How to start a successful soap business in Africa? You’re about to find out everything you need to know.
Living without using soap is not a good health.
You’re right, it’s unimaginable!
Soap plays such basic roles that are hard to ignore in our everyday lives. Everybody uses soap; both rich and poor people. No matter its size, form (solid or liquid), scent, colour or price in the market, all soaps are made to help us do three very important things: bathe our bodies, wash clothes and clean anything!
On a continent with over one billion people and the fastest population growth rate in the world, Africans buy millions of soap bars every day.
The variety of soaps in African market includes both international and local brands that appeal to different consumer budgets, tastes and choices.
This article on our website, explores the potential of a small (homemade) soap making business and how to start the business in your country.
A basic tutorial course in soap making that will help you to improve your skills as you get ready to exploit the lucrative opportunities in the soap business.
How To Make Soap – An Introduction To The Important Basics
Soap making is quite an interesting mix of art and science. It’s an art because you can play with a huge variety of ingredients; oils, fragrances, colours, shapes, sizes and textures.
Depending on the effect you want to achieve, you could include interesting stuff like herbs, honey, shea butter, cocoa butter and other substances that are known to soothe, smooth and heal the skin.
In the world of soap making, you are only limited by your creativity and imagination. Anyone can develop their own soap recipes just like the successful Dudu Osun and Jatropha soap brands we looked at earlier.
Image credit: theorganicpost.com
Soap making is also a science because it involves some basic chemistry. Soap is made by combining fats and oils with a chemical (Sodium Hydroxide, also known as ‘Caustic Soda’ or ‘lye’).
This beautiful chemical reaction is known as ‘saponification’ in the world of chemistry. Don’t let the high-sounding name scare you, it’s much simpler in practice.
What kind of fats and oils am I talking about?
Some of the most popular oils used for soap making are palm kernel oil, coconut oil, canola oil, olive oil, soya bean oil and several more. These oils are commonly referred to as base oils in soap making and each oil has unique properties that it will impart into the soaps you make.
Coconut oil, for example, produces soap that lathers (foams) very well. Olive oil and shea butter are known to produce very good moisturing soaps.
Caustic soda (also known as ‘Sodium Hydroxide’) is arguably the most common and widely-used chemical in the modern world. Apart from its very important role in soap making, this Caustic Soda is also used in the production of paper, textiles and cleaning agents.
How can you identify it?
Well, Caustic Soda is a white solid substance that easily dissolves in water. It is available on the open market where it is often sold as pellets, granules or flakes.
However, I must warn you that this chemical is very corrosive. If it comes in contact with metal or human flesh in sufficient concentrations, it could cause serious damage!
Before I share the video tutorial that will get you excited and started with soap making, there are a couple of important points you need to take very seriously before and while you make soap.
Understanding and obeying these elements will give you a firm foundation as you progress in the beautiful art of soap making. Here they are…
#1 – Ingredients and Tools
Interestingly, the only things you need to make soap are:
(1) a couple of ingredients,
(2) a few basic tools, and
(3) soap making knowledge.
You may be surprised to know that the main ingredients used in making soap are: fats/oils, Caustic Soda and water. That’s all.
Things like scents (fragrances) and colour are optional and will not prevent the soap from forming. Amazing isn’t it?
Like the ingredients, the tools you’ll need are very basic too. Below is a list of the major tools:
Bowls and Spoons – You’ll need a couple of bowls for measuring and mixing. Spoons are also required for measuring and stirring. It is preferable to use bowls and spoons that are made of steel, glass or plastic. Caustic soda will react and eat through bowls and spoons made of aluminum or wood.
A Measurement Scale – Remember what I said earlier about the importance of measurements in soap making? You’ll need a scale to make sure you get the right measurements. A digital scale like this one on Amazon is a good example.
A Stick or Immersion Blender – This tool is used to properly stir the soap mixture (oil and Caustic soda). Although a spoon can do the same job, imagine doing an hour’s worth of spoon stirring in only five minutes! That’s the advantage of using a stick blender. If you’d like to know what it looks like, you can view it on this Amazon product page.
Soap Mould – This is usually any container that you pour the liquid soap mixture into. The soap will cool, harden and eventually take the shape of this container. It can be anything from empty milk cartons to plastic or wooden soap mould.
Others– There are other basic tools such as knives (for cutting the hardened soap into desired sizes), freezer paper (for lining the mould so the soap won’t stick to it) and a couple of other basic tools which you’ll learn about in the video tutorial below.
#2 – Measurement is the key to success
Measurement is surely the key to success in soap making. If you don’t measure the ingredients or combine them in the wrong proportions, you just may produce something else that isn’t soap.
If the amount of fats and oils in your soap recipe is more than the caustic soda, the soap you produce will feel very greasy and oily on the skin. If caustic soda is in excess, the soap could irritate or even burn the skin.
The secret of measurement in soap making lies in your understanding of ‘Saponification Values’.
What does this mean?
I’ll give you a simplest explanation I can find.
You see, every fat or oil requires a different amount of Caustic soda to turn it into soap. For example, coconut oil requires more Caustic Soda to form soap than olive oil. As a result, the Saponification Value for coconut oil is higher than olive oil.
Knowing the saponification values for the oils you use will help you measure the right amount of Caustic soda.
#3 – Safety, Safety, Safety!
Making soap is not the same thing as preparing dinner in the kitchen. You will be working with some very dangerous substances, Number One of which is Caustic Soda.
You will need a couple of cheap and easily available safety gadgets to protect different parts of your body.
Because Caustic Soda releases some toxic gases when it’s added to water, you need to protect your eyes with goggles and a face mask to avoid breathing in the gas.
Caustic soda can also cause damage to your skin if it comes in contact with it. So you’ll also need a pair of gloves to protect your arms. It’s also good practice to avoid exposing parts of your skin during the soap making process. (image credit: positive-parenting-ally.com)
Another good safety practice is to properly label all the tools and ingredients you use in your soap making business.
Especially if you live with other people, you don’t want somebody else using your soap bowls or spoons to eat food. That could be very dangerous.
And of course, if you have children or pets around you, make sure you store away all your soap ingredients and tools out of their reach.
#4 – Practice makes perfect
Like I mentioned earlier, soap making is an art as much as it’s a science. There are a wide variety of oils, scents and herbs out there for you to try out.
To find a successful recipe for your target market requires a significant investment of your time, energy and commitment.
Use the resources provided in this article to further your knowledge and skill in soap making and apply them through practice until you find that recipe your market will love.
How To Make Soap – A Video Tutorial
The short (8-minute) tutorial below is a great introduction to the art and science of soap making.
Watching this video tutorial will not make you an expert overnight. It’s only an introduction that will provide the firm knowledge base you can build on through further study and practice.
Below the video, I have included links to a couple of websites that specialize in home-based soap making and have a thriving community of experienced and amateur soap makers.