Want to Build Your Own Successful soap Biz?

Why You Absolutely Need Insurance Before You Sell a Single Bar of Soap

Insurance by Alan Cleaver
Photo by Alan Cleaver

Some of the most common questions I get via my contact form here on Modern Soapmaking are:

  • Why do I need insurance to sell my soap?
  • Do I really need insurance before I start my soap company? 
  • Where can I get the right kind of insurance?

Hurray! Insurance! It’s such a fun topic. (Can someone wipe this sarcasm off me?)

Here’s the deal. I know insurance is expensive. I sympathize, I really do. I’ve been paying for insurance annually for over five years now, even though I don’t really sell soap anymore. Why? Well, let’s find out by answering these questions!

Why do I need insurance to sell my soap?

Product liability insurance protects you from claims made against you as the manufacturer and seller of your products, including soap, lotions, lip balm, and more. It’s a common misunderstanding that if you formulate your products correctly, you don’t need product liability insurance because nothing can go wrong.

Product liability insurance doesn’t just cover your rear from the formulating perspective, it also comes into play when a consumer makes a claim that a product is not properly labeled or had insufficient warnings for their personal needs. For example, say you make soap with oatmeal, and do not provide a warning that the oatmeal is processed on the same equipment as wheat. 

Plus, obtaining insurance coverage from one of the recommended places below will also replace damaged product. Have you ever been at a show that got rained out and you lost hundreds of bars of soap? Yeah, that’s not fun.

Product liability insurance isn’t just necessary for manufacturers. If you buy soap in a private label or custom manufacturing agreement, and then resell it, that action places you in the stream of commerce that puts the product in a consumer’s hands. In the event of a claim, it is entirely possible for every company along the stream of commerce, from the manufacturer to the seller, to be involved.

Do I really, really, really need insurance?

Yes, yes, yes. A claim from a consumer can put you out of business, and even suck your personal assets dry. Product liability insurance provides a safety net to help you deal with any claims. Even if the hundreds of soapmakers you know say they have never dealt with a claim, putting yourself at risk is not a smart move.

You could make PERFECT soap, but a consumer could still have a reaction due to an allergy or medical condition and feel that you are responsible for not protecting them.

Do I still need insurance if I don’t sell my soap?

A million times over, yes.

If anyone besides you uses your soap or lotions, etc., you need product liability insurance. Even if a consumer does not purchase a product from you, they can and will hold you liable for the product.

Let’s say you give your Aunt Jemma ten bars of soap because she totally loves it. And then she gushes to her co-workers, and Susan asks Aunt Jemma if she can try a bar. Wanting to share the love, Aunt Jemma gives Susan a bar of your fabulous soap, and then Susan has a strong reaction to it. Susan has to go to a doctor, and racks up some medical bills, and finds out it’s because she’s allergic to coconut oil. Guess who she’s going to go after to pay her medical bills?

How about if I just teach soapmaking?

Yes, you still need insurance. When you teach others how to make soap, you become liable for their actions in learning how to make soap. If they learn how to make soap from you, and then hurt themselves, they are going to hold you responsible!

Insurance by David Hilowitz
Photo by David Hilowitz

Fine, fine, I get it. Where can I get the right kind of insurance?

There are three common ways soapmakers get the proper insurance they need to give & sell their products to others.

RLI Corp* offers home-based business insurance for under $5,000* in gross sales. If you are a hobbyist or just starting out, this is the perfect coverage for you and lets you get your feet wet. They do not insure chandlers, but do cover the basic categories of bath and body products.
(*Update December 2017: A rep from RLI’s subsidiary group, Lindbergh, contacted us saying they will be raising their sales threshold to $7500 soon, with the change in effect for all states by May of 2018. You can reach them directly for more info: www.insuremyhomebiz.com.)

If you are anything like I was, you might surpass $5,000 in gross sales your first year in business, so you need a better option. There are two trade organizations in our industry who offer comprehensive insurance as a benefit of membership. You must join the trade organization to be eligible to purchase insurance coverage with either organization. I personally am a member of the Indie Business Network, and there is also the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetics Guild. Both organizations offer a slew of other member benefits on top of the insurance!

If you are also teaching soapmaking, you need to upgrade your insurance policy to include that coverage. It is not included by default.

Update: We wrote a much more thorough article about the insurance options you have as a small business and answered a TON of common questions. Read up here: How to Understand & Get the Soap Business Insurance You Need

But I have homeowner’s insurance and it works just fine.

To be honest, it probably doesn’t! In most cases, this is a general liability insurance and not a specific product liability insurance policy that directly covers the manufacture and sale of soap and cosmetics. The insurance benefits offered by both the Indie Business Network and the HSCG covers both general and product liability insurance.

Which organization should I go with?

Honestly, the trade organization you go with is entirely a personal choice! Both organizations offer a multitude of benefits outside of insurance, and you should choose the one that you feel is going to work the best for you! 🙂 In a coming post, I’ll share a few of the differences between the two. 🙂

So, there we have it. Why you absolutely need insurance before you start selling your soap, or even giving it away.

And yes, I do realize some soapmakers choose to go without insurance. If that’s you, please consider otherwise. This topic does tend to get a bit heated in debate, so if you choose to participate in the comments, please remember to be respectful. 😉 That being said, I’d love to hear from you!

Update: We wrote a much more thorough article about the insurance options you have as a small business and answered a TON of common questions. Read up here: How to Understand & Get the Soap Business Insurance You Need

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61 Responses

    1. I appreciate your input. I just started making melt and pour soap a few weeks ago and am selling them like crazy on facebook $5.00 a bar. I’m sure it will slow down after the holidays but it’s been so much fun I’d like to keep it up and am now getting serious about a business name and insurance. I would appreciate whatever advice you have to offer. Thanks, Maxine Reierson

  1. Having once been a commercial insurance agent myself, I would NEVER go without Products & Completed Operations insurance. As Kenna says, it’s a must. People sue for the silliest reasons these days, real or no but unfortunately our only recourse is to protect ourselves and the ONLY way to do that is with Products and Completed Operations insurance. A simple General Liability insurance policy will NOT protect you and a homeowners insurance policy defiantly does NOT.

    1. Criolle, I’m Donna Maria from the Indie Business Network. I’m sorry if you are having trouble navigating our website. If you go to the home page link Kenna shares above, and click “Join,” you’ll be taken to the page with the membership application as well as a link to information about how the product liability insurance works. You can always feel free to call us at 704-291-7280 and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

      1. Hi Donna Marina. Does IBN cover handmade candles also? I make both candles and soap products. Thanks for any info you can provide to help me get up and running.

  2. Kenna, when can we expect your article highlighting the two organizations? I am looking at joining one in the next week because my insurance is due to renew October 1!

      1. Kenna,

        I have been searching for insurance for more than a month now. Unlike most of you I purchase my handmade soap from a wholesaler, I cut, dry, wrap and label it. I’m just too busy to make it and then sell it. I also lack the space in my home to do both. The problem I am running into with the Soap Guild , IBN and RLI is that they will not insure a private label reseller. Do you have any suggestions on a company that will insure me?

        1. Hello,

          It’s been a year and I am sure by now you have found something but if you are looking for another option or maybe someone else looking at this article and wants to know about coverage for resellers, look into Insureon. I just spoke with them (I actually need the opposite…I handmake and sell my products so I need the type of insurance IBN and HSCG offer) and they told me they do not cover private beauty products or candles but do cover if resell. She specifically asked if I have my own label that I put on my products and she said they do not cover it. I asked if they only cover if it was someone else’s products (like Mary Kay, Avon etc) if they cover and she said yes.

      1. Hi Donna Maria! I actually joined this morning 🙂 I also run a goat dairy along with my soap business, so I had to seek out alternate insurance for the dairy end, but it will work out better for me in the long run.

        1. Hi Tammy,

          I was wondering if you could share the information for the insurance company you use for your goat dairy and soap business. I am running into roadblocks since the goat milk I use comes from my own goats and not a farm down the street.

          Thank you,

  3. My favorite part of this post is: “Hurray! Insurance!” LOL! Seriously, thanks, Kenna for sharing this important information with your audience, and for including the Indie Business Network. We love serving Makers and Handmade Entrepreneurs and knowing that you are there to also inform and encourage just makes it more fun to serve. Thanks again for this great information, and for including IBN!

  4. hmmm this has thrown up an interesting question mark for me here in France. They don’t have a culture of suing folk here – even within the legal system the consumer takes responsibility for themselves when it comes to Artisan products. Having said that – with the EU in full control now there may have been changes I dont know about. I am away to the local council office with my (basic) French to find out what I can find out. Thanks for an excellent article!

  5. Definitely watch out about the RLI small home business insurance. Maybe it depends on the state, but at least for Maryland, the coverage *specifically excludes* product liability, meaning if someone has “something bad happen” because of your *product*, it isn’t covered. In which case, especially if you are always shipping your product by mail or always selling at public venues like fairs and markets, and you are your only employee… why buy this insurance? There are little numbers next to the name of the coverage for the type of business (“personal care products”), and they are mostly for a list of exclusions. Check these out before spending your money on insurance that won’t cover what you need! It basically covers accidents that happen on your property that have to do with your business, or accidents off property relating to your business, but NOT relating to your product. Be very observant of chosen verbage, insurance companies thrive off ripping people off with complex verbage.

  6. I stopped reading when I got to this line:

    “Susan has to go to a doctor, and racks up some medical bills, and finds out it’s because she’s allergic to coconut oil. Guess who she’s going to go after to pay her medical bills? ”

    You must have no clue how the legal system works.

    1. Guess what – it could happen and probably has. You and I would have also never thought that a burglar breaking into a family’s house falling off their balcony with the stolen TV would a) have the guts to sue and b) never win. However, he did sue and he did win. So get insurance.

        1. As an insurance agent, I can fully confirm that this can happen.

          Not only that, litigation is expensive whether proof of fault is ever determined or not.

          Don’t place too much trust in the legal system. Remember the McDonald’s case where someone sued because the hot coffee they ordered spilled in their lap and won because there wasn’t a warning on the cup saying that the coffee is hot? Yeah… even the courts have their idiot moments.

          Side note: Most HO policies will not cover product liability. At most, they will cover injuries sustained by a non-employee in the course of you operating your home business IF… IF… you have the home business endorsement (and even then it is a crap shoot). In these types of policies, the exclusions outweigh the inclusions.

          Also, personal umbrella policies rarely cover this if at all. You got to pay to play and you will want a stand-alone commercial/business policy.

          I can’t imagine the cost for a $1M liability policy would be that much for someone starting out, however, I wouldn’t go getting a policy if you are making them for solely gifts. You aren’t engaging in commerce and rarely is there ever precedence for the gift giver to be liable for damages unless they knowing gave the gift with the intent to harm.

          1. I can’t believe an insurance agent would spread false information to make people believe that they need to buy insurance… wait, yes I can 😂

            The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case:

            It is the case that gave rise to the attacks on “frivolous lawsuits” in the United States. Almost everyone seems to know about it. And there’s a good chance everything you know about it is wrong.

            In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck bought a cup of takeout coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque and spilled it on her lap. She sued McDonald’s and a jury awarded her nearly $3 million in punitive damages for the burns she suffered.

            Typical reaction: Isn’t coffee supposed to be hot? And McDonald’s didn’t pour the coffee on her, she spilled it on herself! Besides, she was driving the car and wasn’t paying attention.

            Now for the facts:

            Mrs. Liebeck was not driving when her coffee spilled, nor was the car she was in moving. She was the passenger in a car that was stopped in the parking lot of the McDonald’s where she bought the coffee. She had the cup between her knees while removing the lid to add cream and sugar when the cup tipped over and spilled the entire contents on her lap.

            The coffee was not just “hot,” but dangerously hot. McDonald’s corporate policy was to serve it at a temperature that could cause serious burns in seconds. Mrs. Liebeck’s injuries were far from frivolous. She was wearing sweatpants that absorbed the coffee and kept it against her skin. She suffered third-degree burns (the most serious kind) and required skin grafts on her inner thighs and elsewhere.

            Liebeck’s case was far from an isolated event. McDonald’s had received more than 700 previous reports of injury from its coffee, including reports of third-degree burns, and had paid settlements in some cases.

            Mrs. Liebeck offered to settle the case for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost income. But McDonald’s never offered more than $800, so the case went to trial. The jury found Mrs. Liebeck to be partially at fault for her injuries, reducing the compensation for her injuries accordingly. But the jury’s punitive damages award made headlines — upset by McDonald’s unwillingness to correct a policy despite hundreds of people suffering injuries, they awarded Liebeck the equivalent of two days’ worth of revenue from coffee sales for the restaurant chain. That wasn’t, however, the end of it. The original punitive damage award was ultimately reduced by more than 80 percent by the judge. And, to avoid what likely would have been years of appeals, Mrs. Liebeck and McDonald’s later reached a confidential settlement.

            Here is some of the evidence the jury heard during the trial:
            McDonald’s operations manual required the franchisee to hold its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
            Coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third-degree burns in three to seven seconds.
            The chairman of the department of mechanical engineering and biomechanical engineering at the University of Texas testified that this risk of harm is unacceptable, as did a widely recognized expert on burns, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation, the leading scholarly publication in the specialty.
            McDonald’s admitted it had known about the risk of serious burns from its scalding hot coffee for more than 10 years. The risk had repeatedly been brought to its attention through numerous other claims and suits.
            An expert witness for the company testified that the number of burns was insignificant compared to the billions of cups of coffee the company served each year.
            At least one juror later told the Wall Street Journal she thought the company wasn’t taking the injuries seriously. To the corporate restaurant giant those 700 injury cases caused by hot coffee seemed relatively rare compared to the millions of cups of coffee served. But, the juror noted, “there was a person behind every number and I don’t think the corporation was attaching enough importance to that.”
            McDonald’s quality assurance manager testified that McDonald’s coffee, at the temperature at which it was poured into Styrofoam cups, was not fit for consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat.
            McDonald’s admitted at trial that consumers were unaware of the extent of the risk of serious burns from spilled coffee served at McDonald’s then-required temperature.
            McDonald’s admitted it did not warn customers of the nature and extent of this risk and could offer no explanation as to why it did not.

            In a story about the case (pdf) published shortly after the verdict was delivered in 1994, one of the jurors said over the course of the trial he came to realize the case was about “callous disregard for the safety of the people.” Another juror said “the facts were so overwhelmingly against the company.”

            That’s because those jurors were able to hear all the facts — including those presented by McDonald’s — and see the extent of Mrs. Liebeck’s injuries. Ask anyone who criticizes the case as a “frivolous lawsuit” that resulted in “jackpot justice” if they have done the same.

  7. Again – Thank You Kenna for using your Powers for Good!
    I’m working on getting my insurance in place this month, and I’ve been procrastinating because I felt lost about the whole thing. Now I do NOT and am moving forward with confidence. Thanks for using your experience to help us avoid potential pitfalls in the business of bubbles. 🙂

  8. Thank you tremendously! This answered all of my questions about insurance in such a straightforward way.

  9. Thank you for this information. My daughters and I have been making soap and numerous other items for gifts for years. A local vendor has asked them to make products for his store. Unfortunately after becoming aware of the cost of insurance, I don’t think it would be profitable for them, but I will get insurance to cover the items that they handout as gifts.

  10. Does anyone have any suggestions for Canadians. I have had nothing but difficulty even getting a quote from insurance companies. They don’t seem to be familiar with insuring thia type of business.

  11. Dear Wonderful Kenna~
    How can we ever thank you enough for opening our eyes and keeping us protected. I’m new to soap making and obviously completely clueless, but every article I read from you, every bit of information you give to us, every generous thing you do is for our benefit. And I just wanted to add my thanks for all your goodness. I feel better equipped after reading this article to take action by purchasing the insurance that could possibly save my new little soap making business.
    Amber Noel

  12. Thanks for the great read, and the best advice in the world! I am still researching the top 3 in the US (seemingly): RLI (excludes product liability!), IBN and HSCG. RLI is out the window based on lack of product liability exclusions, and did you see their pricing sheets?? LOL Please spell it out for me, not offer me an Excel spreadsheet to work it out on my own! IBN & HSCG have (excellent) identical coverages but IBN breaks the cost into 2 parts… #1 you need to join the network for $175/yr and then you can buy #2 the insurance itself for $395…. totaling $570/year. Joining gives you directory listings, discounts, use of logo, etc. HSCG at soapguild.org offers the same coverage in one bundle at $520/year. That includes insurance the discounts, use of logo, etc… same as IBN. I can’t figure out why the $50 difference, other than profit. Can anyone help here? I have given a few soaps away, so this is a big decision for a tiny startup business… but I need to be covered. THANKS!!!

  13. Thanks so much for this article, I am trying to find an affordable option for insurance since I am just starting and don’t even know if I will sell enough to make back what I spent in insurance. It looks like I will be working with RLI to start with. Thanks again for the info!

  14. So I was referred to an insurance company by my home insurance company that does small business insurance. The agent I spoke to kind of thought it was ridiculous to insure a company as small as mine. I mentioned that it was recommended to get insurance even if you are just giving soaps as gifts, and his opinion was that that was completely uneccessary, and that no insurance company in their right mind would recommend that. Anyone else had an experience like this?

    1. Wow, that is a first for me…an agent NOT recommending insurance. I can’t speak for the agent, but I’d bet she or he isn’t overly familiar with the industry and what can go wrong (contaminated products, lye-heavy soaps, ruined product from a sudden storm at a craft show, or even your market tent taking off in the wind and landing on a child).

      Everything we write is with the goal of educating you to be a responsible owner of a successful, sustainable business. If you wait until you are ‘big enough’ to get insurance but a past mistake jumps up and bites you, it could ruin your growing biz.

      When it comes down too it, it is your choice as to the level of risk you are willing to take, but we stick by our opinion that insurance is a must. We will see if anyone weighs in with a similar experience!

    1. Hi Ernestine,

      If you mean a paid incentive from us to write this article, I assure you there was not. We are not affiliated with any specific trade organization or insurance provider and did not receive any kickbacks of any kind for this article. We always disclose any affiliations or sponsorships in regards to content. (It’s the law to do so!) In fact, we pay for our insurance just the same as anyone else. 😉


      1. Kenna, I’m new to soap making but have read up on and have watched a lot of videos. What I’m seeing is that some soapers are pretty (pardon my expression) cut throat and are sticklers for following the law when it comes to these matters. I just want to do it all right and not have the soap police after me. Chuckle! Thank you for your information! It is very valuable.

        1. I am also new to soap making as well! I was soooo excited about it all until WHAM all the business part of it slapped me in the side of the head (from licensing, filing taxes, insurance, labeling, etc.). It is a bit overwhelming especially when you are such a small business! It is so complicated! It really gets discouraging for people who don’t plan on trying to make living off it and just want to try to sell off excess inventory and make a little bit to pay for supplies and get more supplies to make more soap! The sad thing is that it is a product that many people want too (good basic soap without all the chemical additives) but then it is so hard to maneuver through all this red tape! So frustrating!

          1. Hey, Angie,
            It can be frustrating, but that is all part of starting a biz. And, we have built this whole site to help you find all the info you need! Take a deep breath, pick one thing to study up on, and take small bites. 🙂

  15. Yes, insurance is on my list, as is joining HSG..but if RLI excludes product liability…what other option do I have? I would hate to get down the road and someone file a claim because of ingredient sensitivity and. It be covered.
    Has anyone found appropriate coverage?

    1. Hey, Brian,
      I’m not sure I understand your question. While you will need to look at the specifics for your needs, all of the options mentioned offer liability coverage. We suggestion them because they are appropriate for our tribe. RLI just has a sales ceiling that is going to be limiting for many. Since the publication of this post, Handmade Insurance has also come on the scene and is a good option for many.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Thanks so much for this info. As a brand new soaper, it’s a big help to learn about insurance early on.

  16. Perhaps in the US culture insurance is necessary for gifting soap, but I doubt its relevant in most countries lol! Yes I understand soapers can take this very seriously as it is their livelihood. Some may even feel threatened that soaping ‘gifters’ are eroding their market.

    If there was a requirement to get insurance for a bartering arrangement, eg thanks neighbour for the potatoes from your allotment have some of my home grown apples, I would think things were getting alarmingly rediculous. Let’s put it into perspective shall we and minimise the scaremongering. Just saying…

  17. Come on guys get a grip! I can bet money (and more than likely win) on the fact that this article was probably written by a Soap Maker/Insurance Agent who stands to PROFIT from steering her soap-making competition into VASTLY UNNECESSARY BUSINESS EXPENSES in an attempt to DISCOURAGE other soap makers/businesses who compete with her in the soap making arena from resuming business or even starting and promoting their businesses, (reducing competition here) refrain from passing out samples (because she won’t) (reducing more competition)AND to either sell the insurance herself or get a kickback from a friend who DOES. That is SO EASY and transparent to see! Just too bad no one called her on it but the fact of the matter is: in the US, if you’ve got the $1000 filing fee and the court forms, YOU CAN SUE ANYONE FOR ANYTHING BUT IT DOESNT MEAN YOU WILL WIN!!! Attorneys who are in the sole business of suing people and corporations (commonly referred to as “ambulance chasers”) frequently work on a “contingency” or “ProBono” basis (meaning they don’t get paid unless they win a lawsuit for you) are particularly selective upon which cases they take on especially in the gifted soap scenario you listen above and would be not be eager to take cases viewed as frivolous or where there is COMPLETE lack of proof of negligence and even evidence. Any ethical Attorney worth his salt would refuse the hypothetical soap case discussed earlier based on a myriad of reasons , some I’ve just mentioned. I don’t think there is a high likelihood of getting SUCCESSFULLY SUED because everybody knows also that as a defendant you can COUNTERSUE. To everyone reading who had a soap business, don’t panic and run out and buy insurance that you can’t afford and possibly do not need. Other posters already stated that one of the main companies she linked did NOT provide product liability insurance for small businesses that net under $5k per year… now what does that tell you? That insurance may not even exist or be applicable or help you when you need it but in 2019 someone’s always trying to sell you something you don’t need out of fear. Consider that. Soap sales low? Sell insurance by scaring your competition into thinking they need it. Consult a REAL ATTORNEY in your LOCAL STATE who specializes in this kind of law, don’t consult an insurance agent! If the authors so-called “legal theory ” is true, then perhaps by writing this article she has opened herself up to a bunch of lawsuits by the readers of this article & comment posters here saying we received mental distress and were traumatized by her blog so much that it affected us mentally and physically, hope she’s got insurance in case WE sue HER for this article!! Lol Who else is laughing, there’s a limit she isn’t an Attorney & therefore not qualified there.

    1. Hey, “Noneo”,
      We actually carry proper insurance for teaching to protect ourselves and our clients. After all, even frivolous lawsuits have to be defended. And, by all means, if you’d like to set up a consult with an attorney for questions, do. We always encourage people to seek out folks who know their stuff rather than listen to rando keyboard warriors on the internet.

      We are also transparent about how we make money at Modern Soapmaking, and it isn’t by selling insurance (We disclose the few affiliate links we have on the site and regularly turn down paid posts). Or soap (aside from a bit of contract manufacture). So I’m afraid your theories fall flat there too. If we were afraid of soapmakers competing with us, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to help thousands of them a year reach their biz goals.

      We have another, extended post on insurance queued up for next month, including more info on Errors and Omissions (teaching) insurance. Stop back in. You might learn something helpful!

      1. Thank you for this info. these days you need ins for everything, I had to get a 1 million dollar policy just to have a wedding for our daughter at a venue in the country. always be safe than sorry. I honestly didn’t think of this so again thank you all for the info and idea.

        Tiffany L

  18. You do not have to join those two indie networks to get product liability insurance. We have insurance for up to 1,000,000 at cost of $285 year for Sales up to $100,000. Shop around because there are insurances available for small business in this genre.

  19. I’ve been thinking about making my own soaps and massage bars ever since I had my children. I like the freedom to choose my own scents and to have a luxury product at a fraction of the cost. What’s more, I know exactly what is going into each product. I found this article really helpful and am now about to embark on my next line of research. I plan on using family as my test subjects and thought I could skip insurance at this stage. You’ve certainly made me think twice.

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