Making and selling soap



This guest post is by Penny Pincher and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.

I made 50 lbs of various kinds of soap to sell one year, it being sort of the beginning of my soap “career” the packaging wasn’t the best and it got the Dreaded Orange Spots after a while (too much fat), but I did a cost analysis in the beginning and decided that I was breaking even on $2 a bar (including my labor). I was charging $5 a bar online (nobody bought except a relative) and $3 a bar (they were 5 oz) at festivals where I was also a performer as well.

Sometimes charging more will help you sell more. It depends on perceived value. You can test your market a little at different price points. Another thing to consider is your labor making the soap AND your labor selling the soap, driving to festivals etc. should inform the price. (which is why wholesale is cheaper)

Sometimes less packaging is more. You can get some kind of corrugated looking craft paper that is brown, and wrap a one-inch wide strip around each bar of soap, with a sticker on it – or maybe some jute string and a stiff paper tag. It’ll look “natural” which goes with the theme of homemade soap. My wrappers were photocopies on photocopy paper, and I did take time to make interesting old fashioned looking logos, but they were too thin and got ratty fast. If I were going to do it again, I now know a printer and they can do coated paper. Or I could go the jute string way and put the printing on the paper bags I’d get to put them in when I made a sale. There are also fancy packaging catalogs you can order stuff like clear plastic boxes or fancy cellophane but you’re going to add a ton onto the cost of your wares doing that, if you’re trying to keep the price down. Selling to an upscale boutique market, you might want fancy packaging.

If you’re going to make soap in a box and cut bars off it, there are systems you can buy that are like a mold and cutter all in one, the higher end ones are over $500 but they’ll handle a lot of volume. But in the beginning you won’t have a lot of volume. What I did was made a big shallow wooden box with one side on hinges, lined it with a trash bag, poured soap into it, then I took a box saw the next day and a tape measure, marked the soap at premeasured intervals, and then pressed straight down with the saw. It made a sort of look where the top of the soap was a little lumpy, the bottom looked like crinkled plastic, and the sides had small grooves in them. So I needed a paper sleeve for my soap. I’ve seen all kinds of ways to cut bars – you can build smaller molds with a sort of soap guillotine in them and grooves to guide where it should go, or you can just cut it like I did, with a big knife or saw. You can use PVC gutter pipe, and something to slick up the sides, then push the soap out and it’ll have neat scalloped edges. (just don’t use aluminum molds) Or you can invest in individual molds. I think that is a waste of money though. You’re going to need a ton of them if you use individual molds.

Practice for a couple months making soap, getting fast at it, and then store it and use it a while to make sure your recipe isn’t too superfatted, doesn’t stay slimy when people use it, etc. I was superfatting by almost 10% and that was too much, keep it down around 5% and you’ll be fine vis a vis the orange spots. Keep in mind the fragrance oils will add to the fat (even though they’re technically an alcohol of sorts, if you’re into chemistry. Just don’t tell the post office that, it’ll confuse them.)

Lard is way cheaper than vegetable oils and in my opinion makes a better soap. But some hippies and yuppies, which might be your customer base, don’t want anything to do with soap made from animals. I guess you could make it both ways. I made my soap with about half lard and half vege oils and sold it to country folk who generally wanted an “old fashion lye soap” experience. I ended up getting an old wash tub to use as a display, and I taped a price list to a washboard that I stuck behind the soap.

If your recipe is tried and true, I suggest you make some soap now and it’ll be ready to sell by December 5 or so. You might make some money off the holiday season. At that late date, you might not get a festival, but you might be able to shoehorn the stuff into someone else’s flea market booth or something.

You can use candle pigments for color. Vanillin turns soap brown. So don’t expect a white vanilla soap. Some people use herbs to color soap – there’s a lot of recipes out there. I’ve used cocoa, cinnamon and red palm oil for color before.

Lastly, fragrances are a fad thing and seasonal, so research what is hot.

This contest will end on December 16 2012 – prizes include:

Well what are you waiting for – email your entries today. But please read the rules first… 1x1.trans Making and selling soap

Comments

  1. Petticoat Prepper says:

    My first and only try on soap making I used lavender from my garden and produced a deep dark brown soap. I had the bars in the kitchen on a rack drying while off to work.

    DH and an employee stopped by the house for something. DH called me to ask a question and while we were chatting he began laughing and snorting. Seems the employee thought the soap was brownies!

  2. I have a “soap lady” about a block down the street. She sells at the Farmer’s Market and at some of the show locally. Her price is generally $6 each, with discounts for larger quantities.

  3. Hey, guys, just one little correction: soap takes 6 weeks to cure, I wrote that back in early November, so if you made soap now it would NOT be ready for Xmas. If you sell “raw” soap, you should warn people not to use it until 6 weeks from the date you make it.

    • Penny,

      Whether you use the hot process or cold process, soap is ready to use as soon as you take it out of the mold. My point being is isn’t dangerous anymore and is safe to use. Personally, I have use soap I made the day after I made it. The issue is it will ‘melt’ in front of your eyes and the bar will only last 2 to 3 days.

      The reason you wait 6 to 8 weeks to use the soap is to dry the bar to make it harder. A hard bar will last longer.

  4. I will also add: you can buy oils and lard cheap at Restaurant Depot. I still have most of a 50# block of lard that came in a plastic-lined cardboard box there. It’s stale now, so I think I will have to make more soap out of it, just to use it up.

    And one more one more thing: Make sure when you get lye that you get pure lye, not “drain cleaner”. Only certain hardware stores sell it – I think Hader Hardware has it, but not Home Depot. The reason for this is because people also use it to make meth.

  5. If you can’t find lye locally there’s always:

    http://www.amazon.com/Sodium-Hydroxide-Grade-Devil-Caustic/dp/B0039CPO34

  6. How about some proven recipes?

  7. Good Old Dirk says:

    Making your soap is easy. You can tailor your soap to your taste and needs. It is economical, more so than meets the eye because a bar you make lasts far longer than a commercial one, particularly if you let it dry between uses. But educate yourself before starting. Sodium hydroxide (it is not actually lye until dissolved in water) is caustic and can do serious damage. Never pour water onto the NaOH, add it to the water. Don’t use soaping containers and utensils later for food prep. You need digital scales – volume measurement is not accurate enough. These are only a few things you need to know. There’s lots of good soaping info on the web.

  8. I understand that soap will be one of the things I have to barter for after TDL goes off the cliff. I picked up some goat milk soap at the gun show for DW. She loves that stuff but doesn’t care for any type of wrapping. So the cute little bag and ruffled paper went to the kids. Yes, even after I explained to her how I walked the whole show with that pretty green bag with ruffled pink paper that got me plenty of strange looks.