Electric beaters

This is the sort of electric beaters you’d use in your kitchen for creaming butter and making frosting. In DIYing we’ll use it to make whipped body butters and scrubs. The purpose of this tool is to whip air into our formulations; it is not interchangeable with an immersion blender, which is designed to purée.

I recommend a hand-held unit rather than a stand mixer when you’re getting started so you can easily make small batches. I mostly use just one beater at a time to whip up 20–50g batches in small mixing bowls.

I find the stiffer cage-style beater attachments to be far more useful than whisk attachments as the whisks are usually a bit too squishy/flexible to tackle firmer mixtures.

If you don’t yet have a DIY-only set you can use your kitchen set for DIYing, but avoid using your kitchen beaters with essential oils or fragrance oils. If you love making whippy things it’s definitely a good idea to get a DIY-specific set; my electric beaters are from a thrift shop.

If you have a very strong arm, a sturdy whisk, and are very determined, you might be able to get away without electric beaters and just hand whip everything… but that’s definitely not me.

 

Small mixing bowls

If you’re a lover of whipped body butters, I highly recommend picking up some small, deep bowls (rather than wide, shallow bowls) that hold roughly 1–2 cups (250–500mL). These are brilliant for making 20–50g batches of whipped body butters (using one beater with your electric mixer), which is a great size for formulation development and personal use.

These differ from glass prep cups in two big ways. The first is they’re larger, and second is the shape matters a lot more. A glass prep cup can be wide and shallow as you aren’t going to be whipping and stirring in it, so you don’t need high sides to reduce splatter. You can use a small mixing bowl as a prep cup, but I wouldn’t use a prep cup as a mixing bowl for whipped body butters (though they are great for small formulations that require less vigorous mixing; I use them all the time for making lipstick).

The stainless steel set I have are Kirkland brand; I purchased them several years ago at a thrift store. They’re about 10cm (4″) across on the inside and 5.5cm (2.2″) deep. These bowls (USA / Canada) look identical to me.

I recommend stainless steel or heat resistant glass as they’re durable, won’t absorb essential/fragrance oils, and can be heated so you can melt your ingredients right in them if the formulation calls for it.

Immersion blender

An immersion blender is an essential bit of formulating equipment; it’s the high-shear mixer of choice for home makers. Immersion blenders blend without whipping lots of air into our products; it’s a purée action, not a whipping action.

I do not recommend the sort of thing you’d use to whip up whipping cream or cream together butter and sugar for making cookies instead of an immersion blender. Mixers like that are designed to incorporate lots of air into a mixture, and that’s not the aim if a formulation calls for an immersion blender. Using a whipping device rather than a blending device can create a product that will collapse as it ages (it can also make a splattery mess).

What to look for

I recommend choosing an immersion blender with a smaller head as this enables you to make smaller batches. The ability to make smaller batches is a major bonus when you’re trying lots of new formulations—it’ll save you money on ingredients and helps you feel more confident trying new things as the potential ingredient waste is lower. A wider “business end” of the blender requires a larger beaker/measuring cup (so it’ll fit), and that then requires larger batches in order for the blades to be submerged in the product.

It’s nice if the blender is on the lighter side and will stand up on its own.

Clean up is easier if the blade part detaches easily from the motor part.

My blenders

My go-to blender for years has been the Braun one seen in the above photo. I picked it up for about $5 at a thrift shop in 2010 and it’s been great, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to source that exact model. The head of this blender is 6.6cm across, and it tends to fit in 400mL (and up) beakers. This blender works for batch sizes 100g and up; I’ve made up to 1kg of lotion and ~2kg of soap with it with no isssues.

I have a Dynamic MiniPro with both the regular immersion blender head and the homogenizer head. I don’t recommend it. It’s very heavy, cost hundreds of dollars (most of the cost was the homogenizer attachment), and I rarely use it.

As of December 2022 I also have a Bamix immersion blender, and I love it! The best part about it is the size of the blender head (5.6cm across); it’s small enough to fit in a 250mL beaker, so I can make smaller batches (down to ~50g [1.76oz]). Hooray!

The downside of a Bamix blender is the price; they’re 2–4x as much as a KitchenAid or Braun mixer. As of 2024 you’re looking at $129USD for their entry level model/set, which doesn’t include the “whisk” blade (the round disc with the little scoopy perforations seen in the photos above) I use for making emulsions. The set with three different blades, a stand, a beaker, and the chopper is $189USD.

You won’t need the beaker or the chopper/processor that comes with some sets for making emulsions (though it is useful for other formulating tasks!), but it is helpful to have the three different blades and the stand.

Bamix has been around since 1953; they invented the stick blender! I picked my first Bamix up at a thrift shop; it looks to be the “SWISSLINE” model from the 1980s. In the spring of 2024 I ordered a second, new one from HomeTech Small Appliances out of Regina, Canada; it arrived quickly and is just as great as the older thrift shop one. They also pop up occasionally on local second hand sites like Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace, so consider setting up alerts on such websites if you’re looking for one on a budget. You can also find Bamix blenders on Ebay for a variety of cheaper-than-new prices. The design of the blender head does not appear to have changed, though some of the older models don’t seem to have two different blending speeds as newer models do.

I don’t recommend a Bamix for making soap; I learned the hard way that the shiny finish on the blender head is damaged by exposure to high pH (~10) 🥲

Learn more about equipment for formulating:

Syringe

Syringes (without the needle!) are really useful for filling tubes and other types of packaging with small openings. I use them mostly for getting lotions into soft squeeze tubes. They “steer” a lot more easily than piping bags, and you have a lot more control than you do when using a funnel.

I recommend purchasing something that’s about the same size as the containers you’ll be filling. I usually make 100g (3.5oz) batches of lotions, so it would be nice if my syringe would easily hold the entire batch. The ones I have at the moment don’t, and that’s a bit of a pain.

You can find syringes like this under the name “catheter syringe” on Amazon. Another possible option is a “meat injector syringe“, though you’ll want a fairly wide injector bit as our lotions are a lot thicker than meat juices.

If you’re finding the plunger starts to be hard to push down as the syringe ages, try swapping out the rubber gasket (or the entire plunger). I’ve found they tend to deform and swell after multiple washes.

Check out these videos to see a syringe in use for tips & tricks:

 

Watch glass

Watch glass are round, concave pieces of glass. They’re available in a variety of sizes. Mine were purchased from Grainger Canada.

In the photo for this entry you can see a 10cm watch glass functioning as a lid for a small beaker.

I get a lot of questions about these, but honestly, I don’t think they’re very useful for most formulators. I mostly use them as a convenient flat-ish surface for displaying ingredients in video b-roll. If you do not make videos and find yourself slowly rotating a small plate of shea butter/clay/etc. in front of a camera on a regular basis, don’t waste your money. Glass Prep Cups are much more useful as they’ll hold both liquids and solids. You can use tin foil or other flat, solid things as beaker lids.

Hot Plate

As of early 2022 I’ve added a hot plate to my equipment lineup. The model I have is a Corning PC-35; I purchased it used for $50CAD. My decision making process was basically “I’ve been looking for a hot plate; this one is available on Kijiji for a reasonable price and the online reviews aren’t awful”. If you’re wondering why I didn’t buy a different one, it’s because it wasn’t available locally for $50 🤷🏻‍♀️

It can heat from 0–510°C (🔥), which is far hotter than I can imagine needing. If I set it to just a few notches about “low” it heats to about 60–70°C, which is perfect for making emulsions without needing a water bath. I use my hot plate all the time, for all kinds of formulations. I do wish it was a bit bigger, but at the same time I’m glad it doesn’t take up too much space while I’m working, or while it’s in storage. I definitely recommend keeping an eye out on second-hand listings to see you if you can pick up something similar.