Guest post by Amber Beltran of A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.
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A SOAP MAKING NIGHTMARE!
Alright, you caught me! While the blue blob in the picture above isn’t really soap at all (It’s Playdoh I borrowed from my son on an “artistic whim”!), it very well could have been, considering it’s about the right consistency of actual “soap on a stick”! For those of you who have been fortunate to have never experienced this dreaded phenomenon before, “soap on a stick” is a common soap making term used to describe soap batter that has seized-up (Or “seized”, for short.) so suddenly and severely that within just a matter of seconds (Sometimes even less!), it goes from being perfectly fluid and workable in consistency, to an impossibly thick, unmanageable “brick”. “Soap on a stick” is an apt term for it, since the soap batter usually becomes so hard, and so stubbornly thick, it’ll stick to a spatula like a horribly misshapen cake pop! It’s truly a soap making nightmare, and the main culprit of this stomach-turning event is usually a very ill-behaved fragrance oil.
When a particular fragrance oil decides to run amok so badly, to the point where your entire design-plan goes out the window in two seconds flat, there’s really only a few solutions. You could choose to continue on by smashing and mashing your soap into the mold as best as humanly possible; but unfortunately, the batch might not look as aesthetically pleasing as originally planned or intended. Of course, the outcome will still produce perfectly useable bars of soap, but it’s “unsightly” batches like these that usually end up being reserved for personal and family-use only! Another option is to grab your Crockpot and do what’s called an “emergency hot process”. By using heat to hasten saponification and force gel, your soap will go from opaque to semi-translucent in appearance (Resembling chunky applesauce!), and return to a more malleable consistency. This makes it easier to spoon the soap back into your mold and give it a smoother appearance. Most likely, the batch won't look anything like its origional design plan, but it’ll make for wonderful bars of soap to lather up with, as well as gifts for friends and family! Of course, re-batching is another option (We’ll save re-batching for another blog, since it’s a bit of a process in and of itself!), or you could even shred or chop the finished bars and make a batch of “confetti soap”. Sadly, many crafters end up feeling so frustrated and disheartened by a “soap on a stick” experience, they simply take the loss and toss the entire batch in the trash. Believe me, I get it... Been there, done that!
A fragrance oil that seizes on you is a total downer, and even if it’s a scent you absolutely worship, it’s understandable to never want to use that particular fragrance oil in a batch of cold process soap ever again. While I completely get why someone would feel hesitant, and even jaded, what if I told you there was a way to make incredible batches of soap with even the worst-behaving fragrance oils? What if I also told you those batches could be fun, colorful, decorative and beautiful too? Would you believe me, or would you think the Florida humidity had finally gotten to my head? While the latter might still be true, there really is a way to have it all, and I’m going share exactly how to get it! The key lies in preparedness. Let’s “talk fragrance” for a moment, and while we’re at it, make a fun, spring-inspired batch of soap!
I ran into a small "dilemma" when choosing the fragrance oil for this project. I needed one that would remain on its worst behavior, but as I stood there rummaging through my fragrance oil collection, I realized something... Every single fragrance oil I have from Nurture Soap behaves beautifully in cold process! Even fragrances that were once little pranksters have been reformulated to perform wonderfully! Normally, this is a great thing, and I’m definitely not complaining, but how could I write about taming the wildest of fragrance oils if all I had were perfect-preforming angels? As I continued my search, I eventually found it...
I’m like a human goldfish; my concept of time is truly terrible! I can’t say exactly how long ago it was, but a while back, Nurture Soap went through the incredible endeavor of having a number of their fragrance oils reformulated to perform even better in cold process soap. Some of these fragrances stayed for the long haul and were reformulated marvelously, while others were discontinued to make room for exciting, new things to come! While all these awesome changes were underway, Nurture Soap generously offered us “Nurture-aholics” some pretty rad discounts on all the fragrance oils that were in the process of being revamped or discontinued. With notes of uplifting grapefruit, fragrant neroli, and fresh florals, I was already familiar with the gorgeous aroma of Nurture Soap’s “Snow Queen” fragrance oil, and didn’t hesitate snatching up a bottle while it was on sale! Despite the fact that it was notorious for heavily accelerating in cold process soap, I had to have it before it was discontinued and gone for good.
“Snow Queen” fragrance oil smells bright, fresh and elegant to my nose, so just from a personal perspective, it doesn’t smell very “snowy” to me. On the contrary, this duplication fragrance actually reminds me of spring! With its noted heavy acceleration, and having never used it in cold process application before, I felt it was absolutely perfect for this project! So, my crafty friends, while the fragrance oil I'll be using has since been discontinued, the idea behind this soapy creation remains the same: To take an especially difficult fragrance oil and make something great with it! This applies to all the “naughty” fragrances out there, so if you’ve got an over-achieving trickster in your fragrance oil arsenal, feel free to incorporate it into a batch of soap, as we conquer the world of misbehaving fragrances together!
TIPS & PREPARATIONS FOR SUCCESSFUL SOAP MAKING WITH HEAVY ACCELERATION & SEIZING
When it comes to making colorful and decorative batches of cold process soap with an especially difficult fragrance oil, it really and truly boils down to being prepared beforehand, then putting all that preparation into practice. The following information will enable you to do just that, easily and effortlessly! Beyond lye safety, there aren’t many “rules” when it comes to soap making, but there are guidelines, suggestions and tips. These specific guidelines and tips are designed to turn your most unpleasant soap making experiences into pleasant ones! At the end of the day though, keep in mind that tips and guidelines are simply just that... Employ the methods that work best for you, and which give you the results you desire most. There’s no such thing as a “right way” or “wrong way” of doing things; your way will always be right for you!
Skip additives and/or alternative liquids known to cause, or contribute to, acceleration. With fragrance oils that already cause enough trouble on their own, the last thing we want to do is give them opportunities to cause even more mischief! Omit additives, such as activated charcoal, heavy use of clays, certain botanical resins, and/or titanium dioxide, which can all contribute to acceleration. Omit sugar-containing additives and alternative liquids too, since sugars promote acceleration by naturally heating up in cold process soap. Examples include beer, wine, milks, honey, raw sugar, etc. With projects that include fragrances known to heavily accelerate or seize, it’s best to stick with good old fashioned distilled water for your lye solution, so there's no unexpected surprises.
Use full water, or only employ a slight liquid discount. Using the full liquid amount in your recipe will always buy you more time when working with a difficult fragrance oil. The less liquid within a recipe (The higher the liquid discount.), the faster your soap will reach trace and thicken. What exactly is “full water” though? The answer to that can be different from one soap maker to the next. One soap maker’s “full liquid” could be another’s slight liquid discount, but as a general guideline, “full liquid” generally refers to a liquid to lye ratio of 3-parts liquid to 1-part lye. A good example of a moderate discount is a lye solution made up of 2-parts liquid to 1-part lye. This makes for a lye concentration of approximately 33%, which simply means that 33% of the total solution consists of lye, while the remaining 67% is liquid. A steep liquid discount can be anything that surpasses this 33% lye concentration, such as 1.5-parts liquid to 1-part lye, or the steepest liquid discount of them all: a 1:1 liquid to lye ratio (A lye concentration of 50%.). Naturally, we don’t want to discount this particular recipe that high, but even a slight liquid discount has its benefits, and some crafters just prefer to employ some type of liquid discount. If this you, a slight liquid discount paired with a troublesome fragrance oil is typically a-okay! For this specific project, I employed a slight discount of 2.5-parts water to 1-part lye, which equates to a lye concentration of approximately 28.6%. Soapcalc’s recommended 38% water as a percentage of oil weight (A lye concentration of approximately 27.3%.) is another slight liquid discount that would work very well with a problematic fragrance oil.
Adjust the batch oils in your recipe to be slower-moving. As their nickname implies, “soft oils” (Oils/fats which are typically liquid at room temperature.) generally help to keep recipes slower-moving and more “forgiving”, while “hard oils” (Butters, oils/fats which are typically solid at room temperature.) tend to speed things up. Of course, there’s always exceptions to this, but to help keep things moving at a slower, more workable pace, take a look at the ratio of soft fats to hard fats within your recipe, then make any needed adjustments. For example, one of my personal favorite cold process soap recipes has a ratio of 60% hard fats to 40% soft fats. When it comes to working with a fragrance oil that heavily accelerates though, I might want to slow things down a bit by decreasing the amount of hard fats in my recipe (Which will subsequently increase my soft fats.). Ultimately, I ended up reformulating my recipe to consist of a more forgiving ratio of 50% hard fats to 50% soft fats. I also decreased the amount of castor oil that I normally use, since castor oil is one of those exceptions I mentioned. True, castor oil is a soft oil, but its usage in higher amounts (Above 5% within a recipe.) can actually cause soap batches to move considerably faster. This same exception applies to lard as well, only in reverse! Being a hard fat, you’d think lard would cause cold process recipes to speed up, but it actually does the opposite; slowing and/or extending just how quickly your soap reaches and maintains trace. These are just a couple soap making “quirks” to keep in mind when making adjustments to a recipe, but as a general guide, soft oils slow things down, and hard oils speed things up!
Keep your design, technique and colors simple. With the prospect of a fragrance oil causing heavy acceleration or seizing, it’s definitely for the best to skip any design plans which involve a lot of colors or intricate techniques. In no way does this mean your soap can’t be bright, colorful and/or decorative though; it just means we’ll have to achieve that in a different way. One idea for creating a colorful design is to work in layers, treating each layer as if it were its own “mini batch” of soap. For this specific batch though, we’ll be saving the majority of the details, colors and design for the very end of the project. In the meantime, to ensure everything goes smoothly and according to plan, we’ll embrace "The KISSS Rule”, as in: “Keep it Simple, Soap making Superstar”! For the main portion, or “body”, of this soapy project, we’ll use the soft, pearly shade of Nurture Soap’s “Velvet Pearl” mica. The optional soap frosting portion of the project will be imbued with the stunning turquoise-green tones of “High Society” mica... Simple, yet perfect for the springtime, flowery design we’re aiming for!
Soap cooler. Keep your temperatures low. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it suggested to new soap makers to begin the soap making process when both the lye solution and batch oils are around 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and within 10 degrees of each other. In my personal opinion, this is way too hot! Heat and acceleration go together like toast and jam... The hotter your soap making temps are, the faster your soap batter will reach trace and thicken. To make matters even more complicated, a fragrance oil which heavily accelerates has a much greater possibility of heating up during saponification too; oftentimes considerably. Combine that with soap making temps that are too hot to begin with, and you run the risk of ending up with a miniature Grand Canyon running through your batch of soap! I like to think there’s a “magical” temperature-range for soap making, where just like in the story of “Goldilocks & The Three Bears”, it’s neither too hot, nor too cold. When temps are too hot, there’s a much higher chance of acceleration, separation, oil seepage, glycerin rivers and/or overheating. Too cold, and new risks, such as false trace and pesky stearic spots, arise. So where is “just right” exactly? For me, that lands between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for my batch oils, and anywhere between room temperature, to no greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, for my lye solution. I’ve never put much importance in ensuring my batch oils and lye solution were within 10 degrees of each other, since I’ve personally never noticed a difference either way.
Avoid over-blending. Slowly step away from the stick blender! If there’s one thing I wish I would’ve known as a new soap maker, it would have been to treat my immersion blender as if it were an extra, not the main star of the show! If needed, you can always use your stick blender to thicken-up your soap batter a little more later on, but once you’ve blended it to a certain consistency, there’s really no way to un-blend it! As it is, even with a well-behaved fragrance oil, I might use my stick blender for a total of 30 seconds, tops; just long enough to bring my soap batter to emulsion or a light trace. With a project like this though, we definitely want to buy ourselves as much time as possible by keeping our soap batter nice and thin. Since we don’t have to worry about dividing the batch for multiple colors, we can also go ahead and add “Velvet Pearl” mica directly to the batch oils, prior to adding the lye solution. This will help us stay a step ahead by having our colorant already incorporated into the batch, before things begin to speed up!
Be prepared to work fast! We want to be ready to add the fragrance oil to the soap batter, stir it in by hand (No immersion blender for this part!), then quickly get it poured into the mold. Oftentimes, that’s about as much time as a heavily accelerating fragrance oil will allow before things start thickening up- fast! Having your mold nearby, your colorant already incorporated, and your batch blended to emulsion (Or no thicker than a very light trace.) will have you prepared for anything, and ready to get that batch in the mold where it belongs! Why? Because you’ve got this! “Snow Queen” fragrance oil wasn’t in any mood to play around, and boy was she certainly the impatient-type (She is a queen, after all!), but with all preparations in-place, getting this batch poured (And smoothed-over with a spatula.) was a success! When it comes to fast-moving fragrances, the presence of gaps or air pockets can be a common, yet highly unwanted surprise when the batch is unmolded, so don’t be afraid to show your soap who’s boss! Immediately after pour (Safety glasses ON!), heartily bang your mold down against a hard, sturdy surface to effectively eliminate any stubborn gaps or air pockets that might have formed while you were pouring the batch.
When working with a troublesome fragrance oil, avoid CPOP and keep your batch uninsulated. Have you ever read a review for a fragrance oil that went something along the lines of: “The fragrance itself smells amazing, but good grief! Everything bad that a fragrance oil can do in soap, this one did it!”? Unfortunately, the likelihood of a troublemaking fragrance oil getting into even more trouble isn’t as much of a coincidence as it is a domino effect, of sorts. A fragrance oil which heavily accelerates or seizes in cold process soap is likely to become quite hot during saponification. While this can lead to a lovely batch of gelled soap without any extra effort on your part to force it (My personal favorite scenario! I love gelled soaps!), it can also lead to things getting a little out of hand if the batch gets too hot. That’s why, as much as I’m a fan of CPOP and promoting gel phase, I actually recommend avoiding both when a heavily accelerating, heat-loving fragrance oil is involved... Besides, you’ll likely end up with a beautifully gelled batch of soap regardless! My own batch decided to start gelling all on its own, simply while sitting out, uncovered, on the counter!
After pouring the batch, but before making the soap frosting, I needed to run a quick errand. I was gone for no longer than 30 minutes, but by the time I returned, the batch had already begun gelling in the middle, and had even formed a small crack in the center for heat to escape! If you ever find yourself in a potential overheating situation, where your soap becomes so hot, it begins to crack a little, don’t panic! Superficial cracks, such as this one, almost always close back up on their own once the batch cools (And it did!). Can you imagine how much more it could have overheated had I decided to insulate or CPOP this batch though? If you’d rather avoid the risk of possible overheating altogether, you can always place your batch in the refrigerator, freezer, or a chilly location outside. One to two hours of cooling should do the trick, keeping temps nice and low, while avoiding unwanted outcomes associated with excessive heat.
ADDING DESIGN, DECORATION & COLOR!
So, we’ve successfully survived what’s normally considered a soap making “nightmare”, and have lived to tell the tale of a perfectly pretty, albeit simple, batch of soap! What’s next? Well, nothing but the best part, of course... Putting your personal, decorative (And colorful!) spin on it! What we’ve created for ourselves isn’t just a batch of soap, it’s a blank canvas, where the artistic possibilities are virtually endless! For my first “artistic spin” I chose to make soap frosting for the top of this batch, and you’re absolutely welcome to do the same if you’d like! Nurture Soap’s “High Society” mica is one of my all-time-favorite mica colors, so that’s what I chose for this particular batch of soap frosting. “High Society” mica looks amazing in any application, and its versatility brings stunning results to both melt & pour and cold process soap projects! I’ll never get tired of how jaw dropping this mica looks when first incorporated into batch oils, and I'll always be in awe of its colorful transformation in cold process soap; going from a brilliant golden-emerald color to a breathtaking shade of turquoise!
Placing some simple, yet eye-catching embeds on top of the soap frosting added a bold “POP” of color and decorative interest to this project, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of Nurture Soap’s Low Sweat, Clear Soap Base, and the always-beautiful “Cheshire Cat” and “Blue Enigma” micas! To finish up for the day, an even dusting of more “Blue Enigma” mica brought a whimsical, metallic-like sheen to the top of this sudsy creation. Because this batch had gotten plenty hot on its own, I decided a soap-frosted top was insulation enough, and allowed the batch to remain uncovered overnight. That way, it would continue gelling throughout, but wouldn’t become too hot and potentially overheat. By the next morning, the batch was ready to be cut!
Cutting this batch yielded exactly what I'd intended and expected: Eight beautiful, blank, soapy “canvases”. It’s here where one's unique skills can be utilized, and many artistic avenues can be explored! For example, if you enjoy working with soap dough, all kinds of creative ideas are possible, and the sky’s the limit as to how you choose to decorate your bars of soap! Even if you’re unfamiliar with the fascinating world of soap dough, the possibilities are still as limitless as your imagination! I chose to use more Low Sweat, Clear Soap Base (And more fabulous micas from Nurture Soap!) to create flowers in various sizes, shapes and colors. With them, I was able to decorate each bar of soap, creating a lovely springtime bouquet that I decided to call “Floating Flowers”. A bit of liquid castile soap, generously brushed onto the underside of each newly-made flower embed, helped to firmly affix them to each bar of soap with ease. Of course, you’re always fully invited to re-create the springtime design I’ve created here, or allow your creativity to run as wild as it pleases! Practically anything you set your imagination to goes!
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL!
I’m so happy to have gotten the opportunity to make a batch of soap with Nurture Soap’s now-discontinued “Snow Queen” fragrance oil! It smells beautiful out of the bottle, but positively gorgeous in application! Working with a fragrance oil that mildly rices and/or accelerates isn’t the most ideal soap making scenario, but for a fragrance that smells oh-so amazing, many crafters are usually more than willing to overlook those small misbehaviors. It isn’t until we unexpectedly venture into heavy acceleration, or “seizing-territory”, that we feel downright reluctant to ever repeat the experience again. A well-planned batch of soap that turns into “soap on a stick” is a royal bummer, but once you’re prepared for it, there’s no need to avoid it. If you’re in love with a fragrance oil that smells like heaven, but puts you through soap making hell, there’s a way to make it work! You might have to employ a different method and/or process, but with a little modification and preparation, there isn’t a single challenge you can’t overcome! Being a soap maker inherently makes you a creative problem-solver too; expecting the worst just means planning for the best results! You’ve totally got this!
- Sodium Hydroxide (Lye), Superfatted at 5%
- 2.5-Parts Distilled Water to 1-Part Lye (*28.57% Lye Concentration)
- 30% Olive Oil
- 30% Coconut Oil
- 20% RSPO Palm Oil
- 10% Avocado Oil
- 5% Castor Oil
- 6% Fragrance Oil (*Per IFRA Category: 9 skin-safe usage rates. Use any heavily accelerating, yet fabulous-smelling fragrance oil that you’d like!)
- 1 – 2tsp Per Pound of Batch Oils: “Velvet Pearl” Mica
- Sodium Hydroxide (Lye), Superfatted at 5%
- 2-Parts Distilled Water to 1-Part Lye (*33.33% Lye Concentration)
- 35% Olive Oil
- 30% RSPO Palm Shortening
- 25% Coconut Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 1tsp Per Pound of Batch Oils: “High Society” Mica
- Decorative Melt & Pour Embeds (*Optional)
- ATECO #172 Piping Tip