To make beautiful hand made soap, you need to have the right soap making equipment and supplies. In many cases there are several choices you can make, but here’s a general overview of the soap making equipment you’ll need for the cold process method.
The good news is that soap making equipment is quite inexpensive and easy to obtain. And there’s not really all that much to buy.
The soap making process uses caustic ingredients so the equipment used must be strong enough to withstand the process. Lye in particular is hard on equipment since it can erode some equipment immediately and others over time. Cold-process soaps are free of caustic properties just weeks after curing. Therefore, in this situation, equipment must be particularly durable.
Additionally, you will want your equipment to be designated only to soap making. While the chances of caustic lye residue getting into your food from a pot or stirring implement are small, the possibility does exist so keeping the equipment separate is your safest option.
SOAP MAKING SCALES
An accurate scale is the most important investment you will need to make and probably the most expensive too. Ideally, the scale will measure in one-ounce increments and have a minimum capacity of 10 pounds. It is important to note that a scale measuring ingredients up to five pounds is also adequate but will require more work when measuring larger amounts.
You may find that some ingredients are measured most precisely on a gram scale, while others are too heavy and weighed more accurately on a scale measured in ounces. A small postal scale may come in handy for weighing small amounts.
Fats and oils can be measured accurately enough with some degree of estimation, but lye, essential oils, and natural preservatives require precision.
It is important to be accurate with measurements in the cold-process soap making because this process does not allow for adjustments or corrections after the lye is added to the oils. Soaps produced with inaccurate measurements may be over-fatted or over-alkali.
A stainless steel scale is easy to clean and will not be damaged by lye.
SOAP MAKING THERMOMETER
An accurate thermometer capable of measuring a minimum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or 71 degrees Celsius is necessary for making soap. You can simply use a candy or deep fry thermometer with a stainless steel stem, if you like. The probe end that is inserted into the soap must be glass or stainless steel to avoid being corroded by the lye.
For convenience, you might consider one with a hood that attaches to the side of the pot. This feature will allow you to reach the see the temperature easier and safer. Before you use your new thermometer for the first time, take a minute to look at it so you understand how it works. While this might sound elementary, this precaution will lessen any mishaps caused by misreading the temperature.
In fact, you should keep at least two thermometers on hand, which will eliminate the need to constantly wash them between measurements. Stainless steel is always the best choice for soap making thermometers.
SOAP MAKING POTS
You will need to have an 8 to 12-quart enamel or stainless steel cooking pot with a lid to serve as your soap pot. Enamel or stainless steel is essential because alkalis corrode other metals, including aluminum, tin, iron, and Teflon. Keep in mind that cast iron is also a poor choice as seasoned iron pots deteriorate and can discolor the soap.
A large stainless steel pot is perfect for soap making.
You can use a smaller pot to hold the soap, but typically, they do not leave enough room for stirring. Now if you plant to make smaller batches of hand-milled soap, then a smaller pot would be very convenient since they are less cumbersome than the larger soap pot. Additionally, in this situation a smaller pot will reduce the possibility of scorching the soap.
A deeper pot is preferable to a shallow, wide pot in that it reduces the amount of stirring necessary. Then for melting or rendering the solid fats that are going to be added to the liquid oils, a 3-quart saucepan would be a great choice.
Hot processing and making liquid soaps should be done in a double boiler. You can purchase a double boiler or simple create one of your own by placing the 8 to 12-quart pot into a larger kettle that is partially filled with boiling water. This will keep the temperature constant, thus ensuring the soap is not scorched.
A 5-gallon canning pot is ideal, but any pot that your soap pot fits completely into will work just fine. Since the larger pot will not have any contact with the soap itself, it does not need to be enamel or stainless steel, as the actual soap pot.
A stainless steel double boiler will stand up well to caustic lye solutions.
SOAP MAKING CONTAINERS
A 2-quart pitcher or bowl is required to mix and pour the lye solution. You may find a pitcher easier to use because of the pouring spouts. Just remember that if there is a lid, it needs to be removable and be designed to snap or screw on tightly. Because the lye solution can reach temperatures of up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, the containers should be dishwasher safe, heat resistant glass, or plastic.
If your containers do not meet these criteria, the plastic is likely to melt and glass is likely to crack when subjected to the high temperatures of the lye solution. An important not is that you do not want use metal containers because they may react with the lye in the soap.
A long handled implement is preferable, as you will be stirring a caustic solution. You could use a wooden spoon but remember that lye will eventually corrode the wood. When this happens, the wood will become soft and splintered, leaving tiny splinters in the soap. A spoon with stains should also be avoided since any discoloration of the spoon will be transferred to your soap.
Plastic implements may also be used, but you might discover that they are too weak and flexible when subjected to high temperatures. If you do want to use plastic, you would do best to go with a heavy-duty plastic, which is sturdier.
Heavy-duty rubber or silicone spatulas do not deteriorate at nearly the same rate but they are also more expensive to purchase. Finally, stainless steel whisks are excellent tools for emulsifying the oil-lye solution.
Soap that is not neutralized is extremely caustic. For this reason, it is imperative that safety precautions be taken to protect your skin. Therefore, you will need to wear rubber or plastic gloves to protect your lower arms from the lye, as well as the hot liquid soap.
Another important factor about soap that is not neutralized is that it is bad for your eyes. Safety goggles or glasses will provide needed protection for your eyes, shielding them from fumes or splashes. Even if you wear glasses, you should still wear goggles since the caustic solution could damage your frames or lenses.
Safety goggles are an inexpensive way to prevent accidents.
Keeping a sharp knife handy will help at many stages of the soap making process. To begin with, you will need to cut up the fat or suet for rendering, which is the time sharpness really counts. Once your soap is finished, you will also need to slice it into bars. Many soap makers will try different knives until they find one that cuts the soap best and feels good in the hand.
A “primary mold” is simply a fancy name for a clear plastic container with a lid. This container will be used to hold the liquid soap produced as it hardens. The primary mold should be somewhat large, holding up to 12 quarts of liquid. Additionally, you want the mold to have square corners so the bars of soap do not end up with strange edges.
Avoid lining your mold with plastic wrap or wax paper. While these materials may prolong the life of your mold, they often become wrinkled, again, affecting the shape of your finished soap. It is also important that the container be clear. This will help you see if the lye has combined with the fats (and oils, if used) to form the soap mixture.
It is important that your soap mixture cools and hardens at the correct temperature. If it cools too quickly, it may become brittle. Therefore, you should insulate your primary mold with a towel, blanket, or other warming wrapper. Whatever material you choose, wrap it tightly around the mold to ensure the soap sets up slowly and properly.
As the soap hardens, you should prepare to cut it into bars. Take some thin cardboard, such as a cereal box, and cut templates the size of the bars you want. Once your soap sets up, simply place this template on the surface and cut your bars to size. You will find this simple step saves time and effort.
If you plan to make hand-milled soaps, one of the most important pieces of equipment will be a good quality kitchen grader. Again, stainless steel is a good material for resisting lye, but because you will be grating soap that has already saponified, the grater in this situation would not need to be stainless steel grater.
In saying that, you also want to avoid using aluminum or tin. Even though there will be minimal amounts of lye in basic soap already cured and hardened, these substances cannot withstand them.
Most people already have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, just in case. However, if you do not have a fire extinguisher on hand and you plan to make soap, now is the time to buy one, again, just in case. Like the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
While you will probably never need to use it, you should always be prepared for anything. You will find several different classes of fire extinguisher so make sure you purchase the type that will put out the type of fire you might face, namely, grease fires or flare ups, which can be caused by mixing lye with water. The type of fire extinguisher that you should not purchase is a Class A.
Go to soap making for additional information and more soap making tips.