When you first attempt making your own soap, you probably want to minimize your tool and ingredient shopping list. I mean, who wants to spend a bunch of money on a hobby that might not be your thing, right?
One of those tools is a stick blender, and you may be wondering if you really need one for starting out making your own soap.
Yes, you can make soap without a stick blender! Some soap recipes actually turn out better without a stick blender. To successfully make soap without a stick blender, you must manage your temperature and understand the principles of making soap.
When I first started making soap, I had a horrible experience with a batch I made without a stick blender. The reason? I got really bad advice from a professionally published book about soap making. Go figure!
Keep reading, because right below I’m going to save you some pain, and let you in on the secrets to making fantastic soap when you don’t have a stick blender.
Making Soap Without a Stick Blender by Hand Stirring
The most common alternative to making soap without using a stick blender is to hand stir it with a stainless steel whisk or spoon.
What sucks about hand stirring is how LONG it can take! Depending on the temperature of your soap and what oils and fats you are using in your recipe, this can be a little while or practically days. You will have to stir until you reach trace.
If you are going to hand stir your soap, you need to understand trace and what makes it get there slower or faster. Trace is when your soap thickens enough to pour after you add your oils and lye water solution together. You have to stir until your soap reaches at least a thin consistency or thin trace.
Three big things that affect how fast your soap reaches trace are 1) what oils and fats your recipe uses, 2) how warm your oils, fats and lye solution are when you mix them together, and 3) blending/stirring.
Since you will be hand stirring and not blending, that will automatically slow down how fast your soap gets to trace – hence more stirring. To mitigate, we need to change the other big things that get your soap to trace.
Step 1: Start with a Faster Tracing Soap Recipe
The higher percentage of saturated fats you have in your soap (like palm oil, coconut oil, and/or tallow) the faster it will thicken. (A little bit of castor oil will help too, since it’s known to speed up trace.) You really need to have this type of recipe for hand stirring so you’re not stuck at your soap pot all day!
If you want to spend less time stirring to get your soap thick enough to pour in the mold, use a good recipe like this one:
|Amount by Weight
Step 2: Allow Extra Time for Making Your Soap
Since hand stirring can vary depending on how vigorously you stir, schedule your soap making with plenty of extra time in case it takes longer than you anticipated. If you run out of time, it won’t get to trace and may separate in the mold if you pour it too early.
Step 3: Make Your Soap at a Higher Temperature
The warmer your soap is, the faster it comes to a trace and can be poured. That’s why in the old days the common method of making soap was hot process. It was stirred and cooked, otherwise they would be wasting valuable time.
If you are making cold-process soap, make sure your oils and lye solution are 135-145 degrees Fahrenheit. This means preparing your lye water 1-2 hours before you are ready to make your soap. You don’t want it to cool too much, otherwise you will have to carefully reheat it, like I talk about here.
Do not make soap with oils and lye water at room temperature if you are hand stirring. Just remember if you have things too hot (above 180 degrees) you could get a soap volcano.
Pro Tip: If you use a fragrance oil that is known to speed up trace, you might be able to use this to your advantage! It can help cut down on the stirring time. Just be careful not to pick one that has issues with ricing. On the other hand, try to avoid any fragrances or essential oils that are known for slowing down trace.
Hand-Stirring Soap Disaster Prevention
That soap making disaster I had from hand stirring? It was a 100% olive oil recipe. I made the soap at 110 degrees as directed. Then, I stirred it about 6 hours and it never reached trace. I finally gave up and dumped it, not knowing I could have saved it. I was so frustrated, because olive oil takes FOREVER to trace if it’s the only oil in your recipe!
Pro Tip: If you want to skip using a stick blender, you also might consider making hot process soap instead. The safest way to do that is in an old slow cooker dedicated only to soap making. If you have an extra one, use that. If not, the best place to look for an inexpensive one the thrift store.
Summary of helpful steps when hand stirring your soap:
- Use a recipe with oils and fats that are known to trace faster. Usually your harder oils speed it up, since they are higher in saturated fat. Castor oil speeds up trace, too. Olive oil slows it down – it’s OK to have some, just don’t hand stir a 100% olive oil recipe!
- Give yourself more time than you expect you’ll need. Not all hand-stirring is created equal. If you are tired or wimpy, you’re gonna stir slower and it will take a little longer.
- Use heat to your advantage by mixing your oil and lye water at a higher temperature (135-145 degrees Fahrenheit and no higher than 180 degrees), since heat speeds up trace.
- Don’t forget to put on some good music or your favorite program or podcast while you stir to help the time go faster.
The Pros of Making Soap Without a Stick Blender
- Less equipment to invest in and store
- Closer to how our ancestors lived – if that’s your thing
- You can make soap without electricity – you can warm your fats on a wood stove!
- It helps you better control how fast your soap thickens. (This is great if you want to make detailed swirl designs!)
The Cons of Making Soap Without a Stick Blender
- It takes more time and you may not have the patience – that could drive you crazy!
- Your arm is going to get tired, and if you have arthritis or tendonitis it may be an issue.
- If you get impatient and pour too soon, your soap may separate.
- You have to time mixing your lye so it doesn’t cool too much or… you maybe you prefer to pre-mix your lye the day before and don’t want to mess with reheating it
- If you get frustrated with this process, you may give up on a great hobby!
What can I use instead of a stick blender for making soap?
Here are some things that have been used instead of a stick blender for soap making: regular upright blender, hand-operated beaters, electric beaters and a drill with a paint mixing bit.
Before you use any one of these, let’s look at the dangers. Remember anything you use that’s going to be touching the caustic lye in the soap batter should be stainless steel, plastic or silicone.
Upright blender for soap making
Make sure the blade is stainless. Don’t use it for food if you make soap in it. Be very careful and make sure you have the lid secured tightly when operating and use the lowest speed.It works in a pinch for small batches. Don’t fill more than half way and watch out for soap volcanoes if your soap batter is too warm.
Hand operated beaters for soap making
These must be stainless steel. You will be much more likely to have splatter, which is dangerous. They’re not much better than hand stirring. It would be harder to work with since you have to use two hands to operate it. Your soap bowl is going to slide around unless it has a rubber bottom.
Electric beaters for soap making
You must have stainless steel beaters and the cheap ones are junk metal. These are very dangerous for soap making, since splatter is extremely likely. I once saw a guy do this on YouTube and he splattered his soap batter across the room – yikes!
Paint mixer for soap making
This is probably the most similar to using a stick blender. The bit must be stainless steel and don’t use one that is paint or enamel coated. The problem with a drill is it’s weight and how you have to hold it. It’s not ergonomic and can tire out your arms and shoulders .
Should You Buy a Stick Blender or Hand Stir Your Soap?
OK, time to put this soap making dilemma to rest. Hand stirring is great when you have nothing else or extreme limits in tools or electricity. Sometimes you actually need it to accomplish a specific soap design.
However, if you value your time and sanity, GET YOURSELF A DECENT STICK BLENDER! Hand-stirring has it’s time and place, but if you want to make more than two batches of soap in your entire life, it’s totally worth it.
You don’t need to spend a lot, and you can even do what I did and pick one up at the local thrift store. I still have the same one I purchased for $12 at the thrift store over 15 years ago and I’m still using it as of this writing. It’s the best $12 I have ever spent!