Places to source natural soap making supplies, including oils, lye, beeswax, essential oil, honey, and herbs. Includes ideas for sourcing locally produced ingredients, what to look for, avoiding suspicious sellers, and soapmaking suppliers by country.
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There are a lot of questions when you first begin making handmade soap. You not only need to learn about the soap making process but also about soap making ingredients. Oils, distilled water, lye, and all of the extras you can use to scent, decorate, or improve your batches. That involves learning how to choose the right recipes or formulate new ones based on the ingredients you want to use. I have a lot of information for you to discover on all of those topics, including free recipes. However, this piece focuses entirely on the practical matter of where to source natural soap making supplies.
When you purchase soap ingredients and equipment, you’ll have quite a few things to consider. Stock availability, shelf-life, quality, and ethical standards are all important. Still, the biggest hurdle to making the right choices is that we mainly place our ingredients orders online since physical soap making supplies shops are uncommon. That means speaking to an actual person or seeing products in real life isn’t easy. Price is another significant aspect of buying soap supplies: the price of the material and the shipping costs. Cost may even affect which soap recipes you can feasibly make.
Sourcing Soap Making Ingredients
A wide range of soap making supplies is available in the North American and European markets. However, you may find your choices much more limited if you’re out of those areas. I’ve spoken with soapmakers in parts of Africa, India, and Indonesia that have had a challenging time getting a hold of ingredients that we might consider common. Olive oil for one! It’s scarce or prohibitively expensive in some parts of the world. If you can’t source materials and ingredients, then you will need to be creative with what you have.
- Tips for starting a soapmaking business
- How to change and customize a soap recipe
- 3 Simple Soap Recipes using natural ingredients
You might also want to choose all-natural, ethically-sourced, or organic ingredients. Not every seller stocks these or makes information on ethical standards available. Then there’s the rogue trade in fake and diluted ingredients that you need to be able to avoid. I hope to guide you through these challenges and help you make the best decisions on where to source soap making supplies.
Product Purity in Soap Making Supplies
Like all industries, some manufacturers produce high-quality products and materials, and some make inferior products. Yet others create fake products with misleading labeling. Often shipped to you from countries where cosmetic safety and standards are not as well regulated. Learning how to spot questionable cosmetic ingredients is a skill we all have to have when sourcing soap making supplies.
More expensive cosmetic ingredients tend to be the items most faked and diluted. Always read the labeling on olive oil to check that it’s pure and not a blend. Many large bottles of olive oil are a 50/50 mix of olive oil and other oil, such as soybean oil. Honey is the most faked product on the planet – look carefully at the label to see if it says 100% honey or if any other ingredients are listed. If buying online, be even more cautious.
Food-grade Lye and Distilled Water
Purity is also essential for lye (sodium hydroxide in cold process soap making) and the water you use. Lye found in supermarkets and hardware stores for clearing drains is not ideal for soapmaking. That’s because up to 1% of it can contain trace metals and contaminants. Non-food-grade lye can, unfortunately, be a cause for the superfat to go rancid in soap — leading to DOS. Anyone who’s had a case of Dreaded Orange Spot will understand why it’s best to use food-grade lye in soap making.
Also, If you weren’t already aware, tap water and mineral water can have contaminants ranging from minerals to debris from your pipes. These, too, can cause free-floating oils in your soap bars to go rancid. That’s why soap makers use distilled water to make soap. It’s almost completely pure and will not adversely affect your soap.
Distilled water is common in the United States and soapmakers who live there have no trouble sourcing it from the supermarket. Here in the UK, it’s not available in any shop that I’ve ever seen. Instead, there’s a type of water called deionized water that’s treated and pure but it’s not the same. Deionized water has had almost all of the minerals removed from it, whereas distilled water has had the minerals, chemicals, bacteria, and organic matter removed.
Be Mindful of Labeling and Certification
Essential oils are probably the soap making ingredients to be most attentive to when it comes to fake products. Synthetic fragrance oils are often marketed with labeling that fools you into thinking it’s a natural product. Even authentic essential oils, such as rose absolute, are often sold highly diluted. Look carefully at the labeling, and you may spot that it’s only 2-5% essential oil suspended in a carrier oil.
When you’re making soap as a hobby, it’s not required for you to look into cosmetic ingredient certification. However, as a professional soapmaker, you should keep records of where the ingredients are from. That includes the manufacturer, the batch number, best-by date, and a copy of the MSDS – Material Safety Data Sheet. Manufacturers of cosmetic ingredients must produce one for each of their products. So one way to know more about the ingredient and its authenticity is to ask the manufacturer or vendor for an MSDS sheet and Certificate of Analysis. Ingredients made for the food industry won’t necessarily have these documents though.
Sourcing Organic Ingredients
Another issue to be aware of is fake organic ingredients. Organic oils, essential oils, and botanicals are sourced from plants grown without synthetic fertilizers or toxic chemicals. If you’re looking for a genuinely organic ingredient, the manufacturer will likely be registered with your country’s foremost organic organization. That would be USDA Organic in the USA or the Soil Association in the UK. If it is not, it’s possible that the product is not organic.
The labeling of cosmetic and soap products as “Organic” is strictly regulated in the EU and UK. This isn’t exactly the same case in the United States. The term Organic, and USDA Organic certification, apply much more to food and agricultural products including vegetables, oil, and herbs. Manufacturers of cosmetic products made with these organic ingredients can apply to have their products certified as organic by USDA. However, if you see a product claiming to be “organic” and it does not display your region’s organic organization’s logo, then it has not been certified. That means that it may not actually meet organic standards. Be vigilant for this.
Shelf-life of Soap Making Supplies
When we make handmade soap, we want our bars to last months, if not years. That’s why it’s so important to use ingredients with a long shelf-life when we make soap. Many people aren’t initially aware that if they use old ingredients to make soap, the soap has a higher chance of going rancid and developing DOS. Look at the best-by date of all of the ingredients you use when making soap. The closest date you spot will be the best-by date for your new soap! Using old ingredients to make soap will not extend their shelf life.
Whether buying online or at a brick-and-mortar shop, check the shelf-life before committing to a product. Oils in supermarkets can have very short shelf lives, and shops usually push the old oil bottles to the front to sell them quicker. For example, freshly produced sunflower oil has a two-year shelf-life, yet the best-by date is usually less than a year for oil sold in my local supermarket.
Soap Making Suppliers
I will introduce you to different ways to source soap making supplies, including ingredients, soap cutters, soap molds, and other equipment. However, if this is all a bit overwhelming, you can place an order with a soap making supplier. Although not always the cheapest, certain companies specializing in supplying cosmetic ingredients and equipment are well-known in the soaping community. You can trust that they’ll supply you with safe and regulated products.
If you order from these companies, their ingredients will be offered in various quantities and price points, come with documentation and traceability and have a good shelf-life. Many professional soap makers, including myself, use them due to their reliability. You can scroll to the bottom of this piece for a list of soap making suppliers by country.
Oils and Fats for Soap Making
The main bulk of any soap recipe is oils, fats, waxes, and butters. Some are familiar and inexpensive, such as sunflower oil, and others are exotic and expensive, such as mango butter. Good soap recipes usually include three to six oils and fats. You choose them for their fatty acid profiles, cost, and what they can contribute to a bar of soap. The most common oils used in soap recipes are coconut oil (76 degrees), olive oil (extra virgin or pomace), palm oil, shea butter, tallow, canola (rapeseed), and castor oil.
You can find these ingredients at quite a few places and in different quantities. The larger the amount you buy, the cheaper the ingredient will be per unit (grams/lbs/etc). Please don’t fall into the false economy pit, though. For example, end up buying five gallons of coconut oil and not being able to use it before the best-by date.
Buying Oils for Soap Making
In many of my soap recipes, I include a link to where you can buy a relatively small amount of that ingredient. Online marketplaces, supermarkets, drug stores, and health food shops are great for getting enough ingredients to make small batches of soap. If you want to take up soapmaking as a regular hobby or business, you need to think bigger.
Soap making suppliers offer oils in small and bulk amounts, but they can be more expensive than other sources. That’s why many soapmakers buy common oils from bulk food suppliers, such as Costco. You can save a lot of money this way but be aware of the issues of shelf-life and dilution. If you ever see oil stored in a place close to natural light, avoid it too. UV light causes oil to go rancid, which is why we store oil in dark places such as cupboards.
You can also get outstanding bulk discounts if you buy direct from a manufacturer or bulk oil retailer. I know that Bulk Apothecary is a popular choice for wholesale oils in the USA. They offer sizes from just 14 oz to a 72 drum (420 lbs each) truckload! In years past, I used to order bulk oils from a company in the UK called Neat Wholesale. They’re now owned and operated by Naissance, a fantastic company for sourcing ethical and organic oils. There are others out there, too, so do some online research.
Artisanal Ingredients for Soap Making
Although more expensive, artisan oils and ingredients could be right for you and your customer base. Local rapeseed or olive oil, tallow, and other regional specialties could set your soap apart from the competition. It’s worth checking out local farmers’ markets and chatting to producers about these ingredients. While you’re there, check out the fresh produce too. Working with seasonal specialties, you could make a range of soaps that reflect your region. Pumpkin soap, goat milk soap, and peppermint soap, to name a few. The sky’s the limit when thinking up seasonal variations and ideas.
As a beekeeper, I also have self-harvested ingredients for making honey and beeswax soap. If you don’t keep bees, you could contact someone in your region who does and ask to buy or barter for some beeswax and honey. Again, check out the farmers’ market, but beekeepers will often have a website.
Health Food Stores & Ethnic Food Shops
You can also get small quantities of quality oils from health food stores – sometimes even locally produced. Most shops I’ve visited stocked cold-pressed coconut oil and raw cocoa butter. You might also find fairtrade shea butter or other unique ingredients to try in your soap recipes. If you find an unusual oil, you can look for a recipe that includes it. Alternatively, check if your favorite lye calculator has it as an ingredient. Then you could change or customize a soap recipe to include it.
Dry goods, including spices and herbs, are soap making supplies that you can get from health food shops and ethnic food shops. Organic oatmeal, paprika, turmeric (dried or fresh), or even unusual fruit and oils. Ensure that the oil and dried products have a shelf life of at least a year, though.
Sourcing Natural Soap Colorants
When it comes to natural soap colorants you can use many spices and even plants from the garden. Some of the most vivid colors come from roots and leaves such as Himalayan rhubarb, alkanet root, and annatto seeds. You can find soap colorants at ethnic food shops but the best place is through natural fiber dyeing shops. Just ensure that the natural colorant you’re sourcing is pure plant material with no added ingredients. If you have a green thumb, you could try growing natural soap colorants though too!
Oftentimes, natural colorants will not come with cosmetic ingredient documentation. This is the case with Cambrian blue clay and I’ve had a lot of people ask me about it. Skincare products meant for the end-user, such as face mask clay cannot be used to make other commercial skincare or soap products. They’re fine to use for personal soap making, but you can’t legally include them in soap that you sell to the public.
Where to Buy Essential Oils for Soap Making
Sourcing essential oil for soap making can involve quite a bit of research. First, you need to be able to discern between true essential oils and fragrance oils. You’ll encounter a lot of fake essential oils when shopping on Amazon or eBay, so be cautious and look into the manufacturer. In my opinion, MLM essential oils, such as those made by Young Living and DoTerra, should be avoided in soap making. They are just far too expensive.
The amount of essential oil in soap recipes can be quite high, which is why most soapmakers choose to use mid-range essential oils. For these, stick with the types stocked with soap making suppliers. Often, you’ll have the choice of an organic option too, which will be more expensive but of higher quality. Smaller bottles (50-100ml) are great to start with but if you use a lot, you can buy essential oil by the liter or even larger amounts. I buy direct from essential oil suppliers as well, and regularly use both Naissance and FreshSkin essential oil (UK companies).
If you’d like a higher quality product, try to get your essential oil direct from the producer. You may even have a flower farm in the region that makes fresh hydrosols and essential oil such as lavender, chamomile, and peppermint. Hydrosols are best used in lotion and leave-on skincare, but essential oils are what many natural soap makers use to scent their soap.
Many soap makers instead source their essential oils through a soap making supplier. It takes the questioning out of the process regarding decent quality and purity. However, the best essential oil will come from a supplier with close ties to the essential oil manufacturer. That’s why I source nearly all of my soap-making essential oils from Naissance. In the United States, Mountain Rose Herbs has an excellent reputation, as does New Directions Aromatics. With these companies, you’ll be able to get information on what region the plants were grown. Other information too, such as if they were organically grown, chemical composition, and the extraction process.
Sourcing Herbs and Botanicals for Soap Making
I use quite a few homegrown herbs and flowers in my soap recipes — both in the recipes I share here and in the soap I sell. Often, they add only decoration but sometimes you can use them for natural color, such as in the case of calendula soap. When I grow the plants myself, I know exactly how they lived. I don’t spray the leaves with chemicals, there are no toxic contaminants in the soil or the air nearby. The provenance is known.
If you buy dried botanicals online, this information is often unclear, which presents a problem. The plants may have been of poor quality or are contaminated with lingering pesticides. They could also have been “wild-harvested” which more often than not means they were taken from the wild in an unsustainable manner. Online marketplaces like Etsy are the worst for this and I’ve been in touch with one particular seller there who harvests alkanet from the wild in places that it should be protected. It’s incredibly unethical and almost completely unregulated.
Herbs and botanicals are available from a lot of places, from teabags to high-end herbalist supply shops. I’d recommend that you choose the best quality that you can get which often means that the product should be certified organic. Places I’d recommend getting botanicals is from organic flower and herb farms and herbalist products suppliers. Mountain Rose Herbs is the USA is a good option as is Organic Herbal Remedies in the UK. You can find a list of many more herbal suppliers here.
Sourcing Soap Making Equipment
For the hobby soap maker, you won’t need very much in the way of dedicated soap making equipment. A good immersion blender, goggles, a heat-proof jug, digital kitchen scale, thermometer, and molds are the main items. Other things like the stainless steel pan, bowls, spatula, and stainless steel measuring spoons you can use from your kitchen cupboards. If you make hot process soap, you can even use your kitchen crockpot for making soap. If you’re missing anything, you can easily find it anyplace that sells kitchen items. I often buy mine from Amazon or eBay and include product links in my recipes and this piece.
To answer the enduring question, yes, you can use glass, pyrex, and stainless steel pans and tools for both soap making and food. However, they must be thoroughly cleaned between uses to avoid cross-contamination. So this way the hobby soap maker can save money on buying extra soap making equipment.
Once you begin making larger batches, bowls and jugs will turn into tubs and buckets. Kitchen pans will turn into industrial-sized pots. Immersion blenders can get upgraded into longer, more powerful blenders. You’ll be able to find this type of equipment at shops that supply the catering and restaurant industry. You might even be able to find some at auctions! I know of a business closing down nearby and have already been in touch asking about their used racking trolleys. They make great spaces to cure soap.
Getting Soap Molds and Soap Cutters
Soap molds come in different styles, and for small batches, I heartily recommend silicone molds. You can use the types made for baking, but sometimes they can be pretty flimsy. Instead, order silicone molds from specialty soap making suppliers or retailers. Silicone molds made for soap making, whether loaf or cavity style, are often thicker and reinforced. That makes them better for soap.
Another excellent mold solution is a simple wooden box. You can make them to size and then line them with baking/greaseproof paper when you make soap. If you’re making large ones, it’s best to construct a wooden mold so that you can remove one side; otherwise, getting soap out can be challenging. Also, consider the size of a recipe when making your own molds. It’s possible to make molds that perfectly fit your ideal soap batch size. I also have an ultimate guide to soap molds piece that you can read to get more inspiration.
Soap cutters can be as simple as a kitchen knife and cutting board or as fancy as a wire multi-soap cutter. To ensure your soap bars are uniform, the best tool to use is a specialty soap cutter. The cheapest solution is a miter box and a blade, and I used this set-up when I first started. There are soap cutters online too, and some of the best are made by independent sellers on Etsy.
Soap Stamps and Packaging
I stamp my business’s logo on each of the soaps I make for retail. It looks professional, adds extra detail, and reinforces that the soap came from Lovely Greens! My soap stamp is handmade by a local artisan who has a laser cutter and 3D printer in his garage. I gave him a digital file with my logo, and he was able to create a custom stamp for me. I use a rubber mallet to pound my logo into each bar. Other than him, the best place that I’ve seen to get your own soap stamp is Etsy. Though you might know someone in your area who could custom make one for you too.
Soap packaging is a question I’m often asked. I design my own labels and have them printed professionally on semi-gloss paper. The soap boxes I use are paper and come flatpack. You can get them from quite a few different suppliers, and a simple google search for kraft soap boxes will give you different options. You can also choose to sell your soaps without packaging (I do!) or use another type of eco-friendly soap packaging.
One-Stop Soap Making Supplies
If you’re unsure about where to source your soap ingredients and equipment, stick with a trusted supplier. These businesses cater to soapmakers and their needs and are a little like supermarkets for soap-making supplies. They have a lot of products, some of better quality than others, and are popular with mainstream soap makers – both professional soap makers and DIY hobbyists. You can often find reviews on their sites along with recommendations based on customer favorites.
The downside is that they probably won’t have artisan-made products. They may not even be clear with which of their inventory is considered natural, vegan, or supports another ethical production manner. What they will have is a general standard of good products and reliability that you can count on. Below are some of the best I know.
Trusted Soap Making Suppliers In North America
- United States: Bramble Berry and the Bulk Apothecary are both leading wholesale soap suppliers in the US. Soaper’s Choice is another option for American soap making ingredients.
- Canada: Many soap suppliers in the USA will ship to Canada at a cost. However, some hazardous ingredients, including sodium hydroxide, may not be available for international shipping. You can buy Canadian soap making supplies from Voyageur Soap & Candle, The Soap Dispensary, and Canwax.
Other Soap Making Suppliers
- United Kingdom: The Soap Kitchen has a very good selection of soap making ingredients, including oils, butters, lye, soap molds, and everything else you need. The Naissance website is good for small amounts of oils and essential oils but they have a wholesale site too. Just a Soap is another company that I use.
- Ireland: You’ll find that some UK companies will ship to Ireland still, but you can also get soap making supplies from Bomar
- European Union: I’m less aware of soap making suppliers in the EU, but the ones I know are Manske Shop in Germany and Aroma Zone in France.
- New Zealand: The main soap making supplier for Kiwis is NZ Soap and Candle but also the Sourcery
- Australia: Many soap ingredients and supplies, even soap stamps, can be ordered from Aussie Soap Supplies
- South Africa: Get soap making supplies from Fun with Soap and SA Candle Supply