Friday, September 26, 2014

Newbie equipment: What do you really need?

I'm asked all the time what we need to get started in making our own bath and body products, so I thought I'd write up a list of what I think is essential!

A digital scale. This is the one piece of equipment you can't be without! A good recipe is written in percentages or weight, never in cups or teaspoons. So you'll need a scale to make sure you can follow that recipe exactly. They're not expensive - $40 at a kitchen store or somewhere that carries kitchen supplies, or our suppliers.

Heat proof containers. You'll want to invest in a few Pyrex jugs. You'll want to get a cup size and a two cup size to start, but you can go up from there all the way to the 2 litre size (what's that, half a gallon or something?)

And a way to melt your ingredients. You can use a microwave for things you might not be heating and holding - say, anhydrous or non-water containing products like lotion bars, whipped butters, and balms - but you'll want to get a double boiler for heated and held products like lotions, cleansers, and so on. Some people use crock pots for this purpose, which will also work. I like to use a fondue pot as my double boiler because I can control the temperature a bit easier. Whatever works for you will be great!

Spoons, forks, and other utensils. I can't stress enough how much you want to go to your local dollar store or restaurant supply store and get a whack of spoons and forks for stirring. I buy 25 for $6.00 and leave them in my workshop. Invest in a few spatulae as you'll want to be able to get all that lotion off the walls of your Pyrex jug.

A mixer. It doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to work. And maybe one with a whisk attachment for making emulsified sugar scrubs and whipped butters? You can also use a stick blender.

And if you can get them from your supplier, get some pipettes. They aren't expensive - usually something like 25 cents each - and you will thank me when you stop wasting all the stuff you spill down the side of the containr or bottle!

If you can't get all these lovely things, the main thing you want to spend your money on this week is a good digital scale. You'll wonder how you did without it! I use mine in the kitchen and the workshop!

Any other suggestions for things newbies might want to buy to start on the path to awesome bath & body product making? Please share in the comments! 

Related posts:
The newbie section of the blog
Creating products - equipment (part one)
Creating products - equipment (part two)


Birgit said...

I could not agree more about pipettes. I found a supplier who had 100 for 8 bucks and I love love love them. I store used ones in lab tubes with ingredients' names stuck on sides. I also find that for measuring smaller quantities (eo-s) a jewelry scale is a must. And a whole bunch of heatproof glass bowls in a few sizes, a mold or two, and some kind of containers for your ready products. And stickers to mark -everyhing-.

Elizabeth Aqui-Seto said...

Susan, I recall in one of your older posts, you commented on the Kitchenaid hand mixer, wishing you owned one. I think the cost is around $70 plus in Canada, vs. the cheaper Cuisinart one I have for $25.

Can you tell me the reason you like or know of the Kitchenaid brand? Is it the multiple speeds and interchangeable heads? I find the Cuisinart that I have, even at low speed, still splashes when I start the emulsification process and is not capable of handling very low/slow speeds.


Anonymous said...

Making cosmetics really took off for me during the summer when I found an electronic pocket precision scale. I love my digital kitchen scale too, but it has issues with accuracy when measuring small amounts. It pays to get something which measures in tenths of grams.
Love, Elisabeth

MJ said...

Thank you for helping me the last time I commented. How long can one your recipes for toners with chamomile extract last without preservative.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Birgit! Thanks for the great suggestions!

Hi Elisabeth! I love my tiny scale. I use it for extracts and actives.

Hi Elizabeth! I like Kitchenaid products. I find they seem to last quite a long time and I haven't had one die on me yet. We've had a few Cuisinart products, and they've all been disappointing. The Cuisinart stick blender, chopper, and whisk never worked properly for us, and my old mixer seemed to be kinda gutless. I have tried a few mixers, and right now I have a Hamilton Beach mixer with a whisk that I really like and the Kitchenaid stick blender with whisk and chopped attachment. These are great tools! (Just my personal opinion...)

Hi MJ. Two or three days in the fridge at the most.

Calla Medrano said...

What stick blender do you recommend?


Anonymous said...

First of all, I would recommend getting some little plastic or metal cups/containers for weighing stuff. If you don't get disposable ones, it's nice to have at least half a dozen of them. Since I make lots of 100 gram test batches, I use metal condiment cups that each hold only about 1 fluid oz. Also, in addition to my regular 1 gram kitchen scale, I have a smaller scale that measures to 1/100th of a gram. It's great for measuring extracts, cosmeceuticals, preservatives, etc., or if I want to make a 25 gram batch of something, and end up with odd amounts like 0.25 g. Germaben. I got this little scale at my local smoke shop, and it was only $30(USD).

Hope this helps,

Robert Zonis said...


We're getting this question on Chemist's Corner a lot also, but with a twist, so I'm curious about your take on the matter. What would you recommend for someone who wants to take the next step up beyond beginning equipment, but on a budget? Or another way to put this - at what point should folks start looking at professional-level lab equipment, rather than re-purposing food equipment? As a lab chemist, I know I'm biased towards lab-specific equipment - but I also know how expensive it is. What's your take?

Bob Zonis
Sr. Formulating Chemist
Beaumont Products, Inc.

Riley said...

Do you have a brand recommendation for the scale? My Escali scales never seem to last very long and I'm not sure why

Rachel said...

Do you have a preferred brand of scale? My escali hasn't seemed to last very long, I've replaced it twice

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Rachel & Riley. I do like my Escali scale. I've owned three in my time. I still have two of them. The first one died after something spilled in the workshop and got into the battery case. I have tried other ones, but I keep coming back to those. I'm sorry you haven't had success with them!

Stacy said...

One of the things I love is mason jars (the 500ml size). I can use them for very small test batch for heat & hold, and their size is perfect for stick blending even with a minimal batch size.

Just make sure you use some sort of rack in your pot. Mason jars directly on the bottom of the pot will crack.

Nerium said...

Hi Susan, I have been a long time reader and finally took the plunge and made my first solid shampoo and conditioner today using your recipes and tutorials for guidance. Thank you so much for sharing all of this excellent information. Unfortunately, it's not feasible for me to have a separate workshop, so I did it in my kitchen using my regular kitchen utensils and dishes. Do you think it's necessary to keep a separate set of equipment for making cosmetics? I don't see a problem as long as things are well washed afterwards, but would love to hear what you think.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Nerium! Great question! The short answer is that no, some things don't need to be exclusively for products. The long answer is Monday, November 14th's Weekday Wonderings! Thanks for the great question!

Natalie Maltais said...

Hi Susan and other readers! I just wanted to add that thrift stores can also be a great source of cheap equipment. I started off buying things new until I visited a local thrift store and saw just how many things I could get for a tenth of the price as new. I have 4 stick blenders that I paid less than $10 total for (because you never know when you might need that 4th stick blender, lol). It's hit and miss, but often small, local stores are willing to set stuff aside for you if it comes in as well. Also, my current favourite mixing bowls are cheap plastic ones from dollarama - they have 4 semi-square corners which are great for pouring, and the plastic is thin enough to bend to making pouring even easier! I didn't think they would stand up to the harshness of cold process soap making, but they do so very well.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Great suggestions, Natalie! I love thrift and dollar stores!

Chinny said...

Hi Susan, thanks for all your work. What are the cup-like things in the second picture? I guess they are heat proof.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Chinny! Thanks for your kind words. They are tri-corner beakers from Lotioncrafter. They are heat proof and awesome! You'll see more about this in a post you'll find here on Friday, October 6th, 2017.