Troubleshooting the Soapmaking Process

Identify, fix, and avoid these common soapmaking problems.

| June 2018

  • Find out some of the most common issues that soapmakers run into along with a brief explanation and some tips to fix or avoid the problem next time.
    Photo by Pixabay/silviarita
  • “Simple & Natural Soapmaking” by Jan Berry offers everything the modern-day enthusiast needs to make incredible botanical soaps.
    Cover courtesy Page Street Publishing

Simple & Natural Soapmaking (Page Street Publishing, 2017) by Jan Berry presents 50 easy, unique soap recipes with ingredients and scents inspired by the herb garden, veggie garden, farm, forest and more.  Beginners can join in the sudsy fun with detailed tutorials and step-by-step photographs for making traditional cold-process soap and the more modern hot-process method with a slow cooker. This section helps you identify common issues with your soaps and how to avoid them.

Sometimes, soap just doesn’t behave as it should. In this section, I’ve listed some of the most common issues that soapmakers run into along with a brief explanation and some tips to fix or avoid the problem next time.

Common Soapmaking Issues

Alien Brains

This creatively named soap condition is evident when soap overheats and leaves a wrinkled or brain-like look on the top. This is a purely cosmetic issue and your soap is still fine to use. To prevent this from happening again, mix soap at cooler temperatures and be careful to monitor freshly poured soap for signs of overheating.

Crack Develops On Top Of Soap

If you notice a crack developing along the top of your soap, it means that it̕s overheating and needs to be cooled down. Uncover the soap, if it was insulated, and move it to a cooler area or in front of a fan. If the soap stays covered and continues to overheat, it can develop into a soap volcano. Small cracks can be carefully pushed back together, but remember that the soap is still caustic and hot at this time, so wearing gloves is a must. Soaps high in honey, milk or other natural sugars tend to heat up more than soaps without these ingredients.

Crumbling Soap

One common reason for soap to crumble is that it contains too much lye. Double-check the recipe with a lye calculator to be sure it has been calculated correctly. Sometimes, when measuring out oils, you may inadvertently leave one out, upsetting the lye to oil ratio. Keep a small list nearby and check of each ingredient as you add it, so nothing gets omitted. Soap can also become crumbly in spots when false trace happens. False trace is when cold temperatures cause solid fats (like butters) to start hardening before they’ve had time to come in contact with lye, leaving some parts of the soap lye heavy and others still oily. Separation may also occur with false trace. Soap that hasn’t gone through gel phase can sometimes crumble more easily, especially when trying to cut it too soon after removing from the refrigerator or freezer. To reduce the chance of that happening, let the soap stay in the mold a few days longer after it has spent time in the refrigerator or freezer.

Dark Spots In Honey Soaps

If honey isn’t thoroughly stirred into the soap batter, it can pool together in various areas of the soap, often near the bottom of the mold. These pools of honey can darken or scorch from the heat of gel phase, leaving behind oozing brown spots when you cut the soap into bars. This is a completely harmless condition, though unattractive for gift giving. To prevent this from happening in the future, dilute the honey with an equal amount of distilled water and be certain that it̕s thoroughly stirred into the soap batter before pouring into the mold.



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