Totally mystified by today’s ashy incident

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Sorry, this is a long post. I guess it basically boils down to the question of how often and why I might get ashy soap with a recipe and methods that usually produce ash free soap.

I made soap for this month’s challenge today using the same masterbatched oils, lye and distilled water that I used without any issues for several other batches of soap this weekend. I’m using a 40% lye concentration, adding masterbatched sodium citrate and sugar syrup as I did for the earlier soaps (more on this in a minute). I’ve also been adding sodium lactate because the recipe is on the softer side. I’ve actually been using the same recipe, or very close for a few weeks now, but measured out the fats for earlier batches as I was making them. As of today, I’ve made more than a half dozen batches of soap with basically the same recipe and methods, including my first test run for a challenge soap.

For context, I generally don’t mind ash, but rarely get it anymore. If I do, it’s typically a light sprinkling. None of the soaps I made as described above, including the previous challenge soap have any ash. Today‘s soap top has ash. So far it’s fairly light and I may be able to clean it off, but I won’t be able to plane it because the top is only about 1/8 to 1/4” thick if I’m lucky. The slab, which I poured in three layers yesterday, is fine. The layers in the slab are scented and incorporate some of the micas I used for the top today. I did not add FO to the batter for the top. The extra soap from today went into a small test mold. I intended to add FO, but forgot. It’s super ashy. Another weird thing is that the soap in the mold is very tightly covered, while the soap I poured on the slab is not covered. The soap in the mold went on a heating pad while the soap slab went in a pre-warmed oven (turned off when soap went in).

What the heck? Gremlins? The only thing I can come up with as a possible explanation is when I added the sodium citrate. I usually add it to the lye, but I have this nagging feeling that I may have forgotten to do that and then added it directly to the batter after the lye was added and hand stirred in a bit. Could that be an explanation for the ash? Or, is the weather really a factor when making soap? Ours just went from being beautiful and sunny while I was making the soap, to overcast now about 4 hours later...

I can’t post any photos because this may be a salvageable soap for the challenge.

eta: I just looked at the top again. The ash is very light, so it may turn out okay. It has firmed up enough for me to cover it tightly with plastic wrap. The top of soap in the mold is a mess, as in I can’t even tell what colors are below the ash, but it’s extra that I was planning to use as confetti or embeds so it doesn’t matter.
 
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Sorry, this is a long post. I guess it basically boils down to the question of how often and why I might get ashy soap with a recipe and methods that usually produce ash free soap.

I made soap for this month’s challenge today using the same masterbatched oils, lye and distilled water that I used without any issues for several other batches of soap this weekend. I’m using a 40% lye concentration, adding masterbatched sodium citrate and sugar syrup as I did for the earlier soaps (more on this in a minute). I’ve also been adding sodium lactate because the recipe is on the softer side. I’ve actually been using the same recipe, or very close for a few weeks now, but measured out the fats for earlier batches as I was making them. As of today, I’ve made more than a half dozen batches of soap with basically the same recipe and methods, including my first test run for a challenge soap.

For context, I generally don’t mind ash, but rarely get it anymore. If I do, it’s typically a light sprinkling. None of the soaps I made as described above, including the previous challenge soap have any ash. Today‘s soap top has ash. So far it’s fairly light and I may be able to clean it off, but I won’t be able to plane it because the top is only about 1/8 to 1/4” thick if I’m lucky. The slab, which I poured in three layers yesterday, is fine. The layers in the slab are scented and incorporate some of the micas I used for the top today. I did not add FO to the batter for the top. The extra soap from today went into a small test mold. I intended to add FO, but forgot. It’s super ashy. Another weird thing is that the soap in the mold is very tightly covered, while the soap I poured on the slab is not covered. The soap in the mold went on a heating pad while the soap slab went in a pre-warmed oven (turned off when soap went in).

What the heck? Gremlins? The only thing I can come up with as a possible explanation is when I added the sodium citrate. I usually add it to the lye, but I have this nagging feeling that I may have forgotten to do that and then added it directly to the batter after the lye was added and hand stirred in a bit. Could that be an explanation for the ash? Or, is the weather really a factor when making soap? Ours just went from being beautiful and sunny while I was making the soap, to overcast now about 4 hours later...

I can’t post any photos because this may be a salvageable soap for the challenge.

eta: I just looked at the top again. The ash is very light, so it may turn out okay. It has firmed up enough for me to cover it tightly with plastic wrap. The top of soap in the mold is a mess, as in I can’t even tell what colors are below the ash, but it’s extra that I was planning to use as confetti or embeds so it doesn’t matter.
I hope it turns out for you' however it is strange?. I once had a soap w/ ash & the next Day it as completely gone' & didn't return. Blame it on the Ash Gremlins' hopefully it disappears completely.
 

Tara_H

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I once had a soap w/ ash & the next Day it as completely gone' & didn't return.
I had the same thing happen with the soap in my avatar! It was clear and bright just after pouring, then the next day it was covered in ash... It was too textured to plane so I hid it away in the naughty box for a bit. When I peeked at it a week later, the ash is almost all cleared up again!
 

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Mobjack Bay, If it doesn't go away, (and I have never had that spontaneously happen either), you can remove it with a quick wash of either steam or hot water or a mist of alcohol that you immediately wipe off with a microfibre cloth. I do that after cutting the bars & dry them right away so the alcohol doesn't create pits in the surface like it can if left to air dry.

I have often had soap with an added surface ash up. I think it has to do with how quickly the surface cools while it is exposed to cool air, as opposed to how much water is in the formula. It seems to happen more when I leave the soap out to the air but less so when I put the soap into a warm oven with a cover on top of the soap. In fact, it rarely happens if I cover the soap and pop it into a warm oven. Sometimes the cover may only be a 'tent' (as in when the surface is too near the mold top to lay a cardboard cover on top.)
 
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I have a soap that cannot be planed due to the deco on top. I have never steamed soap before because I usually either don't mind it, or it can be planed off, but I figured I would give it a shot.

I don't have a "steamer", so I used my iron and put it on steam, and gave it a bunch of quick bursts of steam. It looked so good! Then it dried and had ash on it again...bummer. So I am not convinced that the steaming works at this point. I could be totally doing it wrong...

But then again, the soap was about a month into the cure. i wonder if it should have been steamed sooner ??
 

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I have a soap that cannot be planed due to the deco on top. I have never steamed soap before because I usually either don't mind it, or it can be planed off, but I figured I would give it a shot.

I don't have a "steamer", so I used my iron and put it on steam, and gave it a bunch of quick bursts of steam. It looked so good! Then it dried and had ash on it again...bummer. So I am not convinced that the steaming works at this point. I could be totally doing it wrong...

But then again, the soap was about a month into the cure. i wonder if it should have been steamed sooner ??

I have not used an iron for steaming soap, but I do have a handheld steamer that can stand alone, which I have used wearing heavy gloves so I don't burn my hands. It's a real pain doing it this way, so I have only done it this way a couple of times.

I prefer the washing-off method; it's just easier and takes up less time. What I found to be most convenient for me is either of these 2 methods: 1. alcohol clean-up & wipe-off and shine up with microfiber cloth; 2. hot water dip (or run under hot water tap if your tap is super hot) followed by wipe-off & shine up with microfiber cloth.

Regarding soap that ash is cleaned off of but then more ash appears afterward, I have had that happen in the past. But not in the last two or three years I think. Why? I am not sure. I don't think it's one specific thing, but a combination of things I do differently. Or maybe it is solely because I always dry them thoroughly and shine them up using a microfiber cloth.

However, with fancy tops, like a piped soap, thorough drying and shining all surfaces with a cloth is just not an option. Those get to keep their ashy crevices, which I think adds something to the design. Of course I don't really make a lot of piped soaps and whatnot.

However, I do like to paint some soaps with mica dispersed in alcohol, and those soaps don't seem to get ash, so maybe you could try that and see if it helps.
 
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I usually get soda ash on soap that I pour on top of another soap, even with a 40% lye to water concentration. Like for the string pull technique. Also with soap that I pour while very fluid. when you poured it in the mold (the leftovers) was it still very fluid?

I think it is either because of the low temperature (it does not go through gel phase, when I pour it, is probably at 95 F), the humidity where I live, and the fluidity of the batter (it takes longer to saponify it seems). I got some soda ash in my attempt at this challenge as well, I tried rubbing it off too and most of it came off, and covered it after that. Perhaps I should have tried a way to cover it right away, or spraying alcohol but I don’t have the 99% one and lower concentrations don’t seem to work.
 

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Another thing you can do is to place your soap in a Rubbermaid or Tupperware container large enough to contain it, along with a cup or bowl of boiling hot water. Put the lid on it and leave it for a while.
I wonder if that's why mine disappeared? It was only a day or two old and instead of leaving it out to cure I put it in a cardboard box loosely wrapped with brown paper, and other soaps around it. Seems likely the humidity would have increased in there for a while, if that's what causes it to disappear again.
 
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Thank you everyone for the ideas and the brainstorming...

I likely can wash some/most of the ash off the challenge soap, but the real mystery for me is why it happened in the first place, especially because I didn’t have ash on the first challenge soap or the other batches I made with the same recipe. That first challenge soap was colored with clays and I absolutely expected ash. My good fortune obviously made me too bold! @earlene and @glendam - I think you’re leading me in the right direction. Have you ever tried warming your slabs in advance? Your comments made me remember that I had a half ungelled soap last year for my first try in the challenge where we were making soaps that had a striped section on one side of a loaf mold and swirled soap on the other side. High lye concentration batter has to get quite hot to gel and having half a mold of rt soap as a heat sink definitely didn’t help it along. I may have pre-warmed the striped side for my second successful attempt, or maybe I just poured warmer soap for the swirled side.

New plan! I‘m going to start with a pre-warmed slab, try to keep my batter a little warmer for the pouring step, devise a way to cover the soap and then set the heating pad over the top, rather than underneath. The covering the soap part is a bit more complicated than it sounds because the slab will be sitting on a tray in the middle of a puddle of batter by the time I’m finished pouring and blowing the batter around. I won’t want to mess with it too much for fear of disturbing the top.
 
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@Mobjack Bay I think you are onto something if you can it gel. I have never tried warming up the slab, but that sounds like it could work. I wonder if the cpop method could work though I have never tried it myself.
I ended up warming up the slabs for my second and third attempts at this month’s challenge soap and also put the covered poured soaps into a hot (170F) oven. I also dropped my lye concentration down to 38%. I still had a bit of ash and I don’t think the tops gelled all the way, but they were much better. If I do it again, I will probably try 37% or 36% lye concentration.
 
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I ended up warming up the slabs for my second and third attempts at this month’s challenge soap and also put the covered poured soaps into a hot (170F) oven. I also dropped my lye concentration down to 38%. I still had a bit of ash and I don’t think the tops gelled all the way, but they were much better. If I do it again, I will probably try 37% or 36% lye concentration.
That's great to hear that the top was much better with that method. The only way I have managed to avoid ash on the top completely, when using a cavity mold, (not for this technique though) was by putting the soaps on top of a heated blanket, covering with plastic that folded under the edges of the mold (the kind that has an adhesive, Press n Seal, while avoiding direct contact with soap), and then covering with a towel. I left the heated blanket on for several hours, and after turning it off, and I did not lift the towel or peeked for about 3 days. It was a 40% lye to water concentration batter.
 
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