Books: The Natural Soap Book

The Natural Soap Book


Author: Susan Miller Cavitch
ISBN: 0-88266-888-9
Paperback: 182 pages
Publisher: Storey Publishing

The back cover

Susan Miller Cavitch takes the mystery out of soap making, sharing her advice and formulas for making high-quality soaps that are good for your skin – and free of synthetic additives.

The Natural Soap Book gives you:

  • Clear directions and illustrations to guide you step-by-step through the entire process – from buying supplies to cutting the final bars.
  • Recipes for old favorites like oatmeal/honey and avocado soaps to Susan’s unique recipes for goat milk, borage, and mixed nut bars.
  • Formulas for exotic scents like Holiday Spice and Southern Summers.
  • Creative wrapping and gift packaging ideas.


In August 1990, I visited a tourist trap in Arkansas, where I watched a middle-aged woman dressed in a pioneer costume make soap in an iron kettle over a hole in the ground. For three dollar, I purchased a bar of her soap. The bar was 12 hours old, wet and mushy. She slid it into a plastic baggy and told me to let it sit out for a few days. “It’s better that way.” This was my introduction to soapmaking. I was enthralled.

Within one week the soap had shriveled and spotted with little brown circles. I telephoned the woman in the costume and she reassured me. “Oh honey, that’s fine. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

It has taken me three years to know what I know now. Though I am far from the greatest expert on soapmaking, I have learned that the production of soap does not have to be completed by the purchaser. I have also learned that vegetable soaps do not have to be soft, that there is more than one right temperature for soapmaking, that preservatives do not have to be seven-syllable synthetics, and that a soapmaker does not have to be a chemist to understand enough to figure out solutions. It has taken me three years to sort out fact from fiction when it comes to soapmakers and their theories of soapmaking. I write this book so that the next hopeful soapmaker can save a little time.

Along the way, I have spoken with many soapmakers, several chemists, and dozens of suppliers. I have read books on both soapmaking and chemistry, and have been confused and frustrated by the inconsistencies among the many things I’ve heard or read. Most people have been refreshingly eager to help me understand their soapmaking, but some people have not, treating their knowledge as a trade secret. Protecting one’s business or occupation is undeniably legitimate, but it sill irks me. I resolved early on in my soapmaking experiences that I would share my knowledge if I ever got any. This book is dedicated to that resolution.


Soap can be made from fats and oils, sodium hydroxide, and water. Soapmaking can be as simple as dissolving sodium hydroxide in water, melting fats together, adding the sodium hydroxide (lye) to the melted fats, and stirring. It can get more complicated, but it needn’t. This book starts at the beginning, assuming the reader knows nothing about soapmaking. Chemistry is discussed, but in digestible portions and only enough to get a good working feel for the observable process. I survived high school chemistry only with the help of a motivated friend. I am well aware that those kinds of friends and that kind of motivation are not so common anymore for me and my post-teenage readers. Accordingly, this book has been written sympathetically, for the reader who does not have an interpreter. The chapters are arranged to take you step-by-step up to, through, and beyond the soapmaking process.

Part One introduces you to six different ways of classifying soaps. Part Two describes, in detail, the many soapmaking ingredients. Part Three explains how to make soap, from choosing the equipment to cutting and trimming the final bars.

In Part Four, I take you “Beyond the Basics,” to encourage creativity in wrapping and presenting your soaps. I also provide a more detailed discussion of the chemistry of soapmaking, reminding the reader to rejoice that soapmaking is more art than science.

Scattered throughout this book, you will find the stories of a handful of commercially successful American soapmakers who share their experience and trace their journeys through soapmaking.

The appendices include a list of suppliers from whom you can buy soapmaking ingredients, a glossary, and a list of related reading material.

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