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Cheat Sheet

Making Candles & Soaps For Dummies

If you want to make your own candles and soaps, you need shopping lists for the basic ingredients for both. Get to know the types of candles you can make: tapers, pillars, or votives — the varieties abound. And when you make soaps, you'll want to know how to fix common problems that affect the appearance and what causes them.

Basic Candle-Making Supplies

Making candles and soaps at home doesn't call for an arsenal of expensive supplies. Here's a list of essentials candle-making materials you'll need to create your own tapers, pillars and votives:

  • Double boiler: You can improvise by placing a smaller pot on a trivet inside a larger pot.

  • Mold: You can buy fancy metal molds at your local craft store, or you can use household items, such as metal cans or yogurt cups.

  • Mold sealer: You can use this item to seal your wick hole so that no wax leaks out.

  • Releasing agent: Spray on your mold a releasing agent, such as vegetable oil, before you add your wax, and your candle will be easier to remove.

  • Thermometer: You need to melt your wax to 190º F, and this tool helps ensure that you reach the correct temperature.

  • Wax: You have many options to choose from, but the most common waxes are paraffin, beeswax, and gel.

  • Wick: Buy them preprimed and pretabbed, and you won’t need to take any extra steps.

Types of Candles

If you’re making candles, you may wonder what each type of candle is called. After all, candles come in a large variety of shapes and sizes. This list helps demystify the terminology:

  • Container: Container candles burn in the actual container that you pour them into. In essence, the container is your mold.

  • Pillar: Pillar candles are sturdy and thick. They can be short or tall and square or round. Some pillar candles are huge and contain multiple wicks. These candles are usually referred to by their diameter and height, as in a 3- by 5-inch pillar candle.

  • Taper: Taper candles are long and slim. Taper candles are usually a standard size at the base so that they fit into standard candle holders.

  • Tealights: Tealight candles are the same diameter as votives but are just 1 inch high. They’re usually used under something, such as a pot of simmering potpourri or a lampshade.

  • Votives: Votive candles are short, small candles that are only 2 to 3 inches high and 1/2 inch in diameter. Unlike pillar candles, votive candles are classified according to how long they burn. Most votives are 10-hour or 15-hour candles.

Basic Soap-Making Supplies

Making your own soap, like making your own candles, doesn’t require a lot of supplies. When making melt-and-pour soap, you can get by pretty inexpensively. Follow this list to know the important supplies for soapmaking..

  • Double boiler or microwave: You need a heat source to melt your soap, so a double boiler is ideal. You can even use a microwave.

  • Flexible molds: You don’t have to buy soap molds, although you can if you prefer. You can use candy molds, candle molds, or any flexible item as a mold. (Don’t use ceramic or glass molds.) Make sure the mold is flexible enough so that you can remove the soap without breaking it.

  • Glass or heat-resistant plastic bowls: You use these bowls to melt your soap. Seeing through your bowls so that you can see how close the soap is to being melted is helpful.

  • Melt-and-pour soap base: You can buy this precolored. It’s usually translucent, although you can find it in opaque.

  • Releasing agent: You can buy this in your local craft store, or use vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray.

  • Spoons: As the soap melts, stir it. Opt for metal or wooden spoons. Although wooden spoons don’t last forever, they’re cheap to replace.

Solving Common Appearance Problems when Making Soap

Sometimes, your finished homemade soaps just don't look right. Disappointment is natural, but chances are you can still use and enjoy soaps you've made. You'll want to make your soaps to look their best, though, for gift-giving and for selling. Check out this list of common appearance problems and how to solve them.

  • Bubbles mar the appearance of your soap: Those bubbles are the result of trapped air. To prevent air bubbles, make sure you lightly spray the top of your soap with rubbing alcohol after you pour it into its mold. The bubbles should disappear instantly.

  • Your soap looks cloudy: You may have used too much of an additive, or you put your soap in the freezer to hasten hardening. Try using less of an additive next time, and despite your enthusiasm, let the soap harden at room temperature!

  • Your soap is cracked and brittle: You most likely overheated your base or “overcooled” your soap. You can still use the soap, although it doesn’t look very pretty!

  • Your soap looks crumbly: You probably put your soap in the freezer. Remember to let the soap harden at room temperature.

  • Fuzz covers your soap: Your soap may be sweating because it’s attracting moisture in the air, and lint may be attracted to the sweat. Simply wipe off the fuzz, rub the soap with alcohol, and wrap it in plastic if you’re not going to use it for a while.

  • Your soap is streaked: The temperatures during mixing and melting were too cold. Synthetic fragrances can also cause streaking in soap. You can still use the soap, but it just doesn’t look very attractive.

  • Your soap looks scummy: Unwanted gook somehow contaminated your soap, but you can still safely use it. Simply scrape off the scum if it bothers you, or rinse the soap until the scum disappears.

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