As with any hobby (or craft, art, what ever you call it) there are some supplies that are necessary, some supplies that are nice to have around, and some that make you scratch your head asking ‘why’? Here are some of the soap making supplies I feel are necessary and some of the items that aren’t necessary for your first batch. (Warning – affiliate links ahead!)
Soap Making Supplies – Must haves
The process of making soap was once a guessing process, through experimentation and experience our forefathers (or foremothers) would mix wood ash with animal fats to make a crude soap. The chemical composition of the ash or the fat was not known, so the soap was often the harsh, lye heavy bars best for heavy duty cleaning. Now we know the fatty acid composition of the oils we use, have access to pure lye, and the knowledge of scientists who have determined how much sodium hydroxide is needed to react with each oil type for perfect saponification. What??? Science gobbley gook is done – it means that the purity of our ingredients means we can better control our final product, but to do so accurate measurement is a must.
One of the first soap making supplies that is absolute necessary is a digital scale. There are so many scales on the market, what one should I use? The most important thing to look for in a digital scale is precision. Most all kitchen scales are accurate enough for soap making – meaning you can be sure that what you are measuring will weigh the same, no matter what scale you use. Precision is the increment you measure in. For soap making, I would recommend you use a scale that measures grams.
Additionally, you need a way to blend the oils and lye together. Historically it was done by hand with a spoon, but that takes a LONG time and if not done correctly your oils will separate from the lye and you will not have good results. Most modern soap makers will use a hand blender, or a stick blender to combine the oils and the lye completely. In my experience, the important thing to look for in a stick blender is a dishwasher safe blender attachment. The heat created through the saponification process can damage a blender attachment that is not dishwasher safe. I prefer a metal blender wand.
When looking for containers to mix your lye and oils in, a glass or plastic measuring cup or beaker is perfect. Make sure it is capable of withstanding the heat created when the lye is mixed with liquid. A pour spout is a handy feature, to help you pour the lye and the oils safely. The most important thing to look for is a beaker large enough to hold ALL of your liquids and have enough room to mix the ingredients without spilling.
As with anything you do, it is important to consider safety. The lye mixture is highly caustic and can cause chemical burns. Additionally, the fumes created can be quite noxious. In order to be save, protect yourself with gloves and work in a well ventilated area.
Soap Making Supplies – Nice to have
The way you plan to process your soap will determine some of the supplies you will need. I like to hot process my soaps. It makes a product ready to use (or sell) in much less time than cold process. To hot process soap you will need either a crock pot or a heat safe soap mold.
Soap Making Supplies – Leave it (in my opinion)
When I first started making soap I worried because I did not have a thermometer that was okay in the caustic lye solution. I was worried that I was not going to be able to get the temperatures correct but found that was an unfounded fear. By hot processing I was able to avoid the the need to have both the lye and the oils at the same temperature. As I gained experience and started making swirled soaps using the cold process method I considered getting a thermometer but I realized that it was not necessary. I allow my lye mixture to cool to room temperature, then warm my hard oils JUST to the melting point. Cooling to the two down slows the speed at which your soap batter will begin to thicken. This gives more time to work with your soap to create detailed swirls.
Specialty soap cutters can range in price from just a few dollars all the way to several hundred. When you first get started with making soap you can cut your bars using a knife, a cheese wire, even a broken guitar string. Unless you really have the itch to buy a soap cutter I’d hold off and decide on the type of bars you would like to make, then buy a mold and cutter that will work together.
I hope this helps you figure out what you need right away to make your first batch of soap, and what you can wait on until you are further down your sudsy journey.