Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Melt and Pour Soapmaking: The Pros and Cons

Months ago, when a panel of Soapmakers sat around a table to decide on the Standards for the Soapmaking Industry in Trinidad and Tobago,there was heated debate over whether Melt and Pour should be included in the Standard at all.

Melt and Pour, which starts off with a pre-made soap base, it was argued, did not qualify for consideration. Employees who were familiar with only this method, were in an unfortuneate word "useless" to "real" soapmakers. After all, they would know nothing about the basics of combining Sodium Hydroxide and Oils. Nothing about Health and Safety, nothing about "Tracing".

On the other hand, it was also argued that Melt and Pour as a method of producing soaps is used all over the world, so it must be given some serious consideration.

In the end, Melt and Pour was included in the Standard though I stopped paying attention as to the context of the inclusion.
It isn't that I couldn't understand the points of view, I just felt that the topic had already been discussed to death.

I personally, do not consider Melt and Pour to be Soap Making. I think in that context "soapmaking" is an inappropriate term. Perhaps Soap Casting or Soap Finishing might be better?

Whatever it is called, I recognise that it does have its uses and if you are considering including it in your own business, here are some of the pros and cons:

PROS There is no curing time: As the process starts with a pre-prepared soap base, once the soaps are hardened and de-molded they are ready to use. If you are running a business, there are great advantages to having products that can be made to order in a short space of time.

Limitless Colours and Fragrances: There is no lye to consider when adding fragrances and colours. This means that fragrances remain strong and are not altered by chemical presence. Colours and combinations of colours remain true to the colour wheel and there are no surprises with "morphing" colours.

You are free to design: In the cold process method, timing is key, so that soap designs are somewhat limited. At the time of pouring, the soap is still very caustic and the presence of Sodium Hydroxide must be taken into consideration when adding colours and fragrance. Though colours can be swirled, they cannot be layered.
In the Melt and Pour Method, soap design rules. This is one of the major reasons why I would offer these types of soaps in the Store. Combinations of colours, embedding, swirling, layering, multi-pours, opaque and transparent soaps mean that hundreds of designs are possible.
Any Melt and Pour Class that is worth the time and effort will focus on design.

The method is idiot proof A child could finish hundreds of soaps, once the materials are readily available. Melt and Pour is simple to execute. The base can be melted in the microwave if using open flame is a problem. It is difficult to make mistakes once clear, step by step instructions are given.

THE CONS: Depends on a pre-purchases base This is a good thing and a bad thing. Depending on a pre-purchased base means that if the base becomes unavailable, your business is adversely affected. Unavailability of base is a very real issue here in the Southern Caribbean.

It is relatively expensive And it should be. It is relatively expensive to produce these soaps. In TT dollars, one pound of soap base costs about $38.00. Then there's molds, fragrance, color, labour and packaging to factor in. Without great design, it is difficult to make a healthy profit if you are producing only M&P soaps.

Soaps must be packaged immediately after removing from molds The high glycerin content in these soaps means that they attract moisture to themselves if left out in the open. This looks as if the soaps are sweating, which can be factored into design of course, but which more often than not, just looks icky.
Of course, packaging must be air tight, so plastics are the obvious choice. How do you reconcile being an eco-friendly company and using plastics to wrap soaps? With great difficulty.

Soaps are not necessarily good for the skin The health of the skin might not be the first consideration for the makers of the M&P base. If your customers are choosing handmade soaps because they want products that are healthier for the skin than the drug store buys, then you have a responsibility to sell them healthy soaps, ESPECIALLY if this is what your business promotes.
This is not to say that the M&P base is UNhealthy, just that it probably won't help. Keep in mind that this is a big, big disadvantage in my opinion.

However, I hasten to add that many, many customers couldn't give a rat's behind about buying healthy and they just want something pretty that smells good. ;-)

Take a Soap Making Workshop with us. You'll learn both Melt and Pour and Cold Process.


  1. interesting read. where can the standards be accessed?

  2. Good Question. The National Training Agency is a good place to access it. Failing that try Export Centres Limited.

    Both sets of numbers are listed

  3. Colleen Malwah-AquiMay 14, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    The standards are available at The National Training Agency
    21-22 Mulchan Seuchan Road, Chaguanas. Tel 868 672 7107/8, 672 9942/3.
    These are the standards that are now used for Soapmaking.

  4. Thanks Colleen!

  5. i am interested in doing a candle making course,where i can learn to make my own candles.
    Can you help me?

    1. You can contact Colleen Aqui, if you've not already done so. 775-0365.

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  8. I'm from St Vincent and it's impossible to find sodium hydroxide here. Can you tell me where in Trinidad I can find it?

    1. Try any hardware in Trinidad. Be sure to ask for the crystals not the liquid.

  9. Does it count if you make your own melt and pour base ? :)

    1. Lucky you. If you are doing this, then you are able to control the ingredients that you put in.

  10. Are you putting on any soap-making courses?