Soap And Candle Making In A Crock Pot Vs. Double Boiler

Soap on the stove or candles in the crock? This article explores the pros and cons of two crafty options.

Most soap-making recipes or candle-processing methods involve cooking your ingredients "au bain marie," which is to say, in a double-boiling configuration. First, a few inches of water are brought to a simmer in a medium to large saucepan. Next, wax is melted or a lye/fat mixture is cooked in a smaller container that sits in the water bath, such as a metal bowl, ceramic pot, or leftover glass jar, or in a special double-boiler inset pot that fits on top of the first. Heating the materials this way protects them from exposure to the direct heat of the stove-top burner. The water forms a buffer that distributes the heat evenly, which keeps your creations from developing hot spots or scorching.

Some crafters prefer to use a crock-pot crock-pot instead of a double-boiler. They do still go through the double-boiling process, but they heat the water bath in an electric slow-cooker rather than over the stove. Both methods, stove-top and crock-pot, have their pros and cons, which you'll want to consider before deciding which way to go.

The primary advantage of the stove-top method is that it's cheaper, especially if you decide to improvise rather than buying an actual double-boiler set. Saucepans can be found at any thrift store or garage sale at prices that make it feasible to purchase one specifically for crafty uses. The low cost also makes them less painful to replace if your materials spill and clean-up becomes difficult.

And cleaning up a saucepan can be much less difficult than cleaning up a crock-pot. If you spill paraffin or lye on the crock-pot's outer container, the one that houses all the electronics, you can't just dunk that in the sink or hose it off outside like you can a saucepan. Also, metal saucepans being less breakable than some slow-cookers' removable porcelain containers, the clean-up process for the stove-top method can be less delicate.

The stove-top method also offers more flexibility. A crock-pot usually has only two or three temperature settings, all of them geared toward slow cooking. If you need a hard rolling boil such as some soap-making recipes require, a crock-pot isn't going to cut it.

However, one important advantage a crock-pot offers, especially in the realm of candle-making, is freedom from much of the fire hazard involved in melting your materials. Even a flameless electrical stove can flare up dangerously when wax falls on the burners. Cleaning up your crock-pot can be tricky, and replacing it can be expensive, but not so tricky or expensive as replacing your entire kitchen--or house!

Crock-pots also have the feature of added mobility. Given the lye fumes inherent in the soap-making process, you may find yourself yearning to take your craft outside. You can do that with a crock-pot (and a sufficient length of extension cord). A stove doesn't relocate with nearly the same ease.

Other advantages are less dramatic but more noticeable on a batch-by-batch basis. Though a crock-pot's two or three heat settings may seem confining, they're far more consistent and accurate than the dials on a gas or electric stove. And because the ceramic container already separates its contents from the heating element, a crock-pot allows you to use all sorts of disposable inner containers that might melt or scorch if allowed to rest on the bottom of a saucepan on the stove, such as plastic milk jugs and paper juice boxes.

However, if you do spill your materials into the crock-pot itself, and you don't plan to retire your crock-pot from dinner duty, you must be sure to clean up thoroughly to avoid adding unhealthy seasonings to your next meal. This is also true with the stove-top method, of course, but, as was pointed out earlier, saucepans are often less trouble to replace than to clean. Alternately, you might have one set aside exclusively for crafting.

Then again, the price of crock-pots is always coming down, with some models going for as little as $19.99 at big box retailer sales. You may well find the time saved from having to clean and disinfect to be worth the expense of buying a crock-pot designated for soap-making or candle-making alone.

Choosing between the stove-top and the crock-pot method is in some ways a "six of one, half-dozen of the other" decision that will ultimately depend on the needs of your specific project. Consider how much money you want to spend on tools, how much time you want to take with cleaning, and which environment you're more comfortable in. Whichever you choose, happy crafting!

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