My favorite books about soapmaking

I buy books.  A lot of books about all sorts of things.  If I get interested in something, the first thing I do is to buy a book about it.  Or even better, two books... or more.  So I have a few books about soap making.  I love all my books and I am always so grateful to the authors that they took the time and made the effort to write a book to share their knowledge with me and many others.  I would like to share a few of my favorite titles and books about soapmaking are first in line.  I have to say beforehand that I do not know any of the authors.  I have only bought their books and read them.  I haven't read every book there is about the subject, but if I see a book about making soaps, I look it over thoroughly and buy it if it interests me.  What are your favorite books?  I might be missing a few!

I think my absolute favorite book about making soap must be Anne Watson's simple little book with the big title: "Smart Soapmaking: The simple guide to Making Traditional Handmade Soap Quickly, Safely, and Reliably, or How to Make Luxurious Handcrafted Soaps for Family, Friends, and Yourself".

It was my first book on  making soap and I did read an awful lot of reviews about a lot of soapmaking books before I chose that.  I wasn't disappointed.

The book doesn't have glossy photo's, just very nice black and white line drawings.  It isn't big and it isn't expensive.  What the book has is very clear instructions on how to make soap.  It talks about the dangers of lye (so much so that when I made my first soap I looked like I was ready to go to the moon), equipment and ingredients.  And it lays out in very clear steps how to go about making soaps.  Anne gives quite a few recipes and I would think that anyone, anywhere would be able to find ingredients for at least a few of them.

The best part of this book is that Anne doesn't try to make the process complicated.  She simplifies things quite a lot.  Especially that "trace" thing that had me scared that I wouldn't know when it happened and then everything would be ruined.  Or that the soap would seize and then everything would be ruined,  Or that I wouldn't be able to get it out of the mold or that I wouldn't be able to cut it.

This is a book that I would recommend to any beginner interested in starting to make soaps.  It is by far the best in my humble opinion.

Another life saver that I want to mention is Soapcalc.  I use it every time I make soap (I tend to make a new recipe each time, that's crazy but that's the way I am.  I'm sure I'll come up with THE one perfect recipe one of these days).  But Soapcalc is absolutely invaluable.  I know there are other soap calculators out there and I'm sure they are just as good, but this is the one I started to use and have gotten so used to.  Soapcalc lets me choose grams or pounds or percentages and change between them in the middle.  I love that.  It doesn't look particularly good, but it is functional.  The only thing that is that I would say is:  Don't use the default 38% water.  It makes for a very wet soap.  Change it to 30% or even less.

Anne has also written another book with and equally interesting title:  "Milk Soapmaking: The Smart and Simple Guide to Making Lovely Milk Soap From Cow Milk, Goat Milk, Buttermilk, Cream, Coconut Milk, or Any Other Animal or Plant Milk".  That is excellent for those who are interested in making milk soaps.  Milk is a bit difficult to work with and here I learned that the best milk soap makers can make very white soaps using milks of all sorts.

I also discovered in that book that there are plant milks and that in soapmeking the same rules apply to those as to traditional milk.  I come from cow country and it was almost news to me that sheep and goats produce milk, but coconut milk! Almond milk!  That's not milk to me, but apparently when it comes to soapmaking, it is.  Oh well!  You live and learn :)

Another book which I found very helpful was Susan Miller Cavitch's "The Soapmaker's Companion: A Comprehensive Guide with Recipes, Techniques & Know-How (Natural Body Series - The Natural Way to Enhance Your Life)".  What is it with these long titles on books about making soap?

What I liked about that book was the complete opposite of what I liked about Anne Watson's book.  This book had loads of information about all the different additives that is possible to use in soapmeking.  Variations like colors and scents and shaving soaps and exfoliating soaps and ... the list is endless.  And that is terribly interesting when one is starting out and is just very thirsty for more ideas to work on.  So that is one great book to have on the bookshelf.   Again, there are no large glossy photo's in this one, but nice line drawings and plenty of inspiration.

Finally, I have to mention a special favorite of mine.  This is a series of books about absolutely everything.  Well, everything that is remotely related to the country:  Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletins.

I just love them.  They have bulletins about raising chickens, natural remedies, growing the best blueberries and building a root cellar to name but a few.  And they're only around $4 each.  They are all written by different people and they say they have more than 200 different titles, some of them very interesting.  "Axes and Chainsaws".  How cool is that!

I have a few.  No!  I didn't get the one about axes and chainsaws, but I did get the ones about natural remedies, hand creams and cheese and soap.  I think I also ordered the one about beekeeping, optimistically hoping my husband would suddenly change his mind about that.  Or maybe I just dreamed that.  I can't seem to find it now, but I did find a lot of titles that I would like:  "Great Rhubarb Recipes"!  I need that one :)  And "Making Grapevine Wreaths" (although I think my grapevine is about to give up on life), "Planning & Planting a Moon Garden" might be the answer to that or maybe I should just get "Sleep and Relaxation: A Natural and Herbal Approach". That actually sounds really good.  I should just do that.


  1. I have to say here how much I love your blog Ambra! I seldom post comments, but I am a regular reader ever since I discovered your crafty web space some. It is extraordinary to me how much different interests and talents you have and I am ever so grateful that you share your adventures with the world.
    Having said that, I felt I simply had to comment on this post, although it's probably, outdated now.
    My soaping obsession started wit A.L. Watson book too, about 4 years ago. That innocent little book changed the quality of my life ever since. As you said it so well, I cannot think of other more satisfying activity than to make soap. Having said that, I have to add that I found myself enjoying more and more in discovering new nature-conscious crafts and the art of handmade.
    Since 2008 I have not found a soap making book that will beat "Smart Soapmaking". Interesting enough, I also consider "The Soapmaker's Companion" my second-best. I love Storey's Bulletins too and have several of them. The most recent purchase was the one on Lavender breeding (which, btw, I highly recommend for beginners) like myself. Now I know that definitely my next book purchase will contain the Milk Soaps, they were on the wish list so far, but I kept on discovering new titles and couldn't just buy everything I would like!
    Ok, sorry for this mega comment, I'll stop now. :)
    Did you perhaps, already try bookbinding? It's on the top of the list of my "to-do hobby" and I would like to hear some impressions (I believe I read that you're interested in it too).
    Lots of soapy greetings from the Netherlands!


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