Tips on safely cleaning up after soap making including how to tackle dirty pans, soap-encrusted stick blenders, and counter tops. Includes ways to reduce mess and to avoid irritating your skin.
I love making cold-process soap and have been sharing recipes on Lovely Greens for years. It’s more than just using the bars afterwards but the entire process of choosing ingredients, bringing it to trace, and then pouring the wet soap into molds. It makes you feel like a million bucks to have made that perfect batch. There’s only one downside to soap making – all the washing up afterwards. You really can go through a mountain of pans, bowls, spoons, molds, and other equipment for even the simplest and smallest batch.
Cleaning up after soap making isn’t a fun chore to begin with but you also have to be careful due to lye you’ve used. It takes at least 48 hours for saponification, the process of oils transforming into soap, to fully occur. That means that directly after soap making, your equipment is covered with an oily and slightly caustic mess. If you’re wondering how to tackle it, read on because I’m going to take you through safely cleaning up after soap making.
Protect your hands, eyes, and skin
There’s a very good chance that you’re reading this right after you’ve made a batch. It could even be your first batch ever. The first thing I’m going to recommend is that you put your apron and rubber gloves back on. I’d go so far as to recommend putting your goggles back on too. Over the years I’ve had a couple of bad experiences in cleaning up after soap making. Experiences that could have been avoided if I’d been wearing protective gear.
The worst one happened shortly after I started making soap and was while I was hand-washing the equipment. Without gloves. All seemed fined until a few minutes afterwards when my hands started feeling very dry and irritated. They got worse overnight and were not only painful but beginning to redden and peel. What I learned is that even if your pans are relatively clean before you put them in the dishwasher they’ll still have caustic soda on them. It may not burn you immediately but trust me, a week of reddened hands isn’t fun. Wear gloves.
Another thing that’s very important is reducing the mess as you work, rather than after. I run soap making workshops regularly and see some very neat soap makers and others who leave their stations looking like a bomb went off. The latter is neither fun to clean up, nor safe. If you’re the kind of person who has spaghetti sauce on the ceiling then be especially careful when making soap. Splatters of un-saponified soap can contaminate food, burn wooden surfaces, and fly off and land someplace that a bare foot or paw could walk through.
Another reason to work cleanly is that any large amount of soap residue will end up someplace it shouldn’t. It could be the landfill if you throw it away, or down the sink to clog up your pipes, septic tank, or eventually get into the water system and potentially the ocean.
Here’s some ideas for keeping tidy while soap making:
- Use a rubber spatula to scrape wet soap out of the pan and off utensils
- That same spatula should be used to scrape liquid oils and other ingredients out of jugs as you work. Try to get every last drop.
- Work on kitchen counter-tops that won’t react with lye. Marble and wood are no-no’s.
- If you’re expecting a mess, line the counter top with baking paper
- Be very careful when stick blending. I recommend keeping the stick blender at a stand-still while it’s pulsing. Only move it around in a stirring motion if the blades are turned off.
Washing immediately or waiting 48 hours
Once you’ve made a batch of soap you have two choices on how to wash up. You can do it immediately or wait 48 hours. Though there have been times that I’ve used the wait-method, I really recommend that you get it cleaned immediately. There’s no time like the present.
The idea with waiting 48 hours is that after that time, any soap residue will have finished saponifying and would be safer to clean. However, until that time is up, It will need to be kept in a safe place. I’ve seen recommendations of putting everything in a plastic bag and stashing it in the garage. There are some major downsides to this though.
Aside from using a plastic bag, which some people might not like the idea of, the equipment is so much harder to clean after it hardens. It’s literally caked on and everything will need to be soaked before washing. Forget putting it in the dishwasher either since that soap will create a creeping carpet of bubbles that will march its way out of the machine and onto your floor. Yep, this story comes from experience too.
The other downside comes down to pure procrastination. Out of sight, out of mind, and you have a bag of dirty soap dishes cluttering your garage for goodness knows how long. Your partner will probably remind you of this regularly as that bag begins to accumulate dust.
Cleaning stick blenders
All the tips from here on out are taking the route of cleaning your soap making equipment immediately. Hopefully you’ve kept your work space as tidy as possible, but when it comes to soap making there will always be a colorful, sparkly, mess of some sort. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Stick blenders, also called immersion blenders, are extremely easy to clean directly after you make soap. Less so if the soap hardens on them. Use a spatula to scrape the soap batter off the exterior of the head and hopefully into your mold. Next, fill a jug or a basin with hot soapy water, put the head of the stick blender in all the way in so that it touches the bottom. Then turn it on for a few seconds. Voilà, nearly all of the soap batter is out of the head. It may still be greasy after this so set the head aside for a proper wash after.
One of the most difficult things to clean up is soap colorants. I personally don’t use dyes, but imagine they would stain surfaces and clothes. Some spices like turmeric will too as will other natural colors and they love sticking inside jars and containers too. If you use mineral pigments, these too can ‘stain’ but not in the same way. The tiny particles work their way into fabric, enamel surfaces, and even plastic. Some of my tiny plastic measuring spoons are permanently discolored from minerals so I switched over to using stainless steel to make clean-up easier.
With colorants, wipe down everything with paper towels and dispose. If you have a spill on the counter, try to contain it first before spraying and trying to clean. Trust me, it will smear everywhere if you let it.
Prepping equipment for washing
To reduce mess and oil getting in your sink and plumbing, wipe down your pans, silicone utensils, metal spoons and all other equipment with paper towels. Get them as clean as possible before they come any where near the dish water. Aside from what happens after it goes down the drain, dirty soaping pans will turn your dish water into an oily mess instantly. Meaning that you’ll need to drain and refill numerous times if you fail to wipe your equipment clean.
washing soap equipment
Wash your soaping equipment as you’d wash your ordinary dishes after this. Either manually or in the dishwasher. If washing by hand, keep gloves on and mind that the water doesn’t splash up onto your face or arms. It’s still slightly caustic even if the pans and utensils are relatively clean. After they’re rinsed it’s safe to towel dry and put them away with bare hands.
One challenge I’ve come across is that oil has a tendency to stick inside glass jars and plastic jugs. Even after washing they could have an oily residue. You could use a bottle brush to get them squeaky clean or if you have one, run them through the dishwasher. This does the trick for me.
After your dishes and equipment are sorted, that leaves counter tops and other surfaces to clean. Again using paper towels, wipe up any blobs or large messes and dispose. Then spray everything down with your normal kitchen surface cleaner and give it a good wipe down.
Some people will have heard that vinegar will neutralize lye and wonder if it should be used. It’s not necessary unless you’ve had a lye spill, but you can use it if you have it. I have a recipe for a simple vinegar kitchen spray that you can use if you’d like to try it out. However, please note that it takes a lot of vinegar (acetic acid) to neutralize lye (sodium hydroxide base).
In fact one source estimates that you’d need four liters (about a gallon) of vinegar to neutralize 127 grams (4.5 ounces) of lye. When you pour vinegar onto lye prepare for a lot of heat. That’s why you never put vinegar on your skin to neutralize a lye solution splash — always use cool water.
I hope these tips have helped answer your questions about cleaning up after making handmade soap. Save this piece for later by pinning the image above to Pinterest. If you still aren’t sure about something, leave your question as a comment below and I’ll try my best to clarify. Also, if you’re just starting out you might also want to read my piece on curing and storing handmade soap and check out the free 4-part natural soap making series.