I’m often asked about what equipment type things are needed for DIYing. Most of it is fairly readily available kitchen gear that you’ll already have, thankfully, but over the years I’ve definitely found there are some things I use more than others. I’m also a bit picky about some things (like spatulas), as some are infinitely better than others. Here’s my list of stuff I use all the time when making my assorted concoctions, and why I love these things—hopefully you’ll find it helpful, whether you’re new to DIYing or have been at it for years!
Seriously, these things are incredible. I must have at least twenty. I have tried other icing spatulas, and Norpro’s are the best. They’re significantly more dexterous and flexible than most spatulas, and the edge is very fine. This means they’re brilliant for scraping the last little bits of anything out of a container (which really cuts down on clean up time), and they’re great for mashing pigments into lipsticks. They’re small enough that they do really well with small batches of things, which is usually what I’m making, so I really appreciate that. These are my go-to spatulas, and I can’t recommend them enough (especially if you make cosmetics! I used these so much while developing the recipes for my book).
These are another thing of which I have many… well over fifty. That’s a bit excessive unless you’re doing recipe development (basically all the recipes in my book were made in a prep bowl or transferred to one at some point), but they are incredibly useful. Use them in soap making to measure out your additives before starting so they’re ready to go when you need them. Set them in a shallow pan of barely simmering water to create a quick water bath and melt up a micro batch of lip balm. They’re also useful in the kitchen, and since they’re glass you can easily get them properly clean again to use with food. Look for glass bowls that are about 125mL/half cup in size.
Indispensable in soap making, an immersion blender is also great for thoroughly mixing lotions (and extra useful in helping lotions made with Polawax and Emulsifying Wax NF thicken up quickly). My Braun one is still going strong after 5+ years, even after I got it second hand. I did purchase a second immersion blender when I got started as it seemed icky to use my soap one in soups, but honestly… I wouldn’t do that again. It’s fine, just wash it well. You’d be washing it with soap between soups anyways!
They are adorable, but wonderfully useful for small batches of lotion and lip gloss. I love that they’re small enough to not devour an entire recipe and hide it in their wirey clutches, leaving me whacking my whisk against my dish in futile attempts to dislodge whatever it is I’m trying to make from inside the little whisky cage. I constantly wish I had more of them (fortunately they’re inexpensive!).
This OXO whisk is something I’m a bit particular about (when I lost my first one I carefully sourced out the exact same one on Amazon). I love the size and the way it feels in my hand. It’s great for mixing up lotions and potions, and it’s also the perfect scrambled eggs whisk.
These little spoons are a novelty if you’re a cook, but essential if you want to make anything where finely tuned pigmentation is important (mostly makeup). They’re also super useful for measuring out small amounts of potent and/or expensive additives, especially when you’re working in small batches. The set I have in particular has four spoons: 1 dash (1/8 tsp), 1 pinch (1/16 tsp), 1 smidgen (1/32 tsp), and 1 nip (1/64 tsp). The cute names are obviously not regulated terms, so a “dash” in one set may not equal a “dash” in the other, and some set also include “sprinkles”, “tads”, and “drops”. I like the set I have as it’s a very convenient extension of the standard 1 tsp/ ½ tsp/ ¼ tsp set, and I used it in nearly every single recipe in my book. Highly recommended!
Nothing too exciting here, you don’t need a new set—your kitchen ones will work beautifully. I find I like metal ones best as they feel less clunky than plastic ones, but that might just be me.
I got a used Krups coffee grinder off Kijiji about four years ago, and that thing is a tank. It also gets a TON of use. Anything powdered will usually take a whirl through the coffee grinder, from face masks to blushes to pigment blends to be added to lipsticks. My DIY coffee grinder is one thing I definitely don’t flip from food to DIY and back again; it’s full of wee crevices that don’t clean out well, and at any rate, I don’t drink coffee. If you’re working with a coffee grinder, though, you’ll need a…
Working with flying fine powders in your coffee grinder? Blush, mineral makeup, eye shadow, face masks, whatever—you need a dust mask. Inhaling fine powders is not good for you, especially with long term exposure, so “splurge” and get yourself a semi decent one that will last and do the job right. Think of it as a helmet or a sunscreen for your lungs!
I collect these bad boys at rummage sales and use them in the vast majority of projects; especially lotions, lip balms, body butters, and salves. My collection is mostly 1-cup and 2-cup sizes, though I’ve got a 4-cup as well, and an 8-cup is basically a glorified mixing bowl that would be awesome for soap making. I mostly use them as double boilers, weighing ingredients into them and placing them into a shallow saucepan of barely simmering water. I’ve never bothered with a double boiler ring-maker-thing and it’s always been fine (knock on wood).
The pouring spout and handle make them much nicer to handle than a bowl, especially when hot (oven mitts deal with handles much better than smooth surfaces). The pouring spout is also lovely for decanting whatever you’ve made into its container (especially lip balm!).
And, since they’re glass, you can also use them with food after a good cleaning.
Another must-have for DIYing that’s also useful for baking! I’ve written out a handy FAQ article on what you should consider when buying a scale, depending on what you plan on doing—check it out here.
I discovered Axion in Costa Rica, and it’s incredible. I brought over a kilo of it back to Canada with me, and was beyond thrilled to find it stocked at my local Latin American market. It’s a super-concentrated dish washing detergent in abrasive paste form, and it is incredible at tackling greasy messes; it puts liquid dish washing detergent to shame. Is it all natural? Definitely not—it’s surfactant powered. Tackling greasy messes is what surfactants were made for, though; this stuff isn’t supposed to be body wash!
If you ever measure things in drops or just like to make small batches of things, a bag of disposable pipettes (5mL–7.5mL volume ones are most useful in my experience) are indispensable. I like to fasten one to the side of a bottle of oil/alcohol/hydrosol/etc. using a rubber band, and label the pipette with a fine-tipped permanent market. That way, whenever I need a few drops or an otherwise small amount of an ingredient I can measure it out easily without worrying about an “oops” that instantly triples the amount of oil/hydrosol/etc. I intended to include in a recipe.
Hot Gloves (instead of hot mitts)
I got a pair of hot gloves a couple years ago, and my hot mitts have languished in the back of the oven mitt drawer ever since. I love the dexterity of the gloves (brilliant when handling hot little prep bowls) and the grippy bits of silicone. Like all fabric they will absolutely transmit wet heat, though, so don’t dip them in simmering water baths or hold them over steaming pans too long.
I found a set of three nesting mini metal funnels at Value Village years ago, and they’ve been infinitely useful. The small one is small enough to fill wee 5mL bottles, and all three see lots of use transferring serums, bath oils, essential oils, and perfumes into new containers. I’ve also got a larger funnel I use to get lotions into bottles (I have no idea how I’d do it otherwise). All of ’em are also great in the kitchen for refilling spice bottles and whatnot.
The brown round Kraft Labels I use on my projects aren’t really equipment, per se, but I do get a lot of questions about them. I’ll use the round labels for bigger projects (using a compass and scissors to shrink the circles as necessary), and then I use the strips between the labels to create labels for smaller things like lip balms.
If you’re formulating with ingredients that have a required pH range to function, a pH meter is a good investment. I have one from Apera, model # AI311 (USA / Canada). I don’t have experience with any other pH meters, but this one has been easy to calibrate and use and has performed well since I purchased it in 2017 (I’m writing this in early 2020). When purchasing a pH meter make sure it comes with an ample supply of the storage solution as I’ve found that tends to get used up fairly quickly compared to the other liquids in the kit (you can always buy more separately, but it’s nice to put that off for a while if you can!).
Updated January 23, 2020