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Neon swirl soap

Difficulty: Intermediate
Time: 1 hr
Yields: 1250 g of soap
Mould: standard loaf mould

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I recently discovered neon pigments, available from Pure Nature, and they’re perfect for this easy-peasy swirling method to create these stunning soaps. I loved the bright colours so much, that I repeated the same recipe with three different colour combinations. Yellow and green, pink and orange, and a trio of pink, blue and purple. I’ll let you decide which you like the best!

This recipe is an ideal introduction into swirling after you’ve done a few other soaps. The swirling method is really easy to do and pretty much fail-safe. You just need to make sure you’re using a fluid soap recipe, because one of the most common problems encountered with swirling or any technique that takes time, is that the soap starts to thicken and becomes impossible to pour. This recipe I’m using here is my go-to recipe whenever I need time.  It is an adaption of a pure Castile (olive oil) soap, to which I’ve added castor oil (for extra lather) and sodium lactate, a natural additive which helps speed up the hardening of the soap. The result is a lovely mild cleansing bar of soap with all the good qualities of olive oil, but without the long curing time.


Before starting, please read the safety and precautions post, especially since this tutorial requires the handling of caustic soda!

If you have never soap before, I strongly recommend you check out the basic cold process soap tutorial first, and make several other easier soaps before continuing.

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ONE: First prepare your lye by weighing out the caustic soda and water. And then, carefully, add the caustic soda to the water (NEVER THE OTHER WAY ROUND!), and stir until the lye water is clear.

Add two teaspoons of sodium lactate, and set aside to cool down. I usually leave my lye solution to cool down in the sink. So in case I knock it over, it will spill into the drains, and the worst thing that will happen is that I have clean drains.

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TWO: In the meantime, weigh out the olive oil and castor oil in your soap pot, which can be a large stock pot, a pyrex jug, or even an empty 2L ice cream container. Set aside.

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THREE: While you are waiting, prepare the colours. Mix 1/2 -1 teaspoon of each colour that you will be using with 1-2 teaspoon of oil (for example olive oil) in a small beaker or container.

If you are using just two colours, use 1 teaspoon each, for three colours use 1/3 teaspoon each, and if you are using four colours use 1/2 teaspoon of each colour.

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FOUR: Once the lye has cooled down to room temperature, and making sure you are still wearing your goggles and gloves, carefully add lye to the oils and then, using a stick blender, pulse and stir to thin trace. Make sure you keep the soap at a very fluid, thin consistency. If you’re worried about getting it too thick, you can also use a whisk and beat the oil/lye mixture until it has emulsified (does not separate). I often can’t be bothered getting my stick blender out and will just whisk the soap. (Yes, that works perfectly fine!)

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FIVE: Add the fragrance to the emulsified soap mixture and give it a quick stir.

I used different Candlescience fragrances for each of the colour combinations:

  • green and yellow: coconut lime
  • orange and hot pink: mango and tangerine
  • white, bright pink, blue and purple: sweet pea

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SIX: Separate the soap into roughly equal portions depending on the number of colours you are using and add the colours to each pot of soap. Using your stick blender or whisk, briefly mix each pot until the colour is evenly dispersed through the soap.

Note for the white/pink/blue/purple soap, I left one portion uncoloured.

SEVEN: To create the swirls, pour a line of one colour along the length of your mould. You can either pour to the line on the side or the centre, it’s up to you. If you pour it in the centre, you’ll have a roughly symmetrical soap, like the white/pink/blue/purple soap, and if you have the line more to one side, it will be more skewed, like the yellow/green soap below.

Next pour a line of another colour INTO the same line of soap that you just poured. So instead of pouring the soap next to each other, you keep pouring into the same line over and over again, and this pushes the colours to the side and creates the swirls that you see in the soaps.

You can be a bit more daring, and instead of one line, create two lines into which you pour the soap, just like I did with the orange/pink soap (further below). Or you can change halfway and start a new line on the other side. You can’t really do anything wrong. Even if you don’t hit the previous line of soap exactly, it doesn’t matter, you’ll still get your swirls.

Keep pouring, alternating the colours, into the same line until all the soap has been used up.

Leave the soap somewhere warm and dry, out of direct sunlight, to cure.

EIGHT: After 2-3 days, check if the soap has hardened and isn’t sticky and soft anymore. Don’t be tempted to unmould to soon, like I was with the orange/pink soap. The hardest part of creating swirl soaps is waiting for the soap to become hard enough to unmould. Once it is hard enough, carefully unmould, and cut it into bars. The bars of soap will need a further 6-8 weeks to cure before they are ready for use.

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Neon swirl soap

  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print
Before starting, make sure you wear protective goggles and gloves and work in a well-ventilated area, free from any distractions!

Ingredients

  • 950 g olive oil
  • 50 g castor oil
  • 128 g caustic soda
  • 280 g water
  • 2 teaspoons sodium lactate
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon each of the neon colours you are using
  • 30 ml fragrance

Directions

  1. Measure out 280 g of water into a heat proof Pyrex jug. Weigh out 128 g of caustic soda and carefully add it to the water, avoiding any splashes. Gently stir until all the caustic soda has dissolved and the lye solution is clear.
  2. Add two teaspoons of sodium lactate to the lye solution. Set aside to cool down.
  3. Weigh out the olive oil and castor oil in your soap pot. Set aside.
  4. Prepare your essential oil blend. Set aside.
  5. Mix 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of each colour with 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil in a separate pot. The exact amounts depend on how many colours you are using. Set aside.
  6. Once the lye has cooled down to room temperature, and making sure you are still wearing protective goggles and gloves, carefully add the lye to the oils.
  7. Using a stick blender or whisk, stir until the oil/lye mixture has emulsified.
  8. Add 30 ml of fragrance and give it another quick mix with the stick blender.
  9. Divide the soap into roughly equal portions and colour each portion with one of the colour/oil mixture. Briefly mix each pot a quick pulse with a stick blender or whisk until the colour is evenly dispersed through the soap.
  10. Pour a line of one colour along the length of the mould.
  11. Pour another colour of soap into the previous line of soap. Keep repeating the colours until all the soap has been used up.
  12. Place the soap in a warm, dry area to cure.
  13. After 2-3 days, check if the soap is firm enough to unmould. Remove from mould and cut into bars. The bars will need further curing for about 6-8 weeks until ready for use.

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Where to get a hanger swirl tool in New Zealand?

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One of the disadvantages that we have down under (New Zealand and Australia, but also pretty much anywhere which is not North America) is that we can’t easily get hold of the many soap making tools and equipment that they have in the US. So sometimes a little kiwi ingenuity is called for. Luckily, there’s no short supply of that here in little ol’ New Zealand! Here’s my quest to find a hanger swirl tool in New Zealand.

I first came across the hanger swirl method through Soap Queen on her blog, and shortly after, I ordered one of those hanger swirl tools from her webshop in the US. They’re not expensive, around US$6, and I still use mine frequently. However, postage to New Zealand is incredibly expensive, and the hanger swirl tool is actually just a piece of plastic coated wire. I figured it shouldn’t be difficult to find something similar here in a hardware shop that would do the same job. So I set out to see what I could find.

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First, the requirements. Whatever I was going to use had to be fairly firm and solid, yet bendable and able to hold its shape. And it has to be of a material that can withstand the caustic environment of freshly poured soap. This means no aluminium, zinc or tin, which react (corrode) with anything that has a higher pH than 12 (caustic soap has a pH of 13-14).

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So off I went. The first section I went to was the wire section. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any plastic coated wires, and the only wires that were available were either aluminium or galvanised steel (which is zinc plated). I also looked at the electric cables, but they were too floppy and wouldn’t hold shape.

Next, I went to check out the metal rods, but those were all too thick and didn’t seem as if they would bend at all. However, on my way back, I walked past washing line wires, and surprisingly, they looked like they might work. The heavy duty ones had a wire core, which was plastic coated, and seemed fairly thick and solid and I was able to put a sharp kink in it so that it would hold its U-shape. But unfortunately, after trying them out, I realised they only work as a hanger swirl tool as long as the soap doesn’t get too thick. The other downside is that they’re rather expensive, $29.98, and you’d have a lot of spare wire.

Either way, the washing line gave me the idea to think outside the box. I started to walk up and down the aisles looking for possible items that could be (mis-)used as hanger swirl tools. I thought the garden section might have bendable, plastic rod-things, but I couldn’t find any. However, I did find plenty of different sized hooks, made of plastic coated metal rods/wire and they looked like the perfect solution. Not only were they cheap ($2.98) they would also be strong and durable, and the plastic coating would protect the metal from the caustic soap. But when I got home, I realised the problem with these is not that you can’t bend them, some pliers or strong person will do the trick, but the coating can flake off when you try and bend it. Otherwise these hook things would have been perfect.

The best item I found on my search were these gear ties, which come in different sizes and strengths. These were the closest I could find to the standard hanger swirl tools. They are bendable to any shape you wanted, and you can keep re-shaping them to fit different containers. They are plastic (rubber) coated, and strength wise, they appear to be solid enough to hold their shape when pushing and pulling them through the soap, and the thickness of them is actually an added bonus. If you would use a very thin wire, you’d only get very thin lines going up and down in your soap, so for a nice swirling effect you do want a bit of thickness in your hanger swirl tool. The ones I bought was one of the middle sizes and I paid $12.98 for it, which came with two gear ties = two hanger swirl tools.

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And after giving them a try, I have to say, I’m very happy with the outcome! They worked really well. It was easy to bend them to the right shape, and the shape held when I pushed it in my thickened soap (unlike the clothes line wires). And as you can see, despite the thickness of the wire the lines in the soap are well defined and not disproportionate. The cleaning afterwards was a breeze. Because of the plastic coating, the soap washed off easily and looked just like new again. To be honest, I like this one better because it’s easier to bend and straighten and only slightly weaker than the original. And my original hanger swirl tool that I bought all these years ago has quite a few kinks and twists in it, which I can’t get out anymore. So it’s nice to have a good alternative to buying from the US. $12.98 for two hanger swirl tools is not bad at all.

Here’s a comparison side by side of the two tools.

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Purple swirl soap

Difficulty: Intermediate
Time: 1 hr
Yields: 1000 g soap

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When I think of the colour purple, I think of my favourite purple tie dye skirt, which were so popular in the eighties (yes, that’s how old I am!). Everyone I knew was wearing those tie dye skirts and I remember buying mine at the good old Victoria Park Market here in Auckland. I wore the skirt constantly and only took it off to wash. I even brought it with me to Europe! But eventually, things get old and discarded. But to bring back the eighties, here’s a soap to pay homage to the tie dye fashion!

To colour my soap I’m using Silken Violet and Dark Violet Purple micas from Pure Nature.

If you have never made cold-process soap before, I strongly suggest you check out the basic cold process soap tutorial first.

Before starting, please read the safety and precautions post, especially since this tutorial requires the handling of caustic soda!

For this tutorial, I’m using the wooden soap mold with silicon insert from Pure Nature, which can hold soaps with up to 1000g of oils. I’ll be making smaller soaps of approximately 90g each, depending on how much they have cured.

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ONE: First, prepare your lye. Weigh out the caustic soda in a small container. Measure the water in a small pyrex or other heat proof glass jug. Then carefully add the caustic soda to the water and gently stir until all the caustic soda has dissolved. Stir two teaspoons of sodium lactate to harden the soap quicker and shorten the curing time. This is particularly important for this soap, because we are using mainly olive oil in the recipe and working with a very fluid emulsion. Set aside to cool.

While you are waiting for the lye to cool down, you can prepare the colour and the oils.

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TWO: For the colour preparation, you will need two small containers, Silken Violet mica, Dark Violet Purple mica, and a little rice bran oil or other light weight oil. If you don’t have any, just use olive oil. In one container add 1/2 teaspoon of Silken Violet mica and 1/2 tablespoon of rice bran oil and stir well. In the other container, add 1/8 teaspoon Dark Violet Purple mica, 1/8 Silken Violet mica, and 1/2 tablespoon of rice bran oil and also stir well. Set aside for later use.

THREE: Next, prepare your oils. In a large heat proof jug (I’m using a 1.5L Pyrex jug), weigh out 750g of olive oil and 50g of castor oil.

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FOUR: When the lye has cooled to room temperature, i.e. the outside of the jug feels cool to touch, you can carefully pour the lye to the oils. Make sure you are wearing protective gear (goggles and gloves) and avoid making any splashes.

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FIVE: Using a whisk, hand stir until the mixture has emulsified, but before it starts to thicken. You know that it has emulsified when there are no more oil streaks and the mixture doesn’t separate if you stop stirring.

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SIX: Add your fragrance and give it a good stir to mix the fragrance through the soap. Make sure the fragrance you use doesn’t cause the soap to accelerate (thicken). Because we are doing colour work, this is particularly important here. I’m using lavender essential oil because I know it will behave and not cause any problems.

SEVEN: Next, divide the soap up as follows: Into one jug pour 150 ml of soap, and into another jug pour 300 ml soap. You should have about 550 ml of soap left in the original jug.

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EIGHT: To the smallest portion (150 ml) add the dark mica/oil mixture. To the 300 ml portion add the violet mica/oil mixture. Stir both containers well to disperse the colour evenly throughout the soap. The largest portion will be left uncoloured and will turn white once cured.

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NINE: Now it’s time to start pouring. First, pour a line of uncoloured soap along the edge of the mold.

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TEN: Next, take the jug with the violet coloured soap. Pour a line of soap INTO the line of uncoloured soap. From now on, you’ll keep pouring into the previous line as you keep alternating the colours. The order of the colours is as follows: WHITE, VIOLET, WHITE, VIOLET, WHITE, DARK, and then from the beginning again. Keep pouring until you have used up all your soap.

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ELEVEN: To finish off with a nice top, take a toothpick and draw straight parallel lines in the surface of the soap from edge to edge.

TEN: Leave the soap to cure for a few days in the mold, before removing. Then leave it to cure for another few days, before cutting it into bars. The bars of soap will need at least another 6-8 weeks to finish curing.

To prevent (harmless) soap ash from forming, like it has on my soap, spritz the surface with 99% isopropyl alcohol immediately after you’ve finished pouring the soap. If you do forget, like I did, you can gently wash off the soap ash using a little bit of water.

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“Purple

  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print
Before starting, make sure you wear protective goggles and gloves and work in a well-ventilated area, free from any distractions!

Ingredients

  • 750 g olive oil
  • 50 g castor oil
  • 100 g caustic soda
  • 200 ml water
  • 2 teaspoons sodium lactate
  • Dark Violet Purple mica
  • Silken Violet mica
  • 40 ml lavender essential oil

Directions

  1. Prepare your lye: carefully add the caustic soda to the water and stir gently until all the caustic soda has dissolved. Add two teaspoon of sodium lactate. Set aside to cool.
  2. Prepare your colour as follows: in one container add 1/2 teaspoon of Silken Violet mica and in another container add 1/8 teaspoon Silken Violet and 1/8 teaspoon Dark Violet Purple mica. Add 1/2 tablespoon of rice bran oil to each container and mix well.
  3. In a large jug (I use a 1.5 L Pyrex jug), weigh out your oils.
  4. Once your lye has cooled down to room temperature, add the lye to your oils and stir with a whisk until the mixture has emulsified. Be careful not to over-whisk, because you don’t want the mixture to thicken.
  5. Add 40 ml of lavender essential oil and stir well.
  6. Divide the soap into three portions: approximately 150 ml, 300 ml, and 550 ml.
  7. Colour the smallest portion (150 ml) with the dark mica/oil mixture, and the 300 ml portion with the violet mica/oil mixture. Stir well to disperse the colour evenly throughout.
  8. Now, pour a line of uncoloured soap along one side of the mold. Next, pour a line of violet soap INTO the line of uncoloured soap. Then, pour another line of uncoloured soap into the violet line. Alternate between white and violet/dark, and pour twice as many violet lines as dark lines. So the order is: WHITE, VIOLET, WHITE, VIOLET, WHITE, DARK, and then from the beginning again.
  9. Once you have poured all the soap, take a toothpick and draw straight parallel lines in the surface of the soap from side to side to finish off.
  10. Leave the soap in the mold for a few days to harden. Once the soap is firm enough, remove from the mold and let it cure for another couple of days before cutting into bars. The bars will need at least another 6-8 weeks to finish curing.

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In the pot swirl technique

Difficulty: Intermediate

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This is one of the easiest way to produce coloured swirls in soaps and a great technique to get started into swirling soap. The best effect is created with two colours, but you can use more colours, as I did in this tutorial.

I had a lot of pre-mixed colourants left over from my colour tests with the soap pigments, which I wanted to use, rather than throw out. I used the three base colours red, yellow and blue, and left a portion of the soap white, to which I added titanium dioxide, to make the white stand out from the rainbow. The pigment I used are granulated soap pigments from Pure Nature.

If you have never made cold-process soap before, I strongly suggest you check out the basic cold process soap tutorial first.

Before starting, please read the safety and precautions post. Cold process soap making requires the handling of caustic soda!

ONE: First, prepare your soap. Choose a recipe that will trace slowly, so you can work with it. I used the recipe from the basic cold process soap tutorial. Follow the steps until you reach a thin trace (still very fluid).

TWO: Next, divide up the soap into as many containers or jugs as you have colours. I am using three colours, plus white), so I’m pouring about a quarter of the soap into each jug. Then add the colour and stir briskly to mix in the colour.

THREE: Now comes the actual technique. In a large jug, slowly pour a bit of the first colour. Next, pour some of the second colour into the first colour. And then, pour the next colour into the previous colour, and so on, until you’ve gone through all the colours. You can see in the pictures below, the first sequence of colours I poured into the jug.

Then, pouring into the middle of the previous colour, repeat the same sequence again, and again, until you’ve used up all the colours. I had enough soap to go through the sequence twice.

FOUR: Once you have finished pouring all the colours into the large jug, give the soap in the jug a slow swirl with a chopstick (that’s why I like saving unused chopsticks from takeaway dinners!).

FIVE: Finally, pour the soap slowly in your mold. For best results, pour the soap in a corner rather than in the middle of them mold.

SIX: Leave the soap to cure in the mold for a day or so, before taking it out and cutting it into bars. Depending on the recipe you used, the bars of soap will need to cure for a further 6-8 weeks.

I added titanium dioxide to my white to get the cloud-like appearance in the soap.