Hot Process Soap

I have very little experience with hot process soap, but I really wanted to give it a try. I think the rustic look of some hot process soaps is quite pretty. I had an idea for a soap, and I thought it might look better if it were hot process rather than cold process, so I decided to give it go.

First, my recipe:

  • 40% olive oil
  • 25% coconut oil
  • 25% palm oil
  • 5% castor oil.

This is my “test” recipe, which also has the advantage of being a good basic recipe.

I made up the lye mixture with full water and set it aside. Then I added the oils to the crock pot.


I grew really impatient waiting for them to melt. They probably took about 15 minutes to melt on high heat.

Then I added my lye. I thought I was being really smart lining my crock pot. I forgot about the stick blender blades. Still, very little of the soap leaked into the crock pot itself. Next time, I just won’t bother. After all, with hot process, the soap is fully saponified, so the lye is not going to be a problem. I didn’t add my fragrance to the soap while it was in the crock pot, so there was no danger of fragrance leeching into my food later.

I blended to light trace. It took maybe a few seconds. You can barely see the soap trails on the top.


Next, I stirred it a bit before letting it sit to cook. At this point, I turned the crock pot to low. Notice you can see a bit of the separation you are supposed to look for.

Thicker trace

I let it cook for a bit, perhaps 10 minutes, and when I came to check on it, it was thickening up quite a bit. At this state, it was maybe the texture of thick pudding or mashed potatoes.

Thickening up

I actually checked on it quite often. I was nervous about leaving it alone. I should have paid better attention to timing here, but since I was checking it so frequently, I really looked more for “signs” instead of watching the clock. I started to notice it was gelling near the edges, like it was supposed to do.


So, I stirred it up, and the gelled soap combined with the soap in the middle looked more like applesauce.


I cooked it a bit longer, looking for signs it was turning fluffy. Sure enough, I started to see the fluffy stage.

FluffyThen when it started to pull away from the edges, I did a zap test. It wasn’t quite done yet, so I let it cook a bit longer and did a second zap test. This time, no zap.

Fully cookedI scooped the soap out of the crock pot and put it into a bowl. This is where I think I could use some advice from more experienced hot process soapmakers. I wanted to let the soap cool a bit so it didn’t burn off the delicate orange essential oil I wanted to use (though, to be fair, it was 10x orange oil).

I think I let it cool too much. I read at TeachSoap that it’s a good idea to add a bit of sunflower oil (or, I suppose another carrier oil) to help cool the soap and make it more pliable as I mix the fragrance. Do any of you do this? Does it work? Because I tried to wait until my soap was right around the flashpoint for orange essential oil, and I think it was too cool. I had some trouble getting it into the mold, which I understand is just part of the nature of hot process soap, but I am wondering if the oil would have helped. Any advice is appreciated.

I added the orange essential oil, and it was very hard to mix. My soap is going to have a really cool mottled look because I couldn’t get the oil to mix as thoroughly as I had planned.

Essential oilAfter I mixed the oil, I plopped it in the mold, and tried to stop fiddling with it, but I wasn’t successful.

In the moldAs you can see, I put some dried orange slices in the tops of the bars. Pretty!

Here is another view of the soap in the mold.

In the mold

Eventually, I quit fussing with it and let it set up. I unmolded it and decided to let it harden a bit more before I cut it. You can tell I fussed with it too much because I got soap all over my oranges. Boo! I decided to clean them off after I cut the soap. The pictures are a little darker because the light wasn’t as good by the evening when I took them.


Here is another view of the soap loaf with the manhandled (womanhandled?) oranges in clear view.

Soap loaf

I am really digging the mottled look. It made me wonder if this is how Gossage’s soap got its famous “mottled” look. I know they experimented with adding colorants, but I couldn’t find out if their manufacturing process was hot process or not. I can’t find a picture of Gossage’s soap (just the packaging), so I’m not really sure what it looked like.

After the soap was cooled, I cut it as I normally do with my soap log cutter. Here are the results.

Finished Soap

I am thinking of calling it Sunrise. I am not sure if I will sell it or if I will just give these away. However, I am giving one bar away here. Just follow the instructions to enter. Good luck!

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Don’t Give the Milk (Soap) Away for Free

GreedThe March/April 2014 edition of Saponifier Magazine focuses on business advice. I cannot claim to have a lot to offer on this front because in many ways, I’m the wrong person to ask. I enjoy making soap, and I sell it on Etsy mainly so I can get it out of the house (and into the hands of people who will like it) so I can make more. I have no great plans to build a huge soaping business and quit my day job. I actually love my day job (which is teaching English, by the way). However, I do have one bit of advice I would like to offer new soapmakers or those wishing to break into the soaping business: Don’t give your soap away for free.

I don’t mean don’t give your soap as gifts. One of the best perks of being a soapmaker is that you have ready-made gifts on hand that people actually really love because they are handmade, by you, and are also great to use, a real indulgence.

I’m also not talking about donating your soap to a good cause, such as Clean the World or auctions. If you believe in the cause and don’t mind donating your soap, then donating your soap is a positive way to support the cause. However, in such cases, you are not exchanging your soap for promises of “exposure” which might lead to future sales, and there is a difference between supporting a cause and giving your soap away to an organization that plans to make money from selling it without compensating you.

What I mean when I say don’t give your soap away for free is be wary of accepting offers to donate your soap for the purposes of “exposure.” Such schemes might work, but if they don’t, you have given away a lot of your time and hard work, not to mention the money the materials cost. If people truly value the time, work, and money you put into your soap, they will compensate you for it with something less nebulous than “exposure.”

I have been approached on a few occasions to donate my soap to companies that sell bath and beauty baskets. These baskets are either given away or sold to subscribers, but those who contribute will see their products get into the hands of people who might otherwise not have seen them. The thought is that those people will then go on to buy your products. I’m not convinced that giving your soap away to companies like this will lead to large amounts of sales, but I do find other methods of exposure do seem to work.

Social networking sites, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram do seem to allow soapmakers to share their soap with a wider audience. Etsy is a little bit glutted with soapmakers, but I think selling on a site like Etsy might generate a little more exposure than a standalone website, unless you are also quite active in social networking and work a circuit of farmers’ markets and craft fairs. Etsy also allows you to purchase ads for a reasonable fee, which will increase the chances your items will appear at the forefront in search results.

If companies truly want to help you grow your business and offer you exposure, they will negotiate a fair wholesale price for your soap. That way, you are are compensated for your time, work, and costs, and they are still able to make a profit. Otherwise, they are looking to take advantage of you and keep all the profits.

Image credit: Liz West

Trying Some New Things

This weekend was a busy weekend for me! I tried out a couple of new things: making cupcake soaps and soy candles!

I apologize for the bad lighting in the cupcake photos. It was dark outside already (and soon enough it will be dark by 4:30 PM around here), and I just couldn’t adjust for the bad lighting in Photoshop like I usually can.


Here are the “cakes” in my silicon cupcake molds. Very easy to use! Just peeled the cupcakes right out the next day. My batter was getting thick by the time I poured some of them, so they don’t have smooth tops. I used Anne-Marie Faiola’s Cupcake Cuties recipe (with the tweak of converting to grams) from Soap Crafting: Step-by-Step Techniques for Making 31 Unique Cold-Process Soaps. Her combination of Dark Rich Chocolate fragrance and Vanilla Select fragrance smells exactly like chocolate cake. I used the Summer Fling fragrance she suggested for the frosting in the recipe, and it definitely has a sort of sugar or frosting note.


Given that I’ve never piped anything with a frosting bag before, I didn’t do badly, but I do hope I improve!

I also tried making soy candles. I have so many fragrances. All I really needed was the wax and wicks, as I also had a box of Mason jars. I just love Mason jar candles! I think they are so beautiful. I opted not to color my wax, mainly because I really love the look of a white soy candle.


This is my Vanilla candle right after it was poured. I had so much fun that I made four more: Candy Corn, Mistletoe and Ivy, Winter Sleigh Ride (to match one of the soaps I made), and Chocolate Cake (using Anne-Marie’s combination of Vanilla Select and Dark Rich Chocolate).


I felt very accomplished after making all these candles. The soy wax was a breeze to clean up, and I had been afraid it would be a mess.

I can’t wait to try these out and see how they smell burning. Their cold throw is quite nice. If they turned out as well as I think they did, I will be adding candles to the Etsy store in time for Christmas.

Finally, I made two batches of my Coffee and Cream Soap. I only have one bar left, and I want to make sure I have some before Christmas.

Coffee and Cream Soap

I love making this soap because it smells soooo good! In fact, Steve had to make himself some coffee after I made it. I think I’ll do a Coffee and Cream candle to match the scent of the soap.

I think if I am going to make double batches regularly, I’ll need a bigger bowl. I managed to divide my soap into two batches: dark coffee and lighter cream colored soaps. Then I split my coffee and lye in two and essentially made two batches of soap.

It was a busy weekend, but I had a lot of fun. We also went apple picking on Saturday, which is one of our favorite things to do in the fall. I imagine our favorite farm will likely close the season soon.

All in all, it was a great weekend. Hope you had a wonderful weekend as well.

Honeycomb Soap

Before I started making soap, I used to purchase handmade soap from a farmer’s market near my house. I actually started making soap because I didn’t think it would be practical to order it from this soap maker anymore, and I found her soaps so interesting that I really wanted to try making my own. I actually researched for some months before I made my first batch.

One of the soaps this soap maker at the farmer’s market sold had a cute honeycomb effect, and I wondered how on earth she achieved it. As it turns out, it’s pretty easy. She used bubble wrap!

I use bubble wrap on some of my soaps. My Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey soap is a big favorite, and here is a tutorial for achieving a honeycomb effect in this soap.

The ingredients in my Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey soap are olive oil, goat milk, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, sodium hydroxide, shea butter, fragrance, castor oil, finely ground oatmeal, honey, whole oats.

You can purchase colloidal oatmeal, or you can grind it very finely in a coffee grinder. I use a coffee grinder. The fragrance I use is an Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey fragrance.

First off, start with frozen goat milk and slowly add your lye, a little bit at a time, making sure to incorporate all of it. Don’t rush through this part.

Goat Milk

If you are using milk, it’s best to freeze the milk and add the lye to the frozen milk. This might sound stupid, but I figure other people might not know it, so I’ll share: frozen goat milk has the same mass as liquid goat milk. So you can freeze it in ice cube trays first, then weigh the goat milk. You don’t have to weigh out goat milk portions and freeze in portions, but you might find it convenient.

I also use a stainless steel pot every time I mix my lye with any liquid because I can more easily control the temperature. Pots are made for that sort of thing, after all. I got this idea from Anne L. Watson in her book Milk Soapmaking.

Some soap makers don’t freeze the milk all the way and just let it get slushy. I find my temps stay lower if the milk is completely frozen. When the temps stay lower, the milk is less likely to discolor. If the temperature is too high, the milk scorches and turns orange.


I prepare my mold by laying a sheet of bubble wrap in the bottom of the mold. To add interest, I sprinkle a few oats on top of the bubble wrap.

Soap Batter

When I add the milk to the oils, I try to make sure the oils are 100°F or lower, but I no longer worry about the temperature of my milk. For the record, it’s usually in the 70°-80°F range. At this stage, the milk and oils are emulsified.

Soap Batter

At trace, I add honey diluted in distilled water. I am so lucky! One of my co-workers is a beekeeper, and she trades me honey for soap, so I can use raw, locally harvested honey in my soap. Honey turns the soap a pretty golden color. After the soap saponifies, it turns a golden brown. Honey will discolor soap, but it is a humectant that draws moisture to the skin and also boosts the lather in soap. Honey is amazing in soap!

In the Mold

Once the soap reaches a good trace, but is not too thick to pour evenly, I pour it into the mold. Notice I removed the dividers. I think it is easier to pour the soap in and then add the dividers, but you don’t have to do it that way.


Then I put the dividers in. Bang the mold on the counter or table to make sure the bars are even. I sometimes rock this mold gently from side to side before putting in the dividers just to even out the soap.

Oats on Top

I like to sprinkle oats on the top, just as I did on the bottom bubble wrap. It adds some interest and gives the soap a “homespun” look.

Oats on Soap

Here’s the soap entirely covered in oats.

Placing Bubble Wrap

I cut pieces of bubble wrap to fit the bar tops and gently press them into place.

Bubble Wrapped Soap

And here is the soap with the bubble wrap in place. You can also do this with log molds. Just cut strips of bubble wrap that fit the length of the mold and place one strip in the bottom of the mold and another strip on top of the poured soap.

Finished Bars

The finished bars are a golden honey color. They smell awesome! The honeycomb effect totally makes the soap. And it’s so easy!

Soap Crafting, Anne-Marie Faiola: Review

Soap Crafting, Anne-Marie FaiolaThe soap making world has rightly been abuzz about the publication of Soap Crafting: Step-by-Step Techniques for Making 31 Unique Cold-Process Soaps, by Anne-Marie Faiola, the Soap Queen herself.

This book is great for anyone at any level from beginner to expert. The book starts with a basic tutorial and essential equipment inventory as well as a good basic recipe. I wish I had had this book when I started making soap because I like Anne-Marie’s basic recipe much better than the one I tried. Anne-Marie’s book is one of the few I’ve seen that actually mentions the formula for calculating the amount of oils to use in your recipe for the size of your mold (see page 110). Why most books omit this important information, I’m not sure, but it would have been really helpful to me as a beginner. I also like Anne-Marie’s creative suggestions for molds, which is yet another feature I would have liked in a beginner’s book. In addition to a basic recipe and advice on equipment and safety, Anne-Marie offers a good introduction to the different types of soap making oils, types of colorants and how to choose them, and using essential oils and fragrance oils. All of this is advice I have found sorely lacking in most soap making books.

Following the introduction to learning to make soap, Anne-Marie shares 31 recipes, each designed so that the reader can try new techniques, include using colors and different types of swirls, using various types of molds, and using foods other additives. It is easily the most comprehensive soap making book in terms of addressing beginners and advanced users because it includes both a basics section and more advanced tutorials (including some techniques I hadn’t tried or hadn’t heard of). The recipes all have great step-by-step instructions.

I just tried the squirty swirl Anne-Marie describes on pp. 216-221. I think next time I might let the soap get a little thicker beforehand. It is a really cool look. The soap is still too soft to cut, but here it is right after I put it into the mold:

2013-09-01 21.31.33

I like the “Jackson Pollack” look when you get to the end of the bottle. Next time I might leave the glitter off, too.

Here’s the soap unmolded.

2013-09-02 16.35.35

I used anise essential oil and peppermint essential oil to scent it, and I used activated charcoal to make the black soap. Mine will probably turn out to be more of a true swirl than Anne-Marie’s soap in the book because I think mine was at a thinner trace.

In addition to the great instructions and recipes, the book is filled with gorgeous full-color photographs, and the book itself is available in two formats: e-book and spiral-bound. The spiral binding allows the book to lay flat when open, just like a cookbook. It’s interesting to me how few other soap making books are designed in this way, which would make them much easier to use as you’re whipping up a batch of soap.

Anne-Marie’s book is easily one of the best soap making books I’ve read. Highly recommended for soap makers, no matter whether you’re just starting or you’ve been making (and even selling) for years. Love the book, Anne-Marie!

Update: Here is a pic of the cut bars. Love the way they turned out, even if my soap was too fluid, and it was more of a true swirl than the book depicted.

Anise & Peppermint

Do the Numbers Matter?

Screen Shot of Soaping ValuesThere seems to be some debate in soap making as to whether or not the “numbers” matter. When I use the term “numbers,” I speak of the range of suggested values as you see in the image above: bar hardness, cleansing ability, conditioning quality, bubbly lather, creamy lather, iodine number, and INS number.

A hard bar of soap is generally preferred because it will last longer. All soap is cleansing, but some feel that soaps with a higher cleansing value can be more drying, while others may want a more cleansing soap for certain purposes. Soapers generally want their soaps to be conditioning, which makes them gentle. Bubbly and/or creamy lather is desired because it makes it easier to create lather. The iodine number can give soapers an indication of the bar hardness (lower number) and softness (higher number) as well as the bar’s conditioning quality (higher number). The INS number is believed to predict at a glance many of the other bar properties of hardness, cleansing, conditioning, and lather. The ideal INS number is supposedly 160.

But do these numbers really matter? There is some debate among soap makers as to their value. Two different perspectives from two respected soapers, for example, are Anne-Marie Faiola and Jasche Homemade Soap (dead link removed). Neither recommends that you either adhere completely to the INS calculation or deviate entirely from it in formulating your recipes. In fact, both posts I linked advocate a common-sense, test-it-yourself and see-what-works-for-you approach to using the INS numbers.

On the other hand, I have found looking at the numbers to be helpful in creating my own recipes. most of which have an INS in the range of 140-160. My own experience has been that soaping in the 140-155 has been my personal sweet spot in terms of all the qualities I want in soap. I think the INS number is an excellent guide for soapers creating their first recipes, but I also think it’s a good idea to experiment and research what oils actually do. Anne-Marie has just recently published a great guide to soaping oils. I plan to import the handy PDF she shared in that post into my Evernote soaping notebook.

Recently, when I was formulating a recipe for a dry/sensitive/mature skin facial soap, I did a great deal of research into the different properties of oils and other additives. Because I do not have dry skin or even very sensitive skin, I asked several testers to try it out and let me know what they thought about it. The feedback was generally quite positive. However, if I had gone by the numbers alone, I might have been discouraged from even attempting the soap:

Lavender Chamomile Facial Soap NumbersAs you can see, the hardness number is on the very bottom of the suggested range. And yet, the bar feels quite hard, possibly due to the unique quality of the olive oil I used, which though it has a low hardness value, actually produces quite a hard soap if given a longer cure. The cleansing value of 10 is off the chart, which may be desirable in a soap for dry or mature skin. The conditioning value of 67 is near the top of the range, which is also good for dry/mature/sensitive skin. The bubbly and creamy values are within the suggested range. However, the iodine is much higher than suggested, and the INS number is much lower than suggested. If I had formulated this recipe early on in my soap making adventures, I might have discarded it as having an INS that was too low, but I know this is a good soap now that I can read the numbers more critically. Rather than paying attention primarily to the INS number, I tend to look at the ranges for hardness, cleansing, conditioning, bubbliness, and creaminess and experiment with oils in my recipe until these numbers fall in the ranges I am looking for—which may not always be, as you can see, the suggested ranges.

So do the numbers matter? Frustratingly, the only answer I can provide is both yes and no. I think it depends on your level of experience in creating recipes and your goals for your resulting soap. I think soap makers who completely ignore the numbers possibly do so to their detriment, but I think soap makers who adhere to the numbers slavishly may also be missing opportunities to create wonderful soap that doesn’t fall within the suggested ranges.

If you are a soap maker, what are your thoughts about the numbers? Do you use them? How? Do you discard them completely? Why? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Smart Soapmaking and Milk Soapmaking


At this point, I’ve read several good books about making soap. I have to put Anne L. Watson’s Smart Soapmaking and Milk Soapmaking at the top of the pile. Both of these books are practical, no-nonsense books that should get any beginner on way to making soap. Both books include several tried and tested recipes that are easy for beginners. Most soap-making books just include one basic recipe with variations. Those books can be nice, but they’re not very helpful for beginners who want to try different combinations of oils to see what will happen. Another extremely useful feature of Watson’s books are her myth-debunking sections. For instance, Watson shares that it isn’t necessary for your soap to reach trace before you pour it into your mold. I have been struggling with swirling for this very reason—I’ve been trying to get all my colors to trace. Another great myth she debunks is that the lye and oils have to be the same temperature before they mix. I had never tried too hard to make sure my oils were at 100° when my lye reached 100°, but so much I had read insisted this step was critical to the point of instructing soapers to have hot water and cool water baths to help reach equilibrium. My soap was turning out fine, so I couldn’t figure it out. I will say that it does seem to be easier to soap if the temperatures are close together, but it’s nonsense that they have to be exactly the same. Watson recommends a range of about 20°F, and that seems right to me.

I purchased these books after eying them for some time mainly because I had been having so much trouble with my milk soaps. I made a goat milk bastile that has some lighter spots that look like oil (they are not lye spots), and I don’t know how it happened. I made another goat milk soap that turned into a huge mess. The last soap I made with cream appears to be getting DOS and went through a partial gel. I successfully made soap with cow milk, so I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, and I decided perhaps these books could help me. Watson breaks down milk soap making into two major categories: the cool technique and the warm technique. The cool technique begins with frozen milk, while the warm technique begins with powdered milk. She includes milk-based recipes I had not even thought of, including yogurt, sour cream, and butter.

After purchasing a digital thermometer I call my “temperature gun,” I have come to believe most of the milk soap issues I’m having are temperature-related. I think I’ve been soaping too hot. I have noticed that it seems to be taking longer than usual for my lye to reach 100°. In actuality, I think my thermometer hasn’t been accurate. I have been rigging it to the side of the lye bowl to keep it from falling in, and I think the temperature around the edges is cooler. As a result, I do believe I have been soaping too hot with the milk. I made two batches of soap using the temperature gun to keep an eye on the lye mixture, and both soaped up very nicely. Now that I’ve read Watson’s books and purchased this temperature gun, I feel ready to try milk again.

I wish I had read Watson’s book before I read some of the others because I think I would have trusted myself more. Readers should be aware neither book includes photographs. I have come to believe that good photography is extremely important in a soap-making book, just as it is in a recipe book. Photographs are a baseline you can use to determine 1) whether the soap looks like something you want to make, and 2) how it should turn out. I think Watson’s books were published by a smaller press and may even have been self-published, and photography would probably have been cost-prohibitive. I missed the photographs, but unlike other books with bigger publishing budgets, I was willing to forgive their absence because the information was so clear and helpful.

A side note: I wrote an email to Anne L. Watson asking a question about clean up. Every book I read says wait to clean up for about 24 hours, same as you would to unmold the soap. I didn’t wait the first couple of times because I hadn’t realized you needed to. Then I read that cleaning up right away could gunk up your plumbing, as the soap would saponifiy in your pipes and cause clogs. So I started waiting to clean up, and it was painful. I think perhaps waiting might be a good idea if you have a lot of left over soap, but I only make up what I will use, so I mainly just have a few globs on my soap-making bowl, spoon, and stick blender. And it was a beast to clean up the next day. I asked Watson if this was yet another myth or whether it was a good practice to wait to clean up. She wrote back and said she believes it is a myth. She recommends wiping off excess soap with paper towels and cleaning up with gloves and goggles still on. That makes a ton of sense to me. I am embarrassed not to have thought of it. She also recommends blue Dawn for clean up. So there you have it, friends. Another myth debunked.

Creating Your Own Soap Recipes

As soon as I had made one batch of soap on my own, I was ready to start creating my own soap recipes. I didn’t like the soap I made very much. The directions provided were easy to follow, but I wasn’t and still am not crazy about the soap that resulted. I looked around at many recipes on the Internet, but I didn’t know how to figure out how much oil I should use to fit my mold.

I did some research about different types of oils. Perhaps the three most common oils used in most of the soap recipes I found are olive oil, palm oil, and coconut oil. In fact, many recipes recommend 40% olive, 30% palm, and 30% coconut oils.

Olive Oil

Olive oil contributes to a good conditioning bar, but it doesn’t produce a lot of lather on its own, and pure castille bars can be soft. I buy olive oil at the grocery store. Shop around and see which brands you like best and which grade. Some soapers prefer EVOO. I have not noticed a difference, and since light olive oil is cheaper, that’s what I use. Some soapers buy olive pomace oil. I have not tried it because it’s not readily available in the store, and I buy what I can find locally to save shipping charges. I have to order too much other stuff for soaping to worry with olive oil, too. Soaps with a high olive oil content take longer to saponify and need longer to cure.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil contributes to a cleansing bar with a good lather, which is why some soapers make “bastille” (not pure castille, but mostly olive oil) bars with a percentage of coconut oil. I have a bastille recipe that is 75% olive oil, 25% coconut oil. It is recommended to keep use of coconut oil at 30% or less because more than that can be drying. Coconut oil can be hard to find in the grocery store in some areas. I buy the Louana brand at Walmart. Shop carefully. I saw the same brand of coconut oil I purchase for sale on Amazon via a third party seller. It was described as organic (it isn’t) and cost at least four times as much as the same size container in Walmart. Plus shipping.

Palm Oil

Palm oil contributes to a hard bar. It’s a substitute for tallow when soapers want to create vegan or all vegetable oil soaps rather than using animal fats. Palm oil also contributes to a creamy, stable lather. It’s best to keep the amount of palm oil under 50% of your total oils because some people find it drying if you use more than that. Palm oil use can be controversial because of its association with rainforest depletion in the areas of the world where the oil palm is cultivated. You can buy palm oil from vendors that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has certified meet criteria and procedures for manufacturing sustainable palm oil. Some soapers have stopped using palm oil altogether. It is an important issue to educate yourself about. I do use palm oil, but after learning more about the issue, I have decided not buy from a vendor unless it is RSPO certified sustainable palm oil. Bramble Berry sells sustainable palm oil. So do other companies, such as Soaper’s Choice.

Most of my recipes have these three oils. In addition, I like to use some of the following oils:

  • Castor oil contributes to a nice, bubbly lather. It is recommended to keep the amount at 5% or less of your total oils.
  • Shea butter adds moisturizing qualities and contributes to a harder bar.

I’m relatively new to soaping, so there are plenty of oils I have not experimented with. I have discovered some of these oils are located in odd places in the grocery store. On my last shopping trip, I managed to find sunflower oil by the Italian foods. Rice bran oil was near the olive oil, but it was on the top shelf, and my store only carried one brand. Safflower oil is also with the other oils. I have only used this oil once (my first recipe called for it), but it has a short shelf life and as David Fisher at Candle & Soap Making at says, it has a “fairly unremarkable fatty acid makeup.” Sesame seed oil is stocked with the Asian foods and is said to be a good conditioner.

Many soapers swear by other products such as cocoa butter, mango butter, apricot kernel oil, palm kernel oil, avocado oil. I want to try some of these oils, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet. I have used grapeseed oil, but it has a short shelf life, and I didn’t notice anything missing in my soap when I haven’t used it. I plan to try using it as an oil for sugar scrubs. It is said to absorb quickly in the skin without leaving a greasy feeling.

The important thing is to experiment with the different oils using a soap calculator. My new favorite (and an old standby many soapers use and swear by) is SoapCalc. There are other good ones, too (see my Resources page). SoapCalc can give you a prediction about your soap based on the percentages of oils you use. You can easily change amounts without having to start over, too. I usually start with a base of olive, coconut, and palm oils, and add and subtract amounts from those base oils when I add other oils like castor oil and shea butter. The recipe I use most often uses 38% olive oil, 30% coconut oil, 17% palm oil, 10% shea butter, and 5% castor oil. I also frequently use Heidi Corley Barto’s basic recipe, which calls for 30% palm oil, 30% shea butter, 20% olive oil, and 20% coconut oil. I usually discount my lye by 5%, which leaves some unsaponified oil in the soap for conditioning purposes and also gives me wiggle room for slight measuring errors, preventing a lye-heavy batch of soap that would be unusable. SoapCalc and other lye calculators will help you figure out how to discount lye. By default, SoapCalc figures a 5% lye discount.

Some soapers swear by attending to INS values as a method for producing good soap. INS values were introduced by Dr. Robert S. McDaniel in Essentially Soap as a means for figuring out the iodine value and SAP value (saponification value). Supposedly, an INS value of 160 is the ideal, but many soapers make wonderful soap that isn’t close to that value. My recipe above has an INS value of 158, and Barto’s has an INS of 151. I can tell no appreciable difference between them in terms of quality, and they are both fairly easy to soap. I do notice my recipe has more lather, likely because of the castor oil, and hers produces a harder bar, likely because of the higher percentage of palm oil and shea butter. On the other hand, the first soap I made had a low INS value of about 121. SoapCalc’s scale recommends an INS between 136 and 165. Given that my soap with an INS value of 121 is really soft and just not all that nice to use, the recommendation seems sound to me.

Don’t be afraid to try out a few combinations using the lye calculator. It can be fun to experiment.

Another issue I ran into early on is not knowing how much essential oil or fragrance oil to use. Thankfully, Bramble Berry has a good Fragrance Oil Calculator that can help you figure out how much oil to use. Other vendors make recommendations. How much fragrance or essential oil you use will vary. Some fragrances and essential oils are stronger than others. If your vendor has a recommendation, it is probably a good idea to follow it because they have most likely tested it, and following their recommendation will save you time. However, if you don’t have a recommendation, try using about 5-9% percent of your oil weight. For example, if you have a 40-ounce oil recipe, you might try 2 to 4 ounces of essential oil or fragrance. Many soapers keep it simple by using 1 ounce per pound of soap.

An important note: some essential oils and fragrance oils can accelerate trace and cause your soap to seize, as I discovered when I used lilac fragrance oil. Floral fragrance seem to be especially bad about accelerating trace. When you use a new fragrance or essential oil, it is a good idea to take careful notes about what happens in case you need to make changes for next time. For instance, next time I use lilac fragrance, I will add it at a lighter trace, and I will not try to do anything fancy like swirling. I haven’t noticed a huge problem with most fragrances, and usually, your vendor will warn you if a fragrance can be problematic. I like that vendors like Bramble Berry warn you not to use certain fragrances in cold process soap at all.

Goat Milk Soap, Take 2

So my second batch of goat milk also didn’t turn out too well.

Oil PocketMy soap has a large oil pocket through the entire batch, right near the top. It’s oozing oil, and in some places even looks like a cave with stalactites and stalagmites. Apart from the unsightly oil, the soap seems fine, and it smells wonderful.

I’ve done a little research, and it looks as though a lot of milk soapers just don’t allow their milk soaps to go through the gel phase of saponification, so I will try putting the soap in my refrigerator next time.

I think the problem resulted from using both honey and goat milk. Both have sugar, which raises the temperature when the soap saponifies. I’m thinking that the combination was deadly in this case. I have everything I need to try again except some palm oil, which I should be getting tomorrow. I am going to rebatch later today and see if I can save this soap.

Anyway, third time’s a charm, you think?

My First Big Disaster

I tried to make goat milk soap today. I wish I had taken a picture of this one because it was a true mess, and I can’t find an image online that replicates it. Instead, here is a picture of a goat, in your face.

First of all, the kind of goat milk I used is evaporated goat milk, and there is apparently a big difference between fresh goat milk and evaporated goat milk.

I am not sure where I would get fresh goat milk around Worcester, MA. I don’t know anyone who has goats on their farm, and there aren’t really any goat farms close by that I could find. I could try Trader Joe’s, I suppose, but we don’t have a Whole Foods close by.  At any rate, this evaporated goat milk is relatively easy to find in grocery stores and Walmart.

Things were going swimmingly. I added the lye to frozen chunks of goat milk, stirring the lye well as I went and taking my time, just as I did with the whole cow milk I used in my chocolate milk soap a few weeks ago. I set the goat milk lye aside as I prepared my oils, and about halfway through the process, I took a look at my goat milk lye, just to make sure the temperature was staying below 140°, like I had read it should do in Heidi Corley Barto’s book. It was a congealed orange mess, not terribly unlike thick mashed potatoes in constitution. Perhaps more like peanut butter, even. It was hard and gross. It didn’t smell bad, but I was afraid to use it, so I disposed of it. Some folks on a soap forum I just joined said I could have saved it, but I was too worried about it to use it and didn’t find a solution until after I’d disposed of it anyway. I’d have hated to make a worse mess than I already had. In throwing out the goat milk lye, all I wasted was the lye and goat milk. Had I tried to add it to the oils, I’m afraid I’d have wasted all that, too, and those are expensive.

Needless to say, I’m really disappointed. First of all, I was really looking forward to seeing how this soap would come out. I hear so much about goat milk soap; so many soapers make and sell it, and it seemed an interesting soap to try to make. Second, I used most of my stock of lye, and it’s impossible to buy locally. We called every hardware store around, and no one sells it, likely because it’s used to manufacture methamphetamine, though it’s terribly easy to order on Amazon and not selling it prevents no one from buying it elsewhere. You just have to wait for it. Ordering more is kind of pointless because it’s a holiday weekend, and it wouldn’t ship until Tuesday at the earliest (probably), and I certainly wouldn’t get it any time this weekend, which is when I wanted it. I have some on its way to me right now, but it’s coming from Washington State, so it will be a while. I think I will just stock up next time I order it so that I always have it on hand.

What all this means is that I have three-day weekend with no soaping. I am seriously bummed.

On the plus side, I have learned what not to do when making goat milk soap, so I can avoid some mistakes next time. David Fisher at’s Candles and Soap reference suggests that when you use evaporated goat milk, you use an equal amount of distilled water. So, if your recipe calls for 13.2 ounces of liquid, like mine does, then I would use 6.6 ounces of distilled water and 6.6 ounces of goat milk. I would put all of the lye into just the water, preparing it double-strength if you will, and add the goat milk directly to the oils, mixing them with my hand blender a bit. Then I would add the water and lye to the oils and goat milk and proceed as normal. Making soap with fresh goat milk would work like making soap with any other liquid, and using powdered goat milk sounds like the easiest thing, though whether it transfers its qualities to a finished bar seems to be a contested issue. I think I might put the goat milk lye in an ice water bath as a matter of precaution if I ever use fresh goat milk, even if I freeze it first.

I’m not so miserable about making a mistake. I think every soaper screws up batches now and then. I’m miserable that I can’t try again because I don’t have enough lye.