Soapmaking Questions and Answers

These are some of the emails people have sent me since I put this site up, and my answers. Please feel free to send me an email if you have something to ask. I'm not always very prompt, but I'll try to help if I can!

I came across all your descriptions of the oils and was wondering how on earth you got such a fantastic amount of information together!

Oh, the oils stuff is mostly from books. Although I did find some of the SAP values from other sources, like the Internet. I'm afraid I'm pretty much entirely un-original. ;)

I am doing my very first craft show this weekend and wanted to compile something similar to yours so that potential buyers could see what the different oils did for them. It's hard to sell to ivory users, they all think they are getting 99.9% pure soap!

Tell me about it! :) You know what you might do, you could put together a poster for the wall of your booth -- my walls always look very empty because I only have two tall displays and that leaves a lot of vertical room to fill up -- and highlight some of the special oils. I would do something simple, like a bullet list, with colors so it's eye-catching:

        Our soaps contain only the finest ingredients, including:

        CASTOR OIL
          - Silky Feel
          - Incredible Lather

        PALM OIL
          - Hard Bar
          - Lasts Longer


my only other comment would be, I suggest a poster rather than brochures or flyers because, in my (admittedly limited) experience, people just don't grab the flyers. Even if you use them as bag stuffers, who knows if they get read or just tossed out. Whereas if it's on the wall, people will read it even if they're too shy to ask questions, because everybody wants to know why they should buy a $5 bar of soap. :)

I made a cold batch of soap in my new location for the first time. (I moved from Colo to Santa Monica, CA) I have never had problems with molds before and I can not get my soap out of it's mold! Is it the humidity? I used 16 ounces of almond oil, 23 ounces of coconut oil, 2 ounces of shea butter, 44 ounces of soybean oil. 12 ounces of lye. It does seem softer than usual and there is a white looking film on some of the edges. Help!! I have tried the freezer trick but to no avail, maybe I didn't leave it in long enough. I have heard of people greasing the mold and even lining with wax paper which seems to defeat the reason for a mold!

I think that's one of the perpetual issues with soapmaking. What type of mold are you using -- a slab mold (like a cake pan), a vertical mold (like PVC pipe, where you only have a little tiny exposed edge), or little individual cavity molds? Also, is that your regular recipe? It sounds like you used a lot of soft oils -- the soybean, especially, is prone to making a softer soap (and soft soap frequently, for me at least, doesn't always like to come out of the mold nicely). -- I've never had much luck with greasing molds, and I'm in total agreement about the lining thing (what's the point??). I just try to use a lot of saturated fats (palm, coconut, palm kernel, etc) and those harden up nicely, so it usually just comes out. I've only had one batch where the soap refused to come out of the mold (it was in a slab mold and WOULD NOT BUDGE) and I had to dig it out with my hands and make soap balls out of it. It actually turned out okay, except I had soap under my fingernails for *days*. (Which is really gross, if you bite your nails. :-) If you have a mold with a lot of surface area, like a slab mold, I would try letting it sit out on the counter in a breezy area (or with a fan) to see if it dries out any and will pop out of the mold.

could you please define "gel" on the site?

Gel means the state the soap is in when it's started the saponification process -- it turns semi-translucent, sort of like Vaseline, and starts to produce heat. The heat is a byproduct of saponification, and it also helps speed it along, so generally, gel stage is good (unless you're making a milk soap or something where you're worried about the color). Usually it gels from the inside out, and unless you have a lot of soap, it won't gel all the way to the edges (because the edges are cooler than the inside, so they won't heat up enough to gel even while they're saponifying).

I ran across your soapmaking supply page on the Web and I was wondering, if you use lard in making soap, will all the additives put into the lard make a difference on the amount of lye or the time it takes for the soap to get to trace? I'm dying to try this and the lard seems to be the most readily available fat to me right now. :) Thanks!

Hi! By additives, do you mean something like a chemical preservative added before it hits the grocery store? That should be fine, several people I know use fats with preservatives like that and have had no problems. I haven't used lard since my very first batch, but it was the stuff right off the shelf at Jewel, and it was fine, so I imagine you should be good to go. :)

hi, I found your webpage when I was looking for christmas ideas, I really like the milk bath recipes but I was wondering what the instructions for use are. Does one recipe make enough for one tub? or do you just use a tablespoon or so? I would appreciate if you could get back to me about this.

Hi! Usually, I use one or two tablespoons per tub for any bath salts or milk bath type recipe. HTH :)

I wasn't sure if this is where I make a request or not. I saw a recipe on your site for K.I.S.S. Lotion Bars, which sound great, but I don't understand the term "part" in the recipe. My ignorance....What weight or measure does that mean? Any help? Thanks

Hi! When you see a recipe that measures things in parts, it means any measure as long as you use the same size measure for each ingredient. For example, if you had a recipe that called for one part beeswax, one part almond oil, and one part palm oil, you could make that recipe with one ounce for each ingredient, one cup, one pound, etc. And if you wanted to triple the recipe, you'd just switch "three cups" or "three ounces," etc. A lot of toiletries recipes are set up that way, because it's not really critical exactly how much you make (like with bread or pastry or something).

I have a question. Do you know who made 1st batch of soap and how soap was discovered by who?

Hi! So far as I know, legend has it soap was discovered by the ancient Greeks, who noticed that ashes from temple sacrifices were mixing with the oils in the water where they washed animal hides, resulting in soap suds. I'm afraid I don't have any books here with me right now to look at, but you can probably find a lot about the history of soap at your local library. :)

I just read the instructions you gave for Hot Process Soap and I am so excited I can hardly wait to try it. However, yesterday I made 2 batches of CP soap. Is there a way to speed the process up on these 2 batches of soap or is it best to just wait these 2 batches out?

Hi! CP is pretty much an exercise in patience. ;) You mostly have to wait for it to cure. I've heard of folks putting fans by their curing soap to speed it up, but I've also heard of folks accidentally melting their CP by putting it in the oven... :) I would just go ahead and let the CP cure out. :)

I'm a pretty new soap maker, though I have had many nice batches, recently my soaps are tracing as I'm pouring the lye into the oil. I've been using tap water from our well. Could that have anything to do with it? Is distilled water better? Help! I've lost 4 batches to this problem.

Distilled water is generally recommended over tap water, because it doesn't have the minerals that might interfere with the lye, but I wouldn't think that that's your problem unless your well is really, really mineral-rich. What temperatures are you mixing at, and what oils are you using? I've had recipes where I've used a lot of stearic acid trace right as I poured the lye-water in, and I've also had recipes where I've let the lye-water cool too much and it actually cooled the oil so much that some of the solid oil started solidifying again, where I've had to reheat the mix to stir it all up.

Someone told me you can use crayons, as a colorant and lemon or vanilla extract for scenting is this true?

Hi! Well, you could probably use crayons to color soap, but I wouldn't recommend it. For one thing, the crayons aren't approved for use on skin -- cosmetics ingredients go through a lot of testing. And since I recall one brand of crayons being recalled for having carcinogenic ingredients not too long ago, I wouldn't recommend using them.

The lemon or vanilla extract I also wouldn't use, but that's mostly for aesthetic reasons rather than health reasons -- you'd have to use a lot of vanilla extract to get any scent at all, and the real vanilla extract isn't cheap. It's also mostly alcohol, so that evaporates away really quickly. I think the results would be disappointing.

If you're looking for easy sources for colors or scents, try your local craft shop -- recently soapmaking has gotten popular enough that my local Jo-Anns and Michaels are stocking both soap kits and refills, including a nice variety of colorants and fragrances. It's a good way to get a quick start, though if you get really into it and decide to keep making soaps, you'll probably later want to switch to an online supplier for your soapmaking products (because they're much cheaper than the craft shops, but you have to buy bigger quantities).