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Mailbag Monday - Could Her Soap Really Be "From Scratch??"

By November 1, 2010

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Mailbag Monday is a new feature on the site where I share reader's questions and the answers. You can ask questions about candle making, soap making, or any of the related crafts that we engage in. Just email me with "Mailbag Monday" in the subject line. You can also check out previous questions I've answered in the Mailbag Monday Archive.

Kathy from Arizona had been selling her soap at a recent craft show and had a disagreement about ingredients with a fellow soap maker. For this week's question, she writes:

"This women was at a craft fair and she was telling me she made her soap from scratch. I knew she didn't, it looks exactly like a melt and pour. She said that when I make my soap from scratch  it contains sorbitol ..just like her "natural" soap! I know I am still learning but I was going crazy trying to figure this out!

This is her ingredient in her soap 'Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Castor Oil, Safflower Oil, Glycerin, (kosher, of vegetable origin), purified water, sodium hydroxide, sorbitol, shea butter, sorbitan oleate, soybean protein, titanium dioxide, essential oil, and fragrance.' She acted like her soap was just as good as mine - which I know is made from scratch (because I made it!)"

Kathy, there are several great lessons here...several of which you've already learned:

  1. Your soap is only as good as the ingredients in it.
  2. Understanding what each ingredient is, and what its function in the soap is, is vital to making the best soap possible.
  3. Just because an ingredient is natural doesn't mean it's good, and just because it's synthetic, doesn't mean it's bad.
  4. Labeling your soaps correctly is very important.
  5. Soap makers who either don't understand the above...or choose to fib about what's in their soap drive me crazy! They give honest, conscientious soap makers a bad reputation, and make it harder for all of us in the handcrafted soap industry.

That said, while it would be possible for her to have made her soap from scratch with those ingredients, it's very very unlikely. I can almost assure you that her soap is made from a melt and pour base from the SFIC corporation. SFIC makes excellent melt and pour soap base. When I was selling soap commercially,   it was the base I used for my soap. It's good soap...and as close to "natural" as you're going to get.

But compare her ingredient list above, with the ingredient list from SFIC:

  • Coconut Oil
  • Palm Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Glycerine (kosher, of vegetable origin)
  • Purified Water
  • Sodium Hydroxide (saponifying agent)
  • Sorbitol (moisturizer)
  • Sorbitan oleate (emulsifier)
  • Soy bean protein (conditioner)

Look familiar? The only difference is the shea butter, which she could have added herself, or just bought the "shea butter" base from SFIC. The added glycerin, sorbitol and sorbitan oleate are the give away. Sorbitol and sorbitan oleate are alcohol/alcohol derivatives that help the soap have a lower melt point - essentially taking a cold process soap and making it melt-able.

Is her soap bad? Not at all. Is it made from a melt and pour base? Almost definitely.

Thanks for the great question - and for helping to make the world of craft show soap making a bit more honest!

For more information about Mailbag Monday - or to send me a question - visit All About Mailbag Monday.


November 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm
(1) Mildred says:

“She acted like her soap was just as good as mine…”

Isn’t it? What makes SFIC soap bases any less quality than Kathy’s soap?

I enjoy making melt and pour and cold process soap and don’t understand why a fellow handcrafted soapmaker would insinuate that a melt and pour soap, especially one as good as SFIC, is automatically inferior because it is melt and pour.

There are things I can do with melt and pour that I cannot do with my cold process soaps. And vice versa. I see a need for both soap types in the industry to create designs that appeal to customers.

As for misleading customers that it is a cold process soap, definitely a shame on her.

November 2, 2010 at 1:13 pm
(2) Lorraine says:

Well, I agree with the lady who posted this, because the other melt and pour lady at the fair was trying to make out that she had worked as hard and knew actually more than our lady did. In fact, she just bought it, cut it up, nuked it and memorized the ingredients. Sorry lady no. 2 but thats not really what I call soap making.

I’ve done both, and yes melt and pour can be more flexible sometimes I know, but cold process is, for me, proper soap making, true alchemy!! I made it, I weighed it, I mixed it… sometimes I even worked out the factors and changed recipies, big difference.

Good for your lady number one, stick to it I hope you see her again – ask her where she sources all her chemicals from!


November 2, 2010 at 1:24 pm
(3) Kathy says:

Melt and pour may be easier Lorraine but it is not so easy too, if you make it a piece of art as I do. Just because I do not want to mess with lye, etc. does not mean my melt and pour is not good. I weigh my melt and pour LOL

November 2, 2010 at 1:52 pm
(4) Susie says:

Too bad we cannot all agree that both are very good soap – usually. CP soap could be lye heavy or too superfatted, where M&P could be of lower quality, say from a craft store.
What I really do not like is when it is misrepresented. As a consumer I would deserve to know what I am buying. If I was the one to sell CP would be handmade and my M&P would be handcrafted. Yes, I do make both just not selling at this point.

November 2, 2010 at 2:03 pm
(5) Diana says:

I think the argument is the fact that the woman said she made it from scratch. Yes she made it and yes it may be as good as any other soap, but why lie about making it from scratch. Imake both M&P and CP, though mostly CP. I call each what it is. It’s not the what or the how, it’s the foolish lie!

November 2, 2010 at 3:19 pm
(6) Cheryl Ann says:

I see the difference! I have investigated both types (CP and M&P) and there is a DIFFERENCE….but one is not comparable to the other. It’s like baking a cake. There’s the “made from scratch” and the “cake mix.” Which one is BETTER? Depends on who’s making it, what they add to it, how adept they are and the list goes on and on. It is like comparing apples to oranges. The problem is when you are trying to fool someone into thinking you made something you did not….or tell them they are buying an apple instead of an orange. But they are both still fruit….they are both still cakes….and they are both still soap. Completely up to the buyer….as long as they have enough information to make an informed decision. I make M&P because I personally like the quality of it BETTER than CP. My customer’s don’t mostly understand the difference, but I would never LIE about it and say it is made from scratch! They love my soap!!

November 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm
(7) Rosa says:

I prefer to make HP soap,I also make CP soap and on a very rare occasion melt and pour. My understanding is the issue was she was saying her’s was the same and by no means is melt and pour the same as CP or Even HP soap. It takes so much more time to make hp an cp soap and to work out formulas and the coloring or cp and hp seem far more complicated than melt and pours.

Both better than commercial store bought soap which is no better than detergent but abosolutely Not the same.

November 2, 2010 at 8:35 pm
(8) Slave to Beads says:

I am glad I read this because I was just thinking about this subject. I started making the melt and pour soap to see if I wanted to make soap and felt that this wasn’t making soap it was scenting or flavoring soap. I now make soap from scratch and love it. I can see how fun melt and pour could be for the soap artist. There are some really awesome looking and smelling soaps out there. I was a bit negative about the melt and pour until I read this and can see things from a different perspective. And I would hope that we can all be honest in our dealings with customers. Thanks for sharing this!

November 3, 2010 at 1:08 am
(9) Karol says:

I did a craft show, setting up next to a lady who was selling soap. I also had soap. She was very snooty about her soap and didn’t speak to me all day…. but I did notice that she was making her soap on-site. Knowing this would be impossible with CP or HP, I immediately decided she was a M&P person. Then we went to the State Fair and there she was… in the building that was suppposed to be totally handmade representing the time period of the 1700 – 1800′s, showing how the pioneers and such made their soap. In this building was also people sheering sheep and alpacas and spinning and weaving the wool, as well as farm implements from the time period. Well to me, M&P, as nice as it can be, did not belong in that building at all. The pioneers and settlers did not have M&P soap. I did notice the next year she was not there, so I think they had complaints about it. But having spent an entire day on a batch of soap, and having made melt and pour too, I feel like a liar when I say my melt and pour is “hand Made”. It is not. It is ordered and colored/scented, and poured. Period. Sure you can really embellish it, but the basic soap itself is not in any way hand made. If its embellished in a fabulous way, its worth it to purchase it, and given the right artist, can be a real thing of beauty, but if its just poured into the basic mold, no work involved to make it special, then no. In contrast, I recently did a show, and once again, was set up next to a lady who also had soap. Now her soap was totally CP/HP and gorgeous, and she actually had her own goats with which to make her goats milk soap. And they brought their Alpaca’s with them along with her knitted Alpaca wool items for sale. It was an outdoor show. The children loved the Alpacas. It was fantastic. And you could tell talking to her that yes, she did it all. I was so impressed with her. I think the main issue here is the total misrepresentation.

November 4, 2010 at 1:25 pm
(10) C says:

Why do you have to judge what other people do?? It’s like being in a hen coop and being pecked to death reading all these comments!! I make melt and pour soaps and sometimes it takes me all day to make around 6 soaps, and it takes knowledge of different properties. I’m proud of my soaps and I absolutely consider them to be handmade. It took me around a year to get a solid skill set together, before I was proud to sell my soaps. I researched and tried out many different companies soap ingredients, and came up with my own recipes through trial and error, so to say melt and pour is not soap making is wrong. I love this forum, but who wants to listen to a bunch of hens pecking eachother over who has better soap making skills??

November 6, 2010 at 5:44 pm
(11) Sabine says:

Both soaps are hand made, so I don’t really see why there is an argument about it? If you buy a handknitted scarf do you expect the knitter to have spun their own wool? Some knitters do, most do not. It’s still called hand knitted.
If you have only ever made M&P soap, you would call it “from scratch”, as you wouldn’t know any different. I make CP soap only as I really really fail at M&P. I guess this argument will go on forever, both kind of soaps are nice and have their place, they are just different.

November 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm
(12) barb says:

I have just read all of the comments and I have to agree with Sabine. I happen to make melt and pour soaps. They are hand crafted and I have spent a lot of time and money to perfect the methods I use. I do not judge others just feel like we are all trying to have fun and enjoy which method we choose to make soap. I describe my soap as functional art. There is room for everyone and its better to be supportive of others than to sit around an judge. What a waste of time. I also believe both kinds are nice and just different.

November 23, 2010 at 10:57 pm
(13) RM says:

The lady with the (probably) M&P soap was calling her soap from scratch, meaning that she had mixed ALL the ingredients to make soap, such as lye, and oils, together to make her soap. To use the cake mix and made from scratch comparison, M&P is the cake mix and CP is made from scratch. Yes, M&P lady may have spent all day working on her soap, and it is still excellent soap, but to pass it off as CP or HP soap is not right.

June 24, 2012 at 4:35 pm
(14) Sarah says:

This is how I see it: I’m an artist, and I start my artwork with a pencil and paper, and then I paint it by hand to create a work of art. It’s the same with my CP soap; I’m doing it all myself (measuring and creating a bar, using raw ingredients that go into it, the hand milling, etc.). MP soap is likened to someone buying a coloring book, coloring the already-there outlines, and calling it “their art.” No, MP soap is simply NOT the same as CP soap.

October 19, 2012 at 1:34 am
(15) Laurie says:

I find almost every response on here reprehensible! I am a soap maker who makes cp, hp and creates my own melt and pour that I use. Making melt and pour from scratch is probably the hardest thing to date that I have accomplished. First I have to make the soap then I have to turn it into m&p. Yes it is very possible and takes significantly more work and time to do then just your standard old cp/hp methods. I feel you just all showed how unskilled and ignorant you truly are. Not everyone buys premade m&p soap. Some of us actually do know how to make it from scratch! And mildred, if she really did make it from scratch then it is better than yours and took much more time and skill then yours did. Stop crying about it and figure it out yourself, then again that might take some effort on your part. You should have asked before you jumped to conclusions. As so called soap makers I guess the great majority of you would rather tear someone else’s work down because you probably couldn’t figure it out for yourself. Sorbitol and and any of the other ingredients listed in that womans recipe are readily available on the internet! I can’t believe David Fisher would also jump on this band wagon. What a shame! I realize this is an older post but it needs to be refuted for anyone else that might come across it like I did and then go to some craft fair etc…and get all high and mighty about themselves like most of the soapers on here did.

November 23, 2012 at 10:16 am
(16) leba says:


November 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm
(17) Candace says:

I am a CP soaper and proud of it. I have worked hard to get where I am at this point. I have seen some gorgeous M&P soaps and those soapers are proud of their product, as they should be. I have a lot of respect for artisans, unless they are passing their craft off as something it is not, which is what is confronting me locally right now. Yes, M&P is handcrafted, but it is not CP nor is it HP. Now, if you make your own M&P from scratch, that is different. Be honest with what your craft is and don’t try to pass it off as something it is not. That is fraud.

January 1, 2013 at 3:56 pm
(18) Bonnie says:

I make my own soap bases from scratch. Yes, it can be done, from scratch. I use lye, oils, water, solvents, glycerin and more including sorbitol and others mentioned. I make glycerin soap from scratch but I tell people it’s glycerin soap made from scratch. I don’t call it cold process. I call it hot process and/or glycerin soap because that is exactly what it is.

February 17, 2013 at 12:44 am
(19) Danielle says:

Anything someone puts their time, effort, and heart and soul in to is considered art in my opinion. Yes it’s very wrong to try and pass something off for what it isn’t, but who are YOU to judge someone else’s craft? Who cares if it’s MP, CP, or HP if the person has passion for it and makes a good product isn’t that all that matters in the end? That would be like someone trying to tell you that your soap isn’t really “homemade” because you didn’t make the EO, or pick the flowers you decide to add to it.

March 4, 2013 at 9:01 pm
(20) marilyn says:

Wow. This just solidifies why I stay away from people who think one form of soapmaking is better than another. Ego anyone? ?? I can’t tell you how often I and friends and family have preferred the quality of m&p soap over cp/hp soap. But it’s just a preference. And it’s just soap. Stop taking yourselves so seriously. Hen house is right lolz!!!!

March 6, 2013 at 7:18 pm
(21) Rachel says:

She probably didn’t spend a lot of time on chemical engineering sites, EWG, or Canadian ECGC site. I noticed a lot of so-called organic soap makers fail miserably in making a soap “safe”…….First off, a lot of soap makers may put natural ingredients in a soap, thinking well if this item has health benefits, etc, etc. then it will all work together in soap. Wrong, a lot of homemade soap makers are actually adding ingredients together that cross-cancel each other out. Lemon can strip a counter clean, but hey lets put one of the highest citric acids in a soap, so that buffers in our skin have to work overtime, to get ph levels back to normal. You don’t have lemon in your list. However , sorbitan oleate had been linked to environmental problems in our lakes, ocean, etc. Now to oils. Islanders have always used coconut oil on our skin, but when you grew up in places like Hawaii, the coconut oil works with our skin. Often times I see people throwing in tons of different oils, that essentially will cause a drying effect (like coconut oil)…then they go and throw more oil in. The funniest is watching people buy vitamin E to put in soap with oils high in vitamin e. That’s like me pouring a small jar of olive oil…..in a bowl of olive oil. One of the oldest (still in business) soap companies in France would never have a label that read “contains added vitamin e” because it is like telling someone that you’ve added vitamin c to your orange juice.

March 9, 2013 at 11:25 am
(22) alex says:

I too make m & p, from scratch, yes its hard work but I don’t like sulphates and prefer natural colourants that don’t hold up in a caustic environment, I don’t like people bashing either its just soap!

March 18, 2013 at 9:33 am
(23) kizzie says:

Rachel, It’s true that you have to do your research on the chemical properties of oils and all the other ingredients; however, to state that coconut oil has a drying effect is not 100% accurate.

You left out the fact that initially, coconut oil is moisturizing, up to a certain percent, after that, it does have a drying effect.

Every oil, butter, and additive will have each own unique properties and as such, will require extensive research on their respective chemical properties to see which ingredients will work best with each other to obtain the desired goal of the soaper.

Please do realize that part of the whole “Vitamin E added” and “throwing in tons of different oils” is, for some companies, a marketing gimmick to get the consumer all riled up over all these great things in their soap. Is it a good thing? Depends on the final product. As long as the final bar is sound in it’s properties (i.e doesn’t dry skin, cancer-causing ingredients etc..) then it’s a greater bar than you can get commercially that’s for sure!!

On a different note for everyone, I’m looking forward to making my first batch of “M&P” from scratch to achieve a transparent glycerin bar of soap. I’ll have to buy sorbital oleate to get this meltable for future use, but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to replace the alcohol to achieve that transparency that isn’t cancer-causing. Feel free to add any input!

April 6, 2013 at 1:03 pm
(24) Shirlia says:

I know this is an old post, but it bothered me to read so many negative comments. So I wanted to add my comment for anybody who may find this article through a search like I have. The lady very well could be making her own glycerine/melt and pour base. I make CP soap, but I also make my own melt and pour (or glycerine based) soap.

Not store bought, from scratch! Its a process similar to HP soap. You make your lye based soap and mash up during the gel phase. Then you add glycerine and the sorbitol mix. It stays chunky for a bit but it will melt down in the slow cooker. Once it is melted it can be poured and cured. Then the base can be remelted as needed. Why do I do this? because sometimes its nice to make a soap from the base that doesn’t require a cure time (on demand) or to play with fragrances, colours and techniques that CP doesn’t allow. I could probably save some time by buying it, but my preference is to say “I made it from scratch”.

Yes, glycerine soap does sweat and no it probably won’t last as long in the shower, but its a good bar of soap and my customers come back for more.

A note on the natural is better subject. I’ve also seen variations using ethanol and sugar water – just as natural as CP soap . There’s truly not a lot wrong with vegetable glycerine (byproduct of soap making) or sorbitol (sugar alcohol which occurs naturally in a lot of berries). Yes, they’re safe and yes they were probably made synthetically, but so is our sodium hydroxide. Very few of us are brewing it up from ashes these days so yes its a synthetically produced chemical just like glycerine or sorbitol.

April 7, 2013 at 4:31 am
(25) Hate MP says:

MP soapmaking, mislead as being “natural” or “from scratch” is FRAUD. Sorbital oleate is a toxic ingredient IMO. Also, many people who use handmade soaps have medical skin conditions such as eczema and the MP ingredients irritate the eczema. So YES, with that in mind I will most certainly judge a soap on its ingredients and how it was made. CP and HP soapmakers are the true soapmakers who do it all. MP soap could be melted down Dove soap – it has happened. MP soap isn’t true soapmaking unless you’re rebatching your own created base. Truth. My skin knows the difference and MP soaps make me break out.

May 13, 2013 at 10:53 pm
(26) eczema-sufferer says:

Interesting conversation, although I don’t understand why the melt and pour soap-makers are so defensive on this particular issue? I think the main concern here is selling a soap under the guise of being what it’s not. I had no idea that melt and pour soaps could be made “from scratch” which further illustrates the need to be honest with customers that, even if made from scratch, that it is a melt and pour base – provided with a full list of ingredients. I have moderate to severe eczema and I have to use specialty soaps to keep my skin under control. Cold process soap, which is made from scratch helps me the best – especially goat milk soap. Ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate, sorbitan oleate, and propylene glycol irritate my skin. I cannot use melt and pour soaps because they almost always have sorbitan, sorbitan oleate and/or propylene glycol. These ingredients will inflame my skin into a nasty rash that takes days to calm. I mean it – getting such a rash is extremely unpleasant and painful.

If a person sold me a soap under the guise of being a CP soap when it’s not? At the least, I’d be very very angry!

June 1, 2013 at 8:31 pm
(27) Char says:

Sorbital and Sorbitan are two different ingredients!. M&P soap can be made from scratch, which I guess is not really Melt and pour, but a meltable hot processed soap. I recently melted my CP soap and added resin and it turned a translucent colour, which I then remelted again and again. It didn`t dry out! – Meltable CP soap. How interesting. There are so many types of soap, Maybe that lady copied the recipe and started making her own M and P soap. I`m sure most of us didn`t create our own recipe the very first time we made soap. It most likely was given to us by whom ever taught us. If the woman really is using a base she bought, I think she should be honest about that. But there really is no debate when it comes to Soap making. Most people skin irritations or not use homemade soap because they like the fact that they know where the ingredients came from. Bottom line – even if you added them to a premade base. It is only soap after all. As long as it`s safe. I`m for it :)

June 1, 2013 at 8:33 pm
(28) Char says:

hey what happened to my last comment. Did it go… Hummm….

June 30, 2013 at 2:53 am
(29) Joy says:

Folks need to mind their own business and get off their high horses. I will tell you now: if another crafter approaches me at a craft show just to challenge me on whether my soap is “natural” or less “natural” than hers, I will scream at her in my worst voice to mind her damn business, or worse. Go ahead and sell your damn CP soap while I enjoy making money from my store-bought M&P soap. Your ugly self-righteousness makes me sick. UGH!!!!!!

July 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm
(30) eczema-sufferer says:

All I’m saying is to BE HONEST about your soap. That is the entire point of this conversation. I DON’T need to mind my own business when I am the consumer and I’m buying a product. It isn’t good business to lie to me about your soap being CP when it isn’t, and I break out in a severe rash because I’m trusting that your soap doesn’t have the bad MP ingredients that I am avoiding. Otherwise, hey, you can pay my medical bills.

August 9, 2013 at 10:07 am
(31) rob says:

read the ingredients then decide if that’s for you , if no ingredients I wouldn’t use cp, hp or mp all good soaps and can all be natural or not natural

August 29, 2013 at 1:24 pm
(32) Barnacle Studios says:

This has been an incredibly interesting topic to read about. I have done numerous craft fairs for my knitting, hand knit mittens from wools I did not spin myself….although I do know where some of my fibers come from….there is a beautiful brown alpaca named Snickers who is in some of my mittens. I started with a soap kit for my oldest daughter to make Melt & Pour soaps. We went through that kit like wildfire and have since bought numerous supplies to make more. We have experimented with different oils, scents, colors and techniques. I don’t want to use lye because I have three kids making soaps. My daughter spent all day making soaps within soaps one day and for someone to say she did not make this soap her own, doesn’t know much time and effort and design she put into doing what she did. I have great respect for those who make cold press and/or hot press soaps and amazed at the fragrances they get as well as the awesome ways their soaps come out. With that being said, I also know how hard we work on our soaps. We plan on trying to sell some at local craft fairs this holiday season, but I will most definitely state on our cards that our soaps are a Melt & Pour base, as well as list all the ingredients used. I would never tell customers our soaps are something they are not but I also know we put good, hard work into what we have. All artists, and that is what we all are, take something they didn’t necessarily make themselves, to create something beautiful for others to enjoy. As long as you sell it and tell it for what it really is, there shouldn’t be a problem. It’s what you do with your ingredients that makes it worth while.

September 8, 2013 at 9:01 pm
(33) Danni says:

See Barnacle Studios above…this about sums it up.

I do them all- CP, HP, and MP- I have a customer base that likes different soaps.
The key is obviously don’t pass them off as something they are not.

Eczema Sufferer- I would imagine that you would know the difference in appearance from CP and MP soap- they are not hard to distinguish.

I actually have Eczema and so do my kids and we use my MP soap all the time with no ill effects and there is Sorbitan Oleate in my MP soaps. So you must be really sensitive or different than we are.

Anyway- handmade soap is better for you than commercial soaps and body washes regardless just know what you are buying and who you are buying from.

February 21, 2014 at 9:27 pm
(34) Happy soaps says:

Such a tired debate. We crafters all work hard. I am proud to use SFIC’s mp bases. My business is great. My customers are happy. But I do want to punch the snobby cold process ppl that feel the need to tell me I will eventually make ‘real’ soap. Nope! I like my soap just fine

April 17, 2014 at 2:53 am
(35) Aiblinn says:

I just want to say that I too know this is old thread and also stumbled onto it. Furthermore I have all ideas that this comment will stay in cyberspace obscurity forever, but I’m gonig to make it anyway. After reading those comments I now remember why all my friends are men. Women are horrible to each other over…..soap??? Wow!! Next time I count my blessings I will be thankful that I’m not a man, or a lesbian, I could never put up with the drama you all create. NEVER!! And over soap… not sure if I should laugh at you or pity you….

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