Ins and Outs of Masterbatching
Let’s take a look at all the aspects of Masterbatching, whether it’s a good idea, if it can affect your bottom line, and how to go about it. Done right, you can use it to increase production and simplify your life at the same time.
The first time you saw the word you giggled with an immature insanity. In fact, when you read the title to this article, you might have done a quick double take! So, let’s demystify every soapmakers’ favorite dirty (sounding) word: masterbatching!
What is masterbatching?
First things first, it might be helpful to define what exactly masterbatching is. See the call-out box for how I personally define masterbatching.</p
For most soapmakers, this means mixing together two or more base oils in their soap formula together in large quantities. For some soapmakers, that might mean masterbatching all their soapmaking oils. For others, it might be masterbatching just their liquid oils or just their solid oils.
And don’t forget, you can also masterbatch your lye solution, essential oil blends, or any other parts of a formula that has multiple compatible ingredients!
When it comes down to it, a masterbatch is essentially a premade base that you make to use in your soapmaking (or other manufacturing) process.
How is masterbatching helpful?
Masterbatching ingredients for your production process can have a lot of great benefits. Here are just a few of the possible benefits you might have from masterbatching:
1. Masterbatching is more efficient.
It’s proven to be much faster for our human brains to focus on a single task rather than task switching, and masterbatching gives you that. Rather than weighing out individual ingredients, making a product, and then starting over, masterbatching allows you to consolidate the weighing process for multiple batches into a single step.
It often takes a soapmaker anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to weigh out ingredients for a single batch of soap. Instead, you could take 10 to 20 minutes to create the masterbatch for ten batches of soap, and then shave it down to a minute or two to weigh out the masterbatch for an individual batch of soap. Even on the conservative end, masterbatching for ten batches rather than weighing ten individual batches can save you at least an hour of your precious time.
2. Masterbatching is cost effective.
When you masterbatch ingredients, you can buy them in larger quantities which gives you the advantage of more cost-effective supplies.
For example, if you make two-pound batches of soap, you might be buying your oils by the pound. If you masterbatch, you’ll need more oils up front and would switch to buying oils in seven or thirty-five pound quantities.
Bulk purchasing dramatically decreases your cost. On average, upgrading the quantity that you buy an ingredient can save you anywhere from 25% to 75% on the cost - nice!
3. Masterbatching is more consistent.
Obviously, it is ideal if every batch of a soap formula is the same. If you are in business, good manufacturing practices make this imperative as you are following an exact methodology every time.
However, if you aren’t already following GMP or are a hobbyist, masterbatching can increase the consistency between batches. For instance, let’s say you weigh oils for a two-pound batch of soap and measure incorrectly by an ounce of oil. That’s going to make a big impact on a single batch of soap! However, if you were weighing oils for ten batches of soap, that ounce would be far less impactful.
Clearly, this is an extreme example, but I don’t know a single soapmaker who hasn’t ever incorrectly weighed their ingredients for a batch!
Who can benefit from masterbatching?
It may seem like masterbatching is only for business owners, but that’s not true!
Masterbatching can be great for a hobbyist with limited time on their hands, too. Imagine spending more time making soap and less time weighing ingredients? Sounds like pure bliss to me!
Clearly, masterbatching is a real win for a business owner though, as it saves both time and money. When it comes to running a soap business, every minute you can shave off your production processes means another minute you can dedicate to selling your soap!
What is necessary to masterbatch?
Chances are you already have what you need to masterbatch, but you might have to make a small investment in making the switch. Here’s a quick list of must-haves:
A set formula that you consistently use
If you are using multiple formulas, masterbatching may not be helpful for you unless you make a lot of those individual formulas. Masterbatching works best for base formulas that are used to create multiple varieties. For instance, a set formula of oils for soapmaking that is used with multiple different colorants or fragrances to create different kinds of soap.
An accurate scale with a large enough capacity
Hopefully, you are already using an accurate scale to weigh your ingredients! However, you may need to upgrade your scale for larger capacity, depending on how much you are masterbatching at one time. My favorite soapmaking scale is the KD 8000, which has a 17.6-pound (8000-gram) capacity, but it can be limiting for masterbatching large quantities of ingredients.
A container to mix and store a masterbatch
No matter what you are masterbatching, you need a container big enough to mix and store the masterbatch.
For many soapmakers, a five-gallon bucket works great for masterbatching oils. As your individual batches of soap grow, your masterbatching container needs to also grow.
Typically, the next upgrade from a five-gallon bucket is an oil tank that holds 20+ gallons. Your individual process may require a way to heat or melt the contents of a masterbatch, so keep that in mind. Many soapmakers use belt warmers on buckets successfully.
Is there an easier way to masterbatch?
If masterbatching sounds too complicated for you, you have options!
Many suppliers sell a premade mix of oils for soapmaking. For instance, Brambleberry sells a few different Quick Mix products that provide the benefits of masterbatching without the work. I’ve personally used them to make quick work of preparing for teaching soapmaking classes, and find them to be especially consistent and reliable.
If you prefer to use your own formula, some suppliers will also create a masterbatch for you. Often, it requires a minimum order of a fifty-five-gallon drum of oils. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Don’t forget that masterbatching can apply to other ingredients, including your lye solution. In fact, you can also purchase premade lye solution from chemical suppliers in bulk, if you’d rather not do it yourself.
Go forth and masterbatch!
Compared to ten years ago, many soapmakers are masterbatching in one way or another. Most are eager to help another soapmaker out. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or get help. If masterbatching sounds like the ticket to make your soapmaking more efficient and fun, get on with it!