Dear Shea Butter: What did I do to deserve this?

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soapythekid

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Hi all, I'm wondering if I can get some advice. I've been soaping for about 2 years and it's been a long time since I had a batch run wild on me without knowing what I did wrong. About 1 year ago, I made a batch of shea butter soap that worked wonderfully. My friends have been begging for more. So I made it again today, the only difference being that I doubled the size of the batch. I ran it through soap calculator, melted my oils, made my lye solution and all was going well until that fateful moment I mixed. The oils and solution didn't seem to mix at all and when they finally did, it turned immediately into nasty white chunks. It didn't trace as much as it just sort of congealed. I'm not sure what went wrong.

The ONLY thing that I did differently was I adding 2 teaspoons of sugar to my lye solution. But I can't see how that would affect anything.

Anybody seen this before? Can anyone tell me what happened?

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soapythekid

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Did you use the same fragrance as last time?
I've poured soap that looked like that, but it came out alright.
Hi KiwiMoose! No, I didn't even get to the fragrance or additives. When I saw this, I decided not to waste any additives on it. When you did yours, did you know what the chunks were? Is it just un-saponified oils?
 

atiz

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It may come out all right. What temperature were you soaping at? Maybe the shea butter started to re-solidify?
 

soapythekid

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It may come out all right. What temperature were you soaping at? Maybe the shea butter started to re-solidify?
Hello atiz! My lye solution was about 122 degrees and my oils were around 130 degrees. Everything was liquid until the mix. Then... boom! It was chunks.
 

KiwiMoose

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It may come out all right. What temperature were you soaping at? Maybe the shea butter started to re-solidify?
That was my thought too Atiz - but it looks like 'the kid' was soaping hot enough.
As I say - the exact same thing happened to me very recently and it came through the cure just fine - but with a ton of glycerin rivers. Shea butter is known to move quickly, so I guess it might just be something different between the temp or environment this time which caused your bad luck?
Here's a pic of mine once gelled and cut: 50D68919-88F3-462B-87F3-CA4428AE92B3_1_201_a.jpeg
 

soapythekid

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That was my thought too Atiz - but it looks like 'the kid' was soaping hot enough.
As I say - the exact same thing happened to me very recently and it came through the cure just fine - but with a ton of glycerin rivers. Shea butter is known to move quickly, so I guess it might just be something different between the temp or environment this time which caused your bad luck?
Here's a pic of mine once gelled and cut: View attachment 44872
Wow... looks cool! Well, I'll report back after a day or so when I cut it up and let you know. Thank you for your feedback :)
 

DeeAnna

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"...The ONLY thing that I did differently was I adding 2 teaspoons of sugar to my lye solution..."

Hmmm. Not sure about this one, but a possibility comes to mind --

Did you add the sugar to the water before adding NaOH? Or did you add it to the lye solution? In other words, did you add the sugar after adding the NaOH?
 

atiz

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How much Shea butter were you using?
I tend to use it between 5-10%, and have never had this happen.... Could it be perhaps that the oils were not mixed well enough, and then they saponified at different speed? Not sure that can happen at all, just thinking out loud.
But maybe @DeeAnna is right about the sugar.

@KiwiMoose, that soap looks great, I think the glycerin rivers just make it more interesting.
 

dibbles

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My first thought was the same as @DeeAnna - I did that exactly once and learned my lesson.
 

soapythekid

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"...The ONLY thing that I did differently was I adding 2 teaspoons of sugar to my lye solution..."

Hmmm. Not sure about this one, but a possibility comes to mind --

Did you add the sugar to the water before adding NaOH? Or did you add it to the lye solution? In other words, did you add the sugar after adding the NaOH?
Hi DeeAnna! I added the sugar before the NaOH. I mixed it thoroughly for quite a while before adding the NaOH. However, one thing that was slightly different was that the lye solution was ever so slightly slightly slightly orangish... which I'm guessing would be a bit of caramelization...? But again that wouldn't cause such a reaction would it? Or did I somehow "burn up" some of my lye and end up making a waaaay superfatted batch?

How much Shea butter were you using?
I tend to use it between 5-10%, and have never had this happen.... Could it be perhaps that the oils were not mixed well enough, and then they saponified at different speed? Not sure that can happen at all, just thinking out loud.
But maybe @DeeAnna is right about the sugar.

@KiwiMoose, that soap looks great, I think the glycerin rivers just make it more interesting.
This was a primarily shea butter recipe. I used 40% shea butter. But I've done this recipe before and didn't have this result... The oils were plenty mixed, up to 150-160 and then I slowly stirred as I let them cool down to 130ish to mix.

I agree with you about glycerin rivers. I want glycerin rivers! :D
 
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cmzaha

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You were soaping pretty hot. Even my recipe with 58% Shea butter I do not soap that hot. I find too hot speeds things up to much. I never go over 110ºF even with my high shea soap and room temp lye. I just stir until all heats up. Sugar has never caused me problems although I now use Sorbitol.
 

DeeAnna

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Okay, sugar before lye is good. That's the way to do it.

The only other thing I can think of is your fats might have had a higher % of free fatty acids than when you made this recipe previously. Fatty acids react with the lye almost immediately, but the fats react much more slowly. The soap can get little lumps something like yours. It's all soap, just not quite what you expected. The higher temps you're using would accelerate the reaction of the free fatty acids with the lye.
 

Mobjack Bay

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Did you use the same kind of shea butter both times? Refined shea behaves well for me, but the same recipe will speed up considerably if I use unrefined shea. I decided the acceleration might be due to the relatively high concentration of unsaponifiables in unrefined shea because I also experience acceleration when I use orange wax, which is high in unsaponifiables. I’ve only seen lumpiness like yours one time and, in that case, I linked it to a fragrance oil.
 

BattleGnome

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Did you add coconut oil?

My favorite recipe uses equal amounts Shea and coconut. The combination gives me a non-neutonian-like batter. It looks almost identical to your pictures as it settles out but a few good stirs with a spatula and I can get it fluid again... or at least fluid enough for colorants (I add fragrance to my oils). Separately, neither Shea or coconut give me an issue, together they don’t play the way I’d like.
 

penelopejane

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I agree with cmzaha and think it has something to do with soaping temperatures.
I soap at 110*F and a lot of people consider that hot. Your temps were much hotter than that and don't leave much room for error.

I SB my oils and make sure they are all clear and at temp before I add the lye mixture which is also at temp. If your shea butter cooled a bit more than you thought before you added really hot lye those spots could easily have formed. A bit of a difference in temps would also explain that it took a while for trace then bam the hot lye found the oils and saponification started. (Non scientific explanation from a non scientist!! :rolleyes:)

Sugar does speed trace and make soap saponify hotter.
 
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soapythekid

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You were soaping pretty hot. Even my recipe with 58% Shea butter I do not soap that hot. I find too hot speeds things up to much. I never go over 110ºF even with my high shea soap and room temp lye. I just stir until all heats up. Sugar has never caused me problems although I now use Sorbitol.
Thank you for this. But now I'm really confused... I've read in lots of places that 120-130F is the ideal range for soaping... (source: Brambleberry, etc.) Is that incorrect? I soaped once around 90F as I was using goat's milk and that batch went all wrong, didn't go through gel phase etc and people told me I soaped too cold. Your thoughts?

Okay, sugar before lye is good. That's the way to do it.

The only other thing I can think of is your fats might have had a higher % of free fatty acids than when you made this recipe previously. Fatty acids react with the lye almost immediately, but the fats react much more slowly. The soap can get little lumps something like yours. It's all soap, just not quite what you expected. The higher temps you're using would accelerate the reaction of the free fatty acids with the lye.
This actually sounds like the closest answer so far... I've read that 120-130F is ideal for soaping. Am I wrong? What temps do you soap at?

Did you use the same kind of shea butter both times? Refined shea behaves well for me, but the same recipe will speed up considerably if I use unrefined shea. I decided the acceleration might be due to the relatively high concentration of unsaponifiables in unrefined shea because I also experience acceleration when I use orange wax, which is high in unsaponifiables. I’ve only seen lumpiness like yours one time and, in that case, I linked it to a fragrance oil.
I did use the exact same shea butter and it's refined... but now you've put a new wrinkle in my brain: unsaponifiables in oils? Is that a thing? (I have SO much still to learn!) :D

Did you add coconut oil?

My favorite recipe uses equal amounts Shea and coconut. The combination gives me a non-neutonian-like batter. It looks almost identical to your pictures as it settles out but a few good stirs with a spatula and I can get it fluid again... or at least fluid enough for colorants (I add fragrance to my oils). Separately, neither Shea or coconut give me an issue, together they don’t play the way I’d like.
No coconut in my recipe. It's shea butter, olive oil, rapeseed and a little cocoa butter and castor oil. (You made me look up the term "non-newtonian" - thank you!) :)

I agree with cmzaha and think it has something to do with soaping temperatures.
I soap at 110*F and a lot of people consider that hot. Your temps were much hotter than that and don't leave much room for error.

I SB my oils and make sure they are all clear and at temp before I add the lye mixture which is also at temp. If your shea butter cooled a bit more than you thought before you added really hot lye those spots could easily have formed. A bit of a difference in temps would also explain that it took a while for trace then bam the hot lye found the oils and saponification started. (Non scientific explanation from a non scientist!! :rolleyes:)

Sugar does speed trace and make soap saponify hotter.
Same reply as I put for cmzaha: Thank you but now I'm really confused... I've read in lots of places that 120-130F is the ideal range for soaping... (source: Brambleberry, etc.) Is that incorrect? I soaped once around 90F as I was using goat's milk and that batch went all wrong, didn't go through gel phase etc and people told me I soaped too cold. Your thoughts? What temps do you soap at?

My shea butter and oils were actually hotter than my lye... 130ish oils and 120ish lye solution... but I do like your non-scientific explanation. It seemed like the lye hit the oils and made a thick layer in the bottom of the pot instantly. As I stirred I was kicking up this muck and trying to blend it with the top layer of oils.

If I add sugar to my lye solution then, I should soap at lower temps to compensate..?
 
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Obsidian

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This actually sounds like the closest answer so far... I've read that 120-130F is ideal for soaping. Am I wrong? What temps do you soap at?
That is excessive. I soap around 100 unless I want my normally slow moving recipe to trace quicker or if I'm using something like beeswax that has a high melting point.

I don't feel 90 is too cool unless you are using fats with a higher melting point. Soaping cool can slow gel or cause false trace if its too cool.

Honestly, I don't take temps anymore. I melt my oils until just clear and let the lye cool down until the container is comfortable to the touch.
 

soapythekid

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That is excessive. I soap around 100 unless I want my normally slow moving recipe to trace quicker or if I'm using something like beeswax that has a high melting point.

I don't feel 90 is too cool unless you are using fats with a higher melting point. Soaping cool can slow gel or cause false trace if its too cool.

Honestly, I don't take temps anymore. I melt my oils until just clear and let the lye cool down until the container is comfortable to the touch.

Soaping around 100, eh? Okay, I'll try that next time. I've been soaping a little while but I still have lots to learn so I take copious notes and take temps on everything constantly. :) Thank you for the info!
 

cmzaha

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I did forget to mention I only use raw shea butter I purchase in bulk. I find the temps I gave you the sweet spot when working with a high percentage of shea. As I mentioned my recipe is actually higher than yours and not refined, so my shea is going to possibly have more variables.

Please keep in mind Brambleberry is a supplier first a soapmaker second that wants to sell supplies. I take very little that she says seriously.
 
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