Testing soap lather

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DeeAnna

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Pretty much any bar of soap seems to lather nicely with a washcloth or scrubby (or hairy male chest), but some soaps seem to lather much nicer in the hands than others. I have been testing the lathering ability of my soaps regularly and do see real differences in the amount and overall texture of the lather.

I lay out all of the dry soaps on the counter that I want to test and wet my hands thoroughly with cool water. I then rub a bar over the flat palm of my hand a given number of times and check the lather at that point. Then I rub the flat palms of my hands together a given number of times and check the lather a second time. Rinse well, then test the next bar, etc. I dry my hands after every few bars so I can make notes as I go -- I tend to forget things otherwise.

I have learned that using damp soap and/or warmer water will increase the lathering of the marginal soaps, so I avoid doing that. I want to separate the best from all the others.

I have also learned to test all soaps at one time, rather than test a few one day and others on another day. That eliminates differences due to my perceptions, my method, and changes in the hardness of our water.

I know this sounds really anal, but it seems to work pretty well. (And it's far less anal than the soap lathering tests in the industrial chemistry books!)

This leads me to be curious about how others test their soaps. What specific method do you use to evaluate the lathering of your soap?
 

Candybee

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I'm curious if you used your results to tweak your recipes and if so what were the results? Do you have any tips you don't mind sharing. I had to readjust my recipe due to lack of lather. Found out it was using too much castor oil in my case. So I reduced it and the lather is much better. I am still always looking for pointers to help me improve my soapmaking.
 

Lotus

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I don't do extensive testing at this point. I give my parents a bar of each soap, and I'll put another in our own shower rack. Then, about a week later, I get all the feedback. My family is pretty unbiased. So, they'll tell me like it is.
 
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That's a really good idea on how you test your soap. I don't test as extensively because I don't normally have a lot of batches at the same time. At most, I might test 3-4 soaps at one time but I use warm water. Mainly I rely on feedback from persnickety family members and friends.
 

Theda

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DeeAnna, I'm interested in your results, too. I've been trying my different bars in the shower, and to be quite honest, I can't ever decide if I like one recipe over another (not counting the really weird ones). Soaps I've made with milks are a bit creamier, but as long as I keep the bubble factor in the mid 20s and the cleansing factor not terribly high, it really doesn't seem to matter a whole lot which oils I use. Maybe if I were to test them all right together, scientifically, it would be more obvious. Thanks for sharing your approach.
 

DeeAnna

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In the shower, I use a shower "puff" or washcloth and my DH just rubs the bar on his abundant pelt. The suds we get are perfectly fine, regardless of the soap we're using. Sometimes I will even wash half of me with one soap and the other half with a second soap and pay attention to the overall suds, scent, and skin feel of each soap. While I certainly do learn a lot about the scents, bar longevity and hardness, and how the bar feels in my hand as I shower, I don't really perceive huge differences in the lather quality and quantity.

My conclusion is that the shower is not the best way to evaluate subtle differences in lather quality and quantity. I perceive more differences that way when handwashing, whether I'm doing a "real" test or just washing my hands because they're dirty. I think that is because there is less abrasion to produce the lather, I can sense the feel of the lather better on my hands and fingers, and the lather is limited to one small part of the body so I can focus better on the details.

Rather than share the rest of my thoughts at the moment, I'd like to learn more about other people's points of view, then I'll chime in with more. I'm hoping to get a nice discussion going!
 

lizflowers42

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To be honest, I haven't even tried a "test" of lather yet. I am having too much fun making new combos! So far the only soap that I have made that did not lather well was the very first bar I ever made-just vegetable shortening (generic-not Crisco).
 

Candybee

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For me, I find that showering with a new soap is the perfect way to see how it lathers, feels, moisturizes, etc. I find I get a better feel for it using it for several days so I don't make a premature judgement on it. Sometimes a brand new bar of soap doesn't kick in and lather until the 2nd or 3rd use. I also get a good feel for the bar, is it silky, slick, hard, etc.

When I pull out a fresh soap and want to see how it suds in my hands I find using cold water works best. I test for 'sudsy' big bubbles that way. For the full washing treatment thats when I take it to the shower and try it out for a week or so. I find I have to 'get to know it' by using it for a while before making a desision.
 

DeeAnna

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Soapguy -- I don't understand your humor or the point you're trying to make, Soapguy. :confused: And I don't recall that I've ever said I'm selling my soap. But to explain a bit more, I am testing about 8 different soap batches at the moment, and I take one sample from each batch for testing. The rest of the bars remain safely unscathed. :razz:

Candybee -- I agree that it takes time to get to know a soap. Good point!
 

CaliChan

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Soapguy -- I don't understand your humor or the point you're trying to make, Soapguy. :confused: And I don't recall that I've ever said I'm selling my soap. But to explain a bit more, I am testing about 8 different soap batches at the moment, and I take one sample from each batch for testing. The rest of the bars remain safely unscathed. :razz:

I didn't really get it either... I take one bar from each batch and I cut it in to 8 pieces.. I use one to test it out and the rest of the mini bars are given out to my testers. The rest of the bars are not used.
 

Mommysoaper

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I haven't gotten that extensive with testing lather. As long as my soap has seemed bubbly to me in the shower (samples of a batch) and is not drying, then I'm happy. I have not yet made a bar that wasn't sufficiently bubbly for me, but then I don't expect tons of bubbly lather-- just enough to make me happy. So far I haven't had any complaints from testers either. Hmmmmm, may have to do a bit more testing too just to see... I love soapy experiments!
 

krunt

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i can't say i've ever felt the need to evaluate the lathering of my soap -- from the beginning, it has always lathered well -- so much so, i looked at reducing lather because i just didn't need as much as i was getting. obviously, castile soap didn't lather as much as i would like... and i found that soy milk in soap made lathering up harder than in the same recipe without it... but other than that, i have never had any problem with lather that i would need to look into making it better. i can only assume the water is really soft here?
 

mel z

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I don't have as much experience as many here, but I test on hands and shower.

I've found my hands are not as sensitive as my legs and torso are in the shower.

I can see and feel lather and bubbles at the sink, but my legs and torso will tell me if it feels really good, creamy, smooth, rich, and so on.
 

Candybee

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DeeAnna-- I knew what you meant when you said you test out bars. They are for testing not selling. Its the same process many of us do. Take a sample bar from a batch (or 1 or more from several batches) and test them out. Its how we learn how our recipe works and how to tweak it or improve on it.

I don't know if soapguy misunderstood or is just misunderstood. Soapguy you should 'splain yourself.
 

DeeAnna

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Okay, I said I'd share more of my thoughts on lather quality, so here goes. I have been testing about 6 CP bath soaps regularly at the sink and in the shower plus several others on a more casual basis.

Most of my regular bath soaps have a lye discount (superfat) of 6% with one at 10%. All of these soaps are mild and non-drying, so I am sticking with 6% unless there's a good reason to do otherwise.

I have been adding castor at 4-10% of my total oil weight – usually 4-5%. I limit coconut oil to 20% or less in regular recipes. (Yes, I have tried high CO soaps with 15-20% SF, but I'm leaving them out of this discussion.)

I usually include a total of about 10% of sunflower, canola, or other polyunsaturated oil. The balance is typically lard and HO safflower. I use high oleic Safflower oil instead of olive oil after reading about how so much olive oil is adulterated with other oils or is chemically processed to mask the use of substandard olive. I want to know what I’m soaping with (or eating)! The other main oils I use are lard, castor, coconut oil, and polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower.

Of the more expensive or unusual oils, I especially like shea and avocado, but I don't feel I need to use them to make nice soap. I want ingredients that are readily available, reasonably priced, and not adulterated and combine to make a nice blend of the different types of fatty acids.

The type of lather I enjoy the most is a generous, creamy, fine lather with a few big, frothy bubbles. I want enough creamy, stable lather so I don't feel the need to soap up my washcloth or bath puff a lot during a shower. I want the lather to be fluffy enough to so I get a nice handful of bubbles quickly when washing my hands at the sink.

The best lather, in my very opinionated opinion, comes from a blend of hard oils (coconut, palm kernel), medium oils (tallow, lard, palm, shea), soft oils (soybean, avocado, olive, sunflower), and a dash of castor.

Here are two beer soaps that illustrate the difference:

One soap I am testing is 90% lard and 10% coconut oil, with 12% superfat. I used concentrated beer for the water phase. It makes a moderate amount of dense creamy lather that reminds me of whipped cream. The lather lasts well in the shower. At the sink, the lather looks and feels similar, but I feel as if I need to rub the bar on my hands much longer than I would prefer to make enough lather to feel good. I rate it an A in the shower, but a C at the sink. The Fluffy/Bubbly value for this soap is 8 and the Creamy/Stable value is 32.

The second soap is 38% lard, 31% HO safflower, 17% coconut oil, 10% sunflower, and 4% castor, with 6% superfat. I used concentrated beer for the water phase and about 3% (based on oil weight) of honey. It makes abundant creamy and bubbly lather. The lather is not as dense as the first soap, but it has enough structure to last for awhile in the shower. It bubbles up nicely at the sink. This soap rates an A in the shower and an A at the sink. The Fluffy/Bubbly rating is 15 and Creamy/Stable is 25.

These two soaps are both fine soaps in the shower, but I would definitely put the second one in my soap dish at the sink.

I don't want to place too much importance on "the numbers", but I do think the difference in the fluffy/bubbly numbers is an indicator of the key difference between the lathering ability of these soaps. For a regular bath soap recipe, a fluffy value of about 15, give or take a little, will probably give me the type of lather I like at the sink as well as in the shower.

The soaps I am testing have creamy values ranging from 25 to 38. That amount of variation seems to result in soaps that are fine in my point of view.

I certainly don't think anyone needs to evaluate six different bars at a time, although that has been a helpful learning experience for me. I know better what I specifically want in my soap lather by testing at the sink as well as in the shower.

I do not want to downplay the usefulness of testing in the shower too, because that helps me evaluate the scent, bar longevity and hardness, what the lather feels like on my body, and how the bar fits in my hand. That is all important too.
 
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Deana73

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I noticed that my soap with milk are creamy and oilybut i hv not tried my soap distilled water or and all olive
 

Serenity

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Thanks DeeAnna for such a detailed insight into your soaps.

I recently conducted a little soap testing of my own, seeing as I had quite a few different recipes that I'd made over a period of time, and I wondered about other people's soap preferences - do people generally like a soap that's creamy with plenty of bubbles, or does everyone like something different?

I had 7 soaps, each of a different recipe, and I cut a bar of each one into 4 pieces to give me a sample size piece of each. I put each one in a little plastic ziplock bag with a label, eg sample "A", "B", "C" etc. I printed a brief one page questionnaire for each one and gave them to a friend. I asked her to use each one for a couple of days and note down her findings. I also asked her to rate them from most favourite to least.

It took quite a few weeks for her to finish because I think she used each one for a week, but it was worth it to get someone else's unbiased opinion. Her favourite was goats milk & honey and, interestingly, her least favourite was a goats milk soap I'd made with 73% olive oil, 20% coconut, 7% shea butter. I checked the lather and she was right - it was thin, but I guess that's how Castile soap is. Another soap that she said was drying on her skin, I gave to another lady who absolutely loved it. Also in the testing was a Castile style soap - 80% olive, 20% coconut - and she noted that it "could be a bit creamier". I would've thought this one was already pretty creamy but there you have it!

It was a useful exercise and I'm going to do it again soon to see if someone else will have a similar opinion, or not. I was going to upload my soap questionnaire if anyone's interested, but it won't let me upload a Word doc.

I found a really good soap lather test by Amathia Soapworks. It's from the Lather Lovers' Swap 2012:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/amathiasoapworks/6878518116/in/set-72157629324839760/

Does anyone have results of testing soaps without palm oil or animal fat?

Thanks for the interesting conversation. :smile:
 

DeeAnna

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Hey, Melissa --

Thanks for sharing your point of view. I think our experiences with lather quality and the general responses in this thread are proof that most handmade soaps please most people most of the time. :razz:

I ask for casual feedback from family and friends, but I have not set up any formal evaluations with testers. On a casual basis, I think as long as a soap smells good and lathers reasonably well, most folks I know simply enjoy using handmade soap without being overly picky about lather quality.

Here are links to single-oil soap tests. I don't have any sources for non-animal, non-palm soap tests -- sorry!

http://www.zensoaps.com/singleoil.htm
http://alchemyandashes.blogspot.com/2013/04/hey-remember-me-i-baaaccckkk-single-oil.html

Edit -- It is really interesting to me to see the increase in lather from the base soap formula at 8% superfat and the same formula with 5% SF. Thanks for sharing this link!
 
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