that effective “learning” is most definitely achieved through trial and error. The added support of knowledgeable soapmakers is invaluable to newbies like myself, I value their input but do like to research before asking questions. It not only helps me understand how to word a question but also to comprehend the responses provided. And of course, we need to be ever mindful and appreciative of the assistance given by the more experienced soaping community. Respect is key to all aspects of this craft.
    Kath C

  3. shanyi mills says:

    It’s not that serious. How about just warn new soapmakers there is a cadre of industry connected witches on a soap forum who feel they set the tone for soap making culture…they don’t…new soap makers…do you, aomeone will help you.

  4. Cathy Johnson says:

    Think of soapmaking like cooking and opening a restaurant like selling soap.

  5. Ann F says:

    First of all, cold process soap is made with lye. As a matter of fact, ALL soap begins with fats and lye. If you prefer not to make soap from scratch, then you should purchase a melt and pour soap base. The lye process has been done for you. Just melt, add color and scent, then mold. Read about the soap making process. Lye is not something to be afraid of, just respected and handled with care and the proper safety equipment.
    There are many books and soap making resources available. I suggest finding a class in your area, where you can make soap under the eye of an experienced soap maker.

  6. SavonTalk says:

    I’m happy to hear that you’re interested in making soap! Ann did such a good job of answering your question that I have nothing to add. If you have further questions, feel free to ask. With a few reliable sources and if possible, a class, you’ll be making your own soap.

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