Encountered a fail batch? Well, you are not alone!
Here are 15 common problems encountered by soap makers and how you can avoid them.
Does not matter if you are a beginner or experienced soap maker - your soaps can go wrong sometimes but here are some tips to help minimize the risk.
Preparation is key when coming for our DIY Workshop.
- Always prepare your recipe and try to stick to it. (I know some soap makers tend to change last minute and things can get chaotic after that. Yikes! Yup, it happens.)
- Ensure that you have enough ingredients - you can always purchase ingredients from us so that you don't have to carry too much stuff to the studio. Our ingredients are charged per gram - so you only buy what you use!
- Buy ingredients from a reliable seller to get a good and consistent result. (We always undergo a quality check of our ingredients before releasing it to our soap makers.)
- Set-up your work-table so that you have all the items you need within reach (So that you will not miss any ingredients such as essential oils for your scents - happens many many times with our DIY participants.)
Now that you are well-prepped, here are some of the common problems for you to know and try to avoid:
1. My soap has orange or brown spots and smells weird.
Reason: These are called DOS (Dreaded Orange Spots) which indicates the oils in the soap are going rancid. Always check your expiry and use fresh oils from reliable vendors and use distilled water instead of tap water (to avoid any contaminant).
2. There is a white layer (soda ash) forming at the top of my soap.
Reason: Due to exposure to air or uneven temperature. Cover your soap to minimize the amount of air that the raw soap is exposed to or lightly spritz the top with some rubbing alcohol before covering to cure. If soda ash is formed, don't worry, you can remove the soda ash by carefully using a garment steamer to steam the ash from the soap.
3. There is a ring on the outer layer of my soap.
Reason: The soap has a partial gel. This means it started getting hot and going through gel phase but cooled down too quickly before it could reach the edges. Once you cut your soaps, allow your bars to cure further. This is a temporary look and it should even out eventually.
4. My soap is crumbly and hard.
Reason: Salt bars and hard oils such as coconut can set up pretty quickly and if you cut them too late, it can become crumbly. Incorrect amount of lye and too much sodium lactate may also cause your soap to crumble.
5. My soap feels soft or slimy
Reason: You may need an extra curing time if you are using a high amount of soft oils in your recipe (eg: 100% olive oil needs a longer time to cure). Always ensure that your bar is fully cured before using - otherwise, your soap will turn mushy and melt pretty fast. The longer you cure, your bar will be harder and long-lasting. Use a well-draining soap dish to hold your soap and avoid direct sunlight when using it.
6. Water droplets are pooling at the top of my soap.
Reason: The natural glycerin in soap making can attract moisture due to humidity. Some fragrance oil may separate from the soap batter and form beads or pools of fragrant oil on the surface of the soap. Also, check ingredients used are from reliable sources. If water droplets are formed, wipe it off and allow it to cure further.
7. My soap batter turns lumpy or has rice-like pieces in it.
Reasons: This is primarily a problem with fragrance oils. Some just don’t do well when combined with raw soap and will bind with bits of hard fats in the recipe causing those lumps. Also, ensure that your utensils are cleaned thoroughly and free from any batter from previous soap sessions.
8. My soap is too hard.
Reason: You have a high percentage of hard oils such as coconut and the use of salt in your recipe can make the soap harden pretty fast. Keep a lookout and check your soap especially during the first 6 hours. If they are starting to harden, cut your soaps quickly before it gets too hard to cut.
9. My soap trace very fast.
Reason: Using a high percentage of hard oil and adding in essential oils earlier can sometimes cause your soap batter to trace faster. Ensure that the temperature of the oil and lye solution is level accordingly before mixing and do short pulses from the stick blender. Add essential oils last as it can potentially accelerate tracing.
10. My soap has uneven colour streaks or spots in it.
Reason: This is usually caused by colorants that are not completely mixed into the soap batter. Blend your colourants well with oil to avoid lumps before adding it in your soap batter.
11. Crack on top of the soap.
Reason: The soap is getting too hot or overheating. This can happen if you add in additives that can heat up such as beer, milk, sugar/honey. Some spice essential or fragrance oil can cause overheating too. If you have insulated or covered your mold, remove the layers and allow it to cure in a cooler room. Too much clay or oxides can also cause a chalky texture that cracks on the top.
12. Soap batter thickens up quickly when making design soaps.
Reason: Timing is key when doing designs. This could be caused by high temperature and/or over-mixing. Mix your oil and lye solution at a lower temperature if you have a high percentage of hard oils and do short pulses when using the stick blender for mixing.
13. My lye solution turned a really weird and unexpected colour.
Reason: If you are using other liquid aside from water eg: milk or herbal teas, this may happen. The temperature of the lye solution will go up when lye is mixed with liquid. To prevent the lye from burning your liquid, put an ice tray under your liquid before mixing the lye. Alternatively, freeze your liquid unto cubes before making the lye solution.
See video: Lavender Coconut Milk Soap.
14. Soap has grooves or drag lines.
Reason: This usually happens when you are cutting your soap bars with decorations. Ensure that you position the top soap decorations well so that it will not get stuck on your wire-cut and get dragged down when cutting.
15. Soap has weird lines or veins.
Reason: These are called glycerin rivers, which are formed when the natural glycerin in soap overheats and forms clear veins of marbling throughout the soap. Sometimes the veins may have a translucent white look to them. Glycerin rivers are more visible with pigments, especially Titanium Dioxide. They aren’t harmful and don't affect the quality of soap. Sometimes it even lends an interesting appearance to soap. Work at lower temperatures and reduce the amount of water in your recipe.
We hope the above will help you prevent (or minimise) any mishaps during your soap making experiments.
If you encounter any soap with problems but are not listed above, just approach our instructors on duty to advise you further.