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What does it take to start making handmade soaps?

People often ask me for advice on gettting started making handmade soaps. Collecting some common questions and answers here.

Where to get ingredients?

The short answer is online. Any of the Amazon, Flipkart, Ebay type places will usually have everything you need to get started making soaps. This should be adequate if you are just curious and making as an experiment or for personal use. If you want to make soaps as a business, you should approach wholesalers – you should do your own research here. If there are specific items you find hard to procure, feel free to ping me, and I’ll share what information I have.

I only want to cold process soaps as a hobby. Is it okay if I don’t have a weighing scale?

I get asked this question routinely and in creative ways, as though if it is asked in the magic way, the answer will be yes. Nope. No. NO. It is next to impossible to make a good cold process soap without weighing out your ingredients carefully. If you eyeball it, you will at best end up with a good soap you cannot replicate (trust me, this is not very likely) or you could end up with a soap that gives you chemical burns and is not safe to use. Less extreme options include a soap that is too oily to lather well.

But I don’t have a weighing scale and I want to make soap.

Buy melt and pour soap base. Melt it, pour it, let it solidify. If you don’t have a weighing scale, don’t make cold process soap. You will regret.

Is it worth it to make cold process handmade soaps for personal use?

Not really. If you absolutely must make soap for personal use, stick to melt and pour soaps. The kind of investment you will end up making in ingredients, colorants, oils, fragrances and so on will cost way more than cost of buying several years supply of high quality soap made by an experienced soapmaker. The quality will be better than a beginner’s learning curve. You will just end up spending on and accumulating a lot of things. At the end of the day, there’s just so much you can bathe and it isn’t so much fun to gift till you get better at it.

What is a good way to try out making handmade soaps?

See if you can attend a class to learn to make them. Alternatively, you can befriend a soapmaker and ask to visit and help or observe when they make soap. You will benefit from being a part of the process by an experienced artist, as well as get exposure to a lot of ingredients and equipment you likely won’t get around to buying as a beginner. I had someone come over and learn in exchange for handling the clean up of the process (which I hate). I discussed the recipe and technique I was planning with them, then they were present and helping out during the process as per my instructions (mixing colors, etc) and were able to pour a small batch of soap for themselves after watching how I did it.

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Attending a class to learn may cover the basics better. Participating in actual production of soap intended for sale is likely to result in exposure to advanced techniques. That said, this isn’t a rule. Some classes may teach different techniques or a soap batch for sale may be relatively simple to make.

How easy is it to make handmade soaps commercially?

Frankly, it depends on your ability to sell. If you are able to sell the soaps you make, you will be successful. Otherwise, not so much. Assuming you are able to sell, quantity will result in profits. Then there is the question of aesthetics and quality. If your soaps have a unique appeal, they will result in dedicated customers. Generally, with bulk manufactured commercial soap being inexpensive, it is difficult to justify the higher expense of handmade soap unless the buyer can immediately see the appeal and experience the quality when in use.

Another thing that leads to success is offering customization that commercial soaps can’t. I have some buyers who want vegan soaps. One specifically wants plain unscented soap – no additives. They come to me because they can specifically ask for recommendations based on their preferences, or they can ask me to make a batch of soap to their specifications.

I make artistic soaps, mostly and sell only on this site. Nowhere else. I don’t do this full time and it does not result in enough profit to make a living. This is more an artistic passion that pays for itself (rather than me). If I had to turn this into a commercial success, I’d have to ramp up production – bigger batches, more often AND I would have to either sell in bulk to other retailers or I would have to enter marketplaces with volume like Amazon or Etsy and such.

What is the easiest way to make a soap for personal use?

I would recommend two ways. Soap clays and melt and pour soap. First – and it is not easily available – is if you get access to soap “clay”. This is properly made soap, that is not hardened off and is the consistency of clay. You can simply shape it as you wish, let it dry and harden and use it. This is good, because you can literally do it without having any specialized equipment. This can also be fun for children to make their own soap and most clay working tools can be used to shape the soap. Downside: I don’t know anyone who sells soap clay commercially in India. I am planning to, but haven’t got around to doing it yet. Do comment if you’d like to buy some.

Melt and pour soap is soap that has been made using the hot process method and has solvents added that can make it transparent in addition to allowing it to become liquid when heat is applied. You can melt it in a double boiler or microwave and pour it into a suitable mould. Downside: creating art in such soap is pretty much limited to layers and embeds. There is limited potential to swirl colors, but you have nowhere near the control you have with cold process soap or malleability of soap clay.

Hope this helps. I’ll add more questions when I go through my emails.

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No longer selling soaps or carnivorous plants because of GST

Update: The government has now allowed online sellers the same exemption from having to register for GST as regular sellers. So I am once more selling soaps and carnivorous plants.


This blog is basically about the stuff I am up to at home. When I make artistic soaps because I enjoy making them, I sell the surplus, because there is only so much bathing one can do. When I grow plants (mostly carnivorous, but some others too), I sell those I grow in excess and seeds so that people interested in these hard to find plants can obtain them and grow them themselves. I’ve spent far more than I’ve earned on both h0bbies, but the purpose of doing them was never to do big business. Could I expand if I wanted to? Sure. But I am a loner, thinker at heart. Spending my day selling stuff is not a vision I hold for myself.

vertical garden varieties
Here are three different ways I’m growing vertically on just one wall of my balcony

The little money I did get was spent right back on obtaining more obscure plants. Usually from abroad, because the irony of carnivorous plants growing in India is that even as their habitats die, unlike in other countries, enthusiastic citizens have not taken up growing them in private collections. So today, if you want to buy a drosera indica or its seeds, you end up buying from abroad – a plant that natively grows in India and is, in fact named such. There are a few carnivorous plant sellers. All of them online. There simply isn’t enough of a market nationwide for individual sellers to chalk up say…. 20 lakhs in sales a year. Let alone profit.

There are maybe a dozen sellers in the country – 4-5 that I know of. Perhaps a few hundred enthusiasts to buy from them. Maybe a few thousand. Nationwide. I would be surprised if any of the businesses chalk up stunning profits. This is a hobby of lovers. The sales may make minor profits for those who invest space and money, but for the large part in a country where agriculture itself is a loss making proposition, the possibility of obscure carnivorous plants raking in the moolah is remote. Most of us hobbyists, delling as individuals wouldn’t even need to register a business unless there was a proper nursery involved. Certainly not the likes of me, growing plants in my balcony.

Charcoal and kaolin clay soap scented with holy basil
Charcoal and kaolin clay soap scented with holy basil

But the GST is an odd thing. To sell anything at all online. No matter the amount, you must register and file returns. This would involve creating the paperwork for a business, filing GST for every state that happened to have a person buy a soap or two from me, and generally spending more on paperwork than the actual materials I invested in or profits I made.

It is not worth it. The government clearly wants only people who do business in lakhs of rupees only to be enabled for online business or to pay a disproportionate amount for the right to do it legally. It amounts to charging citizens for the right to sell in the country outside whatever locality they are in. This will discourage businesses with a turnover of less than 20 lakhs, which will be prevented from growing from exposure to nationwide sales unless they take the gamble of committing to filing GST foreverafter in order to find out.

In my view, the GST is unjust to small sellers and particularly seeks to destroy small online sellers. But I am not enough of a businessman to make this battle mine.

Aloe Vera and Khus soap
A healing, soothing, cooling soap with an earthy calming khus fragrance, leaves your skin feeling nourished with aloe vera.

So here is what I am doing. This site no longer sells anything. If you wish to buy, you may come over and meet me locally and buy from me, or get someone to buy locally from me and send it to you. I can pack for shipping.

Alternatively, I can send you gifts of soaps and plants, if you gift me things I covet. No money will exchange hands. Hobbyists trading in things is hardly business. And it is pretty much the scale of what I am up to. Feel free to email me at and see what sort of an exchange can be worked out, if you liike something on this site. I suppose I no longer have to limit myself to India.

Also people who help sponsor my writing on will be entitled to a token gift from here.

Let us see how this goes. Will really be a pity if hobbyists are successfully strangled by the govt.

Thread about the whole thing on Twitter.


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Some notes on cold process soap making and some effects

I have learned a lot from videos, articles, tools and tutorials online, when it comes to soap making. Thought I’d pay it forward with some of my own learnings. Please note, this has nothing to do with “how to make soap” type introductory tutorials. This will be useful to you only if you already know how to make soap. And well enough to break rules without going into a panic. If you haven’t made soap before, this post is no use to you beyond curiosity. :p

Neem oil speeds up trace. Adding vanilla is almost instant sieze. How to swirl this?

Found this one out through sheer stubborn. You swirl it with a whisk. Turn the whisk into the soap like a chopstick swirl, but turning whisk as well. You put whisk in, you’ll figure it out instinctively. Pretty much the only way it will work without getting into puree zone. It breaks up rather than flows. Turn it anyway. Then bang down hard to remove as much air as you can. If need be, press down with a spatula. I don’t have a photo of this at the moment (since I found other ways to make a prettier neem soap), but it provides something of a chequered effect in an embed-like circular area in the soap, which looks quite nice (this shape/effect will vary). If the soap is softer, it can provide small rounded circles in that area instead of sharper corners. Either way, it isn’t as much of a disaster as I had imagined.

Curing cold process soaps fast

My soaps don’t zap within the first day or two of making, but for them to harden properly, etc is another story. This is why I have so much coconut oil in my recipes. Coconut oil, palm stearin, palm oil and neem oil. Get ready quite rapidly. Particularly recipes high in coconut oil. I usually don’t see much difference in them beyond a week or so after making. Dry weather helps. Warm weather helps (also encourages a good gel phase). Another thing I recommend with some caution is a water discount. Using less water reduces curing time, in my experience. However, using less water will also make your lye solution stronger, more likely to cause burns faster. It will also result in a faster trace – particularly if you use oils in which are in a hurry (which of course, you do, if you’re in a hurry :p ). Trick then is to ditch the blender and use a whisk or spatula and a great deal of diligence. Please note, it is better to have a sieze and hot process the whole mess than to fail to achieve trace (or at the very least a stable emulsion that won’t separate). This takes more effort without a blender, but frankly, a water discount and fast tracing oils are in a hurry to trace anyway, so it isn’t very terrible, like say… olive oil. I am able to ship such soaps without risking damage (to soap or skin) about a week or so after making when weather is dry. Do note, an additional time goes in shipping before the soap gets put to use.

Creating a frosted effect

rose frost effect soap
Rose frost (The colors are far more subtle in the soap than this photo – my camera insists on adding saturation)

Using 10% or so palm stearin in a recipe superfatted at least 8% and having the lye slightly cooler than the oil. It creates a slight graininess that we usually associate with a false trace and the soap traces super fast (feel free to use a touch more water). But be certain to bring it to trace proper. By then, the graininess goes down a bit (or becomes less visible in a thick trace), but you can bring it back to varying degrees of visibility with some experiments with coloring. It appears as white dots in a colored soap – plain ugly in strong colors, but a faintly ethereal/frosted kind of look in pale colors. The white dots are where the palm stearin solidifies/saponifies in a hurry because the lye is slightly cooler. The soap is skin safe. Done over and over. Every time, as long as the superfat is above 8% in practice, but I’d say aim for 10% till you are comfortable with this. Better safe than sorry. Areas to pay attention – mix, mix, mix very fast when you are adding lye slowly – you want tiny grains not huge blobs – or you won’t get them small before thick trace (don’t ask how I know)

A grunge type look

Grunge look lemon soap
Grunge look lemon soap

This is actually very easy. Slow tracing oils in a high superfat recipe – 5-8% or more brought to light trace and colored heavily with herbal colorants (this here is a lot of red sandalwood powder). Swirl thick colored emulsion as usual into a pretty liquid mix (more liquid than you’d usually use for swirling). And then jostle it a bit. Not shaking. More like slight sloshing from picking it and putting it elsewhere – a few times. If in doubt, better pick it and put it in another place a few times than shake too much – you’ll lose the swirls – everything is too liquid. Then let it set. The mistake I did with this was unmolding it too early. Should have waited another day. The slight smudged lines are from the cutting. They will vanish in use though the blurred/faded look will remain. Sodium lactate may improve the setting and unmolding situation a bit, but really, waiting was what it had needed and I didn’t give in my impatience. It could probably be done with more coconut and ditching the blender to get to the faintest hint of trace and a little more jostling before it sets – will probably lead to a happier unmolding experience. Will try and update.

Please note, this will not work with any colorant that will form a paste that holds together – clays will fail. Turmeric will work only barely and saturated. Micas will probably fail too. Don’t think liquid colors will work either. You want the grains of the colorant to get jostled out of place a bit. Sort of like bleeding, but with particles of the colorant. Herbal powders only, I think.

How to use hydrosols for fragrance in cold process soap

Dissolving lye in hydrosols reduces the scent to the point that by the time the cold process soap is ready, it is almost unscented. I have learned to do the obvious. A water discount (as little as 1.5 times the lye), bringing to trace pretty fast, and then adding hydrosol to make up the remaining water quantity after trace. Mix, mix, mix. Can be tricky with oils that trace fast, but for the most part, I have got good results. Sometimes you have to hurry. But the scent remains in place well enough for the soap to be properly scented without needing oil. I have found that I can add hydrosol upto the weight of the lye with some honest mixing properly back to a thick trace. More than that, and sometimes I have glycerin seeping. Clays help – both in preventing glycerin seepage as well as holding the hydrosol fragrance better. So I often mix clays in hydrosol and use for coloring the soap made with a water discount. Protects the hydrosol better than otherwise.

Shades of turmeric

Turmeric is yellow in color, but it becomes red in the presence of an alkali. I found that I can use this to advantage. Adding turmeric to lye will give a brick red, adding it to traced soap gives a bright orange-red, adding it to oil before adding it to traced soap (or adding it into oil phase) gives a more yellowy orange (oil probably forms a slight barrier from contact with the lye). Amount of turmeric can further play this into the range of reds, peaches, browns, etc. Oils used for the recipe can be used to enhance this. A peach type color can be created with turmeric in a pure coconut oil base, a more yellowy one with infusion of calendula or with sesame oil in the mix. But I am not yet expert at this, so results can be a bit hit or miss. Still experimenting.

Using indigo

Powdered indigo leaf can give muddy green speckles. This can be fixed by adding it to the lye phase if you’re making a blue soap, but if you aren’t and indigo has to be just one of the colors? I do this a bit ad-hoc, but hasn’t failed yet. Make a solution of indigo in water I eyeball it approximately to 3-5 spoons of water per spoon of powder (mostly because a more liquid colorant allows me to increase color more gradually than concentrated). Add sodium hydroxide in a tiny quantity – probably the weight of the powder (not volume) or slightly less. You don’t need a lot. The sodium hydroxide dissolves the leaf powder, leaving the dye behind (this may need to be done a couple of hours in advance). Using this solution to color gives an even blue. I have not found it to be particularly caustic (and I have a Ph meter), but if you think you used any significant amount of caustic soda, feel free to add a spoonful of oil for every spoonful of the colorant. It will ensure that the color doesn’t make the soap caustic. Though frankly, if you’ve used so much sodium hydroxide for this to be a concern, you’re probably better off mixing a small batch of soap separately for the blue.

Swirling two (or more) soaps instead of using colorants

I don’t do this too often, but sometimes I have these whims. Pure coconut oil is white, sesame seed oil is yellowish beige, olive oil is greenish, neem is all kinds of beige-brown depending on concentration, etc. And then the infused oils (which I don’t bother with – can use them as colorants directly :p ). Not all colors, but some can be done like this. Also handy if you want to really use indigo to the hilt – it thrives in the lye best. Keep everything ready, respective lye solutions near their intended base oils, etc. probably add fragrance oil to the base oils and then mix, pour, mix, pour, mix, pour, done. It takes a bit of preparation, but the doing itself is not actually difficult. You just have two or more soaps in your soap 😉 Most of the times this really comes in handy is to get a good white – nothing beats coconut on this, in my humble opinion, not even titanium dioxide if your oils don’t want to be white like coconut does. So sometimes, it is just easier to mix a small batch of coconut or coconut, rice bran, castor oil and palm and titanium dioxide or whatever whites for accents on the side and not worry about the rest of your recipe wrecking that with whatever oils and infusions you have planned. Takes planning. Not something you can do after reaching trace on main batch and getting a whim for a proper white. Would probably come in handy if you wanted to add a special oil that soaps soft and you don’t want your whole bar soft. Swirl it into what will be a firm bar 😉


Clearly, I am a bit on the crazy side, and color a lot outside dotted lines. Sometimes I warp a process out of recognition (what do you call a cold process thin traced soap thinned back with hydrosol or a hot process soap that gets colored like a cold process in the applesauce stage instead of proceeding to cook?). I experiment a lot, fail some too. As long as it ends with good usable soap, all is good, or there is the hot process batch or a Jumla soap. Thankfully, things haven’t reached those stages too often. Do let me know if you find this useful. Add your ideas too. And I will update if I have anything new to add. As in, new discoveries of my own. General soap making instructions and such, better people than me have done in better ways, many times over.


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Introducing the Jumla soap

trick soap

What started off as a joke seems to have taken on a life of its own, due to… circumstances. Introducing Jumla soaps. A “jumla” is colloquial slang for “tactic”. The term, popularized by the President of the prominent political party in India has come to mean an attractive offer that lacks substance. Well, it is time for me to sell some jumlas.

These will be soaps that fall short of standards for selling for my normal soaps for various reasons. The current reason, for the first batch of jumla soaps being the presence of liquid paraffin oil when I accidentally received and used a shipment of “coconut hair oil” instead of my normal coconut oil. What the euphemism hides is that it isn’t pure coconut oil at all, but a blend of coconut and liquid paraffin – which does not saponify and is among the ingredients I don’t use for my soaps – or preferably anything.

What resulted was 15 kilos of harsh, lye heavy soap with liquid paraffin in them. That is too much to throw away, but it is not suitable to sell, because I don’t do liquid paraffin products normally and have no wish to start. When this humorous opportunity presented itself – the idea of rebatching soaps I can’t sell as attractive, inexpensive jumlas…. it was quirky enough to challenge the artist in me. These soaps will be rebatched with an appropriate quantity of oil so that they are skin safe and sold as the first batch of jumla soaps on the site. These soaps will definitely be skin safe (The “hair oil” was obviously skin safe), they will be inexpensive, and they will fall short of my normal standards (like no petroleum products in my soaps!). This will be upfront and transparent and the soap is my tribute to a petroleum friendly government that repackages a lot of schemes. Hopefully, it will also exemplify other qualities of a jumla and be good to look at and etc.

If it does not turn into usable soap, they will be turned into a useless gift momento that anyone who makes a purchase can opt to receive.

It won’t be a terrible soap, it won’t be anything dangerous for your skin (beyond the hair oil in it). That is the only guarantee I will make. You can use it and it will not trigger the third world war. It will be inexpensive and attractive and probably help the Swacch Bharat initiative by being cheap and affordable. It is real soap, just…. and provided all goes well, it will be…

Soapy satire.