How to Make Your Handmade Soap Last Longer (With Some Footnotes)

*The only **complaint people have about the handmade soap I sell at The Hell’s Kitchen Community Garden’s Annual Perennial is that it doesn't last as long as commercial soap.

And that is true. Commercial soap contains synthetic preservatives and/or artificial hardeners. But with a little knowledge and care, you can get a lot more showers and baths from that handcrafted bar.

Here’re a few of the tips I pass on to my soap customers at the Annual Perennial:

   1. Read the Ingredients. Know Your Soap. 
Olive oil, palm kernel oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, lard, coconut oil and beeswax all contribute to a harder bar. Oils such as macadamia, almond, grape seed, apricot kernel and castor make a softer bar, but you still want them in your soap to amp up lather; condition and leave your skin soft and moisturized. Artisan soap makers use a combination of hard and soft oils to achieve a balance.

2. Buy Multiple Bars and Rotate Using Them.
I don’t say this to spike sales. But if you buy seven bars, you can stash four bars to further cure. Most handmade soap has already cured for at least a month when you buy it. During that time, water used to make it evaporates. The bar becomes smaller, milder and harder.

Soap is like wine. It gets better with age. And most soap has a shelf life of at least a year (Soap containing vegetables—like cucumbers and avocados—or other 'perishables' can go rancid. It’s best to use them right away). So give your soap a couple of extra months of curing.

Rotate using your remaining three bars. Shower with one on Monday, the second on Tuesday and so on. Letting each bar thoroughly dry and rest will extend its life.

       3. Store Your Soap Properly.
When those huge companies make soap, they remove the glycerin—which attracts moisture. Moisture breaks soap down. That's why you use water to make lather.

Handmade soap still has glycerin in it, so keep your bars away from moisture. Store unused bars in a dry, dark spot that gets air circulation—like a lingerie drawer or a closet.

   4. Get a Good Soap Dish.  
It’s important to let air circulate around your soap once you’ve finished with your shower. Nothing kills a bar more than sitting in a puddle of water. A shallow soap dish with slits or ridges is ideal for this.

I collect vintage soap dishes. Some are totally adorable, but are too deep to let my soap dry properly, so I either use them for displaying unused soap or tuck a soap saver, marbles or river stones in the bottom of the dish to get the soap up and out of a puddle.

I also use a wire spice rack for the myriad of bars I have in rotation.

5. Hang it Up.
Soap on a rope is an easy way to let your soap dry properly. 

And you can rope any bar of soap using a corkscrew and a bamboo skewer to make the hole. Choose rope that's strong enough to hold your soap and not made of some fiber that'll get gooey when it gets wet.

6. Resist the Urge to 'Lather, Rinse, Repeat.'
The ***phrase is used by shampoo companies to get you to use twice as much of their product as needed. You really only need to lather up your bod once (unless you've been working in the garden or painting your living room).

This, of course will save your soap.

I, however am the biggest latherer around. I'll spend a half hour in the shower and use several different bars over and over again. I justify this that I'm 'product testing,' but I it's just that ****I love taking showers and using soap—especially soap I’ve made myself.

7. Save Your Slivers.
When you have enough of them, give them a thorough wetting (until they're soft), slap them together and mold a soap ball or stone.

You can also add them to a new bar of soap. If you make soap, you know how do this, but if you don’t make soap, you use this clever Soap Bar Maker from Walter Drake.

Even easier is to buy a soap pouch and slip your slivers in there.

*A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on my first blog Subplot Soap. I’ve retired that blog, but the post was still getting so many hits and pins, I decided to move it here to increase the traffic of this site. Clever marketing ploy, huh? I’ve also rewritten it in Haley’s voice.
**There are also people who complain that's it's more expensive. "I can get 12 bars of soap for $3." My answer to that is you get what you pay for.
*** I looked up the history of the phrase. I recall it coming about in 1970's.  The Wikipedia page wasn't much help, but it did state that in Benjamin Cheever's The Plagiarist, an ad executive uses the phrase to boost his shampoo client's sales, but I think that actually happened in his novel Famous After Death. I could be wrong. Both books were worth reading and are available at Leaves of Grass.
**** I do some of my best thinking in the shower as well.


  1. Great blog post, I love all your tips - the Soap Bar Maker is genius!

    1. Thanks Cee Gee! And I love your blog Oil and Butter. I've learned so much from it. And have gotten so much inspiration! Congrats on hosting the Great Cakes Soap Challenge for May! PS: I've never used the Soap Bar Maker, it just looks insanely clever.

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