Soapmaking books reviews

After I started this nice hobby, my soapmaking library expanded quite quickly. There is an incredibly high number of books in this domain, of different content and quality, generally reflecting the categorization of different methods and types of soap.

Those I have read I will review here (I will add more reviews – see below for my complete library) and to my best knowledge divide into two basic categories:

1) books that are suitable also for complete beginners
2) books for more experienced soapmakers

 

Basic methods

(suitable also for complete beginners), the carousel shows books in my library which I will review.

  • C. Kalia Westerman – Melt & Mold Soap Crafting

    This is a very nice book for melt&pour soapmaking – this means using a meltable soap
    base.

    The photo-documentation is excellent and explains basic and more advanced techniques for creation of different shapes and combinations….
    What I like is that author emphasize the technique and discuss well all possible problems you can encounter and their solution. There is a nice section on colours and a lot of ideas and advice.

    I very frankly believe, this book should be on a shelf of each melt&pour soapmaker.

 

  • Susan Miller Cavitch – The Natural Soap Book

    The very first book, that showed me some years ago the wonderful world of natural soapmaking. It does not contain photos or colored pictures, but explains very well the basic principles of cold process. Not only the technology and instructions, but also the necessary basic chemistry. It explains how to compute the necessary quantity of NaOH for your own recipe. The instructions are very detailed. The book is a bit older, therefore it does not mention using blender. I believe that the other book of Susan Miller Cavitch: The Soapmaker’s Companion might be better choice.

  • Garzena Patrizia, Tadiello Marina – Il tuo sapone naturale

    When I was in Bologna in Italy to visit my friend, I bought this book and even when I do not speak italian, I could see that this book was really good.
    I speak well french and I really believed that I can understand at least something. Well, I understood that this is one of the best and the most detailed books on soapmaking ever! I liked it so much that I scanned it to pdf, used the text recognition program and translated it by google translate.

    The book has 235 pages of high quality paper and photographs and you can find there everything:

    • history and chemistry basics
    • detailed characteristics of a large number of oils and fats, hydroxides, SAP calculation
    • section on using different liquids and additives (beer, milk, …)
    • detailed description of cold process (CP) and hot process (HP) methods
    • detailed description of new techniques of CP and HP
    • detailed description of liquid and transparent soap making (did you know you can make liquid soap by cold process?)
    • Of course a selection on scents, essential oils and and their fixation, coloring and a very good section on troubleshooting.

    Everything is written in detail, like if it were multiple specialized books in one. If you speak italian, or has the patience I had to translate it, this is THE BIBLE! As I have found later, there is an English version of this book on the US market, called Soap naturally. I don’t know if this is the same version or not.

 

Advanced methods

the carousel shows books in my library which I will review.

 

In cold process

it is good to have some experience with cold process method

  • Anne L. Watson: Milk Soapmaking

    If you plan to make milk soaps, this is the book of reference for you. Anne introduces the “cold technique” a “warm technique”, but these are only variants of the cold process as “cold” and “warm” reflect the process of how the milk is incorporated to the soap.
    The book has no photos, however the process is described in detail and there is a nice collection of recipes (two of my favorite recipes come from this book, see:

  • The book assumes you are already familiar with the cold process technique.

In hot process

it is advantageous to have experience with hot process

 

  • Catherine Failor – Making Natural Liquid Soaps

    I would say a bible of liquid soapmaking.

    First book on this subject, well done with plenty of photo-documentation.

    Quite detailed, however, sometimes the author forgets to explain important facts.

    For example that the “excess of KOH” in her recipes (13% of KOH more than necessary according to SAP values), is just a consequence of the fact that KOH flakes contain only 85% of potassium hydroxid (I figured this out by chance). Oherwise alpha and omega for liquid soapmaking.

    Contains detailed chapter on troubleshooting.

    This book requires an experienced reader in the hot process soapmaking.

  • Catherine Failor – Making Transparent Soap

     

    If you would like to make transparent soap from scratch, this is one of the books you should have on your bookshelf.

     

    On the other hand, it is definitely not a book for a complete beginner, the way the information is presented can be confusing and some things are not explained.

     

    However, once you are an experienced soapmaker, you can find a lot of important information. The book is organized in a similar fashion as the liquid soap book from the same author, again with a very good chapter on troubleshooting.

     

    I managed to make my first batch of transparent soap following this book.

  • John Stevenson
    #1 written by John Stevenson 4 years ago

    I bought the Catherine Failor book – mkaing nautral liquid soaps, because a lot of people say its the bible for liquid soap making.

    Personally I found it awful. I made her jojoba moisturising soap from it, first attempt at liquid soap. What annoyed me was that the recipies gave oil measurements, lye and water, and then very confusing instructions for diluting it, you would think she could have given dilution amounts guides for each of her receipes. I ended up with too little water and it took 4 additions a few ounces at a time until I got it to stop congealling.

    Next problem for me was in the UK boarx is banned so I had a liquid soap with a 10% lye excess and only citric acid to netralize. So i added 2/3 of the recommended amount, again which wasn’t very clear to me in the book and then suddenly my beautiful clear soap when cloudy like runny pudding. Panic time!

    I thought though maybe it might clear when I let if sequester so I let it cool and then fragranced with Grapefruit and Bergamot, smelled lovely.

    Next day soap had seperated and congealled and was cloudy than ever. After 4 days and a lot of google searching I was stumped. It felt beautiful on the hands but wouldnt stay together. I eventually got up the courage to take 1 oz of KOH and add it to the soap with 3 oz water assuming I had lowered the PH to low. and after testing discovered it had gone down to 7, which I read was too low to keep it clear.

    The transformation in the soap was amazing to watch as it cleared up. I left it to cool and bottled and it’s fine but very thin. But again we have no boarx in the UK so I can’t thicken it with that. And the ph raised to around 8.5 so I was happy.

    So I need to try salt but information is hard to find!

    Sorry for the essay 🙂 Liquid soap is hard and there is a distinct lack of clear information out there for troubleshooting if you ask me!

    Great blog by the way!

    • admin
      #2 written by admin 4 years ago

      Hi John,

      thank you for the essay!!! No need to apologize, I value every opinion, and even more if based on experience.

      I definitely agree with you. As I write in the review, there is some important information missing. For example the fact that KOH is in excess of 13% is not really true. The KOH is often only in 85%-90 purity and therefore the real excess comes somewhere between 3-5%. However, so far it is the only book that is out there dedicated to liquid soapmaking. I would really not recommend it for beginners.

      Indeed where I live (Switzerland), borax is neither an option, so I use citric acid.

      The problem you had with soap separating and unclear was indeed that you have added too much of citric acid – at too low Ph the soap cannot exist and it dissociates back to lye, fatty acids and glycerine. This is why you had the separation and cloudiness. By adding KOH you re-saponified the soap back 🙂

      I did not find good instructions about adding salt for thickening neither, I might make an experiment about that. What you can try is to very gently heat it on the stove and evaporate water – this can thicken the soap.

      I would love if you update me on what you find, I think you just inspired me for making some more liquid soap experiments 🙂

      Thanks!

      Evik

  • Joy
    #3 written by Joy 4 years ago

    I’m looking for a book with more help in colorants and how to mix, when to add (in oil or trace) etc. for CP. Most books just mention what there is to use but no further. If you find one I would love the name.

  • Michelle
    #5 written by Michelle 3 years ago

    Hello,
    Love your page, most helpful! 🙂
    I’ve been making soap for about 3 years now so have a fair bit of experience under my belt. I was going to purchase Essentially Soap by Robert S McDaniel and/or Smart Soapmaking by Anne L Watson. I’ve read their reviews but just wondering your thoughts on the content of these two books for an experienced soap maker? Any others you can recommend?
    Cheers,
    Michelle

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