LS paste hardens to solid mass, zaps & never gels

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Neo Red

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Hi everybody,

I'm new to soapmaking and have jumped straight into LS for a project that specifically requires it. I've tried a bunch of recipes I've found on Youtube and on here (the username IrishLass jumps to mind!); every single time I reach trace successfully and come to a mashed potato stage, then either leave it to sit or cook, but instead of the stuff transitioning into gel phase, it turns solid . I've resorted to leaving the product alone to maybe see if my patience was the issue, but it doesn't seem to be the case. I'll also add that the solids I've made haven't passed the zap test.

My latest attempt has been a simple olive oil (400g), coconut oil (92 deg, 100g) with a 1:1 lye, water ratio (107.35g for both as calculated using the soapcalc.net tool) and as far as I can tell I'm in the process of getting to the same result as my previous failures.

I've just had a thought leading me to hypothesise that the KOH I'm using could potentially be NaOH instead... according to anybody's experience here, does my theory make sense according to the result I'm achieving?

I've done about 7 batches modifying oils, trying different calcs and different water:lye ratios thinking they might have been the problem factors and honestly I'm getting a little frustrated.

Super grateful for for any help and/or advice.

p.s. my scales work fine!
p.p.s. hopefully I don't have to go back to the shop and strangle the guy who sold me KOH instead of NaOH.. (just kidding)
 

DeeAnna

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A photo would be helpful. If the soap is translucent or kind of translucent and a firmish, resilient jelly, then you are using KOH. NaOH will make an opaque, hard soap.

If it's a KOH soap, the reason why the paste is so firm is you're using very little water to make the paste. I can't imagine the tutorials you're using are suggesting a 1:1 water:lye ratio to make the soap. Diluting the KOH in an equal weight of water is done if you're also going to add glycerin to make up the rest of the water requirement.

Generally people use a 25% lye concentration (3:1 water:lye ratio) to make liquid soap paste. The "water" can be all water or a combination of water and glycerin, as long as there's sufficient water to dissolve the KOH.

Sometimes a 2:1 ratio is used, but that's less common. I've seen one soaper who uses 1:1, but she is definitely in the minority and this is not something I'd recommend for a person new to liquid soap making.

What might be confusing you is that people will dissolve the KOH in an equal weight of water and then add sufficient glycerin to make up the rest of the water-based liquid for the recipe. You don't mention including glycerin, so maybe did you miss that part?

The zappy-ness may be caused by your KOH having a higher purity than the KOH purity the recipe is based upon. Are you using a soap recipe calc to verify the recipe you're using is correct for your KOH? If not, you need to be doing that.
 
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Neo Red

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Thanks so much for the reply! Sorry, completely forgot to mention the glycerine -- I was adding glycerine in every other recipe I've attempted so far and today is the first attempt I make without it using a 1:1 ratio (I guess that's a double whammy for failure).

And regarding the calculators and KOH amounts - I'm inputting my oil amounts into the soapcalc and letting it work out the KOH required (not just using all amounts from a recipe).

I wrote down quantities I used for yesterday's batch which also ended up failing:
Olive Oil - 357.37
Coconut Oil (76deg) - 70.87
Sunflower Oil - 106.31
Water - 255g
Glycerine - 85.05
KOH - 105.64

Again, this recipe went through all the desired stages but then kept solidifying into a thick opaque solid.

The more I think about it, the more I'm coming to realise that it can't be anything other than my KOH being NaOH... I'll post a picture of today's and yesterday's down below in a minute. Feeling silly :(

Here are links for two of my failed batches:
https://ibb.co/3d6yhPx
https://ibb.co/WtMhJBq

(the one still in the pot is today's, whereas the one I'm holding is yesterday's)

Thanks
 
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DeeAnna

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"...today is the first attempt I make without it [glycerin] using a 1:1 ratio..."

Theoretically this approach is absolutely do-able. From a practical point of view, it does add some challenges.

"...it can't be anything other than my KOH being NaOH..."

NaOH is usually small beads or small crystals. All of the NaOH I've ever used has been pure white, although I don't know that this is always true. When it dissolves in water (dump a little into water but don't stir), the process is silent, at least in my experience.

KOH is often larger, irregular flat flakes. It may have a slight off white or gray tinge. When KOH dissolves in water (again, dump some into water, but don't stir), there is often a slight popping or fizzing sound.

If it really is NaOH, then your soap has about 40% more alkali than it should have.
 

Neo Red

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Well I'm confused now as your description of KOH matches up nicely with what I've been using, compared to what you said for NaOH. Surely if I seem to be getting the same result regardless of the recipe used, the problem has to be the alkali? Is there anything else at all that you might be able to think of DeeAnna?

Feeling lost, so really appreciate the responses.

p.s. I've posted a couple of pictures of my two most recent failed attempts (still pending moderator approval).
 

DeeAnna

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I'm a bit at a loss too. I have to say the two batches soap in your photos really do look like NaOH soap, not KOH. Some of my KOH batches are firm enough to hold like you're holding the one, but mine would be more rubbery in texture and translucent like milky tea, not stiff and hard like a board and opaque like paint.

If you've got NaOH soap with that much excess lye, I'd not hold the soap in bare hands for long -- your skin won't thank you for that. ;)
 

Neo Red

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Thanks for your replies DeeAnna. I’m leaning more and more towards believing it’s NaOH despite the stuff sounding like your description of KOH.. :beatinghead:

I’m going to head out and try buying some (actual) KOH from a more reputable place this time around. Will come back with a successful post I hope!

thanks again for the help with troubleshooting

p.s. noted about holding that soap, doesn’t seem like a good idea haha
 

DeeAnna

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Just a thought, since you're in Lebanon --

In the US, suppliers tend to use the "official" chemical names or chemical formulas for NaOH and KOH, but in some countries these alkalis are sometimes sold by their common name and that can be confusing.

Be sure you ask or look for caustic potash if you want KOH. And caustic soda for NaOH.

Sometimes newer soap makers buy soda, which is sodium carbonate, or potash, which is potassium carbonate. Neither of these works well for the kind of soap making we do.

I don't think you have been using a carbonate alkali for your batches, however. The saponification reaction went along so nicely for you, and that is more typical of the stronger hydroxide alkalis.
 

Bootsie

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New here and a novice at LS, but in my experience KOH is noisy when you add it to the water. Did yours make a noise?
 

Neo Red

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New here and a novice at LS, but in my experience KOH is noisy when you add it to the water. Did yours make a noise?
Hi Bootsie, thanks for the reply - in all honesty I haven’t been able to tell as I make sure the extractor fan is on full while I’m adding the compound to the water...
When I try my next batch I’ll hold off the fan and see if the reaction is audible :)
 

DeeAnna

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The sound is audible for just a few seconds after adding the KOH to water. It stops soon after the KOH flakes mostly dissolve. I mentioned this in my earlier post too.
 

Theseus

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Hi Neo Red and everyone, I have exactly the same issues like you and I am almost at total frustration. I have done many attempts and researches, diving deep into the underlying chemistry to figure out what is going wrong. First I thought as well, that I have a bad charge of KOH or even NaOH instead! But with one of my tried recipes so far, everything went well. Now I am at the point, that whenever a recipe contains coconut oil, I have this issue, that when the soap paste should go into vaseline stage, it goes solid hard like a rock within seconds. I tried the same recipe with lower temperature and/or more water, less stick blending, different coconut oils, but always having the same results, just in a lower pace. In the end I always have a solid hard and very dry rock in the pot. Putting the lid on and cooking doesn't make things better, only scorches on the pot edges (I use a crockpot on lowest level). I would stir but it's not possible, only cutting and it's so dry and it sounds like a rubber, never went to gel. I tried some recipes of Jackie Thompsons Liquid Soapmaking book, all with same frustrating results.
As I said, in my case coconut oil might be the problem, but I don't understand why. People are making 100% coconut oil liquid soap without having problems. On videos it looks like, they even can manipulate easily the paste with a whisk. So I am really desperated but glad, that finally I found someone who obviously has the same issues like me. I would like to read about more of your observations when you are making progress or someone else.

Successful recipe:
Sunflower 70%
Palm kernel 25%
Castor 5%
Water 38% of oils --> approx. 35% lye concentration (in all other unsuccessful recipes I have used 25% lye concentration with 1% superfat)

Good luck and best regards and thanks for any help and advices!
 

Zany_in_CO

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Just a head's up since you are a beginner -- there are about as many different ways to make Liquid Soap as there are LS'ers! LOL To get a good grounding in the method, here's a link to Alaiyna B's Blogspot.

Basic Liquid Soap Making & Information

There are a LOT of Liquid Soap recipes around. Most of them are large batches. No matter what recipe you try, start with small batches. Resize the batch to 12 oz oils = 16 oz. paste. You can then divide that up into four 4 oz. portions to play with to determine the optimum amount of dilution water, colorant, fragrance, etc. needed.

When using SoapCalc, be sure to choose "KOH". (Seems obvious, but it's easy to forget. )
Under the "Water" heading, choose Water : Lye Ratio and type in 3:1.
For Super Fat, I choose 0% because I want all my fats/oils fully saponified. Some LS'ers use 3-4% SF which is a matter of preference. It eliminates the need to neutralize excess lye.
Leave Fragrance blank until after the batch is diluted. Here's how it looks:
Soap Calc Entries.png
HTH :)

ETA: You may also find this link helpful:
What to Expect from Various Oils in LS
 
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