collect the things you’ll need
© 2010 by KV5R — Rev. Nov. 24, 2010.
Some we’ll already have, like pots, utensils, and a measuring cup. But soaping isn’t cooking, so we’ll need a few extra things. These may all be purchased at big-box stores and on-line, so you either pay sales tax or shipping costs. Shop carefully! Some items have a very wide price range.
- Digital kitchen/postal scale: Must have 0.1 oz. or 1 gram accuracy, and at least 10 pounds maximum weight. First, I wasted $20 on a local big-store cheapo scale; it shuts off way too fast, like in 15 seconds. For about $30-35, you can get a much better scale. I recently (Dec. 2012) got a My Weigh KD8000 on-line for around $36, and what a nice scale! Great for baking bread, too.
- Stick blender (immersion blender): Note: only the expensive (~$450+) commercial units are made to run continuously. If you burn up a $20 stick blender, it’s your own fault. Mine says, “…1 minute on, 3 minutes off.” If you’re going to be making large batches for sale, consider a 500-750-watt commercial unit, or perhaps a rotary paint mixer in a heavy-duty drill. Make sure it’s stainless steel or plastic-coated. The stainless Jiffy Mixer HS-2 (~$15) or larger looks like a good idea. Hand-stirring soap with a spoon is a big waste of time.
- Small dial thermometer: ~$6 (digital isn’t really necessary here). I don’t like glass “candy” thermometers—why use a breakable glass when a stainless steel dial thermometer is both unbreakable and easier to read? Large batchers may want a digital infrared thermometer.
- Pouring pot: 3-quart stainless-steel pitcher, like restaurants use to serve water: Great for small (2 pound) batches; high sides to grab splashes, good handle and pouring spout—much better than a sauce pan. It should have straight (not bell) sides for easy scraping. Prices vary hugely, so don’t pay over about $20 for a 3-quart SS pitcher. Avoid the name brands; look on-line for imported restaurant supply or candle wax pouring pots. For larger batches (say, over 4 pounds), use a stainless steel stock pot, sized figuring about 2 pounds soap per quart of pot, with at least a couple extra quarts of head-room. But keep in mind that most stick blenders are only 8-10 inches deep, so don’t size your pot too deep for it. Prices for stock pots vary widely. Never use an aluminum pot! Caustic eats aluminum, ruining both soap and pot, and releasing hydrogen and carbon monoxide.
- Measuring cup (for mixing lye): 2-cup Pyrex-type for small batches, 4-cup for larger batches. Don’t use just any glass cup—it needs to be able to take temperature shocks. Some modern measuring cups are made of polycarbonate (Lexan™); you can tell because it has a slight lavender color. Don’t use a cheap cup with a lousy spout that dribbles when pouring.
- Utensils: A large stainless spoon and a rubber cake spatula.
- Soap Molds: There are so many molds and mold ideas that it’s impossible to describe them all. Rectangular wooden, plastic, silicone, or stainless boxes are used for making loaves, which are later cut into bars. Wooden molds must be lined with freezer paper to keep soap from sticking. Polyethylene releases easily without lining or greasing. Cavity molds, made of silicone, are available in dozens of simple and fancy designs. Shop carefully and don’t pay over about $8 for a plastic cavity mold. Follow the mold’s directions carefully to keep from damaging it when releasing soaps. Silicone molds are a little more are more expensive (~$15), but they release the soap much easier and thus last longer.
- Stackable wire cooling racks: You’ll need a warm, undisturbed place to store your bars while curing for 2-6 weeks. Wire racks atop the refrigerator should work.
Study carefully before buying, and then shop carefully. Part of the fun of soaping is finding the best deals on supplies.
- Fats and Oils: May be anything from cheap grocery store shortening to exotic imported Emu. Typical animal fats are lard (shortening) and beef tallow; typical vegetable oils are olive, coconut, palm, and castor. Don’t start off with gallon quantities — 16 to 32-ounce bottles of 3-4 popular oils is appropriate for the beginner. Some on-line shops have oil kits and blends for those who can’t decide. I prefer to keep costs under about $6 a pint for oils. And remember, it’s entirely possible to make good soap from grocery store oils. Avoid getting caught up in the “exotic=better” mentality. Remember shelf-life and don’t let fats/oils go rancid. Some require refrigeration. Later, if you go into production, consider bulk purchases with other local soapers and save a bundle.
- Lye: You can get lye on-line for $2-3 a pound; see EssentialDepot.com for lye and potash. Note: Most drain openers are not pure lye—read the label!
- Scents: 100% pure essential oils are all-natural. Fragrance oils are synthetic. Both tend to come in tiny bottles and cost way too much. Shop carefully. Again, WholesaleSuppliesPlus seems to have the best prices, considering their free shipping. Consult on-line recipes and/or soaping books for how much, when to add, and what to expect.
- Other additives: Things like light pine tar (feed store), citronella (4-oz. for $5 on eBay), exfoliants (abrasives), conditioners, herbs, milk (usually goat), honey, salt, etc. Always go on-line and either buy a book or read those soaping sites before using additives—you’ll be glad you did. And remember that all food additives will cause your soap to spoil faster, and all food sugars make carbon monoxide during the reaction.
- Freezer paper and/or plastic cling wrap: For lining and covering molds. Never use aluminum foil!
- Wraps, labels, ribbons, etc. Most homemade soap, made for sale or gifts, is wrapped in simple cling wrap, then labeled with a computer-printed label. Your imagination is the limit. Making and printing a wrap of heavyweight cotton-bond paper is sorta classy, and allows buyers to smell the soap, whereas a clear wrap allows them to see your fancy swirls. In any case, do not wrap soap until it has cured for several weeks.
Now that you’ve bought all that stuff, you may be wondering why you didn’t just buy a case of manufactured soap. Well, I figure it’s like this: you could either eat junk food, or you could make good food. You could either watch TV, or think for yourself. You could either depend on manufacturers, or learn some useful skills. You could buy manufactured gifts, or make homemade gifts. It’s your choice.