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2018 Christchurch workshop!

NEW! Christchurch Weekend Workshop

It’s finally going ahead on Saturday and Sunday 28 & 29 July 2018 in CHRISTCHURCH! I am so excited to offer a soap workshop to you wonderful soap makers on the South Island!

Two full on days with demonstrations, theory and practical sessions covering everything from cold process soap making to advanced swirling techniques. Learn how to make milk soaps, how to add honey to your soap, what (natural) additives you can add to increase lather or hardness of your soaps and learn how to create and formulate your own recipes! Course costs includes all material and equipment and you will have ample opportunity to try out the new techniques you have learned in the practical sessions.

Meet up with other like minded and passionate soap makers and share your soap tips and tricks! This workshop is aimed at soap makers who understand the basic cold process method and want to improve their skills and learn new techniques.

The course takes place on a beautiful private property only 30 minutes from Christchurch, thanks to our wonderful host, Saskia Berkhout-Findley.



  • Chemistry of soap making
  • Cold process soap making technique
  • How to control and manipulate the soaping process
  • Formulating your own recipes
  • Calculating lye, how to discount and superfat
  • Using fragrances and essential oils in soap
  • Micas, dyes and natural colourants in soap
  • Colouring techniques including swirling, ombre technique and more!
  • Adding clays, fresh ingredients and other additives
  • Making milk soaps
  • Natural soap making
  • Troubleshooting and how to avoid and fix problems in soaps

DATES: Sat 28 and Sun 29 July (2 days)
TIMES: 10 am – 4 pm
LOCATION: 2428 S Eyre Rd, Eyrewell Forest
COST: $220 pp (includes all material)

Limited to 8 spaces only! Registration closes 24 June 2018


Once you have registered, you will receive an email from me within the 24 hours.

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9 soap making tips to help you succeed!


Making soap is not hard. It should be fun and definitely not stressful. The reason I decided to write about this topic this week is because I had several friends message me recently about problems they were having with their soap.

1. Start with easy projects

Lavender Castile soap

I know it’s tempting to start off with something like the Dancing Funnel Technique but you really want your first soap making experiences to be a success. Start off with a simple soap recipe (like the basic cold process recipe) with a single fragrance or essential oil. Once you have understood and mastered the soap making process itself, you’ll find it easier to start adapting recipes and adding colour and changing the design of the soap.

Here are some other simple recipes to get you started with additives and colours.

And the same goes for more experienced soap makers: do a simple soap every now and then, just for the simplicity and the zen of making soap. I love making a single essential oil Castile soap. Instead of having to worry about intricate colour designs or advanced soap making techniques, I can just relax and enjoy the experience of making pure soap. I do them not only because these make for beautiful soaps, but it’s also a reminder that sometimes simple is enough.

2. Research the ingredients

Especially when using ingredients that you have never used before. Find out how they behave in soap. Will they react or discolour in hot/cold process soap? Are they suitable for melt and pour?

Soap seizing due to the fragrance

It is important to understand the effect an ingredient can have on the soap making process and in the soap itself. Some fragrances, like those containing vanillin, will change the colour of your soap to a tan or brown colour. Other additives, especially fragrances, will accelerate the chemical reaction, which will make your soap thicken quickly and render it unsuitable for any colour work. Also find out how to use a particular ingredient. Different colourants, for example, will need different preparation before you can add it to your soap. Micas are best diluted in oils, whereas pigments are mixed with water. Other ingredients can change the oil/water ratio of your recipe. Fresh ingredients add additional water to the recipe, clays, on the other hand, absorb water.

Check out the following articles for more information:

3. Preparation, preparation, preparation!

I can’t emphasise this too much. The worst thing that can happen to a soap maker is having to prepare an ingredient while you’re soap is already at trace and thickening. Make sure you have all your ingredients and materials prepared and laid out, ready for use. Prepare your colours. Measure out your fragrances and essential oils. Pre-mix any additives, such as clays, that you will be using. One of my early mistakes was assuming I had enough oils for my soap, only to start measuring out and realising that I had run out of olive oil. Always prepare before you start soaping and don’t forget to have your equipment ready as well!

Everything laid out and ready for my cupcakes!

4. Tick off all the ingredients as you go

Often I get a help message from a soap maker asking what to do when they have forgotten an ingredient. Fragrances and colourants don’t really matter, they’re just annoying if you left them out. Likewise other additives, such as sodium lactate or forgetting to spray the surface with alcohol, have little impact on your soap. However, forgetting to add one of the oils or fats, or adding them twice, can ruin the whole soap. Even after years of making soap, I will still tick off the ingredients I added as I go. It’s a habit that I follow religiously, because I can be quite scatter-brained and easily distracted. So being able to look at the recipe and see what I have and haven’t yet added helps me keep track and has saved me many, many times from making a bad mistake!

5. Forget temperature

Adding the lye to the oils when both are roughly at room temperature.

My pet peeve in a lot of soap making literature is temperature. Having made soap for over 20 years and starting off without the cool soap books and websites that are around today, I learned a lot through trial and error. And let me tell you this, temperature was never a huge factor in my soap making. The one lesson I learned early on was to avoid heat! If I soaped too warm, all sorts of funny things would start to happen, which is why I soap at room temperature. So please relax and stop obsessing about temperature. Your lye and your oils don’t have to be at a certain temperature, and you’ll have perfectly good soap without the added stress of trying to get the temperature exactly right. Let both your oils and your lye cool down to approximate room temperature, which is when the outside of the oil and lye container will feel cool to touch or at most lukewarm. Cooler is better, especially when using ingredients such as sugar and milk.

Goats milk soap

6. Patience!

I’m talking about curing time here. This is the most difficult part for any soap maker, as they will tell you, waiting for the soap to be ready. Unfortunately, soap is not something that will be ready the next day, unless you’re using a melt and pour soap base, or re-batching, but even then it will take a few weeks to be fully ready. The golden rule for hot and cold process soap is “the longer the curing time, the better the soap”. Soaps that haven’t had a full curing time, will still contain a little moisture, and such soaps end up getting mushy in your soap tray. You’ll find soaps that have had the longest time to cure will be the ones that are the hardest and longest lasting and the ones that remain nice in your soap tray. So be patient and leave those soaps to cure for months!

Margarita soap

Tip: when I give away my soaps, I usually tell my friends to not use them straight away but place them where they keep their towels. That way their towels get to smell lovely and the soap gets additional curing time!

7. Keep a record of your soaps

One of the most annoying things that can happen is when you use one of your soaps, after having cured for half a year or so, and then absolutely loving it, but when you try and remember what you put in it, you find you lost the piece of paper you wrote the recipe on. Particularly, when you start experimenting and creating your own recipes, make sure you write it down. Not just the recipe, but the method (did you use a stick blender), how the soaping process went (did it accelerate or thicken too quickly), how the ingredients behaved (did the fragrance discolour the soap), and how it cured (how long, DOS, any discolouring?). These notes will help you for future recipes and will also be a record of how certain ingredients behaved in soap. Have a separate notebook, just for your soap making. Write down the date and the recipe and then keep adding notes as you check and use the soap.

8. Less but more often

A lot of soap makers don’t have special soap making rooms or areas and just make soap in their kitchen, as do I. And it seems logical to dedicate a whole afternoon or a day to just soap making, like having ‘baking days’ or ‘canning days’. But unlike baking or canning, making soap is actually a quick and easy thing to do. You don’t need an oven or a lot of equipment, there’s not a lot of preparation and apart from the cooling down of the lye and oils, it doesn’t take that much time either. So instead of making a lot of soap in one time, make smaller amounts but more often. I love preparing my lye and oils in the morning after everyone has left the house, and then I’ll do some blogging or writing (or housework), and about 1-2 hours later, I’ll go and make the soap, which should take no more than half an hour.

My favourite soap mold is this 4-bar square silicon mold from Pure Nature.

Regular practice makes perfect, the saying goes, and by making soap more often but only a batch at a time, means you get more practice. After a long break from soap making, like my annual summer break, I always find I need a few batches to get back into it. Making a simple soap at least a couple of times during my break, keeps me from getting too ‘rusty’!

9. Don’t get discouraged

Thomas Edison never gave up. The story goes it took him over 10000 tries to invent the light bulb and when asked why he never gave up, he replied: “I didn’t fail. I just found 10000 ways that didn’t work.” I love reminding myself of this, when a soap doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.


Don’t be afraid to try new techniques, experiment with new ingredients or play with a new idea. It might not turn out the first time, or even the second time, but you will learn from those experiences. Get up, brush off the disappointment and try again. Find out what went wrong and how you can improve it or avoid it. My biggest lessons in my soap making journey came from my failures, and I am willing to bet that every other soap maker will tell you exactly the same thing. So don’t get discouraged and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s all about the journey. Making soap should be an enjoyable, fun experience, regardless if you are making one small batch or hundred bars of soap at a time.

Aargh, the dreaded soap ash!

And lastly, we are usually our worst critics. The soda ash on your soap? The glycerin rivers? Not quite the colours you were aiming for? What you see as a mistake, others won’t notice and they will love your soap! Trust me!

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Let’s talk about water


One of the most common questions I get asked here in New Zealand is “Do I need to use distilled water when I make soap?” To answer this, we need to take a closer look at the water you use. Where does your water come from? When rain water falls, it is mostly free from impurities, but as it makes its way through the soil and rocks, the water dissolves and picks up minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. Water containing minerals is called hard water, whereas rain water and treated water very low in dissolved minerals is called soft water.

In your home, hard water is the cause of lime scale and soap scum, which is when the minerals in the water bond with the soap forming a greasy film. Another effect that hard water has on soap is that it tends to reduce the quality and amount of lather in your soap.

In soap making, hard water can also affect the saponification process, i.e. when the dissolved minerals in the water react with the other chemicals, leading to inconsistencies  and poorer quality of your soaps. However the most common problem with hard water is the increased chance of getting DOS (= Dreaded Orange Spots) in your soaps, a term used in the soap making community to describe the localised oxidation (orange spots) of unsaturated soft oils, such as olive oil, sunflower oils and rice bran oil. These DOS not only affect the appearance of the soap, but will also cause the oxidised oils in the soap to go rancid.

glass of water

However, the good news is that most of the tap water here in New Zealand is rain water or comes from a rainwater reservoir. So we can, with ease of mind, use tap water to make soap. For those on bore water (water from underground aquifers), don’t despair! You can either use distilled water or you can add chelators to your soap. Distilled water is available from your supermarket or hardware store, and is fairly cheap.

To find out if you are on bore or reservoir water, check with your water supplier or local council!

If you want to use chelators to soften your water, the most common chelators used in soap making are citric acid, sodium citrate and EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid). They work by binding the minerals, basically rendering them inactive, and thus improving the lather and effectiveness of the soap. Citric acid is probably the easiest to get hold of here in New Zealand, with the added bonus that it is also considered a natural additive. If you intend to use citric acid to soften your hard water, usage is 10 g of citric acid for every 200 to 300 ml of water (roughly the amount of water used in a 1000 g oil recipe). Mix the citric acid into the water before you add the caustic soda. However, because citric acid also neutralises, you will need to add extra caustic soda to compensate. For each 10 g of citric acid used, you will need to add an extra 6.24 g NaOH to your recipe.


Another dilemma many beginner soap makers have is should you weigh or measure your water? As you may have noticed in the previous paragraph, or in my tutorials and workshops, I usually give the water amount in millilitres. Water is the only ingredient in your soap that doesn’t matter if you are a couple of grams out, or even 10 grams!

The reason for this lies in the purpose of water in the soap making process. If I were to add the caustic soda, which comes in pellets or flakes, directly to my oils and fats, guess what would happen? Nothing. Water is the medium I need to dissolve the caustic soda, so that its molecules can react with the fat and oil molecules to produce soap (and glycerin). That is the only purpose of water. It isn’t part of the actual chemical reaction during the saponification process, and eventually the water needs to be removed again, which is done through curing.

So how much water I use doesn’t really matter, as long as I use enough to dissolve all the caustic soda, right? Wrong. Even though water isn’t part of the chemical reaction itself, it does have an impact on the speed and temperature of the soap making process. Saponification is an exothermic reaction, meaning it produces heat. The amount of water will let you control both the speed and the temperature of the chemical reaction. By adding more water to a recipe, you can slow down the saponification process and lower the temperature of the soap during this process. You add more water if you need more time, such as when doing colour work and swirling or when you have a lot of fast moving oils in your recipe. You also add water if you need to lower the temperature of the process and prevent the soap overheating, for example when using certain ingredients, particularly those containing sugar, such as honey. And when using additives like clays and flours, which absorb water, or when you add fresh ingredients or water containing ingredients to your soap, you will also need to consider the amount of water you are using in your recipe.

Although adding more water in a recipe can be useful, it does have its drawbacks. More water slows the saponification process, which means the soap will take longer to thicken and reach trace. And all the water you add to your soap will eventually need to evaporate again during the curing to make for a nice, hard bar of soap. More water equals longer curing time. More water can also make a soap softer and stickier, making it more difficult to unmold. And another major disadvantage is that soaps with a high water content are prone to forming glycerin rivers. Although perfectly fine to use, the translucent streaks or rivers are usually regarded as an undesired effect in soaps.

Using less water is known as adding a ‘water discount’ to your recipe. Where more water slows down the process, less water will speed it up. This is an advantage when using a lot of slow moving oils and those with long curing times, such as olive oil. My olive oil soap recipes usually have water discount, which cuts down the curing time significantly.  However, discounting your water in a recipe will speed up the chemical reaction and increase the temperature, making it more difficult to control the soap making process, which is why I usually recommend to attempt water discounting to advanced soap makers only. In rare cases, a water discount can cause a soap to overheat to the point of quickly expanding and rising out of the mold, a phenomenon  known as the Volcano Effect. Although spectacular to witness, the design of the soap will be ruined (although the soap can still be used).

How much water you should use in a recipe depends on the oils you use (slow or fast moving), the design of your soap (i.e. colour work or swirling), and your additives and the effect they have on the saponification process. You’ll notice different soap makers and soap calculators will use different methods to calculate their water. Some use a set amount of water, usually something between 250 – 300 ml of water per 1000 g of oils. Others calculate a percentage of the total weight of oils or total recipe, somewhere between 22% to 33%. The most accurate method, however, is to calculate the amount of water in relation to the amount of caustic soda in the recipe.

The standard amount I use in my soap recipes is a 33% lye solution, which is twice as much water as caustic soda. So for example, if a recipe calls for 130 g of caustic soda, I would use 260 ml of water. Most of my recipes will use a 33% lye solution. If I add a water discount to a recipe, for example when using certain ingredients or to avoid glycerin rivers, I might go up to a maximum of a 40% lye solution. Anything more than 40% and you’ll end up with a very fast moving (accelerating), high temperature chemical reaction, which would be very difficult to control. Also never use a lye solution stronger than 50% (equal parts of water and caustic soda), because there won’t be enough water to dissolve the caustic soda.

How to calculate your water:

25% lye solution
weight of caustic soda (g) x 3 = water (ml)


33% lye solution
weight of caustic soda (g) x 2 = water (ml)


40% lye solution
weight of caustic soda (g) x 1.5 = water (ml)


Note: 1 gram of water equals 1 ml water

To understand and see the effects different strengths of lye solutions can have on soap, check out this blog post by Auntie Clara, who created a stunning Ghost Swirl soap by using only different strengths of lye solutions. And while you’re there, have a browse through her soap gallery. Her soaps are absolutely amazing!

Lastly, a friendly word of caution: Adding a water discount will increase the strength of your lye solution, making your lye more potent and more dangerous! Be careful when working with lye. Always wear protective gear, such as safety goggles and disposable gloves to protect your eyes and skin. Stay safe!