Monday, July 23, 2012

Favorite Soapmaking Books ... and More

Whether you're a brand-new soapmaker or a seasoned pro, it's likely that one thing you can't get enough of is soaping books.

As an excited newbie soapmaker, I went in search of every soaping book in existence. (And I bought most of them, too.) Now that I'm nearly four years into my soapmaking journey, I've amassed quite a stash of books. And when I hear about a new soap book, I have to check it out. The great thing about this hobby is that I feel like I am constantly learning and getting new ideas. There is never a shortage of information or inspiration in the soapmaking community.

A lot of my soapmaking knowledge comes from books, but books are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other helpful resources - websites, blogs, YouTube channels, and online forums - that I have found along the way, and I keep finding new ones all the time.

So, here a few of my favorite books that soapmakers of all levels will enjoy:

by Marie Browning 
This was the very first soapmaking book I ever purchased. A conversation with a friend who was reminiscing about a bar of glycerin soap he had bought for me for Christmas years earlier got me curious about making soap at home. I went to my local bookstore and was lucky enough to find this book on the shelf. Gorgeous color photos adorn nearly every page, and Browning gives great overviews of the craft and various techniques of melt-and-pour soapmaking.

Soapylove: Squeaky-Clean Projects Using Melt and Pour Soap
by Debbie Chialtas
Most folks in the soaping community know Debbie Chialtas - she is a rock star in the world of glycerin soaping and she runs the very successful Soapylove enterprise. This book is super user-friendly, and it is also a treat for the eyes. Chialtas walks readers through 25 melt-and-pour projects, and each tutorial is accompanied by plenty of color photos so that even the newest soap crafter feels empowered to give it a go. Every project is bright, fun, and a work of art.

The Everything Soapmaking Book
by Alicia Grosso
This book provides a great overview of various soapmaking techniques, including cold process, hot process, melt-and-pour (or soap-casting), handmilling, and making liquid, transparent, and cream soaps. Grosso provides several recipes for each method, and she also covers basics like equipment, additives, fragrance and essential oils, and color. She also briefly touches on packaging and starting a soap business.

The Soapmaker's Companion
by Susan Miller Cavitch
The subtitle of this book is "A Comprehensive Guide with Recipes, Techniques, & Know-How," and it certainly is that. Cavitch's book delves deeply into the cold process soapmaking method. In Part I, readers are treated to more than 30 recipes as well as an in-depth view of the basics. Cavitch provides step-by-step soapmaking instructions and explores oils and their properties, natural colorants, and fragrance; she also gives troubleshooting tips and answers to more than forty common soapmaking questions. Part II explores the science and chemistry of soapmaking, explaining everything from SAP values to saponification at the atomic level. Finally, Part III offers advice on starting a soap business and connecting with the soapmaking community.

Smart Soapmaking
by Anne L. Watson
Before I made my first batch of cold-process soap, I read through a bunch of books, blogs, and websites, and, quite frankly, my head was spinning. And then I found this handy little book. In it, Watson demystifies soapmaking, boiling the process down to the key need-to-know facts, which was reassuring and empowering. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with information, I felt like I had a solid road map to see me through my first batch. In simple but precise terms, Watson explains what soap is and how to make it. She offers clear step-by-step instructions and some of her favorite recipes, and she also answers some frequently asked questions and dispels some common soapmaking myths. If you are interested in making milk soaps, I recommend checking out Watson's Milk Soapmaking, which is laid out in a similar format.

Basic Soapmaking: All the Skills and Tools You Need to Get Started
by Elizabeth Letcavage and Patsy Buck
I love this book because it offers clear, simple instructions for the cold process method of soapmaking, and it also has tons of color photos. I am very much a visual learner and I found it so helpful to have a photograph of each step of the process. This book covers basic equipment and ingredients, making cold process soap, additives, rebatching, and packaging. There is even a section devoted to making your own soap molds, liners, and cutters.

Essentially Soap: The Elegant Art of Handmade Soap
by Dr. Robert S. McDaniel
This is one of soapmaking's quintessential books. Dr. McDaniel has his PhD in organic chemistry, and for many years he worked in the field of emulsifiers and detergents. He eventually took up soapmaking and, after much experimentation and conversation with other soapmakers, the book "Essentially Soap" was born. McDaniel explores the chemistry of saponification and includes discussions about INS calculations and SAP values. He also gives instructions for making soap, troubleshooting, and using fragrance and essential oils. More than 25 recipes are also included, and the book is full of color photos. It appears that my copy of "Essentially Soap" is no longer in print - I bought my 2000 edition used online. However, Soap Maker's Workshop by Robert S. and Katherine J. McDaniel was published in 2010 and it appears to be an updated version of "Essentially Soap." (And it comes with a 30-minute instructional DVD, too!)

The Directory of Essential Oils 
by Wanda Sellar
Although this book is not specifically geared toward soapmaking, it does give an excellent overview of more than 80 essential oils. Entries are arranged alphabetically, and each entry offers information about the aroma, properties, and precautions of the essential oil. Sellar also provides insight into the history and folklore of each oil as well as scent blend suggestions. This is a wonderful resource for learning more about essential oils and for getting new ideas about how to use them.

The Art of Soap
Edited by Debbie Chialtas
If you want to drool over some gorgeous soaps made by gifted artisans, spend some time with this book. Debbie Chialtas (the aforementioned owner of Soapylove) edited and published this book, and Erin Pikor (owner of Naiad Soap Arts) took its stunning photos. "The Art of Soap" features the work of 24 soapmakers from around the globe, and each profile includes personal stories and color photos. (If you keep up with the soaping world, you will probably recognize some of the featured soapmakers.) This book is breath-takingly inspiring and a must-read for any soap enthusiast.

Of course, the World Wide Interwebs offers lots of information, too. I would be remiss if I did not mention some of my favorite online resources:

Teach Soap
This website is owned by Bramble Berry and offers tips and tutorials for making soaps and other toiletries. Make sure you also check out the Teach Soap forum to connect with other soapmakers around the world. (And don't forget to visit Bramble Berry's website for tons of fun supplies!)

Soap Queen TV
Anne-Marie from Bramble Berry hosts these fun and informative videos about making soap and other bath-and-body items. (Check out Anne-Marie's Soap Queen blog, too.)

Talk Soap Forum
Steve from Soap Making Resource created this forum to allow soapmakers from all over to connect with each other. (Also drop by Soap Making Resource's website for some great supplies, tutorials, and recipes.)

The Soap Scent Review Board
Ever wish you could research a fragrance or essential oil before using it to see if it has any "issues"? Then get yourself registered here at this board! Members offer reviews based on their experiences with fragrance/essential oils from various vendors, whether they be good or bad.

And, of course, I follow a long list of blogs created by fellow soapmakers. Blogs are wonderful for meeting other soapers, learning new techniques, and gaining inspiration. Check out the sidebar of my blog to see more of my favorite soapy blogs, links, and suppliers.

These are just a few of my favorite soapmaking books and resources. What are some of yours?


  1. I have The Everything Soapmaking Book, Milk Soapmaking, and Soapy Love books, and they are all excellent! I especially agree that the Soapy Love books are very user-friendly! I've gotten soooo much use from Everything Soapmaking. (I even accidentally set it on fire a tad bit once because I tend to use my cook-top stove as a counter and accidentally turned on the wrong burner....) I also have liquid soap and cream soap books by Catherine Failor that are very good!

    1. Thanks, Laura! The Soapylove book really takes M&P soaping to the next level. I am in awe of Debbie's talent, and I love how accessible her projects are. Anne Watson's books helped me tremendously, too. And I'm so glad you saved your copy of The Everything Soapmaking Book from the stovetop fire! I haven't tried liquid or cream soaps, but I hear Catherine Failor's books are good. :)

  2. Hi, As one soap maker to another. How do you deal with the white ash on the surface when making cold process soap. I have used plastic wrap on top of the soap. It works pretty well, but the surface isn't as pretty as i want. Do I need to make sure that it is not in contact with the soap surface? Or do I wait a couple of hours after molding to put in on the surface? Sharon

    1. Hi, Sharon, and thanks for your comments! I put plastic wrap over my soap right after pouring into the mold to help prevent soda ash. I let the plastic wrap rest very gently on top of the soap. This really only works well if you have flat tops, though. It's difficult to get plastic wrap on the soap without messing up the tops if you have peaks or textured tops. If you get soda ash, give steaming a try to get rid of it - it's my favortie method for removing ash and it works really well! I just boil some water on my stovetop and then hold the soap over the steam. (I use a paper towel to hold the soap- it can get slippery.) I wrote a blog post about steaming ash away here: The Dreaded Soda Ash. I hope that helps!

  3. Great info, Jer -- books and suggestions that would give any novice a good start and something that veteran soap-makers can appreciate as well!

    1. Thanks! There are so many great books and resources out there. There's something for everybody at every level! :)

  4. My mom and I devoured Milk-Based Soaps by Casey Makela when we started soaping and it's still the only one I own, but I've checked out scads of them through the library. I've enjoyed Anne Watson's books, too.

    1. Hi, Amy, and thanks for your comments! I haven't read Casey Makela's "Milk-Based Soaps" yet. I need to check that one out!

  5. Your soapy bookshelf looks a LOT like mine! The only other thing I would add is Saponifier magazine. It's digital and always filled with helpful ideas.

    1. Hi, Ruth! I've been meaning to subscribe to Saponifier magazine - it looks like a wonderful resource. Thanks for the suggestion!

  6. Great list! When I first got the soap making bug I checked out ALL the books at my library on the subject, and you've already mentioned some of my favorites!

    I'd also suggest "Soapmaking the Natural Way". It has GORGEOUS photography, and 45 melt and pour projects using essential oils and natural colorants.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Amy! I do have a copy of "Soapmaking the Natural Way" by Rebecca Ittner, but I haven't gotten around to playing with any of the recipes yet. It is a gorgeous book and the photos are stunning! There really are some great projects in there. I should pull that book out and give some of them a try someday - thanks for reminding me of that wonderful book!

  7. Thanks for this lovely post, Jenny! I also like those books and I get always back to them for what inspiration! You made a great summary of all these interesting books! Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Natalia! I also like to browse through my books again for inspiration. Oftentimes I pick up a new and interesting tidbit of info when I reread a book. :)

  8. I wish I had your bookshelf Jenny! Great recommendations and reviews, I'm going to check them all out :)

    1. Thanks, Cee Gee! It's so easy to go crazy buying soapmaking books! :D

  9. Thanks for the shout-out, Jenny! What a great list of books, I have most of them on my soapmaking bookshelf!

    1. Hi, Anne-Marie! Thanks so much for visiting my blog! I've learned so much from your Soap Queen blog, tutorials, YouTube videos, and the Teach Soap forum - thank you for all that you do to help and inspire us soapmakers!


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