How I Started Making Big Batch Hot Process Soap
This post comes to you courtesy of Molly.
I love to hear stories from other soapmakers about how they started their businesses, and what the turning points were that made a big difference in their growth. So I thought I would share a little about my own experiences with my business!
I started out as a cold process soapmaker. After getting really frustrated with morphing colorants and fragrances that turned my fluid soap into an un-pourable solid, I gave hot process soapmaking a try.
For most of 2015, I was a happy, small batch, crockpot hot process soapmaker. I sold primarily online and at my local farmer's market and when I ran low on a soap, I made another batch of ten bars. Life was simple! I had a few small wholesale accounts that would buy twenty or so assorted bars at at time, usually selecting from my on-hand inventory.
My Jump into Big Batch Hot Process Soapmaking
When I got an order for 200 bars of Clean Cotton Soap, I eagerly took on the project. I calculated how many single loaf batches I would have to make to get this order done: twenty batches!
The thought of repeating the same exact batch twenty times was unappealing. Plus, my crockpot was only big enough for one batch!
It was time to make the jump to big batch hot process soap! I looked into buying a huge turkey roaster. Unfortunately, I didn't have the space to store more big appliances, and the roasters are expensive.
Another soapmaker, Sharon Johnson, had recently written an ebook and posted videos about a different way to make hot process soap, using hot oils, hot lye solution, and constant mixing. With guidance from Sharon, I tried this method. The biggest benefit to me was that I could make hot process soap in any type of approved container. (Due to the high temperatures, stainless steel is the safest container to use.)
This method is not recommended for inexperienced hot process soapmakers, and a soapmaker should use extreme caution when using it. The temperatures and mixing often create a soap volcano, which can be dangerous if a soapmaker does not know what to expect or how to handle it. You have to be careful about your temperatures and you cannot leave the soap unattended.
I bought a few more loaf molds that matched the one I was using a lot at the time. I started to make double batches instead of single batches. So, twenty batches became ten double batches, which was a lot less work! And it was exciting to be more efficient!
My first foray into bigger batches of hot process soap for an order of 200 bars!
The following year, I started to pound the pavement to get more wholesale accounts. After a while, my hard work started to pay off.
Slowly, I picked up a few more accounts. At this point my larger wholesale accounts would order fifty to one hundred bars at a time. It was common for the orders to be for twenty bars each of five scents. For the time being, I was content making double batches using my silicone molds and Sharon's method.
And then it happened again!
I got an order that exceeded my experience level, this time for 400 bars of soap. It was time to really dive into big batch hot process soapmaking! I asked my husband to build me a few wooden slab molds; I got a log splitter (similar to this one) and a big stainless steel lobster pot. And I cranked through ten batches of forty bars in a few days, and delivered the order on time. Whew!
Big batch hot process soap making made 400 bars of soap easy!
How I Make Big Batch Hot Process Soap Now
I still use Sharon's method , coupled with stainless steel lobster pots and a reliable stick blender. For me, this method gives me soap that is consistently fluid, which allows me to make swirled hot process soaps.
What I've Learned About Big Batch Hot Process Soapmaking
A lot of these tips apply to making big batches of soap, no matter the method. But, some tips are specific to making big batch hot process soap:
Safe soapmaking is more important than ever. A big batch of hot process soap coming in at 200° F (93° C) could severely burn you, both thermally and chemically depending on the stage of saponification. Know what to expect, how to handle it, and wear your safety gear. Exercise caution: respect the ingredients and method. (Please!)
Like with cold process soapmaking, masterbatching is key. If you don't know what masterbatching means, it is a term for measuring out oils and other ingredients for multiple batches of soap at one time. If I have to make ten batches of soap, I measure out all my oils at one time instead of ten times. This is a huge step towards efficiency!
Water discounting affects the soap differently in big batches, so I had to cut back a little on that. I like to hold back a big amount of water so that I can add that liquid at the end of the cook. With big batch hot process soap, a large water discount could mean trouble. The soap will get hotter, could potentially volcano over and over, and takes forever to cool down. (If you do try Sharon's method, I recommend not doing a water discount until you have a few batches under your belt.)
Maintain a production calendar. A production calendar will help you get organized. An order for hundreds of bars of soap in a variety of scents becomes less overwhelming when you have a plan. Decide in advance which soaps you are going to make on certain days and stick to your plan.
Use a slab mold (if you can.) Using a slab will allow you to make more soap at one time. Plus, all your soap will be more uniform in appearance. When you make multiple individual loaves, you waste time weighing each mold to ensure they're accurate. You don't have to do that with a slab! (You can make your own wooden molds, too!)
My slab mold that holds sixty bars of big-batch hot process soap!
Buy your ingredients in bulk. You will save a lot of money on your ingredients when you buy in bulk. When wholesaling, that money saved can make or break your business! Always order what you need in advance. Don't wait until you are out of lye or a particular oil to order more!
Be aware of what you can carry, weight-wise. My current limit is twenty-five pounds: this is what I know I can safely handle. One day, I may work up to larger batches, but not right now. A stainless steel pot full of twenty-five pounds of hot soap is a little intimidating. I bought a massive ladle to scoop my big batch hot process soap to make it easier (and safer!)
Lots of swirly hot process soap!
You can swirl big batches of hot process soap, but keep it simple. Be thoughtful about which soaps you send to potential accounts as samples. If you send a soap with a complex swirl or an intricate design, they will expect something similar - no matter how many they order. Keep your designs simple and easy to recreate.
Big Batch Hot Process Soap vs. Big Batch Cold Process Soap
"Why do you make your soaps using hot process when cold process seems like less work?"
Well, there are a few benefits for me that keep me cooking my soap for production soapmaking.
First, the faster turnaround time is a huge benefit. I can make a big batch of soap and deliver it in two weeks. For my big accounts that are busy, this is a huge advantage. In some cases, the fast turnaround was the reason I won over the account. It allows me to make soap "on-demand" - meaning I can wait until someone wants to buy a particular soap to make it.
The alternative would be to make a huge amount of soap, store it somewhere, and wait until someone buys it (fingers crossed). This allows me to offer more options to my accounts and saves me from having to store inventory that may not sell.
A slab of big batch hot process soap before cutting it up.
A slab of big batch hot process soap cut into six loaves.
Another reason why I make big-batch hot process soap instead of cold process soap is fewer limitations. I can use any scent (fragrance oil or essential oil) or any colorant, and I know what will happen. Since there is no ricing or accelerated trace or morphing of colors, my hot process soaps are reliable and consistent. If a client wants a soap in a fragrance I have not used before, I am not worried about how the fragrance will react during saponification.
Big batch hot process soapmaking is not for everyone, but, for me and my business, it has been a great fit!
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