One of the soap groups on Facebook that I belong to does monthly soap challenges and this month they challenged people to make a soap using lemon juice. I thought that was such a fun idea, and something I’d never done either, that I wanted to give it a try myself and show you the process and results, so you can have a go at it yourself.
One of the problems with using acids, like lemon juice, is that it will neutralise some of the lye in your recipe. The acid in lemons is citric acid, but the amount of citric acid varies between types of lemons as well as between the individual fruits themselves. So unless you’re a chemist with the right equipment, you can’t really know how much of the lye will be neutralised. If it’s too much, you’ll end up with a soft gloopy mixture because of the excess oils that didn’t get saponified (turned to soap). To make sure that doesn’t happen, you need to reduce your superfat or lye discount to a minimum. I reduced my superfat to 2%, and if I replace all the water in the lye solution with lemon juice I will get a soap with a superfat somewhere between 5% and 8%. Here’s the recipe I used:
Lemon juice soap recipe
375 g olive oil
25 g castor oil
55 g caustic soda
100 g lemon juice
1 teaspoon sodium lactate
15 ml lemon essential oil
annatto seed colourant
I pressed out three lemons to get 100 g of juice and placed it in the fridge to cool. Lemons not only contain citric acid, but also sugar, and I wanted to prevent the sugars from burning in the lye.
Once the lemon juice was cold, I carefully stirred in the caustic soda one teaspoon at a time, and check out the cool colour display I got! First it turned a bright yellow before going orange. To be on the safe side, I placed the jug in the sink with cold water to keep the lye from going too hot, and luckily it didn’t get any darker than that orange.
I continued normally using the cold process method: oils in one pot, and once the lye had cooled down, adding the lye to the oils and stirring. Because I knew from other soapers that the lemon fragrance from the juice would not come through in the soap, I added lemon essential oil to the soap,
I also decided to have a little fun with colour using annatto seed colourant, which I added to about 1/4 of the soap mixture. I then poured the colours into a bowl, alternating between the yellow and uncoloured soap, like you do in the ‘in-the-pot-swirl’ method. I gave the soap in the pot an extra swirl with my spatula and then poured it into the mold.
I had no idea what the lemon juice would do to the colour of the soap and to the soap itself. I didn’t insulate it and despite it being in a cavity mold, the soap did go through a gelling phase. So a word of caution: don’t insulate and keep the soap cool! And despite the soap looking rather dark here in the mold and the next day when I unmolded them, they did turn a lovely white and yellow marble effect after a couple of days. And testing it after nearly a week already felt that it was going to be really pleasant mild soap!
For more information and ideas, check out this blog post about adding fresh ingredients to soap!
Time: 1 hr
Yields: 500 g of soap
I often get asked about a special soap recipe, because most soap makers don’t realise that any soap will work! Soap dough is actually a normal soap recipe that has gone through the saponification process but hasn’t been allowed to dry out (cure). It’s not a special formulation and doesn’t contain any special ingredients. Really, any soap can be used, and I often use my left over soap from other projects, either cut offs or the leftover in my soap pot, and will it turn into little soap beads or other soap decorations for my cupcakes. The trick is, as mentioned before, to not let the soap dry out. As long as you store it in an airtight plastic bag or container, the soap dough will keep for at least a month or longer.
You don’t have to use a special soap dough recipe, any left over soap that is still soft enough can be used!
However, there are times when you do need a bit more soap dough for larger projects, or if you want to prepare a batch ahead, so I have added a special soap dough recipe at the end of this blog post, which will give you a nice white soap base, like the one in the picture below. You can make the soap as usual using the cold process method, letting it set in the mold overnight, before unmolding and storing it in a plastic bag. The soap should be soft and pliable. If it is too wet and sticky just let it dry out a little longer. You can either use the soap as it is, or add micas, soap colourants, or natural colourants to colour the dough.
The consistency of the soap should be like play dough – easy to knead and mold. If the soap is a little too sticky, you can mix in a little corn starch. Take as much soap as you need for the project, and leave the rest in the bag, as not to dry out. Knead your soap before using. The warmth of your hands and the friction will help soften the soap and make it easier to work with. I do recommend wearing gloves, especially if the soap is less than 2 weeks old, although I have to admit I’m don’t always wear gloves when playing with my soap dough.
If you are very creative, you can shape your dough into any little creature or object. It’s just like working with play dough. There are some very creative people out there, have a look on YouTube and search for polymer clay or fondant miniature tutorials. To paint the shapes, mix a little mica with alcohol and using a small paint brush, just paint on the mica (for example eyes, shading, etc).
Here are some simple tutorials to check out and get you started:
You can also use little silicon molds, such as berries or shells. Just press the soap into the mold and then carefully unmold. You can use the shapes straight away, but if you are planning on storing them, let them cure for a few weeks to harden before placing them into a container.
My favourite use for the soap dough is making little mica coloured soap pearls, which are so easy to make and great for embellishing your soap creations. Just roll your soaps into little balls with your hands, and place them in a little cup or container. Add a little mica, depending on how many beads you are making, about 1/4 teaspoon should be more than enough, and then swirl the beads around in the mica. When you take out the beads, give them a little shake to remove the excess mica, and store them in an open container to harden them and finish curing.
Here’s my favourite dough recipe, although as I mentioned before, you can just as easily use any left over soap from another project.
To make the dough base as white as the little shells in the picture above, I added titanium dioxide, which you can get from Pure Nature.
Before starting, make sure you wear protective goggles and gloves and work in a well-ventilated area, free from any distractions!
140 g olive oil
100 g coconut oil
100 g sunflower oil
100 g cocoa butter
10 g castor oil
60 g caustic soda
140 ml water
1 teaspoon titanium dioxide
Measure out the water into a heat proof Pyrex jug. Weigh out the caustic soda and carefully add it to the water, avoiding any splashes. Gently stir until all the caustic soda has dissolved and the lye water is clear.
In a large heat proof Pyrex jug or pot, weigh out the coconut oil and cocoa butter. Heat in microwave (if Pyrex jug) or stove (if pot) until all the oil and butter has melted.
Add the olive, sunflower and castor oils to the now-liquid coconut oil and cocoa butter, and give it a quick stir. Set aside.
Prepare the titanium dioxide, by mixing 1 teaspoon of titanium dioxide with 2 teaspoons of water.
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.
Add the titanium dioxide mixture.
Then, using a stick blender, pulse and stir until the oil/lye mixture has emulsified and thickened to medium trace.
Pour the soap into the mold and leave to set overnight.
The next day, unmold and check if the soap is not sticky anymore. If it is, let it cure for another day or so, just enough to dry it out a little more, but not enough to harden.
Cut the soap up into cubes and knead them together, to make it soft and pliable. Make sure you are wearing gloves! The soap is still zingy!
Store the soap dough in an airtight container or plastic bag until needed. It will keep for a month or longer.
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
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?
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:
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!
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
In part 1, I discussed vanillin discolouration, but it is quite possible to have a fragrance with 0% vanillin that will still discolour your soap. Fragrances are comprised of many different components, some contain 100 or more ingredients to make up a unique scent. Any of these can affect the colour as well as other aspects of soap, which is why not all fragrances are suitable for soap making. Fragrances that are considered safe to use in soap making must be skin-safe, suitable for cosmetic use and have undergone strict testing to comply with international standards. Only source your fragrances from responsible distributors, such as Pure Nature, who can provide safety data and certification from their suppliers.
To create a fragrance, different essential oils, resins, as well as natural and synthetic aroma chemicals are mixed together to a unique blend. Unfortunately, in most countries, fragrances do not need to list their exact constituents, because it falls under ‘trade secret’, so we usually don’t know what exactly is in them. Certain components will change the colour of your soap, just like vanillin, but because we don’t know the exact make up of the fragrances, it is difficult to pinpoint which component causes discolouration or even to predict what a fragrance will do to the soap.
The most common discolouration from a non-vanillin component is off-white, ivory or a creamy colour, although there are other possible colours as well. Oakmoss and amber, from Candlescience, for example, can cause your soap to turn a shade of mauve.
Then, there are some fragrances or components of fragrances, which have a natural tint to them and can also discolour your soap. For example, orange essential oils range from yellow to bright orange in colour, which may cause soap to turn yellow. In general, my rule of thumb is if the fragrance is not clear, that’s a warning sign! But that doesn’t mean that all tinted fragrances discolour, just like not all clear fragrances won’t discolour. And to complicate matters further, your soap recipe, the oils you use, your soaping method and the temperature can all have an influence as well. This is why you often get conflicting reports of fragrance discolouration. The only fail-proof method is to test a fragrance using the exact recipe and method yourself, to be absolutely sure of no discolouration. However, in most cases, slight changes don’t matter that much, and for the extreme discolourations that vanillin causes, looking up the vanillin content, or reading the fragrance reviews are often a good help. Or you can go for one of the water white fragrances.
Water white fragrances are fragrances that are clear liquids, have 0% vanillin content and cause no discolouration. There is no standard that labels these fragrances as such, and the only way to know which fragrances are water white fragrances is usually from testing or from test results that other soapers have done for you.
Here are four Candlescience Skin-Safe fragrances that can be considered water white fragrances:
And lastly, another option is to add titanium dioxide to your soap. Titanium dioxide acts as a whitener in your soap, although it will only work on light discolourations. It won’t magically turn your brown soap into the pure white! The good thing is that you only need a tiny amount to counter the discolouration, I use a maximum of half a teaspoon in one kilo of soap. Don’t use too much or you’ll end up with the unsightly glycerin rivers. Incidentally, titanium dioxide added to micas can make the colours pop, stand out more!
Why test fragrances? Fragrances can wreak all sorts of havoc in soap making due to the many different components that make up a fragrance. Fragrances can discolour soap, can raise the temperature during the saponification process, can increase acceleration and cause seizing, just to name a few possible problems. But don’t think essential oils are any different, these issues can also arise when using particular essential oils! Here, I’ll be discussing why and how these problems are caused and how to prevent them. And as an extra bonus, I’ll post the results of the Candlescience Skin-Safe Fragrances, available from Pure Nature, that I’ve tested in the past month, to help you choose the right fragrance for your next project.
The main problem for soap makers is discolouration in soaps. The discolouration is usually caused by the ingredient vanillin, which the primary component of the vanilla bean extract, the bit that gives vanilla its unique scent. Fragrances that contain vanillin will inevitably turn to brown. How much the discolouration and how quickly a soap will turn brown, depends largely on the percentage of vanillin a fragrance contains. Fragrances with a high percentage of vanillin, 10% or more, will turn to a dark brown, whereas those with only a small amount, less than 1%, will only discolour slightly and often only after some time has passed, which is why fragrance testing takes a while. You only know the full extent of the discolouration after a soap has been completely cured. Incidentally, discolouration also affects melt and pour soap bases and other skin care products. The reason for the discolouration, as it often is, is caused by the villain oxidation. Oxidation occurs when chemicals react with the natural oxygen present in the air. You could, of course, try and wrap your soaps airtight, but that would only work for a limited time and only with melt and pour soaps and lotions. Cold and hot process soaps need to cure, which can only happen if they’re unwrapped. And curing causes discolouration…. see the dilemma?
After 1 day of curing
After 3 days of curing
In the above two pictures, you can see vanillin at work. The picture on the left was taken after 1 day of curing, the picture on the right after 5 days. Discolouring will continue until the whole soap has become the same colour as the edge. Vanillin discolouration is a totally natural process, and you cannot prevent it from happening. But there are chemicals that can slow this process down. They don’t completely eliminate the discolouration, but can stabilise the fragrance and postpone the discolouration for several months. Now if you’re like me, I’d like my soap to keep looking like it did when I gift or sell it, and having it turn brown in someone’s pretty soap dish after half a year seems a bit misleading to me. Nevertheless, if you would like to explore this option, the product is called Vanilla Colour Stabiliser, and it works by counteracting the oxidation of the vanillin, but as I mentioned before it won’t last for ever. The longest I have seen it working was about half a year.
The much better solution is to work with the discolouration. If you know the fragrance will turn your soap in a shade of beige, caramel or brown, use this in your design. You can leave a small portion of your soap unfragranced, which keeps parts of your soap white. For example, adding a white swirl or white layer in your otherwise brown soap. A fragrance that only discolours slightly can be ‘coloured over’ with other colours, such as oranges and reds. However, remember that some colours don’t mix well with brown shades. Green, for example, mixed with brown will result in a rather unpleasant shade. And lastly don’t forget that often those fragrances that contain high percentages of vanillin, tend to be fragrances that we naturally associate with warm, brown colours anyway: creme brûlée, chocolate, and anything vanilla or custard-like.
If you absolutely do not want your soap to discolour in any way, I suggest you choose a water white fragrance – fragrances that are clear in colour, contain no vanillin, and do not cause discolouration. More about this next week!