Trying to diagnose what went weird with first soap batch

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Red Osier

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So yesterday I made my first ever soap, and nothing went as expected….

My recipe was a hot process deer tallow soap. Tallow, NaOH, water. 5% superfat. We pulled the quantities for the ingredients using soapcalc.net.

My friend and I, carefully working out doors (temp around 7C) heated the tallow to melted through in a crock pot, added the lye to the water in a pyrex measuring cup and stirred to dissolve, and then poured the lye carefully into the fat. We didn’t have an immersion blender, so were expecting to spend a great deal of time stirring before it came to trace.

Less than five minutes later we were dealing with a crumbly wax like mass like candle shavings. If it went through all the steps, it happened too fast to recognize.

My first thought was that the fat had resolidified for some reason, that we’d experienced false trace, but the pot was on and all the ingredients hot.

We did some fast googling!

We almost put it aside as a failed batch to try rebatching with the intention of starting a fresh batch based on what we thought we got wrong first time round, but we developed a theory that the soap had seized, so we set it to cook til it reached the gel phase, which it eventually did, and then till it started to be ‘light and foamy’. We did a zap test, and then scooped the mess into silicon molds. It resolidified so quickly that it was a solid, brittle hard grainy mass that looks a bit like crunchy peanut butter.

Clean up determined that it was a nice mildly sudsy soap that was gentle on the hands.

We each have taken a loaf to try rebatching experiments, since they are certainly no good for making samples as is. I am considering using milk instead of water, and adding some honey for sudsing.

Here are things we’ve come up with that may have contributed to the weirdness.

  1. The fat was a bit off. (Not using my best fat for my first trial!) I rendered it several years ago before mastering my process, and it had been stored at room temp. (I had rewashed it this week in a couple baking soda and water baths to try and remove all the free fatty acids, and it certainly smelled much better, but that process went weird too, and instead of water under my cake of hard fat was a mass of stuff that looked line soft whipped cream in various densities. My current theory is that it is a suspension of glycerine and soap from the baking soda and fatty acids, since I had used salt to break the emulsion. Would welcome thoughts on that, too.) Certainly when the lye mixed with the fat, it turned orange and stank of rancidity. It did settle down, and now looks like peanut butter, and doesn’t smell much of anything.
  2. We didn’t make sure the fat and lye were at the same temp, and they were both at at least 120F, if not more, due to the high melting point of the fat. We poured the lye into the crockpot while it was on low, because we didn’t want the fat to resolidify. Though I would have expected this to slow things down not speed it up…
So what did we get wrong (beyond better temperature control next time), and what actually happened with it turning rock hard in under five minutes? What could we have done to make it a more normal process another time?

Thanks!
 
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Posting your exact recipe here will help us to help you. :) Without that, my best guess is that you didn't get all of the baking soda and salt out of the tallow. Typically you would keep rendering it with repeated water baths until the water was clear. Then I also like to simmer the fat to make sure I've gotten out as much water as possible. Why do I do this? Because I had a batch of tallow way back when, and didn't bother to get all the baking soda out. I ended up with a grainy mess, just like you described.

I strongly recommend that you get some successful, basic batches under your belt before you try adding goat milk or honey. Both of those come with their own challenges and requirements. In the meantime, if you want to add something for extra bubbles, try using 10% coconut oil, or plain sugar (pre-dissolved in the water before adding lye) at 1-2% of your oil weight.

FYI, the lye and fat don't have to be close to the same temperature. As long as the lye isn't so cold that it will resolidify the fat, you should be fine. But most here will recommend that you don't use Pyrex or any other glass - borosilicate or not - for mixing up your lye solution, or your soap batter. Regardless of what YT soapers will tell you, strong alkali solutions will eventually weaken even the strongest glass. Plus, what happens if you drop the Pyrex? It can shatter, and now you would have a hot, caustic spill mixed with shards of glass. No bueno.
 
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Red Osier

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Thanks AliOop!

I admit I rushed the rewashing of the fat, and it possibly (probably?) still had baking soda and salt in it. Do you think I should give up on trying to make good on the old rancid fat, and just move on to fat that I’ve processed to clean as you’ve described (I have a fair bit at this point, but I thought I didn’t want to use my best fat for my very first batch…)?

My recipe:
454g deer tallow (16oz)
59g NaOH
172g distilled water

I was planning to only do the milk n honey on the rebatching my mess experiment. I agree I need a couple successful batches under my belt before getting fancy!

I am trying to stick to locally sourced ingredients, so things like coconut oil are out. The soap was pleasantly though not strongly sudsy, so it was more of a curiosity thing.

Thanks for the warning about the pyrex!! Stainless steel is ok? Don’t really have any plastic around.

Thanks!
 
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Your water:lye ratio was just under 3:1, which is fine for HP. If you want to try the same recipe as CP, you can cut the water down to 2:1. CP can be easier for beginners because you simply blend it up to a light trace, then pour it in the molds. It will "cook" itself overnight - thus saving you the time, energy, and extra dishes needed to cook the soap. Don't get me wrong, I started out with HP, and that's all I did for years. But CP is actually simpler and more economical since you aren't using fuel to cook the soap. YMMV.

Speaking as someone who hates to waste stuff and always tries to find a way to use what I have, I'd keep washing the fat till it was clean. But it's up to you whether you want to invest that time. If not, just use some of the good clean fat that you already have, and you probably won't run into the issues you experienced with this previous batch.

Stainless steel is great for lye solution. But please don't rebatch with milk. Some folks will do that, but I believe it creates the opportunity for rancidity, mold, and the like, since the milk fat won't be saponified like it would be in a new batch. You would leave out food with uncooked milk in it, would you?

Regarding the suds, try your soap again after it has cured at least 4-6 weeks. No, you don't have to cure it if you don't want to do that; it is safe to use now. But there is a big difference between safe and ideal. After curing, your soap will last longer and have better, milder lather.
 
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Red Osier

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Hi AliOop;

Interesting. I had thought that the HP would be more energy efficient, since once it was cooked, and the reaction complete, I wouldn’t need to worry about keeping the fat above melting point.

I had thought that with cold process, I would have to apply enough heat to prevent my fat from resolidifying during the reaction, and my fat starts to resolidify over 120F, so I would be applying heat over a more extended time. Is the heat solely to hasten the reaction, not to also maintain the fats in a liquid form, facilitating the reaction?

Re: milk. Blech. Maybe while making buttermilk, or other fermented milk, but no. Thanks for the warning!!

I will rebatch in two tiny lots. One just to improve texture (I said crunchy peanut butter, but another might be a really dry and short pie crust), and one to see what happens when you add a sugar.

And thanks for the encouragement to continue working with the rancid fat. I’ll see if I can get it clean. There’s enough left for one more 1lb batch.

Any thoughts on how I could work with the stuff I scraped off the bottom of the fat that I suspect is some sort of suspension of glycerine? Since I saved it, I feel like the experimentation should continue…. 😁

I have almost a litre of it. My thought was heating it back up and adding a lot more salt.

Thanks for all your support!
 
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Love your enthusiasm for the learning process, @Red Osier! Regarding CP, as long as you have blended at least to a stable emulsion, the batter will not separate, and the reaction of lye with fat will cause the batter to heat up during the self-saponification process. However, for a single-oil, uncolored soap, you can (and probably should, as a newbie) blend past emulsion to a light or medium trace, for three reasons:

1. You aren't trying to keep the batter super fluid during an extended time in order to add colors, create swirls, or make designs, which is why many CP soapers stop blending at stable emulsion.

2. Going to light or medium trace gives you more assurance that your batter won't separate in the mold.

3. The batter is still quite pourable at a light or medium trace. That gives you a smoother product with fewer air pockets or the "rustic" texturing you get from HP, or from CP that is blended to a thick trace.

Some folks do add extra heat to CP after it is in the mold - but it's optional. This is typically called CPOP - cold process/oven process - because the mold is placed in a warm oven, or on heating pads, so as not to tie up the oven or transfer the fragrance from soap to oven. This additional, optional heat is applied to "gel" the soap for brighter colors, or easier/faster mold release. Since you aren't coloring your soap, and you don't care if it takes a bit longer to firm up, no outside heat is necessary whatsoever. Just let it sit in the mold till it's done. My soap that is poured into wooden molds gels simply by insulating it with a cardboard box or towels over the top.

Regarding your left-over white stuff, I'll have to defer to folks like @DeeAnna or @ResolvableOwl about what that might be, and what you might do with it.
 
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TheGecko

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I had thought that with cold process, I would have to apply enough heat to prevent my fat from resolidifying during the reaction, and my fat starts to resolidify over 120F, so I would be applying heat over a more extended time. Is the heat solely to hasten the reaction, not to also maintain the fats in a liquid form, facilitating the reaction?

As soon as you mix your Lye Solution with your fats...actual fat, oils or butters...the Lye starts binding with the fats. Making your Lye Solution with 100% milk is a really good example of this.

A lot of CP soap makers, myself included, 'soap' at lower temps than the melting point of our oils/butters. As an example...I use Palm Oil (RSPO) and Cocoa Butter, both need around 100F to melt to liquid. I usually soap around 80F.

The difference between Hot Process and Cold Process is time. Saponification is both a chemical and thermal reaction in that the hotter the 'process' the faster the chemical reaction. I make CP soap and I put my freshly poured molds in a mostly uninsulated garage in the Pacific Northwest. During the Summer when it's 80F, I can generally unmold in about 18 hours. Come January when it's in the low 40s, it'll take three to four days.
 

gww

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Not trying to steal your thread but more showing your thread may help my endeavors.
Rendering deer fat now.
render (1).jpg

Clarifying bacon grease.
render (2).jpg

I hope you post all your experience and get really good answers which I am sure you will and that means I will also.
Cheers
gww
 
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Reporting for duty! 😂
Any thoughts on how I could work with the stuff I scraped off the bottom of the fat that I suspect is some sort of suspension of glycerine? Since I saved it, I feel like the experimentation should continue…. 😁

I have almost a litre of it. My thought was heating it back up and adding a lot more salt.
Forget about the glycerol. There is just no DIY-scale process to salvage it at any decent purity. What you might try, however, is to recover the fats (FFAs that have formed soaps with the soda). Add acid (vinegar or citric acid) until the solution stops bubbling and oily stuff separates (liquid or solid, depending on temperature). You can collect that stuff, dry it, and use it in HP soap; it'll have a similar lye consumption (saponification value) as the original fat, but will react with lye instantly.

Not sure though if it's worth the hassle. In principle, there is nothing wrong with FFAs in oils for soapmaking, as long as one can deal with its trace-accelerating properties. BUT the existence of FFAs points to other types of decay (rancidity), that limit the use of both the pure fat (triglycerides) and the lipids recovered from washing waste.

Few oils withstand “several years storage at room temperature” without decay. When you already notice yours is “a bit off”, then it's actually too late altogether. Rancid fat makes rancid soap.
There is a reason why commercial animal fats are usually treated with rosemary oleoresin (ROE) and/or BHT, and depending on ambition this is advisable for hobbyists too. (And cool, airtight storage).
You might ask @AliOop if she would help you out with some ROE, pre-diluted in lard 😜.
 

Red Osier

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Hi gww!

No worries!

I learn best by understanding the “why”s of process, and by making mistakes / having unforeseen outcomes, so I’m pretty happy right now. 😁

And the support I’ve been given here already has been super encouraging and helpful. Extra happy. 😊

I see how you are rendering, and I don’t know all your intended uses, but I know that the method you are using was for me something that resulted in poor quality fat (smells like cooked meat on the skin), and once, scorched fat. I also had a lot of loss/waste. Maybe it isn’t an issue if you are only soaping?

Using the water render I do now results in losing almost no fat, and a sweet not even remotely meaty smelling very clean, hard, waxy fat. I got my process from lurking and following the processes recommended by others on the forum. I’m very happy with it.

I also make salves for dry skin with , so getting rid of the meat smell is critical!! My feedback had been ‘love what it does, can’t use it ‘cus of smell’. Not so anymore.

This year, my leaf fat from my deer (3.5lb into the pot!! Fatty boy he was!) has come out almost like paraffin, so hard and waxy! ….and I’m planning to try making candles cut slightly with some local beexwax. Definitely you’ll be seeing me over in the candle forum on that one! And certainly I don’t want any meaty smell for that!!

Thanks for the encouragement!

Red Osier

Thanks @TheGecko!

And I believe you, but my confusion shows my inexperience! How do I ‘soap’ at a temperature where my fats are hard solid masses? I had though I at least had to keep them liquid long enough to mix them!

Red Osier
 

gww

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I have bees too but have only cleaned up a bit of wax but have never used it yet. I have did beef and pork like this at low heat in the oven and did well but the deer fat was frozen when I put it in and is coming out at different rates in the same pot. I do not doubt your word as this is my first time trying the deer. I am as new as you are on soap making also. I will say this though. I have made 5 or six batches of cold process soap and some were with un-melted lard and coconut oils and adding hot lye did the trick.
Cheers
gww
 

Red Osier

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Greetings @ResolvableOwl!

You might ask @AliOop if she would help you out with some ROE, pre-diluted in lard 😜.

It sounds like there is a story there….

Thanks for taking the time to address a couple different points for me. Very appreciated!

Yes, these days I actually store my cleaned, rendered tallow in the freezer, wrapped up tightly.

The exercise with trying to clean the rancidity out of the fat was a combination of curiosity and reluctance to toss. Also, I figured if I could salvage it somewhat I could at least learn soaping without using up my precious as yet unspoiled tallow on my first, experimental batches.

I think I may continue on with what you suggested with the vinegar, just to experience the processes and results.

With respect to the RO, would you recommend a particularly good thread explaining its uses and merits?

Many thanks!

Red Osier

@gww …if you have done ‘five or six’ CP batches, you are far more experienced than me! I have done one HP batch…. That went very strange.

But I have rendered kilos of deer tallow. I blame the soybean fields. This boy was relatively lean in the body compared to other deer I’ve harvested, and will still net me around 4 kilos this year alone.
 

gww

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I got almost no fat and what you see in my picture is off of three deer but I did not gut them and apparently I am missing some fat by not doing so.
Cheers
gww
 
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With respect to the RO, would you recommend a particularly good thread explaining its uses and merits?
 

Red Osier

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I got almost no fat and what you see in my picture is off of three deer but I did not gut them and apparently I am missing some fat by not doing so.
Cheers
gww

☹️

That is a small yield, and yeah I agree being present in the field would make the difference (as well as get you the best fat);

I expect about a kilo or more of raw leaf fat when I am harvesting during field dressing. My friend I hunt with just shakes his head and gets out of my way… too fiddly for him. Means I get it all, too… his as well as mine. 😁


@ResolvableOwl
Ooh! Thank you very much! A lot to digest!

The interesting bit is that I had been planning (down the road, as I get better at this) to start including the resin from populus balsamifera buds in my soaps and candles.

The candles just because of the scent, which I love, but I use it infused in oil in my salves for its various effects, which include anti-oxidant properties…. 🤔

Historically, I know some NA FN used the buds to prevent rendered fat from going off. Again: 🤔.

I may have to move up that experimentation…

😁
 

gww

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I got one quart ziploc bag on the one I cleaned by myself. I do bet that way north deer are naturally fatter then our little scrub brush ones. I have cleaned a ton of deer but never with the mind of saving tallow. I have seen individual deer with an inch thick on the back right under the skin but it is not norm and I did not even think of going after leaf fat but might next year. Tonight's hunt is last chance for this year for me.
Live and learn, see your thread has already helped me.
Cheers
gww
 

Red Osier

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I got one quart ziploc bag on the one I cleaned by myself. I do bet that way north deer are naturally fatter then our little scrub brush ones. I have cleaned a ton of deer but never with the mind of saving tallow. I have seen individual deer with an inch thick on the back right under the skin but it is not norm and I did not even think of going after leaf fat but might next year. Tonight's hunt is last chance for this year for me.
Live and learn, see your thread has already helped me.
Cheers
gww
Well then, I wish you a healthy plump buck just the right size for your need, a clear safe line of fire, and steady warm hands at the moment of truth.

The stuff around the kidneys is gold, and to my surprise the caul fat yields well enough to take for this purpose if you aren’t using it for fancy stuff. Don’t turn up your nose at it, just bunch it up and mince or grind it fine, fine, fine.

If the deer is fat enough, I think it is worth rendering the body fat separately from the leaf and caul fat.

I’m on the final (I hope) water wash of the leaf fat, and its melt point is touching 140F! The fat back and the breast fat and the trim is over 120F, but not that high….

Ok, so backing up a little bit to the ‘what to do with the mess’, I present my first loaf of soap, cut in half:
D65776CB-28ED-4548-9C60-93B627CF8E4F.jpeg
Not pretty.

I found this thread:
Oven Rebatch (CP)

It seems like the perfect method to get the best result possible given a very hard soap and a tiny quantity…. I didn’t want to resurrect an old thread, but I have questions!

For example:
It is a small amount. 8oz, cooked yesterday. I think it may have gotten a bit dry just during our fumbling, but still…

Could I shred it, moisten it and pack it into a silicon loaf pan and just bake it without stirring all the way through, skip the pan and the pouring?

If I wanted to try adding a sugar, I could just dissolve it in the water I use for moistening, correct?

I recognize that because I am working with a soap made from rancid fat, results may not be as expected.

Thanks!
 

gww

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No buck but 30 ounces of rendered tallow that was run through a cloth diaper and is clean and does not smell. 250 degrees and I stopped before browning cause it was time to hunt and so I will water bath the rest and might get a few more ounces. I will probably stretch it and use it in small amounts as a hardener rather then make high deer content soap. Wish I had some more chicken fat to use with it.

I should do better with your impute so far come next season. I wish I could return the favor and answer your questions but I am not qualified. Thanks for your response.
gww
 
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Could I shred it, moisten it and pack it into a silicon loaf pan and just bake it without stirring all the way through, skip the pan and the pouring?

If I wanted to try adding a sugar, I could just dissolve it in the water I use for moistening, correct?

I recognize that because I am working with a soap made from rancid fat, results may not be as expected.

Thanks!
Yes, yes, and yes. FWIW, I've not added sugar water to rebatch but my guess is that it would act as a solvent to help liquify everything. Let us know how it turns out.
 
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