When soap makers start in on a batch of soap making, the cleanup is usually the farthest thing from their mind. Not when there are ingredients to think about, tools and equipment to gather and processes to take note of. After having measured, heated, blended, swirled, and finally poured soap into the mold. You cover the mold gently with a towel and set it aside to complete the process by itself. Then, you turn around and see the mess you’ve left behind. If this is your first time of making soap, you may find yourself at a loss of where to start.
Soap making is not like cooking as most of the ingredients involved can be potentially dangerous to the skin, table tops and can as well clog your drains. Directly after soap making, your equipment is covered with an oily and slightly caustic mess. When cleaning up, it’s important to wear gloves to protect your hands. While most of the saponification has already happened, the soap batter can still irritate the skin. Some soap makers also make it a point to wear goggles to protect their eyes, while also wearing an apron to protect the body.
If you’re wondering how to tackle your soap making mess, here are the safe ways you can clean up your utensils after a batch of soap making.
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Prep equipment for washing
When you have set aside your soap to set and you are now ready to start on the clean up, there are certain preparations you have to make. 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 anywhere near the dish water. If your pans and other utensils are not wiped clean before you start washing, all the fats and congealed oils would go down and clog your drains. 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.
Safely Clean Lye Containers
Lye is usually one of the major concerns when washing up after making soap. Your first cleaning concern should be to deal with the equipment that came in contact with lye. You will need to wash the pitcher and measuring cup that you used to mix the lye into the solution. There is likely to be several drops left behind, so be sure to rinse it out well with water.
Rinse off the spoon that you used to stir in the lye, as well as anything that might have come in contact with lye such as your gloves and a thermometer. Look carefully around your soap-making station for lye drops or granules that might have fallen when making your soap mixture. All these need to be caught and cleaned off so as to prevent damages.
Cleaning Raw Soap Tools and Vessels
Once you have dealt with the pure undiluted lye, then you also have to deal with the raw soap. It’s really not quite soap just yet, as there is still a lot of lye and oils in your utensils. Depending on when you started the clean up, the mixture may have started to saponify, but it is still somewhat caustic. While it will not burn you as badly as pure lye, it will cause some irritation on your skin and can burn your eyes if it manages to enter there.
First and foremost, scrape every last drop of the soap from the pot and into your soap molds with a rubber spatula. With less waste, there is less to clean up. Then, you can wipe the pot out with paper towels and throw them away. This will get the pot clean enough to wash out with water and put in the dishwasher. If you do not want to deal with paper towels and wiping, you can use a lot of hot water and soap and wash it down the drain. The slight risk there is that the oils and lye are not soap yet, so it is possible that some of it could stick in your drain. This is why you essentially need to get as much of the oil as possible out.
Cleaning stick blenders
Stick blenders are another pesky thing to clean after the soap making process. Stick blenders, also called immersion blenders, are extremely easy to clean, as long as you are cleaning them not long after you finish with your soap making. 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.
Dealing With Soap colorants
One of the most difficult things to clean up is soap colorants. Because of their nature, they can very easily 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. If you use plastic or rubber measuring spoons, you will notice that they easily get discoloured by these minerals, so it will make things easier for you to switch 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.
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.
Vinegar is able to neutralize lye but you may not have to use it unless you’ve had a lye spill. But you have to note that it takes a lot of vinegar (acetic acid) to neutralize lye (sodium hydroxide base).
The Garbage Bag Method
For soapers who want to avoid washing any oils down the sink, the garbage bag method of cleanup is a great option. Once you are done with your soap making, place all the soaping bowls and utensils into a large, heavy duty garbage bag. Tie the garbage bag closed, and place the bag in an area where it will not be disturbed by family or pets. The garage, laundry room or outside may be great places to leave the garbage bag. Allow the bag to sit for 48-72 hours. During this time, the leftover soap will begin to saponify and harden. Basically, it becomes soap in the containers. Once the soap has hardened, scoop the soap out of the containers using a spatula. Some soapers throw the leftover soap away, or find a project to incorporate it into. One option is to use the leftover soap to create laundry soap.
Few useful tips
Use a spatula to scrape as much soap batter into the mold as possible. Wipe leftover raw soap from bowls and utensils with paper towels and throw away in the garbage. Eliminating soap batter before washing in the sink cuts down on oils and lye going down your pipes. Wiping up extra soap batter before washing in the sink is a great precaution if your pipes are old, or you have a septic tank. While soap batter oils accumulating on pipes is uncommon, it is very possible.
To prevent clogging, use extremely hot water and a grease-cutting dish soap. A grease cutting, surfactant dish soap helps cut through the oils, and prevents greasy residue on your bowls and utensils.
Once excess soap has been removed, gather all containers, bowls and utensils and transfer them to an empty sink. Turn the water to high heat, and fill the bowls and containers with water and dish soap. While the bowls are soaking, begin washing the utensils using grease-cutting dish soap and a sponge specifically for soaping utensils.
To clean the stick blender, submerge the head of the stick blender into the bowl filled with hot soapy water, and turn the stick blender on. Doing so helps remove the soap inside the blender head. Rinse thoroughly with clean, hot water.
Once the blender is clean, use a sponge specifically for washing soapy tools to scrub the bowls and containers. Rinse thoroughly to ensure all soap is removed. Once finished, scrub the sink completely using dish soap.