Pots and Pans
When buying your soapmaking pots and pans, stainless steel is the way to go. You can find stainless steel pots and pans at extremely reasonable prices at restaurant supply, warehouse, discount, and thrift stores.
Why stainless steel? Because you absolutely must not use nonstick, aluminum, cast iron, or tin. These materials are called reactive because they will react with the soaps, ruining both soap and pan. Do not even try “just to see.” They will react badly, even violently and toxically, with the lye used in the soapmaking process.
What about enameled pans? It's true that many soapmakers use enameled pots with no trouble at all, but you must check them for pits and chips that will expose your soap to the reactive metal underneath.
Now-expert soapmaker Lori Kimball, owner of Irish Hearth Soaps, had hands-on experience with the wrong kind of pot. “I stumbled on a recipe for soapmaking in 1994. It sounded intriguing to me, and I assembled all the ingredients. Well, the directions stated to be careful of lye fumes, but they failed to mention not to use an aluminum pot. My pot happened to be aluminum and after adding the lye solution, black smoke started pouring out of the pot! I thought these must be the lye fumes! An hour later, I had a black ball of soap with a wooden spoon stuck in it and a ruined pot! Somehow, I knew this couldn't be right.”
Stainless steel stock pots are perfect for the 4- and 8-pound cold-process recipes in this book. An 8-quart will hold 4-pound recipes, and a 12-quart stock pot will hold 8-pound recipes, with room to stir. It is helpful if the stock pots have gradient marks that indicate the volume, although it isn't necessary.
Double boilers are also used in many kinds of soapmaking. The basic 2-quart, two-part stainless-steel double boiler is perfect for the soap-casting recipes in this book. You can improvise a double boiler using a saucepan and a stainless steel mixing bowl that rests securely but not tightly on the pan. (Always be sure when using any kind of double boiler not to let it boil dry.)
Along with all the pots and pans, you will need an instant-read thermometer. There are many instances in soapmaking where accurate measure of temperature is essential. Get two, as you may need to measure the temperatures of two containers at the same time.
All the hot-process and hand-milling recipes in this book call for the use of a slow cooker. You'll need a 3½-quart slow cooker with a removable crock portion and heat settings of high and low. Although it would probably be safe, don't use a slow cooker for food once it's been used for soaping.
It is essential in hot-process recipes that the slow cooker be just the right size for the batch you are making. If it's too small or too large, the soap won't process properly. It can overheat, overflow, or otherwise not work. Check the recipe for size requirements.