Natural Soap Making Equipment & Safety
The Essential Guide to Soap Making Equipment: a look at the soap making equipment you’ll need to make natural cold-process soap. Includes safety precautions & tips on using items you already have
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Much of what you need to make natural soap you might already have in your kitchen. You could have an old pan that you don’t get much use out of or some spare spoons, whisks, and plastic jugs. Before you start ordering items from specialty shops have a look around your home and local thrift/charity shops. After you’ve collected all you can then have a look at investing in some additional items.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started with making soap but you should have the essentials in order to make sure that your soap turns out well and that you and your family are kept safe. Making soap, no matter how natural, is chemistry and you should take it seriously.
Learn to make natural cold-process soap
This is part two in the natural soap making for beginners series
Soap Making Equipment: Soap Molds
Soap molds come in all shapes and sizes and in a variety of materials. My favorite is silicone since they’re easy to pop the soap out of and don’t require any prepping. I also have a few plastic soap molds but have found them sometimes difficult to get my soap out if not using additional hardening ingredients. The traditional soap mold is a wooden box lined with wax paper and this might be the best solution for beginners since a lot of people will have a box around the house.
Box-style molds will create a loaf of soap that you can then cut up into individual bars. Wood also helps to insulate the soap so that your end product won’t have as much of an issue with cooling too quickly on the outside and staying too warm on the inside. If you’ve ever made soap that looks opaque towards the outside and has a darker spot in the center then insulation is your issue.
In a pinch, it’s also possible to use a cardboard box well lined with tape and wax/freezer paper. If you’re wanting to save money you can also use food containers that are heat resistant like the two examples below. Another professional soap maker that I know uses plastic (PP) storage bins to mold her soap in. Want to learn more about molds? Here’s the Ultimate Guide to Soap Molds.
Soap Making Equipment: Kitchen Scales
Don’t even think about trying to make natural soap without a digital kitchen scale. They’re easy and inexpensive to come by in the UK/Europe and I know for a fact that you can buy them in North America too. Soap making recipes are exclusively in weight since trying to measure in volume (cups/teaspoons) is far too imprecise. They’re fine for making cakes or muffins but not for soap.
Scales work by measuring how much something weighs and if you use one then your soap (and food recipes I might add) should be consistent each time. That saying, I do use some tiny volume measurements for some of my powdered ingredients- namely my mineral pigments. Even so, I measure the contents of my tad, dash, pinch, smidgen and a drop measuring spoons just to make sure. You’ll also see that I’ve put a stainless steel measuring cup in the image above and might be wondering about it. The only thing I use it for is for scooping Sodium Hydroxide out of its bucket. I do not use it for measuring any of my ingredients.
Soap Making Equipment: Thermometers
Being able to accurately measure the temperature of your oils and lye solution is very important. When you mix them together they should be at the same temperature, give or take a degree, so without a decent measurement tool you might lose a batch. It’s possible to use standard glass thermometers if you have any but I’ve heard of so many soap makers breaking them on a regular basis that I haven’t bothered myself.
Instead, I use an infrared temperature gun and in the past, I used a relatively inexpensive digital kitchen thermometer. I can dip its stainless steel tip into both my oils and my lye-water and it’s also very easy to clean. If you do plan on using glass thermometers make sure to get two so you can keep one immersed in your melting oils and one in your jug of lye solution.
Soap Making Equipment: Immersion Blender
The old-fashioned way to make natural soap involved standing over a pot and stirring for a long time. If you want to try making soap this way then give it a go, but be prepared to be stirring, and stirring, and stirring. Do you remember me mentioning my first batch of soap in part one of this series? That batch went straight into the bin since even after an hour and a half it still had not come to ‘Trace’ (it hadn’t set).
For my next batch of soap I made sure to have a stick blender, also called an immersion blender. It literally helps your oil and lye-water to chemically bond in less than a few minutes. My old stick blender is shown above in the photo but if you’re planning on purchasing one I’d recommend buying one that has holes or slits in the head to let the air out like this one. The reason is that the holes minimize the amount of air that’s taken down into your soap. You don’t want soap with lots of air bubbles in it so if you have one like mine you have to give it a good tap once it’s immersed in the liquids. No biggie but the next time I’m in the market for a stick blender I’ll know what to look for.
Soap Making Equipment: Utensils
You’ll need various utensils for making soap but my essentials are the ones shown above. Note that all are stainless steel and/or silicone.
- Stainless steel spoon: I use this for stirring liquid oils
- Large Stainless steel spoon: used for stirring lye water
- Stainless steel whisk: recommended for blending in botanicals, essential oils, and minerals
- Stainless Steel Strainer/Colander/Sieve: to pour your lye solution through and into your oils. It helps to ensure there are no lumps of undissolved lye making their way into your soap
- Silicone Spatula: for getting as much soap out of your pan as possible
Soap Making Equipment: Goggles & Gloves
Making soap is a creative and fun process but if you’re making it from scratch then you will be handling Sodium Hydroxide. This extremely alkali substance, also known as Lye, is very dangerous if not treated with respect.
Unless you’re going to be using ‘Melt-and-Pour-Soap’ in which the chemical processes have already been done for you, then you cannot avoid the use of lye in soap making. Soap is the result of a chemical process between an acid (oils) and an alkali (lye) but is in itself its own compound. That means that when you’re finished making your soap, there will be no lye left in your bars. However, when handling lye you must make sure that you’re wearing protective gear. When you make natural soap plan to wear a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, sensible close-toed shoes, an apron, goggles, and a pair of rubber or latex gloves.
Protecting eyes and face
If you wear glasses you still have to wear goggles and I have a pair that I bought in a hardware shop that will fit right over them. If you don’t wear glasses then the most comfortable goggles to use are the Onion Goggles you can purchase in kitchen shops. These glasses work to keep vapors out so that you don’t tear up when chopping onions. They work great in protecting your eyes in soap making and I wear mine whenever I have contacts in.
Another safety item you might want to consider using is a face mask. Lye water can throw off some pretty potent vapors and you don’t want to be breathing those in. Personally, I don’t wear one but I always make sure that my lye water is mixed and cools in a well-ventilated place. If for some chance you get some lye water splashed on your skin you will need to rinse that area thoroughly. It’s only happened to me once and let me tell you that even a tiny drop will make itself felt!
Soap Making Equipment: Containers
You will need a variety of containers of which the absolute essentials are listed below. Ensure that all your containers are heat-proof and that any metal pans or bowls are stainless steel since other metals will react with the lye and soap. Any containers that come into contact with Sodium Hydroxide must be kept for soap making purposes only.
- Deep stainless steel pan for heating your oils
- Container for measuring your sodium hydroxide granules into. Glass, Pyrex, or polypropylene (PP)
- Heat-proof container for measuring your water into and for mixing the sodium hydroxide into. Needs to be both heat and lye resistant. Glass, Pyrex, or polypropylene (PP)
- Container/jug for measuring your liquid oils into — Ceramic, stainless steel, glass, Pyrex, or plastic
- Small containers for measuring additional ingredients like essential oils, botanicals, and powdered ingredients. Avoid plastic when measuring essential oils.
In addition to the links in this post, I encourage you to visit your local kitchen supply shop, charity/thrift shops, and other places that sell second-hand equipment. One other point that I’d like to emphasize is that it’s easy to spend a small fortune when starting out making soap. You don’t need much to get started so try to resist purchasing expensive oils and equipment until you’ve made a few batches and have decided that soap making is for you. For your first batches, you won’t need more than I’ve outlined.
Natural Soap Making for Beginners Series
Continue on to the next piece in the natural soapmaking for beginners series or look at the other information in this free four-part series:
Would love to Learn how to make soap
Hi, what size bowls/saucepan do you use please?
It depends on the size of the soap batch. You need containers that will fit the amount of ingredients in a recipe.
Thank you for your blog. I’ve made a few batches now, and my results are getting better with each batch.
I am having an issue:
After trace, I am quickly pouring the soap solution into its molds. But by the time I get to the molds, the soap has hardened quickly making it difficult to get a smooth pour. Should I try some additional water in the lye solution to slow down the hardening process a little?
Yes, that’s right. Most of my recipes are for small batches that can be quickly poured at once. I water-discount the recipes so that it speeds up trace and helps mitigate issues with soda ash. If you want a more fluid batter that doesn’t harden as quickly then you can use up to 3x the amount of lye by weight as your full water amount. Use this amount when you mix the lye solution and your soap batter will be more slow moving.
This is so helpful! If I want to make two or three small batches of soap in one go, do I need to was and clean all the equipment in between each batch? Or can I just double or triple the recipe to be able to fill all my molds?
No need to wash and clean all of the equipment between batches if the soap is for personal use :)
Hi Tanya, I’m wondering if I can use an enamel pan instead of a stainless steel one? It’s just that stainless steel pans are very expensive here, in Bulgaria, and I can’t really afford one to be kept just for soap making. Thank you.
Sodium hydroxide, lye, will erode enamel pans ruining them. It’s best to look for a steel pan, maybe second-hand?
I have used several enamel pans when making my soaps, lotions and creams and have had no problems.
Love your blog, and I feel like you’re providing the much needed hand-holding as I prepare to make my first batch of soap. That being said, it occurs to me that while I’ll keep all of my soap making equipment separate from my cooking supplies, is it safe to clean up afterword using my kitchen sink?
Hi Paula and yes you can use your kitchen sink. If you’re worried about residual lye, also called caustic soda, it’s regularly poured down drains to unblock pipes. The bigger issue is oils and their potential to block pipes and get into the water system. I like to wipe as much of the residue off my equipment first with paper towels. A wash in hot soapy water does the rest.
Thank you Tanya for the detailed post. First time soaper here. Need a clarification regarding utensils. Can the container for measuring water and adding lye be stainless steel? Will it become too hot to handle? I was planning to use no plastic or glass, and all stainless steel equipment plus silicone spatula. Thanks in
Stainless steel can get very hot but yes, you could use it.
Making soap always scared me, but something told me that I have to give it a shot, and your tutorials are so great! Can’t wait to try!
I have a few things at home (stainless steel bowls, immersion blender, etc), but I use them for foods. If using food grade lye, can I use these utensils to prepare food with afterwards?
I don’t think there is any scientific evidence to say that you cannot. Personally, I keep my soap making equipment separate — especially anything that comes into contact with lye.
Thanks. So for that reason alone, do I need to use food grade lye?
Using food grade lye has nothing to do with the equipment you use or what else it’s used for. You use food grade lye to assure that it’s 99.9% Sodium hydroxide. Other lyes (like ones made for drain cleaners) may have additional ingredients in them that you don’t want in your soap.
When getting a hand blender would it work fine with a whisk at the end?
I don’t think I understand your question Cameron. Are you asking about using a hand blender (instead of a stick blender) and then a manual whisk at the end? In any case I suggest using a stick blender — hand blenders can put too much air into your soap batter.
I read somewhere that you could not use stainless steel with soap making because it would change the chemistry of the soap, so doesn’t that disallow using the immersion blender? Actually I sure hope not as I am really tired of stirring and want to use a blender but cannot find one that is all plastic or wood. Help!
Stainless steel is ideal for making handmade soap — not sure what you read but it’s incorrect.
Really want to make soap, confused on the measurement of oils and water?
In what way Donna?
please what quantity of palm oil and sodium hydroxide to make the yellow soap at the top
Hi, I watched a video on youtube that showed to pour a small amount of soap on the bottom of the mould and let it sit all night . Then pour the rest of the different color soap in order to get a two part (colored) soap bar. Well, I did that and made the soap. When I went to unmould and cut it the bottom part fell off. I am trying to get a really straight line inbetween colors. How long should I wait to get the bottom color hard enough to pour the next layer? Also, I get ash on the top of the last layer. Should I cover with blankets while waiting on the present layer to harden?
All you need to wait in between layers is about 5-10 minutes then gently spoon the next layer on and settle the layer by gently shaking the mould.
Soda Ash in my experience happens for a number of reasons but for me it’s because the trace is very thin and the soap wasn’t insulated, and/or the recipe had a lot of water. Soda ash is caused by carbon dioxide in the air reacting with unsaponified lye. To prevent it from happening reduce your water content by 10%, mix your soap into a thick trace before pouring, and insulate your batches.
Thanks for the great post, I would have liked to come by it when I got started!
There are, however, a few comments I’d like to make. The first is that I wouldn’t recommend using glass or Pyrex for the lye solution. The very strong base can etch the glass microscopically and cause it to break unexpectedly.
The second thing is, I’d highly recommend having an open bottle of water and some vinegar on hand, especially while dealing with the lye solution at first, should any spills occur. Lye spills on skin or counters should be rinsed abundantly with water, then neutralised with vinegar. (The latter reaction is exothermic, so it shouldn’t be the first step!)
Which brings me to the third comment—I was never too keen on buying another stick blender just for making soap, one of the points of making soap for me being saving money, so I do use the same stick blender for food and for soap. The stick is made of stainless steel, not plastic. I understand some people might cringe at the idea, and if it’s possible I still think separate equipment is best, but as long as the lye is neutralised with plenty of vinegar and the blender is washed thoroughly, there should be no problem. After all, there is nothing toxic about lye—it’s just extremely corrosive. :P
Thank you and apperiacted your information.
This is very helpful for me and hope i can find the ingredients here -Thailand.
I know this post is a little old so I apologize, I just had a question. If you use food grade lye, is it safe to use the immersion blender on food? Or is that still a no-no and I have to buy another one? Thanks so much for this tutorial! I can’t wait to try my hand in soap making!!!
Good question! Personally I’d avoid it and buy a separate immersion blender. Small amounts of lye is used in some food recipes (pretzels for example) but the amounts you use in soaping is similar to what is used in drain cleaners. I don’t have the science to prove that lye could contaminate but at the same time I wouldn’t use anything that touched drain cleaner to serve or prepare food in either.
Do you recommend any food grade lye or does it not really matter?
Food grade is perfect (did you know lye is used in making Pretzels?) but you can use industrial grade as well provided that it is pure and does not contain any additives.
Is it safe to use stainless steal pan/utensils or immersion blender after making a soap in the kitchen on the food?
It's not recommended to use any pans or implements that have come into contact with Lye when preparing food.
Thank you for this post Tanya! I'm looking forward to your upcoming soap recipes and instructions!
I'm working on the next one Sarah and hope to have it out by tomorrow evening :)
Thanks for the tips Tanya, you have a knack for making such complicated diy stuff look easy! Speaking of which, on your diy-travels have you ever learnt how to extract essential oils from ordinary garden plants (e.g. lavender or rose oil) – I would love to learn how that's done… hint, hint!
To get pure essential oils you have to have a distilling kit set up…HOWEVER…you are able to make infused oils with some flowers and herbs. Thanks for the hint ;)
An interesting and inspiring blog. So lovely. You give me an interesting tutorial. Thank you for sharing. m
Maybe I'm your newest follower.
Thanks Endah and hope to see you here again :)
Excellent tutorial! Can't wait to check out the other blog posts. Thank you so much for linking back to Bramble Berry. =)
You're very welcome Anne-Marie! Thanks for visiting :)