Using Foaming Bases

If you want to make your own shampoo, shower gel, and bubble bath, there are other options. You can buy clear, unscented shampoo, shower gel, and bubble bath. These premade bases are technically not soap, but they are used for cleansing, they bubble, and they present opportunities for creativity. You warm them and make additions, but instead of pouring them into molds like you would with casting soap, you pour them into plastic bottles. A line-up of beautifully colored and scented shampoo, shower gel, and bubble-bath can look like shiny jewels on the edge of the tub. Think about how you can create coordinating looks for your bathrooms, with coded colors for each type of product or even each family member.

Many soap supply houses carry these unscented foaming bases. For example, Snowdrift Farms carries an all-in-one base to which you add one ingredient or another to make it more specifically shampoo, shower gel, or bubble bath.

If you want to choose one base to use universally, choose a shampoo base as you can certainly use that as a body wash, and often as a bubble bath, although you have to try each one as they differ in how well they hold up in the bath.

Choosing a Container

Transparent, squeezable plastic bottles that are made of PET plastic are ideal. The kind of plastic is important, because there are many kinds of plastic that will not stand up to fragrance oils or essential oils. Look for the initials PET on the bottom of the bottles if you reuse bottles you already have or buy them at the drug store. If you order from an online soapmaking supplier, look in the product descriptions to be sure you get PET. Get PET bottles even if you don't intend to use scent material, because chances are, you will eventually.

Foaming bases are primarily water, detergents, surfactants, and skin or hair conditioners. Detergents are commonly derived from coconut, palm, and olive oils or the separated fatty acids of those oils. You'll often find fatty acids, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, at the top of the list of ingredients in shampoo, bubble bath, and dishwashing liquid.

Two- and 4-ounce bottles are excellent choices, especially when you are first starting, because you aren't committed to a large amount of any one experiment. For most foaming bases, flip-tops are perfect. You can also get pumps, and they are usually more useful for 8- and 16-ounce bottles (they can topple the smaller bottles). Most packaging suppliers sell bottles and caps separately, so be sure to order both. Two favorite bottle shapes are called Boston Round and Cosmo Oval. It is partly a matter of aesthetic preference, but the Cosmo Ovals are easier to squeeze.

Adding Colors and Scents

Like so much of soapmaking, your options with foaming bases are virtually unlimited. You can add color, fragrance, and other additives. You can choose sheer colors; shimmery, pearly micas; and even glitter. The crystal-clear appearance of unscented liquid bases can be accented beautifully with just about any kind of cosmetic colorant. Gel color, Lab Colors, mica, mineral pigment, and food coloring from the grocery store are all great choices. Start with a small amount of color and work your way up. Keeping it relatively sheer takes advantage of the way light passes through the liquid.

Aromas from fragrance oils are widely varied, and you can decide how strong or how light you want the scent to be. Using essential oils and other natural aromas, you can create truly aromatherapeutic products for you to use daily and as need arises. Most bases will take any cosmetic fragrance material: fragrance oils, essential oils, or blends of both. Some suppliers suggest the use of a solubulizer to hold the scent material in suspension and keep it from making the base cloudy or runny. Whether you need it or not depends on the kind of base and the kind and quantity of fragrance material. Get a small bottle when you order your base and scents; that way you'll have it if you need it and if you don't you won't have a large amount of something you don't need.

Other things you could add to your foaming base include scrubs like bamboo granules and powdered loofah, jojoba spheres, and clays that add color, scent, and texture. Additionally, you can add the foaming bases to basic handmade beauty formulas such as sugar scrubs to add foam and rinsability.

Coloring and Scenting Unscented Bases

Customizable Liquid Base

Bottles and closures


Pyrex measuring cup

Chopsticks and spatulas

Thermometer (optional)

Cosmetic-grade colorants

Essential oils

Fragrance oils


Alcohol in a small spritzer bottle

Other additives as desired

Try the products and make notes on what you like, what looks too bright, smells too strong, what foams and what doesn't.

  • Measure out the amount of base you're going to need into the Pyrex measuring cup. You can do a quick one-off batch to start, or maybe try a variety of color and scent combinations. Whichever you choose, employ the mise en place technique to minimize clutter and keep you focused on creating.

  • Warm the base in the microwave in 10-second intervals, stirring well after each heating. You don't want the base to be hot and totally liquid. You're just warming it to make it easier to incorporate additives and pour into bottles.

  • When the base is warmed enough to be easy to pour, add your color, scent, solubulizer and other additives. Stir well. Use the funnel to help you fill the bottles. If you want to make a variety of scents and colors and additives, you can pour plain warmed base into the bottles, then make the additions. Close the cap and shake well to incorporate the ingredients.

  • Set the bottles with caps open out to cool. Any cloudiness should have subsided in a few hours, if not right when cooled.

  • If you find the base is runny after settling, try adding the solubulizer at the supplier's recommended amount, usually the same amount as the fragrance material.

This kind of crafting is moving away from soapmaking and into handmade toiletries. If you've been wondering about lotions and other potions, this is a good jumping-off place. For a quick project, make a room spray with 8 ounces of water, ∕ teaspoon each of scent material and solubulizer. Put in a spray bottle and shake well before using.

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