If you have extra cash on hand for crafting, or if you plan on starting a business to sell your soap, you may choose to invest in a separate set of everything. Otherwise, it’s okay initially to be frugal.
Here is what you’ll need to get started in soap making.
Cardboard or newspaper: If you’re not working in a dedicated soap lab, use cardboard or several layers of newspaper to cover your entire work area and absorb spills. You might also want a layer of plastic underneath to protect wooden surfaces.
Lye-water and fresh soap batter can ruin wood; a bit of preventive covering, especially if you’re soaping in your kitchen, can save you some heartache and clean-up time.
Heat-resistant bowls: For mixing soap ingredients, you can use containers made of stainless steel, tempered glass, or high density, heat-safe plastic. (Avoid aluminum, tin, iron, and Teflon-coated containers.)
At each step, choose bowls large enough to hold the full volume of lye-water, oil, and additives with plenty of room to spare; you never want a bowl to be more than two-thirds full. You’ll need a variety of sizes based on your final batch, but the most common ones used for many recipes are
2-, 4-, and 5-quart mixing containers.
Heat-resistant measuring pitcher: Lye and water create an exothermic reaction that can reach 200°F. While you should always mix the lye and water over a sink, it’s important to choose a measuring pitcher that can withstand high temperatures. If you choose a plastic container, make sure it is thoroughly heatproof. The most useful sizes when you’re just starting out are 2- and 4-quart containers with handles and a pouring lip.
Heat-resistant mixing utensils: Stainless steel is the best material, but heavy-duty rubber or silicone also works. Don’t use wooden utensils — they will degrade over time, leaving splinters in your soap. At a minimum, you will need one long-handled spoon to mix the lye-water and several stainless-steel teaspoons and tablespoons to measure ingredients. It’s also useful to have several sizes of heat-resistant spatulas on hand for scraping out bowls when pouring your soap mixture.
Measuring cups and spoons: A standard set of plastic or stainless steel (not aluminum) measuring cups and spoons will serve most of your soap making needs. Having two extra teaspoons or tablespoons for every recipe is also helpful for stirring in additives or fragrance.
Safety goggles: Whenever you make cold-process soap, you need to wear goggles to protect your eyes from the caustic lye and freshly made soap batter. Eyeglasses are not sufficient protection. You only get one set of eyes. Invest in a good set of goggles to keep your eyes safe. You can find goggles, as well as full face masks, at hardware stores and chemical supply houses as well as online.
Rubber gloves: Gloves help protect your skin from any lye-water or fresh soap batter spills. You can use ordinary rubber kitchen gloves or disposable ones (latex, nitrile, rubber, vinyl, and neoprene are all acceptable). In addition to protecting your hands, always wear long sleeves, long pants, and closed toe shoes. An apron is nice to protect clothing from splatters or spills.
Scale: You can get by with an inexpensive dieter’s scale, but a digital scale (think postal scale) is best for accuracy. Digital scales start at around $20 and increase in price according to their level of accuracy and maximum weight. You will need to weigh the ingredients for each and every recipe, every single time. Measuring by volume only is not accurate enough for cold process soap making. All the recipes in this book list ingredients measured by weight.
Soap molds: You have many options here: beverage cartons, shoe boxes lined with freezer paper, and plastic food containers are a cheap way to start out, but you can also invest in multi-cavity plastic or silicone molds designed for soap and/or a wooden soap making mold.
Note: A wooden mold must be lined for every batch or it will be ruined. You can cut freezer paper to fit (shiny side facing the soap) or purchase a liner to fit a particular mold. While you can use food storage containers such as those made by Tupperware or Rubbermaid, they tend to suction up air and make it harder to release the soap. As long as the potential mold is not made of glass or aluminum, and has some flex to it that allows the soap to easily release, you can use any number of common household items (kitchen drawer dividers are a favorite).
Stick blender/ turning stick (omorogun): While it is possible to use a whisk or an egg beater to bring your soap to trace (the stage where it’s ready to pour), using a stick blender is quicker, easier, and more consistent. Using a stick blender takes minutes versus hours. I mean that literally: if you mix by hand, don’t be surprised if your recipe takes more than an hour to trace. A stick blender is the soaper’s best friend. It’s worth the investment to buy a separate one just for soap making.
Knife: A sharp knife is essential for cutting up soap, either to embed in larger batches to add color and contrast, or to cut up the loaf. Do not use a serrated knife, because the toothed blade makes drag marks in the soap.
Whisks (several): Whisks come in handy for keeping a nice loose trace during soap making, allowing you to work with your raw soap batter for longer or, at the end, to make texture and peaks on your soap. You can use any heat-safe whisks (including silicone) so long as they are not made of aluminum or coated with Teflon.
Thermometer: Traditional soap makers recommend keeping the lye-water and oils within 10°F of each other to create a more stable and even emulsification (i.e., the mixing of two liquids, such as oil and water, that do not normally mix well). For beginner soap makers, I agree. In addition, many soap makers like to keep their lye-water and oils below 120°F to ensure an even final texture. A digital model is more of an investment than an analog model but infinitely easier to use.