Soapmaking Troubleshooting

Everything on this page is based on comments I made elsewhere, and the research surrounding that.

I have no posts there, so nothing to copy from there. You should still check it out. Mrs. Miller has some great, concise information.

January 28th, 2013 at 3:51 pm
I recently mismeasured the other direction (lye heavy), and decided to rebatch with extra oil. That worked, but I mistakenly added extra water, and now it’s more like pump soap, even after extensive drying. So much EO, that I’ll probably actually put it into pump bottles instead of trashing it.

January 29th, 2013 at 12:31 am
My soft soap was KOH, and my crumbly soap was NaOH.
The hard soap fixed up fine, but I thought “Oh, mixing these will harden up the KOH soap!” HAH.

I spread a half inch in a jelly-roll pan and baked it at 170 for 4 hours. It volcanoed when I wasn’t looking. WHEE! Now, the soap is just foamy and creamy, with some… well, not wet, but definitely not hard spots.

I put it into a deep freezer, and even at zero F, it was like soft butter.

It smells great, lathers great, and is a beautiful, creamy-orange color (paprika, turmeric, zinc oxide, sweet orange, tea tree, almond meal).

I might also try using a small amount as a thin swirl in a full sized batch, but i think that might just make the bar split along the swirls.

Other experiments include salt, and candellila wax, but I’m 99% sure it will just end up in a non-foaming pump.

January 29th, 2013 at 2:07 pm
Science! I looked up everything I could find for hardening soap.
* I had no sodium lactate, nor lactic acid, but this looks like as much a Sodium donor as anything else.
* Ethanol had no real effect other than making the soap translucent
* Sugar had a very minor hardening effect.
* Salt was awesome. Add in salt, mix, cook 30 mins, mix again, and it hardens up pretty substantially. Like you said, replacing the Kalium with Natrium.

Unfortunately, I ran out of salt. I have 6.48 mols of potassium, and about 2.5 mols of sodium in there including salt.

The test blob hardened up TOO much, so I’ll want to be a little under stoichiometric conversion to keep it from being too hard to mold. Still, time to hit up the store.

I’m wondering what the KCl in there will do to the lather, or if it will even be noticeable with the carbonate in there too.

Amanda has lots of awesome information here, plus really good photos. She has a lot of information that is not copied here, because I’m only copying questions that I replied to, and my replies.

Steph on December 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm said:
I tried the column swirl technique, and realized afterwords that my wood column was pressure treated. I have not cut the soap yet, but so far it looks great and appears to have gone through gel phase.. However, I noticed tiny amber, glittery-like beads on the surface and wiped them off. Was this chemical from the pressure treated wood or excess essential oil? Will my soap be safe to use?

Josh Davis on January 30, 2013 at 6:34 pm said:
The chemicals in pressure treated lumber are arsenic salts, chromium salts, and copper salts. The copper isn’t a big deal for humans, and chromium depends on exposure. Arsenic is absorbed readily into your cells and interrupts normal energy production, hormone processes, and can lead to both programmed cell death and cancer. Long term, low exposure leads to low energy levels, and a massive increase in cancer risks (still small, but very measurable).

If you didn’t use a liner, then you definitely absorbed the chemicals into your soap. It’s safest to throw out the soap, but if you wanted to keep it, you’d have to keep it only for yourself. It would be illegal to sell it.

If you did use a liner, but the lumber was fresh and cool/damp to the touch, then it’s possible the outer layer of your soap may have traces of the chemicals. Mostly, it would be smell, since the primary chemicals for PT lumber are salts that don’t evaporate.

If you had good liners, and the pressure treated wood was dry (at least a couple of months old, not brand new from the hardware store), then it’s all good. Just remember to wash your hands after handling the mold, and don’t use soap scraped off of the edges of the mold.

As to the amber beads on the surface, 99% chance that those were bits of oil weeping out of pores in the soap. Amanda’s reference up top about this holds true so long as the mold has liners, or has been sealed (polyurethane thinned with acetone, 3 coats) to prevent the PT chemicals from entering the soap.

Jackie on February 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm said:
I was given a bunch of lye from a woman who used to make soap. One of the containers was full of lye but it was hard. I broke it up and used it in 2 batches on Saturday. It’s now Monday and my soap is really, really soft and has pooled some oil on top. Is there anything I can do to save it or is my lye completely off, due to moisture and I should just throw it away?

Josh Davis on February 4, 2013 at 1:20 pm said:
(Sorry Amanda, I love answering technical questions, and your blog is too awesome to not listen in to!)

Jackie, unless you want to spend 4 hours playing at the stove, then it’s probably better to ditch the lye and the batch, and start over with dry lye.

The problem is that it’s really hard to tell exactly how much water the lye has taken on. There’s not a formal measure of how much water tha lye will pull from air, and at what humidities.

Technically, you salvage the lye by baking it to dry it out. That’s dealing with lots of lye, in the open. Hazards galore, but it’s doable. Some people do this with liquid lye to get standardized amounts (back to crystals). Just note that if you dispose of the lye, you cannot just throw it in the trash. It’s still hazardous. Either massively dilute, neutralize, or contact your city waste disposal for help. OR, you could save it for cleaning drains. :)

If you’re really adventurous, you could titrate the soap to a proper pH. This would require heating up the soap in the cauldron, which I find takes about 30 minutes in a double boiler for a 5-6 pound batch. Once it’s liquidy and well mixed, dip out just a tiny bit of the soap, and mix it with water. Use the plastic pH strips (not paper). I got a pack of 100 from Amazon for $16. The brand that works and is available Prime is “ColorpHast”.

Oils, if they showed up on their own, would have a pH around 6. Lye is 14. Your target is usually 10, or a little under. If you got to a pH of 8, then you might add 50% more of the humid lye, in 1.5x as much water. Mix well, let it cook for about 30 minutes, and re-test.

If it turns to soap, then you’re probably pretty close. If it stays liquidy, you still have a way to go. If it turns crumbly, then you went too far (pH 11.5 or higher). Expect sore shoulder muscles. Once you reach 9.5 or a little higher, call it quits and pack it into molds. It’s easier to add a little lye water, but once it hardens, adding more oil is harder work. It probably will react a little more, but it’s better to be a little superfatted than superlyed.

Keep track of the total amount you had to add. If your recipe said use 200 grams, and you had to add another 100 grams, then you’ll know your conversion factor for THIS chunk of lye is 150%. Also, once it’s cooled in the molds, re-test the pH. You can use that to adjust a little more. If you leveled out at pH 9.75, you’ll know that you’re still 10-15% superfatted. You wouldn’t want to superfat on top of that, or use oils that go rancid too easily.

Also, this would be rebatched, hot process soap. Expect it to be lumpy and annoying in the pot, and to be pretty hard to stir once it is done saponifying. If it gets a little warm during the reaction, it will try to foam out of the pot. The mold may take a while to cool, and hardness will depend on residual water. If you’re at 15%, it will be pretty hard once it’s cool. If you’re at 25%, it will be fairly soft, but you could unmold it once it’s cool so it will dry faster.

Also, this all assumes you’re working with actual lye, as in Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) granules. If you’re dealing with potash, or Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) flakes, then your soap will never fully harden. If you did KOH, then you’d have to add in almost an equal amount of salt to convert it to sodium soap and be hard enough to cut into bars.

Elizabeth on February 6, 2013 at 12:52 am said:
Hi! I am new cold process soapmaker. I am trying to learn how to make swirls in my soaps, but for some reason I can’t. I have some questions about this situation. It is a fact that if the mixture reaches a heavy trace, I can’t make swirls easily. What do you suggest me? Light trace? How much time do I have to wait for unmold if my soap was in light trace? Also, I use oxide pigments but sometimes leave flecks of unincorporated color, but I don’t want to stir so much because I don’t want a heavy trace. What is a good way to mix the colors without obtaining a heavy trace? What colors are better for cold process? Are silicone molds good for cold process?

Thank you so much, and sorry for asking so many questions, I’m a beginner ^.^

Josh Davis on February 6, 2013 at 3:46 am said:
Heavy trace gets really close to being clumpy. Swirls are more of a light to medium trace. Keeping your temps down can help give you enough time to work with your emulsion. A little more water, or a higher olive oil percentage (not pomace) will also give you more time. Starting with your additions at just the hint of trace can help too, as long as you’re far enough along to not separate.

One thing some people do is, while well mixed, but not quite tracing, you can dip out some and add pigment to that separately. Then re-add that at the appropriate time.

Alternatively, you can mix your pigment with essential oils, glycerine, or superfat oils, and swirl those in. This is pretty common, along the lines of a teaspoon of pigment for ounce or two of liquid. If it’s not hot, you could mix this in a plastic bag and use your fingers to squish any unmixed pockets. You could then cut off the tip of the bag and drizzle it onto your soap if you wanted to play with lines.

If your swirls are too thick, and your emulsion separates, and your color base is NOT raw soap emulsion, then the color areas might not fully turn to soap. If you reach gel phase, they should bleed a little and be just fine regardless.

Gel phase just means the soap heats up enough to soften internally, and it reacts more quickly. It may bleed little bit, but there are plenty of CPOP soapers out there with really crisp, fine, beautiful swirls, and the OP guarantees a gel phase. The key is to make sure your soap doesn’t separate (pour at false trace), or volcano (over heat in the mold), which would really be no fun.

Tracey Jennings on February 11, 2013 at 7:45 am said:
Hi. I cannot understand why my soap is cracking badly on top. It is very cold here at the moment in UK ( about 4degree) I am making soap into 3kg wooden log moulds. I do not put my heating on in the house whilst soapmaking to keep the temperature down but I am still getting very big cracks across the top of the soap. I use coconut oil, Palm oil and olive oil in my soaps and the last 3 batches have cracked and look terrible. I peak the soaps on the top so cannot cut the top off. I cover the moulds with cling film lightly but do not cover in towels etc. Please help!! :(

Josh Davis on February 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm said:
Cracking is shrinkage without elasticity. If the surface cools and dries more rapidly than the core, then the surface hardens. As the core shrinks, the center dips, and splits.

If you ensure it’s cooler before moulding, that can help tremendously. It’s the change in temperature, not the absolute temperature, that really does the damage.

As Amanda says, hot core temps can be from milk (additional additives). Also, if you pour early, with a high concentration lye, you might get an early trace, but still have tons of reaction left.

This can also happen if incomplete soap is poured at high enough temperature that it foams slightly (~90C). The top will skin over, and then when it finishes, it will cool, shrink, and split the top.

If the soap stays warm, it can be soft enough to stretch rather than crack. This could be an issue if you’re avoiding gel. It also can lead to surface drying, which can still crack.

If the soap starts life with too much water, then it can crack during cure, even if temperature is well regulated. (Think of clay mud in arid places – always lined with huge cracks.)

If you have good mould release, then the top of the soap can pull away from the sides rather than cracking, but you might have a tapered loaf from this.

You could use full contact plastic or parchment to help this some, but you couldn’t have a peaked surface. Also, after unmoulding, it could still crack while drying. Cutting it into bars as soon as possible could help with that.

Alternatively, you could use a vertical mould. I do this with HP soaps, and actually mound the soap above the top of the mould at 80C. By the time it’s down to 40C, it has shrunken to be flush with the top. A 3-4″ exposed surface isn’t enough for the soap to crack during cooling.

Bill Baldwin on February 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm said:
Using Goat Milk Powder to the Oil before the Lye and Carrot Powder in the Oils also. Just Carrot juice with my lye and Ice water. Mixing around 100 on the Carrot Juice.

Josh Davis on February 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm said:
Any additive could be leeching colors into the soap, so experimenting with micro batches might be helpful to isolate the problem.

Carrots turn dark when they oxidize. If the pulp wasn’t strained with filter paper, then little fragments could be turning dark, and leaking into little smudges in the soap.

Some EOs turn dark, and if they’re not fully mixed, or are soaked into organics, then they can leech into the soap later.

If the milk isn’t caramelized when you add it to the oil, then maybe it’s heating up in the pot (streaks inside and out) or after pouring (splotches inside and out). Digital thermometers are really helpful, but will only give you temperature averages – not hot-spots temperatures.

If there’s high superfat (over 5% or so), then it could be rancidity (oxidized substances in the oil). Using oils with more Vitamin E like cottonseed can help, as could food-grade additives like sodium benzoate.

Lastly, if the soap has lots of wet organics, then it could be bacterial. This would be mostly on any exposed surfaces, and not inside until after it’s cut and rested. This would be the case if you scooped out all of the little spots into a plastic bag, and the spots all smelled very different from the rest of the soap.

Amber on February 20, 2013 at 10:00 am said:
the cold processed soap traced very fast and was problematic to mold. Apparently turned out be be hollow and bad shaped :(
Can that be hot processed at this stage in the crockpot?


Josh Davis on April 8, 2013 at 11:49 am said:
Almost any soap can be re-batched. Melt it down in a double boiler. Once it’s been fully melted (slimy, not purely liquid) for about 30 minutes, spoon out a tiny bit and test it with plastic pH strips. If the pH is good, then you can just re-mold it. If the pH is off, then you’ll need to adjust your formula.

Teri Jedeikin on March 1, 2013 at 9:15 am said:
My last 3 batches have been crumbly when I cut my loaves. They are firm on the outside and come out well when in individual small molds. I have been using cocoa butter. Does that impact the soap. In the summer I used almost the same recipe (the same quantity of lye) and it was much easier to cut. Does cold temperature make soap more crumbly or should I try less lye and no cocoa butter?

Thanks Teri

Josh Davis on March 1, 2013 at 5:37 pm said:
The amount of cocoa butter shouldn’t really matter. You can make a 100% cocoa butter bar and it will be fine.

The number one cause of crumbly soap is too much caustic. If it were mis-measured, or the wrong value pulled from a list, or if the cocoa butter were cut with some other, lower-SAP oils.

If this only happened in the core, and the outside is normal, then this could be some form of separation.

Have you tested pH of both parts? The plastic test strips are something like $16 for 100 from Amazon Prime. I would expect the inside to be over pH 11.5, and the outside to be under pH 10.

Tarynn on March 6, 2013 at 10:19 am said:
I was wondering if there is any drawback to making soap in the cold. I work in my new studio in the basement, and its cold. I dont mind, it cools the lye and oils fast but it does take an extra day or two for the soap to be able to be unmolded and cut. I havent had any issues so far, just wondering if I am slowing the process of curing or anything. Thanks!! :)

Josh Davis on March 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm said:

Mostly that’s it… Basic chemistry
* If it’s hot, and mixed, then it reacts more quickly.
* If it’s cold, solidified, and not mixed, then it occurs more slowly.

Considering there are poured chunks of concrete 100 years old that still have unreacted concreat in the middle, the same thing CAN happen to soap.

I’m sure there’s a way to calculate this, but I’ve not seen an easy way.

If your soap gels completely, then it’s done reacting for certain. Cure time would just be as long as you like for it to dry out sufficiently.

If your soap pours cold, stays cold, and never gels, then you might have to test the pH to see for certain if it’s 100% reacted.

shiloh on March 7, 2013 at 6:25 am said:

notes on medicated soap production

Josh Davis on March 8, 2013 at 5:27 pm said:
Soaps containing medications or drugs of any sort would be regulated by the FDA. Packaging requirements are much higher, in that they must list lot numbers, drug facts, and detailed ingredients, among other things.

Beyond that, “medicated” is pretty vague, and would be a big topic. That topic would not belong under “Troubleshooting”, but I’m not sure that Amanda would really want to get into the liabilities of that.

Just consider that:
* Not all substances absorb through the skin.
* Not all substances would survive being exposed to NaOH or heat.
* You will need to pick a plan, and research it heavily.

Nancy Kegley on March 8, 2013 at 11:49 am said:
When making goats milk soap I use a soap calculator that accounts for goats milk/lye mixture vs. a water/lye mixture.
My concern is that I like to strain the goats milk/lye solution to remove the sugars that contribute to the discoloration of goats milk soap if left in the mix.. Does doing this cause the initial calculations to be incorrect for the batch? If so, what should I be doing to fix the problem? Thank you.

Josh Davis on March 8, 2013 at 5:29 pm said:
The caramel solids from saponification heat will already be partially reacted. It shouldn’t greatly affect your calculations. Just know that anything which reacts with the lye prior to adding the oils will cause you to be at a lye discount. As long as you are happy with the soap if you leave the sugars in, then it should be about the same with the solids removed. The exception would be lather, which is sometimes affected (improved?) by having sugar in the soap.

Jack Hernandez on March 12, 2013 at 9:07 pm said:
if the lye was a bit messed up and its not tracing can’t I just put in a bit more untill it starts to work? is it not possible to mix and add as you go along? do it by eye so to speak, and what happens if you use too much lye? is it not safer to use less?
Reply ↓

Josh Davis on April 8, 2013 at 11:55 am said:
You could, but using trace as your deciding factor is probably not good. You could titrate using a pH indicator, which is what the big labs do. It takes longer though. You have to add, mix, wait. Doing this, you’d only want to do it hot process, and always add your lye as a liquid — never crystals directly in the soap.

If you have too little lye, but the soap sets up, then your shelf life could be limited. Unreacted oils, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids, will go rancid from oxygen and bacteria. This will be mostly on the surface of the soap. Vitamin E can help, as can some food-grade preservatives.

If you have too much lye, then the soap will deposit that lye on your skin. It will turn your skin oils into soap, including some of your skin cells. This can lead to dry skin, red rashes, or in extreme cases, chemical burns.

This is why many people will give up on a “bad batch” of soap; however, if you use plastic pH strips, and fully react and mix your soap after every addition, you CAN safely salvage it. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time doing so.

Kathy on March 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm said:
I have only made 2 batches of Cold process soap I used a beginners kit and followed the step by step instructions.

My soap mix great it was just as it was supposed to be but after I added the Color FO it lumped up a bit I had marble size lumps in my soap I mixed it as best I could and got all but 2 or 3 lumps out I went ahead and molded the soap let it sit undisturbed and wrapped in a towel for close to 48 hours.

When I cut it into slices everything looked fine I only ended up with 2 bars that had a light spot where one of the lumps apparently was it is maybe a 1/4″ dia. spot.

My question is since the soap came out bright pink and looked fine other than the one light spot is it ok to use I was told by another NEW soaper that was a lye spot and what is called “lye heavy” soap but I have researched a bunch and it looks nothing like the lye heavy pics alot of soapers have posted.

Another thing I was wondering someone said to use PH strips to check the PH levels but failed to explain how exactly to do that I ordered some strips but they do me no good if Im not sure how to use them?

Josh Davis on March 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm said:
Lye heavy areas will be crusty and crumbly rather than waxy.

The pH strips should have instructions on the case, but here’s the general instructions.

Scrape some of the suspect area, small particles, into a small dish. You only need as much as you can dissolve in water within about 30 seconds. The water should be filtered at least. If you have really hard water, then distilled water is better.

The slurry should be cloudy but not opaque. Take the color side of the pH strip and swish it through the soapy water for about 10 seconds. It should soak the little papery bits that are glued onto the plastic test strip.

Hold the pH strip up to the calibration chart that came with them. Find which color selections look closest to what your strip shows. It’s not exact, but you should be able to measure within 0.5 or better, depending on your eyesight and color perception.

NOTE1: If you have any color vision deficiencies, then you should get someone to double-check your read of the strips.

NOTE2: Never re-use test strips. They are one-use. Their color will also change as they dry out, so they’re not long-term reference. You can take a picture of one, but make sure to include the color calibration chart in the same picture, since camera pictures can vary.

NOTE3: If you got paper test strips, those sometimes don’t read soapy water very well. Test a couple of different soaps, home and store made.

Comparisons should be:
* Dove 7.0
* Lever 2000 9.0
* Camay 9.5
* Dial 9.5
* Irish Spring 9.5
* Ivory 9.5
* Palmolive 10.0
* Zest 10.0

If all of what you test reads almost exactly the same, then your test strips are the wrong ones. ColorpHast brand are good, as are Macherey-Nagel. Both can get you within 0.25 of what a calibrated, digital meter. Vivid and Spectral read substantially lower than lab-grade equipment, and should be avoided for soap testing. (ColorpHast cost me just over $16 for a box of 100 including shipping from Amazon.)

Lavena on March 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm said:
Hi, I have a huge problem with my soap. I made goats milk honey oatmeal soap using coconut and olive oil. I ground my raw oatmeal to semi-fine (about a like wet coffee grounds) before adding it. At first the soap cooled off too much and would not make trace, so I had to reheat and then it did fine. Poured it into the molds and it was dry and crumbly, so I rebatched it in the oven with more oil as a troubleshooting website said to do. This time, it turned out perfect, easy to cut, beautiful. So I set it to age in my living room.Here is the problem: as it is aging, the surface that is open to the air has grown white crystals, almost like mold. It is not mold, though. It is not oatmeal drying out, it is crystally. What can it be? And how can I save it?

Josh Davis on April 1, 2013 at 7:36 pm said:

The crystals on the surface are called Soda Ash, but it’s not really soda ash. It’s most likely minerals from your water that migrate out of the soap. This is less likely to happen with hot process, or with demineralized water.

It should be harmless though. If the cosmetics of it are bothersome, then once your soap is cured, you can wash or scrape it off of the bars.

Lavena on April 1, 2013 at 7:40 pm said:

Thank you :-)

Tina on March 31, 2013 at 10:13 am said:

I have a funny problem – if it is a problem. I always make 100% olive oil CP using tea (eg. chamomile) and it’s great, but a little soft. This time I used olive leaf “tea” (boiled for 1 hour and cooled) and added beeswax 9% and propolis 1% to the olive oil. When I added the oils to the lye/tea mix, the mixture went red and thick like tomato ketchup! So weird, I’m used to a pale yellow mixture that I hand beat for an hour to light trace. I used a whisk just to mix it and it quickly got to medium trace. So far so good. Should have added EO and poured into moulds.

Instead, I put it in a closed pot over hot water (75 deg C) for an hour. Taste test was tingly so I left it another hour when it tested fine. I let it cool to 40 deg C and added tea tree and lavender EO and whisked it a bit but it was really thick and brown like fudge. I had to really push it into the mould and there were spaces at the bottom. When I cut it, some pieces came apart. I have used it to wash my face and it is gorgeous – no burn or anything.

I presume it is overcooked and/or I used too little water (33% instead of 35% – 10 ml difference.) So can it be rebatched or is there another way to get it to get it to not fall apart?
Reply ↓

Josh Davis on April 1, 2013 at 7:55 pm said:
That small of a water difference won’t matter. The beeswax would have increased the melting point of the oil mixture maybe 10C, but being mostly olive oil, that wouldn’t matter either.The olive leaf extract would have accelerated trace substantially, which you already noticed. The propolis probably did the same, but to a lesser extent.

Then you cooked the soap to completion, aka Hot Process. I find that I can mold HP soap fairly well around 80-85C, though it still takes a spatula and some pressure. You have to move fast, because it starts cooling off pretty quickly as you scoop it. Larger scoops, large molds, preheating the mold, and packing it in with a lot of pressure all help.

Heating it back up is probably the easiest way to get it into the mold. A double-boiler works faster, because you get steam up the sides of the pot.

Heating it in the mold is possible, but it’s too easy to overheat, which makes steam, which makes it foam over. You still have to mash it back down.

Rebatching with water works too, but then your dry-time will go way up without saving you much effort in the re-melt.

Tina on April 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm said:
OK, thanks. I’ll try heating it in the mould with just a mist of water – it seems really dry, like ancient soap. At what temp will I lose the EO?

I really need this soap to be dry pronto which is why I messed with HP in the first place. Is it possible to speed the drying with a fan or dehydrator?

Josh Davis on April 2, 2013 at 12:34 pm said:

I found that a fan only helps for the outside layer of the soap. After that, it’s just a slow process for the moisture to migrate out. A dehumidifier would be about the same. Going to altitude might help, with the lower pressure, but that seems like a hassle.

Hot process only cooks out about 1-2% water per hour. For quicker drying, I use less water in the initial batch. I found about 1.5:1 water to lye works pretty well if I’m quick. 1.1:1 works fine, but it requires a third arm because it will react so quickly.

Misting with water won’t really have any benefit. It will just make a mess.

Heating it in the mold will probably not work as you think it will. You’ll stick to the mold more, and have a risk of foaming over.

Re-melting the soap in a double boiler will work whether you’re water heavy or not. I cooked some water deficit soap for several hours and at 90C, it looks the same as full water soap. It should be fairly thick, and stick to almost everything. it will have shiny insides as you stir it.

If it seems dry and crumbly, rather than just chunky, then you might have lye heavy soap. zap tests and self wash tests are very subjective and not accurate. I recommend pH testing to make sure.

Your EOs evaporate all the time, and heat definitely accelerates that. I found that rebatching HP soap seemed to drop the scent to about what it would be after a few months of drying. A second re-batch didn’t really change the scent much. I had one soap I really messed up and re-batched it 3 times. I can still smell the orange a little when I sniff the bars, and when I wash, I can smell it stronger than any of my other soaps. It’s been on the shelf for about 5 months.

Kate Conley on April 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm said:
I am a very new CP soapmaker. I love the chemistry of soapmaking! Anyway, I made a lovely soap with pomace, shea, avacado, and 15% deer tallow. I fragranced with bergamot EO. All is well and it is a nice hard creamy white bar. I used it a couple times on my hands and love the conditioning of it, but then I used it in the shower this morning. I made a lather and sniffed and there was a smell of…well, maybe stinky breath? my daughter said it smelled like poo and thought it was her body chemistry and bergamot. It is a fleeting smell and doesn’t fragrance the body. I still have a lot of the tallow and it is not bad. I also rendered one last time just before soaping to make sure I didn’t have any nasties. Any thoughts about what the icky smell is?
Reply ↓

BTW, the bar itself does not smell, only when it is lathered.

Josh Davis on April 4, 2013 at 1:28 am said:

It’s really hard to tell without smelling it. I have some random tallow soap that has a waxy smell, a little earthy, but it’s just low on EOs.

Bergamot has its own interesting smell. Bergamot oil also contails bergamottin, which is a liver enzyme antagonist, and can be absorbed through scent and through the skin. If you used a large quantity of the EO, it’s plausible that it may be interacting with foods or vitamins in an unspecified way that affects your sense of smell. That’s a reach though, not a known issue.

Well rendered, washed, filtered tallow shouldn’t be much of a problem; however if the deer ate stinky plants, those oils would be part of what’s in the tallow. Some fat is stored directly rather than being reprocessed.

Really though, it’s hard to tell. Maybe make a mini-batch of unscented, and a mini-batch of some other scent, with the same oils as this batch, and see if they end up with the same smells?

Kate Conley on April 5, 2013 at 12:16 am said:

Thanks. Yes, there is very little Bergamot EO in the batch – 1%. I love the soap and will continue to use it just because it is such a nice conditioner, but next time I will likely use more EO or a different one.

Josh Davis on April 5, 2013 at 1:03 am said:
Oh, wow. Yes, I typically use close to an ounce per pound (5-6%) of finished soap for most of my EOs, though I haven’t tried Bergamot yet.

I tried to make a cinnamon/nutmeg extract and added that at about 2% to one batch. It’s beautiful, but I definitely smell the raw soap as much as I smell the cinnamon. Same thing though. The soap is so good, I don’t want re-batch it, and my friends were happy with it too.

Marilyn on April 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm said:

I’ve been making CP soap for about 3 years. A few weeks back I made a batch of Almond Apricot Kernel with coconut 76. The ph is 7 – 8, soap looks lovely, but had a few bright pink spots on it. I tried to find out the cause, but no luck to date. Today I cut a batch of soap made coconut, palm and mixed soft oils, however none of these oils or the EO’s were the same as I used in the previous batch
There is another pink dot on the bottom of this loaf…..just one
Any thoughts as to why this is happening?
Thanks so much….m

Josh Davis on April 4, 2013 at 2:01 pm said:

Sounds like “Dreaded Orange Spots”. pH of 7-8, without adding citric acid, means your soap is at a huge lye discount, or your strips are inaccurate.

If you are at a huge lye discount (tens of percentage points), then the unreacted soap is going rancid in little spots, nucleating around tiny specks of impurities.

If this is actually DOS, then using the soap is safe, but it could be unsightly. Also, it will spread, and can lead to unpleasant odors.

In such a case, use a small scoop (like a 1/4 tsp, round spoon) and scoop out the orange or pink spots. They will be only near the surface. Then, you can re-batch the soap with a little bit of vitamin E (tocopherol) or oils rich in vitamin E (cotton-seed, grapeseed).

If your soap is more than 5% lye discount (aka superfatted), then you may want to consider reacting more of the oils to come back to a 3-8% superfat/lyediscount. Those soaps will be more stable, and more resistant to DOS.

Lastly, for pH strips, there have been some pretty good reports, on this for soaping, but basically, only two brands of test strips were able to show proper pH for soap slurry. Both are on plastic backing. One is Machery Nagel pH-Fix, and one is EMD ColorpHast. Also, pH strips have a shelf life. Bad strips, paper strips, or just generally problematic strips will report 1-2 pH low.

Marilyn on April 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm said:

Hi again, Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I rechecked the recipe which was an experimental batch (recipe from one of my soap books)….fractionated coconut 21% Apricot Kernel 9% and Sweet Almond 69% I use Soap Calc religiously and am quite ‘anal’ when it comes to weighing, measuring, checking and rechecking! I knew the iodine was higher …78… however superfat was 7% . This recipe was quite different than anything I’d tried, having such a high % saturated fats. (still learning!!)
I checked my litmus paper with 5% vinegar and its pretty close 2 + – however I ‘ll look for the pH strips you suggest.
So…finally an explanation of what my pink spots are!! DPS (dreaded pink spots…much prettier than DOS!!) I don’t know why the other bar has it. It’s super fat is 5% and Iodine 68 . Anyhow, its finally good to have an explanation!! Thanks again …m

Josh Davis on April 4, 2013 at 4:30 pm said:
Hah! I like DPS too! :) The iodine indication shouldn’t really matter. Based on 7%-ish, your pH should have read more in the 9.75 range unless your NaOH had absorbed moisture.

If your NaOH ever got slightly wet, or was left open, then it’s heavier per unit of NaOH. It won’t really dry out. I measure mine, then close it up and double bag it.

7% superfat isn’t really excessive, but almond oils are highly unsaturated. They are very susceptible to oxidization (rancidity, crosslinking, conversion to short chain acids and solvents, etc). Vitamin E helps reduce this activity.

The problem with most test strips is that they work fine for purely aqueous solutions, but soap solutions have such an non-polar component that they often read low. Digital meters called to me, but they require calibration with buffered solutions. What a pain!

Marilyn on April 4, 2013 at 4:44 pm said:

Great info Josh!! Wish you were my neighbour!!
Guess I don’t need to be shy about asking other dumb questions during ‘Marilyns Awesome Soap Adventure’ !!
lol… thx again…m

Josh Davis on April 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm said:

NP. It’s not even my blog, but I love the technical details. This one post is in my top 5 for useful info, so I can’t help but monitor it.

Carolyn on April 6, 2013 at 10:07 pm said:

I am new to soapmaking. I was making a batch of soap that wasn’t making it to trace when I put two and two together and realized I put twice the water I needed for my 2 lb small batch of soap. There are directions for making several sized batches side to side in my book. I decided to abandon trying to get it to fully trace (I think I burnt out my stick blender anyway) and poured it into a mold and made another batch. Is there anything I can do to save this soap?
Reply ↓

Josh Davis on April 8, 2013 at 11:30 am said:

Extra water won’t prevent saponification, it just slows things down (weaker basic solution). Double water may take 4 times as long. Also, if you used KOH vs NaOH, it takes 3-5 times longer on top of that. Lastly, if your NaOH or KOH was wet, then your measure by mass/weight would be wrong (less than you needed).

If everything was correct other than water, then you could cook it on the stove. A double boiler is faster than direct heat, but either is fine. Low heat is best, which is 2 or less for most stoves. If you have a thermometer, then aim for 185F or 85C. Stir occasionally, but you don’t have to slave over it the whole time.

Also, I found that per hour of cooking, I lost 5-7% of the input water. This relates to when it’s done reacting. Expect maybe 4 hours of cooking to get where you want, though if you’re going HP, you might just cook it all the way to the water content you’d like for your final soap.

When it goes past heavy trace, the soap self-insulates more. Whe your thermometer reads 175F, it may actually be close to boiling temp. If the soap begins to foam/expand/volcano, that means the water is actually boiling inside. Turn the heat down a little, and use a wooden or metal spoon to stir it down.

Plastic stick blenders can melt in the volcano. Stick blenders shouldn’t be used more than 60 seconds on, 3 minutes off, though half that is probably better. They’re only really useful until medium trace. Anything past that, and you’ll just blend air pockets.

jenny pryce on April 7, 2013 at 7:06 pm said:
I am making goat milk soap and find that it has started to show a white marbled pattern on the surface of the soap by the second day of curing. I have tried keeping the milk and lye to 35 degrees and mixing oils at about the same temp. I have also looked at insulation as it doesn’t seem to happen when I use a log mold. Nothing I have tried so far has got me back to where I was before summer began with nice clean finished bars. Also when making liquid goat soap can you use the goat milk at the dilution phase after the paste has formed rather than at the beginning when mixing the potassium hydroxide with liquid phase? I thought this would avoid burning of the sugars.

Josh Davis on April 8, 2013 at 11:44 am said:
You know it’s burning if it turns brown. Ice-Bath can help when adding lye crystals to the milk. Also, adding it more slowly can help, though exposed lye crystals will absorb water from the air, increasing the amount of liquid in your final product.

White swirls in the top of the soap are separation of components. You may be pouring at early or false trace, or maybe it’s warming enough to separate during reaction. Sugars will definitely react and release internal heat. If you used a stick blender, then where it churned will locally heat up 20-30F. If stirring by hand, most of the time should be spent scraping the sides. I use a silicone spatula for this, and get good results.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to know the exact, local temperature in soap, because you’ll have small areas react, heat up, and react more, but it’s very insulating, and won’t be that warm 2 inches over where it finished reacting 20 minutes ago.

As for which phase, yes, you can really use it at any point. The only issue is that, you’re adding milk, which can spoil. The extra water in liquid soap allows bacteria to grow. The milk adds a food supply for them. If you have 100% reacted soap, and dilute 75% with milk, then you may have a shorter shelf life. You might need preservatives. Depending on where you live, benzoic acid may be a good option, but don’t use it with any citric products as citrate can convert benzoate into benzene.

Reacting the milk early limits the food supply available to bacteria, and improves shelf life, but does not completely prevent spoilage. Solid bars are much less prone to bacteria due to lower water content.

jenny pryce on April 10, 2013 at 5:33 pm said:
Thank you Josh. I will be sure to bring it to a true trace and see if that changes the texture on the top. I really appreciate your support, thank you.

Josh Davis on April 8, 2013 at 11:58 am said:
Also, Amanda has a fairly new post on a great procedure for adding milks to the soap oils as half of the water, and the other half to the lye solution.

jenny pryce on April 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm said:
Thank you I will check out the link

Katie on April 8, 2013 at 6:47 pm said:
I’m fairly new to soap making. I’ve made five small batches of soap (2 or 4 lbs). I started with hot process and decided to try cold process because I don’t particularly like the way hot process soaps pour into molds.

I have made four batches of cold process soap and only the unscented has come out right. The other three I have had to rebatch. I have searched a few internet forums and have been unsuccessful in solving this mystery.

I am making soap in a crock pot. I melt my solid oils, add my liquid oils and have been making my lye solution with milk products (i.e., buttermilk or goat’s milk). I’ve been using stick blender and when I reach trace, I’ve added my oils. I’ve insulated my ABS plastic moldes with plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and then blankets, but when I unmold them after twenty-four hours, I have a liquid on the top which ranges from clear to orange, the top of the soap is covered in what looks like a bumpy white rash, and this last time there was a very dark jelly looking abomination on the bottom. Please help! I do not know what I’m doing wrong. I have been following cold process soap directions to a T.

Josh Davis on April 9, 2013 at 12:01 pm said:
Hard to say. There are way too many unknowns.

The jelly on the bottom COULD be gelatain, though that usually only comes out of solution if there’s salt involved.

My first guess is that your EOs are causing an early, false trace, and it’s separating after the pour.

Stick blenders speed up the reaction, which increases heat, which could cause localized saponification.

Also, ABS is probably not the best thing to use. ABS is immune to lye, and resistant to most food oils, it is weak against alcohols, and linseed oil, both of which are sometimes used in FO solutions.

So, things to try:
* Try EOs from a different place.
* Try a different type of mold.
* Make sure your temperatures are spot on.
* Don’t use the stick blender after light trace
(unless you want to fully react the soap)
(or unless it’s all olive oil, or high water content)

dorit on April 12, 2013 at 1:56 am said:
I created CP soaps for several years now with a fixed recipe . If the recipe contains no odor or additives, after a few weeks the soap develops brown spots on the soap.
I’d love to know if you know why

Josh Davis on April 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm said:
Usually, brown/orange/pink spots that develop during drying are unsaponified oil spoiling.
What type of oil do you use?
What is your lye discount?
How old is your lye?
How is your lye stored?
Has your lye ever gotten wet or been left uncovered for several hours?
Is your soap protected from dust while drying?

Rachel on April 19, 2013 at 11:25 pm said:
Hi, i just made my second batch of cp soap. but silly me added the lye to oil when it was still hot. My soap traced very quickly and i think i may have overheated it. I have it now in the frezzer for a few hours and then im going to put in fridge until morning. Do you think it will still be able to use?

Josh Davis on April 20, 2013 at 2:35 am said:
If it had milk in it, or other organics, then expect them to be darker than normal.

If it reacted substantially before you mixed it, then you might find yellowy-white chunks about the size of an almond that are harder than the rest of the soap. Those would be lye-heavy chunks (lye encapsulates itself if reacted too quickly).

Don’t worry about freezing it. Just let it harden up normally in the mold. If it’s separated, or you have crumbly bits, then you’ll have to mill that down and re-melt the soap. It will be hot process, which is fine soap, but won’t have thin wispy swirls as much as chunky and uniform color.

If it forms up nicely, and cuts nicely, and the color is as expected, then everything is good.

Tania on April 27, 2013 at 4:07 pm said:

Hi – I’m new to soapmaking and made a btach of CPOP soap using turmeric for color. Lots of soft oils, so had a soft bar with chunks of undissolved turmeric (didn’t blend it well enough) so I decided to rebatch and then decided to buttermilk. I read somewhere that 9oz of fluid for every 12oz of soap was a good ratio, but later realized that must be for hard, fully cured soaps. This was really, really soft, and only about 2 days old. I whipped it, poured it into my molds and let it sit for two weeks. Still totally soft, so I put it back in the crock pot thinking I would cook some of the liquid off. It’s been cooking on low for 10 hours and it hasn’t reduced at all. Any suggestions? Otherwise, it’s perfect – great color, great scent, lathers beautifully. How do I get this darn thing to set???

Josh Davis on April 28, 2013 at 6:30 pm said:
That’s a whole lot of liquid to add. Consider how much water you added to initially make the soap, vs how much you added. You don’t REALLY need to add liquid to melt soap with heat. Just use a double-boiler so you don’t scorch it, lots of patience in stirring and breaking it up, etc.

If you didn’t use Potassium Hydroxide, and you DID use enough lye to react the oils, then it will eventually firm up given time. Hot Process only seems to cook out 1-2% per hour. That assumes regular stirring, lots of surface area, and not really high humidity. Compare to rack drying which is 1-2% per week in dry or mountain areas, or 1-2% per month everywhere else other than coastal, swampy, and high humidity areas.

I’ll guess you started with 33% water. CPOP doesn’t really cook out much, so I’ll assume you still had 27-30%. Then if you added 9oz per 12oz, then you’re at roughly 70-72% water. If you stuck it in a crockpot with the lid off for 10 hours, then you’re still looking at over 30 hours of cooking.

Alternatively, you could pour it out on a giant, flat sheet of parchment paper so it has a lot of surface area, and tent it with something (a sheet?) to keep dust off of it… it might take a month to dry naturally, then you could re-batch it without adding liquid. Air circulation is important.

As you go along, you can test your water content by calculation. Your “soap” weight is Lye crystal weight, plus oil weight, plus around 6% for water that is part of the reaction. Then add the weight of any additives. Then, subtract 1% for each time you transferred it from a pot (losses). Any weight beyond that is your free water weight. If it’s the same amount, then it’s 50%. If it’s twice as much water, then it’s 67%. If it’s half as much water, then it’s 33%. 33% and under should be able to harden up. It’s it’s all olive oil, with no pomace, then your target might be closer to 25%.

Make sure you don’t count the weight of your container on the scale. If you do it all in a crock-pot, then you could weigh the empty basin, and you’ll know how much to subtract out. That assumes you have a kitchen scale that will take the weight of the pot plus the soap.

Lastly, while it’s warm, it will stay goopy. Nice, hard soap will thicker than over-cooked oat-meal when it’s at 180F or so. It will smear in almost circular streaks, with a faint sheen to the surface. When it gets down to about 130F, it will be soft, but dry feeling. It won’t stick to other blobs of itself.

Also, expect some of the scent to cook off, and expect the sugars in the milk to darken a little (though turmeric’s yellow will still show through some.).

Danny on April 30, 2013 at 11:43 pm said:
Hi- I’m making a honey, brown sugar and vanilla bar. The soap is premade Olive Oil. Brown Sugar and Honey are all natural. The vanilla is a FO. My bars come out looking golden brown..almost like you can see through them. After a few days they turn dark. Why is that? Appreciate the help!

Josh Davis on May 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm said:
Vanilla turns everything dark as it oxidizes. There’s really nothing you can do about it. There are “Vanilla Stabilizers” which can delay this a few months at best. There doesn’t seem to be any artificial vanilla without this “benefit”. The best solution is to add the vanilla to a small subset of the batch, and swirl it into the rest of the bars, or simply embrace the dark soap color.

Jean on May 11, 2013 at 1:53 am said:
Hi, My soap has cured for 6 weeks now and its pH is too high so I’m going to try rebatching it. I think my oil wasn’t hot enough when I made the soap; would this explain the high pH? (I’ve made the same recipe before and had great soap.) Thanks!

Josh Davis on May 14, 2013 at 4:10 am said:
High pH would only be too much lye for the number of fatty acid molecules processed. You might re-check pH on a couple of different bars, and make sure the pH tester is calibrated if digital, or make sure they are fresh, plastic-backed strips if not digital.

Average tests from 4 different bars, and if that average is still high, then you’ll need to add more oil when you re-batch. If you didn’t use any benzoic acid/sodium benzoate, then you could also add citric acid to drop the pH without adding more oil.

To find out the exact amount to add is almost a black art. You’d have to take your mass, your pH, and water content, then calculate how many moles of lye you need to neutralize, then add that much oil or citrate.

The alternative is to just add a little, mix thoroughly in a double boiler, let it sit a few minutes, mix again, then re-test the pH.

Adrienne Faherty on May 11, 2013 at 10:15 pm said:
I made a 1.3 kilo cupcake soap recently. I made the base about 10 before piping the top of it. Now that I’ve cut it, the top has separated from the bottom. Can you suggest a way of gluing the two pieces together.
It’s cold process soap.

Josh Davis on May 14, 2013 at 4:12 am said:
Soap is like clay. You can “slip” it together. Basically, make a slurry of your soap(s) that should be thicker than water, but thinner than the soaps. Wet and score the surfaces to be joined, and wait a moment for it to soften up from the water. It should turn sort of cloudy/whitish. If it dries too quickly, you can put another drop or two of water on it. Once it’s softer just on the surface, paint on some of the “slip”, as a glue, and press the pieces together, maybe with a little twist and slide to make sure they mix just a little bit. Then, set them aside for a day or two and it should be joined very nicely.

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