Not freaking out when trace happens

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Kerbear31

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Hi, newbie here. Do any other beginning soapers kind of get freaked out when the soap hits trace? I’m still trying to develop a recipe per say, so I’ve been all over the place with oils and additives, but I feel like I’m running out of time whe the soap hits trace, to be able to pour things nicely into the mold in a pattern.

I live in the tropics, so my house is fairly warm, and don’t have a lot of free space to soap, so I can’t really have a big Setup. I prep all my materials before hand ( FO/ MICAS/ TD/ seeds/ etc.) but it seems I can’t get it all combined in various containers until it’s a little too late.

Is this something that will become less stressful once I get a standard recipe down? It seems like I can barely get a swirl together that looks good. The swirls are either too fine ( light trace) or gloppy and unable to really swirl together because it went to trace too fast due to some issue ( water discount/ titanium dioxide etc.

I’m attaching the oil mixture of a recipe I used that I almost ran out of time. Any suggestions would be most helpful!

-ker
 

Dawni

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Hi there!

First, what most will comment on is your batch size. Way too big for testing, in case something goes wrong. Us newbies tend to stick between 1-2 lbs. Less even, if the scales are accurate.

Second, your recipe has a lot of coconut oil for only 5% superfat. Have you tried a soap with this amount? If it works for you then cool, but several of us found that between 15-25 works better for us.

Coconut could also make trace come faster if you're a little heavy with the stick blender and/or soaping on the warmer side. What were your temps? You'll want to soap cool enough, but not too cold that it starts solidifying your hard oils nd butters.

What most do is stick blend in bursts and continue with hand mixing until emulsion or at least very light trace, and that's when they separate the batter for colors.

It also helps to add whatever additives you can to the oils before the lye so that when trace comes all you worry about is your swirls.

I'll leave the actual recipe recommendations to the more experienced folks but hope that helps for starters :)

And yes, in the beginning trace caused me a bit of panic as well lol sometimes it still does when it surprises me.
 

DWinMadison

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Ive been making cp soap for several years off and on. I still get nervous when it all comes together. Her’s the things that help me:

  1. Soap at or near room temp to get the most time to work. That 10° F makes a huge difference! I worked out a good recipe that gives me plenty of time. You’ll find one too.
  2. Have your work area clean, organized and free of unnecessary clutter. For instance, pre-mix your colors, then put the supply bottles/bags etc away before you ever start. Same for fragrances.
  3. Go over your plan (like a pre-flight checklist) before the lye goes in. What are the steps? Is your mold ready? Got your swirling tools laid out? Etc.
  4. Have a method and stick too it. I used to forget the fragrance pretty regularly. Now I pre-mix if using more than 1 and always keep it in the same jar in the same place, so I reach for it almost like a reflex.
  5. Keep your mold and swirling tools out of the way, off the the side until needed.
  6. Don’t multi-task e.g. try to cook supper or deal with kids while you are soaping
  7. Try some good, soothing music while you work. Personally, I like worship music, but then again, I’m a Bible-totin’ Jesus Freak. You do what works for you.
  8. I agree with Dawni. Rich or poor, nobody likes to waste. If you make smaller batches, it takes a LOT of pressure off to “get it perfect,” so if you make a mistake you won’t have to stare at 12 ugly/unscented/riced etc. bars sitting on your soap racks for the next 3 months.
 

DeeAnna

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Also if you make smaller batches and thus more of them, a person gets more practice just making soap. Multiple small batches really helped to reduce my "I'm a newbie soap maker" angst and anxiety.
 

earlene

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Agreed on the smaller batches giving you more practice over time, also less volume for when something goes wrong, especially if you don't like the resulting soap.

Soaping cool. Reducing the CO to (I'd go even lower, maybe 15%) and running it through a lye calculator to get the new recipe.

Setting up your system so that you do it pretty much the same way each time, as suggested, helps you become more comfortable. Avoiding over stick blending is harder when new, so trying the very short bursts with the SB and then hand stirring in between is a very good suggestion and you will learn to be calmer as you practice this.

Simplify your early designs. Too much too soon creates a lot of pressure. So perfect simple designs for a few batches, then try something a little more challenging, but leave the really hard stuff until you've mastered the simpler designs. That will also make your more confident and reduce anxiety.
 

Micchi

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In addition to the suggestions, I've had to learn to just...be flexible.

If I'm planning a drop swirl, but my batter decides it's going to set fast...well, I guess I'm doing layers. Maybe I'll run a chopstick or a hanger through, maybe I'll pound it down between layers to smooth them out and add mica lines, maybe I'll do a textured mica line, maybe no mica line. Soap's gonna do what soap's gonna do sometimes.

My best-selling soap currently is actually a result of batter thickening too fast (totally my fault, I used the SB way too long) - I had intended on doing a drop swirl, and instead I did two layers with a chopstick run through them. I also got glycerin rivers, and I mixed the mica and oil drizzle for the top too thin so I didn't get the effect I wanted for the top. It felt like everything went wrong...but it turned out SUPER pretty, so I'm glad I didn't just scrap it.
 

Kerbear31

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Thank you all! I just got done making a Pringles loaf. I’m going to invest in a smaller mold to be able to try different recipies. I’m sure that there will be many more questions to come!
 

Rune

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As Micchi said, to be flexible, that is really important. To always have a plan B, is really helpful. I don't think I ever had to not use my plan B (but I don't have much experience either. I do have too much experience in soap batter thickening like crazy). I have a recipe that thickens really bad and really quick, and I most likely stickblend too much and soap too hot as well, plus most often used a water discount.

If it thickens really fast, a bowl swirl is perfect! And work really fast, don't try to scrape everything clean. You can do that after the soap is securely in the mold, and make a bar or ball of soap for yourself from the leftovers, or add it to the top if your batter is pliable enough.

If you make a mess out of this world, don't care about that. You can always clean up later. The most important is to work fast and get everything in the mold as fast as you can. Don't forget your fragrance, so add it to the oils before the lye. You might not have time to stir it in later if your batter is really thickening up.

Swirling the top might be difficult and can look horrible when you have a very thick soap. But making waves with a teaspoon works great. If it is really bad whatever you do to the top, you can mix some mica in rubbing alcohol (for example gold or bronze mica) and spray it over the top, as camouflage. That looks nice too. And the rubbing alcohol will reduce or remove soda ash.
 
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Susie

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Lower your water amounts! Using a higher lye concentration- 30-33% helps slow trace tremendously. Using this (and not using an FO that causes Soap-on-a-Stick) gives you plenty time to do intricate swirls, assuming you have not stick blended it to death.
 

DWinMadison

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In addition to the suggestions, I've had to learn to just...be flexible.

If I'm planning a drop swirl, but my batter decides it's going to set fast...well, I guess I'm doing layers. Maybe I'll run a chopstick or a hanger through, maybe I'll pound it down between layers to smooth them out and add mica lines, maybe I'll do a textured mica line, maybe no mica line. Soap's gonna do what soap's gonna do sometimes.

My best-selling soap currently is actually a result of batter thickening too fast (totally my fault, I used the SB way too long) - I had intended on doing a drop swirl, and instead I did two layers with a chopstick run through them. I also got glycerin rivers, and I mixed the mica and oil drizzle for the top too thin so I didn't get the effect I wanted for the top. It felt like everything went wrong...but it turned out SUPER pretty, so I'm glad I didn't just scrap it.
^This is a great one! Always have a backup plan. I try to always have my trusty loaf mold lined and ready. Slab swirls can be beautiful and fun but only if your batter cooperates. You can make beautiful soap with a thick batter with a hanger or even thicker with a drop or “plop” swirl in a loaf. I’m a goal-oriented perfectionist by nature, so I alway beat self up when my plan doesn’t go...well, as planned, but I’ve made some really nice “mistakes.”

My advice: Let’s always claim, “Yes, I always planned to made soap that looks like a turd. Thanks for noticing.”

Thank you all! I just got done making a Pringles loaf. I’m going to invest in a smaller mold to be able to try different recipies. I’m sure that there will be many more questions to come!
Only thing about columnar pours (I love these little Pringles can bars!) is that you don’t get to practice a lot of swirling except maybe funnel pours, which are really fun, btw. Several of these smart folks have devised ways to place things inside their molds/moulds to reduce them. I harvested one of their ideas to place a simple wooden box inside my wooden mold to reduce it by exactly half. If you live near a big box home improvement store, they’ll even cut the wood to size for you for free. Then all you need is 8 screws/nails or even just wood glue.
 
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Cal43

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Ive been making cp soap for several years off and on. I still get nervous when it all comes together. Her’s the things that help me:

  1. Soap at or near room temp to get the most time to work. That 10° F makes a huge difference! I worked out a good recipe that gives me plenty of time. You’ll find one too.
  2. Have your work area clean, organized and free of unnecessary clutter. For instance, pre-mix your colors, then put the supply bottles/bags etc away before you ever start. Same for fragrances.
  3. Go over your plan (like a pre-flight checklist) before the lye goes in. What are the steps? Is your mold ready? Got your swirling tools laid out? Etc.
  4. Have a method and stick too it. I used to forget the fragrance pretty regularly. Now I pre-mix if using more than 1 and always keep it in the same jar in the same place, so I reach for it almost like a reflex.
  5. Keep your mold and swirling tools out of the way, off the the side until needed.
  6. Don’t multi-task e.g. try to cook supper or deal with kids while you are soaping
  7. Try some good, soothing music while you work. Personally, I like worship music, but then again, I’m a Bible-totin’ Jesus Freak. You do what works for you.
  8. I agree with Dawni. Rich or poor, nobody likes to waste. If you make smaller batches, it takes a LOT of pressure off to “get it perfect,” so if you make a mistake you won’t have to stare at 12 ugly/unscented/riced etc. bars sitting on your soap racks for the next 3 months.
Nice tips, thank you. And I like”Bible totin’ Jesus Freaks” praise God!
 

DWinMadison

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Hi there!

First, what most will comment on is your batch size. Way too big for testing, in case something goes wrong. Us newbies tend to stick between 1-2 lbs. Less even, if the scales are accurate.

Second, your recipe has a lot of coconut oil for only 5% superfat. Have you tried a soap with this amount? If it works for you then cool, but several of us found that between 15-25 works better for us.

Coconut could also make trace come faster if you're a little heavy with the stick blender and/or soaping on the warmer side. What were your temps? You'll want to soap cool enough, but not too cold that it starts solidifying your hard oils nd butters.

What most do is stick blend in bursts and continue with hand mixing until emulsion or at least very light trace, and that's when they separate the batter for colors.

It also helps to add whatever additives you can to the oils before the lye so that when trace comes all you worry about is your swirls.

I'll leave the actual recipe recommendations to the more experienced folks but hope that helps for starters :)

And yes, in the beginning trace caused me a bit of panic as well lol sometimes it still does when it surprises me.
Stop it with the cutest-kids-ever profile pics. You’re killin’ me!
 

cmzaha

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Lower your water amounts! Using a higher lye concentration- 30-33% helps slow trace tremendously. Using this (and not using an FO that causes Soap-on-a-Stick) gives you plenty time to do intricate swirls, assuming you have not stick blended it to death.
While I normally agree with Susie, I am not from the camp that believes lower water makes soap trace slower, but lower Castor Oil will make a difference. On the average I soap with a 33% lye concentration, but with my vegan recipe I usually use a 29-30% lye concentration soaping cool since it is going to warm up faster than the higher lye concentration. More water more heat. I have tried several lye concentrations to find the workable concentration for my high palm recipe.

In addition to the suggestions, I've had to learn to just...be flexible.
My best-selling soap currently is actually a result of batter thickening too fast (totally my fault, I used the SB way too long) - I had intended on doing a drop swirl, and instead I did two layers with a chopstick run through them. I also got glycerin rivers, and I mixed the mica and oil drizzle for the top too thin so I didn't get the effect I wanted for the top. It felt like everything went wrong...but it turned out SUPER pretty, so I'm glad I didn't just scrap it.
Normally "Best Selling" soaps are for the fragrance not looks. My theory is to never depend on the best laid plans working since soap has a way of doing what it wants to
 

Marilyn Norgart

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Lower your water amounts! Using a higher lye concentration- 30-33% helps slow trace tremendously. Using this (and not using an FO that causes Soap-on-a-Stick) gives you plenty time to do intricate swirls, assuming you have not stick blended it to death.
I am confused I guess as I thought that you were supposed to raise the water and lower the temps to slow trace??? how much do you lower the water amount to slow trace??
 

Dawni

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I just recently did an experiment with water amounts and pure olive oil, nothing else. I made them simultaneously, side by side. One pot had 1.5:1 and the other had 1.8:1 water. I even only mixed by hand.

The 1.5:1 took much, much longer. This was room temp CP but I really can't say coz I don't have a thermometer to use for soap.

I think the main lesson is what cmzaha said "more water more heat."
 

DeeAnna

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Reducing the water content really does work to slow trace. Maybe not always, but it does work. You will want to reduce the water content by quite a bit -- say, a lye concentration of 40% to 50% (water:lye ratio of 1.5 to 1.0). I'm a little hazy on the details to be honest, but I know it works. We had a challenge a few years back where we explored this concept as well as how to use varying water content to achieve different colors in soap. Most of us were impressed by what we learned. I think LionPrincess was the host for that one.

I suspect when you're playing with lye concentration below 40% -- more in the usual range of 28% to 33% -- then the reverse is usually true.

But I still think overusing the stick blender is the number one reason for too-fast trace for many people.
 

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