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How do you really know that light trace has ocured?

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I have been making soap now for about 1 year and every recipe I read tells me to do something at "light trace". Every time I make soap, I tell myself to stop as soon as the colors of the lye and oil have blended together. Yet when I add colorants to my "light trace" liquid cp soap, I develop a heart palpitation just trying to get the crafty soap idea made. I feel like I am under the gun-so to speak- to get my soap in it's final resting place so quickly that I don't have enough time to really be creative.

I'm just saying, I never see the Soaping101 lady's hand shaking and arms scrambling just to put together some soap.

So, how much mixing is actually involved to bring the liquid to a light trace? What steps can I take to increase the time I have to work with the soap before it seizes up on me? High temp/low temp, colorants just do this, etc....

Thanks!!
 

Feather

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Before I started using a hand held blender (which speeds everything up), I was known to stir soap by hand for *hours*. Sometimes it's just one hour, one time it was four hours and it depends on the oils used.

Trace is not when the oil and lye solution are not separating, it's beyond that a bit. If you take the spoon and drop some of the soap on itself, it will leave behind a mark on the top of the soap showing the drop. It is like pudding that hasn't set yet. It's a little thicker than gravy.
If you take your spoon and drop a stripe of soap across the top of the soap in the pan, and look at it with light reflecting off of it, the stripe can still be found, not in height differences, the stripes edges can still be seen.

A liquid CP will seize depending on the FO or EO. You can look up whether a FO or EO will seize or not. Always have your molds ready to go at this stage. If it is a big batch, be sure to have anyone that is helping you, in the room.
 

dixiedragon

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IMO, you don't have to wait until trace to add things. I add fragrance and color at the stage you describe - when the oils and lye have blended. Then I keep stirring to blend those things until I get trace, as Feather described.

Seizing - different things cause seizing. Many FO suppliers' websites allow customers to read reviews. If you haven't used an FO before, read the customer reviews. There also some general categories that it pays to be a bit wary of - florals and spices, generally.

Some things you can do to slow/reduce your risk of seizing. You can use a recipe with higher amounts of soft oils. Olive oil is my favorite because it will make a hard soap after a few months of cure, but it is slow to trace. In my experience, a recipe with even a small amount of soybean oil (around 10%) will trace much more slowly than the same recipe without that soybean oil. You can also soap at lower temps. I personally like to have my lye and oils around 100 degrees. Some people soap at much lower temps.

You can also try hot process. Here's a good explanation.
http://www.zensoaps.com/hpsoap.htm

I just made my first 2 batches of hot process soap and i found this tutorial and it's pictures super helpful. Mine took much longer than hers did, I think b/c I use a lot of olive oil.

You can also add more water. I regularly use 40% water (soapcalc's default is 38%). I really like the extra time it gives me to color, swirl, and pour, and my soaps are still ready to cut in 24 hrs or less.

Also, if it seizes, you can put it back on the heat (low heat!) and keep stirring. It will gel in the pot. Basically you are turning it into hot process.
 

Tienne

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I only mix until emulsification and then I add in any additives that are going in and then I divide out into my containers with colour. By the time I have stirred in my colours, the batter has usually reached light trace on its own and if it hasn't then I give it just a quick whirl.

The cooler you soap, the longer time you have to be creative. Having your oils and lye at room temp is fine. You can even refrigerate the lye water until you need it, but don't cool your oils below room temp or the solid oils may start to solidify and separate out. (I think soaping101 may do it that way also, because she always says "add your cooled lye water to your room temperature oils." ;) )

Some oils trace slower than others. For example Lard, Olive Oil and Sunflower are some oils that are slow tracers. Castor, Shea, Cocoa Butter and Coconut are fast tracers.) Keep your solid oils at max 45-50% or even less, of the recipe. You want a slow-moving recipe if you want time to do fancy stuff.

As soon as your batter is emulsified, stop stick blending and just use a spatula after that to stir.

Plan out exactly what you want to add and have it all ready and weighed out and premixed etc so you can just dump it in when it's time. Once you've mixed your batter there is no time for doing all that, so do it beforehand and have it ready. I line my stuff up, so I don't forget to put anything in.

FO's go in last as the very last thing.

Those are some of things I do that give me time to do all the fun stuff. I hope that helps! :)
 
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Obsidian

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I also mix in my color/scent/additives as soon as the oils and lye are completely mixed. Then I have plenty of time to separate and make pretty designs. Sometimes I actually have to wait for my batter to thicken some before I can make layers or textured tops. I soap between room temp and 90*, just depends on what I have planned.
Even when my batter has hit really thick trace before I wanted, I was still able to add color and swirl. I've never had batter get too thick to work with. Take your time and be creative, no need to race for the mold.
 

judymoody

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I do almost exactly what Tienne does.

I SB my oils just until they are fully emulsified (but still thin) and then I rarely touch the SB again. I hand stir in my fragrance, divide into portions and color. My colors are premixed with olive oil so I can add them a bit at a time and hand stir without ending up with clumps. As I do this, the soap is thickening on its own. I can loosen it up with a good stir and then pour and swirl.

My other advice is to be flexible. If I find my soap is thickening too quickly, I might do a layered soap instead of a swirl.
 

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