What advice would you give to your beginning soaping self?

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WeaversPort

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I have been going through many of the threads and trying to learn as much as possible from others questions.

Some of the advice seems to be fairly straightforward, like:
  • Don't use glass for lye solution
  • Don't use wooden utensils because they'll break down over time
  • Soap needs 4-6 weeks to cure (unless it is castle, which needs a year)
  • Wear goggles/gloves/long sleeves/pants
  • Document your recipes well, so you can recreate the good ones (via Bumbleklutz)
  • Run all your recipes through a lye calculator (via Bumbleklutz)
  • Use Metric for better accuracy in soapmaking (via kchaystach)

But some of it is very nuanced and only seems to come up during a specific conversation, like:
  • You can save a lot of money at the dollar store for soaping supplies, but use plastic with a #5 on the bottom (via Obsidian)
  • Measure fragrance and essential oils in glass - not plastic (via Obsidian)
  • Rice Bran and Safflower oil goes rancid (via kchaystack)
  • Setting soap in a mold under an A/C fan can lead to soda ash, or
  • Drying soap on paper shopping bags can smell like dog

If you could go back in time to give yourself as a beginner some advice on soapmaking, what would it be?
 
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toxikon

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Learn about oil properties for easy recipe making. I followed tutorial recipes for a long time without really thinking about why and what was going into it. Once you learn what each oil brings to the soap, it's very easy to customize recipes to suit your needs and likes.

Start simple. It can be tempting to add sugar, sodium lactate, goat milk, oatmeal, honey, salt, clays, charcoal, beer, coffee (and so on...) to your recipes because it's all so new and exciting! But your first few batches should be very simple to get your feet wet and learn the process. First recipe: 3-4 oils, lye, water. Second recipe: Add a fragrance. Third recipe: Try a fragrance and a colour, etc. Slowly build up your recipes.

Temperature doesn't matter too much. When I first started and was following Soap Queen heavily, I watched my lye water and oil temperatures like a HAWK and combined them when they both reached exactly 120 degrees. On the forum, I was surprised to learn that a lot of people don't even use thermometers! And their lye water is room temperature! So yeah. As long as oils aren't cold enough re-solidify, it's okay if they're not the exact same temperature.

You don't need to pour at trace.
Your soap batter can be a bit liquidy if you're trying to do pretty swirly designs. You don't need to blend everything to oblivion with a stick blender until it reaches trace. Whisks are okay. Stopping early can give you a lot more time to add colours and pour your designs. As long as the lye water and oils have been fully incorporated, it's okay to pour your soap while it's still liquid.

Give your curing bars lots of air flow. I neglected this a bit when I first started. I'd let them cure for a few days, then pop them into a closet in a shoebox. Oops. Leave those babies out and exposed for at least 6 weeks to get all that water content out!

Start small. Keep your first batches reasonably sized! 500g - 1.5lbs is a good starting point. If something goes wrong, you don't want a huge pile of garbage soap on your hands. I recently saw a newbie post about a failed SEVEN POUND recipe. That's an insane amount of waste. When you're testing new recipes, small batch size is the way to go!
 
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Annfine

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It's a good idea to wear a face mask, because the lye solution is too strong to breath in. Have windows open and maybe a door when sprinkling lye into distilled water. I agree most of the soap making supplies are at the dollar store.
 

Obsidian

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Don't waste your money on a bunch of different fancy oils/butters. Get a good basic recipe down first, one that you can replicate multiple times with no issues then starting playing with more expensive ingredients.

I like my cute molds but only use 1 or 2 with any regularity. Some, like the christmas trees are cute but impractical as the shape makes the soap difficult to use. My favorite are the half easter eggs or the lady bugs, no sharp edges and a nice size to easily hold. Most of the time I use them just for excess batter or for cute salt bars.

Don't go crazy with flowers or other things to decorate tops with until you have a chance to use said decorated soap so you know if you like them. I like the looks of flower petals on a loaf mold but they are gross to use, the petals turn brown in time and get all soggy in the shower.
Also be mindful of hard decorations. One of my early soaps was a black & white with whole star anise on top for decoration. They had to be forcibly ripped out before you could use the soap. Not a very good decision on my part.
 

IrishLass

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You know, we need to compile all of this into a one-stop thread and make a stickie out of it!

WeaversPort said:
Wear goggles/gloves/long sleeves/pants
I agree 100% with the goggles and gloves- they are an absolute must, but I just wanted to state that I no longer wear long sleeves/long pants when I make soap....on purpose. This is due to an incident I experienced when I splashed raw soap batter on my sleeve that seeped through to my skin and let me know it was there by the itching that ensued. I had to stop what I was doing and take off my gloves so that I could take off my apron so that I could take off my shirt so that I could wash my arm before running back to my bedroom to grab another shirt to put on before putting my apron and gloves back on and continue soaping. :lol: Thankfully, my batch was a high OO formula and it waited patiently for me. Whew! For me, it's just much easier/quicker to take care of the rare splash on my skin if there is nothing standing in my way.

RE: individual molds. I love my indie molds (I use them to test my formulas in un-gelled mode and also to form my scraps from beveling into pretty bars), but Dixie has a point- you can have so many that they all don't get used!


IrishLass :)
 

makemineirish

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Plan the first five projects that you want to do and pick the vendor that can supply you your needs for three. Do those three before going obsessive and adding every interesting FO and luxury oil to your cart to "justify shipping".

Maybe you are a better person, but I get flights of fancy. As excited as I was about many of the tools and ingredients that I bought, they were often sidelined by even MORE creative endeavors as I stumbled onto new information. I still have an assortment of 1oz FOs (that I should just de-stash) because the intended projects were sidelined by ideas that eclipsed them...or horsetail butter and nettle extract that I need to remember to actually put on my hair because it does NOTHING sitting in the cabinet.

I bought a myriad of exotic oils and butters. I'm not knocking them, and it helped me figure out what I like...and what I don't. That being said, one of my favorite soaps is a 100% CO salt bar (rolling eyes). In the future, I would only purchase them if trying to replicate a particular product that I KNOW I already love.
 

CTAnton

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this is not original but does bear repeating:
Group all your oils in one area and when you've weighed them out put them in a separate area...unweighed on the counter...weighed out on the floor as an example...this way you're less likely to have forgotten one....
 

lenarenee

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I really can't think of anything I would do differently except buy the large honking box of disposable gloves, leave them in easy reach and don't feel guilty for using multiple pairs in a soaping session. If you suspect something dripped into the glove - change it. Glove getting too slippery to pick things up or spread raw batter around - change it.

I had proper safety habits from the beginning, so the rest was just a natural learning curve that one doesn't appreciate unless they've lived through the experience.
 

Susie

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I no longer wear long sleeves, or a face mask, either, for the same reason. I don't wear an apron, though. Just my old comfy t-shirt and sweats or capris. The fumes from the lye water are going to go right through a mask. Mix under a vent hood for a stove, or outside, and at arm's length. However, the more you move stuff, the higher the risk of spilling it everywhere, so carefully weigh your risk and reward there.

I DO wear gloves and goggles.

Do have some sort of individual molds, but it can be as simple as silicone cupcake molds or a silicone multi-bar mold. You will need it for several things, such as mis-figuring your mold capacity, salt bars, trying colorants or scents...and the list goes on.

Do not throw any soap away until you ask here. Most can be saved. And more lessons are learned from botched batches than you can imagine.

When you come ask why your batch botched, please post your ENTIRE recipe in weights. It saves us ever so much struggle when trying to help you troubleshoot. That gets you an answer much, much faster.

Remember that this is a learning process. Not one of us was born knowing how to make soap. We were all where you are.

We are happy to help, but we all have lives, so you may not get an answer immediately, especially if it is the middle of the night in the US, or during the work day for the US.
 

BrewerGeorge

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Don't go crazy with the stick blender. Once things are fully emulsified it's not really useful any more unless you're trying to mix something into the batter - fragrance, color, etc. Just standing there watching it while stirring gently is often just as fast as running the SB.

A corollary to the above: Scrape the sides of the bowl while using the SB! (Not doing this bit me on my first two batches.) Using the SB and stirring around with it like you see in the videos has a tendency to leave a layer of oil at the edges of the bowl. It's a laminar layer that the turbulent flow from the blender won't touch. You need to scrape it off the edges into the bulk batter with a spatula. If you don't and wait to scrape the bowl into the mold, you'll end up with this unmixed oil as a slick on top of your batter.
 

Silver

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I will touch on what many of the other soapers have already said once more: More expensive oils do not necessarily mean better soap. For my first couple of batches I decided to put some Jojoba oil in my soap (gasp, i know) until some of the other soapers brought me back to the light. At the small percentages that it would be feasible to use the expensive oils they really will not make any difference in the soap, and at the end of the day the expensive oils also really don't bring anything to the table that the standard oils do not already offer (coconut, castor, lard, olive oil, etc.).
 

Millie

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Don't repeat a recipe til it has cured and you know you like it! One of my first soaps was the 100% coconut oil with 20% superfat that so many rave about. I lathered it up with gloved hands - amazing! The bar was so white, a perfect background for swirls! I whipped up two more batches the next day. When they cured I discovered I cannot tolerate them.

P.s. I also soap in short sleeves. Dipped a sleeve in batter once.
 

HowieRoll

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There is a ton of excellent advice here. One thing that really resonates with me (now) is what toxikon wrote, to start with small batch sizes. My first batch involved 39.5oz of oils and 63 total oz of soap batter (incl. liquid, lye, additives, etc). It was way, way too much, especially since the soap is just okay but now what I make is a lot better (ok, in my humble opinion). Besides, that first batch was expensive to make ($37.02 ingredient cost!) and after a lot of practice/experimentation with much smaller batches I've been able to hone in on suppliers/ingredients I want to work with, which has lowered ingredient costs considerably. It's been mentioned here before, and I completely agree, not to go too small, but a 500-ish gram batch size is good if you have a reliable scale.

Early on I started an Excel spreadsheet in an attempt to keep track of each batch all the amazing things I was learning (and I still add to it often). The tabs on the bottom are things like Bar Soap Costs, Ingredient Pricing, Oil Notes, Additives Tips, Colorant Usage, EO Blends, EO Notes, Equipment Costs, General Notes, Alternative Liquids Notes, etc. For instance, on the Additives tab I have a bunch of additives listed in alphabetical order (like bee pollen, beeswax, garam masala, honey, paprika, sugar, etc), the usage per pound of oil weight (PPO), and notes about them. When I find things that sound interesting to me I note them there, and it's all in one place. For the first several months I was pretty overwhelmed by all of the things I was learning and this just helped me feel more organized. Plus, I'm a forget-ter.
 

dibbles

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This is all very good advice. It should be compiled into a stickie!

Susie is right about mixing lye under a ventilation hood or outside. For me, that isn't really an option, as my dedicated soaping space is in my basement. I have decided there is far more risk in carrying my lye up and down the stairs and, being a bit of a klutz, probably spilling it at some point. Also, going outside to mix on super cold MN days would be brutal. I invested in a good respirator mask and mix my lye in an area away from where I am working to get everything else set up and weighing my oils. The lye fumes dissipate fairly quickly and are gone before I am ready to use the lye solution.

I would take temperatures for your first few batches too, just so you can have a reference point of how warm or cool the outside of the pitchers/bowls you are using feel at the temperature you prefer for soaping. I still take temps, and usually try to stay around 90-100 when using a lot of hard oils.
 

WeaversPort

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Oh wow, this is incredible. Thank you everyone! I would have never thought about how to get out of batter soaked clothes with an apron, gloves, goggles, glasses..

My apartment is somewhat small, so I'll probably be mixing my solution outside. Of course as it becomes summer I'll need fans going just to survive inside.

Plan the first five projects that you want to do and pick the vendor that can supply you your needs for three. Do those three before going obsessive and adding every interesting FO and luxury oil to your cart to "justify shipping".

Maybe you are a better person, but I get flights of fancy. As excited as I was about many of the tools and ingredients that I bought, they were often sidelined by even MORE creative endeavors as I stumbled onto new information. I still have an assortment of 1oz FOs (that I should just de-stash) because the intended projects were sidelined by ideas that eclipsed them...or horsetail butter and nettle extract that I need to remember to actually put on my hair because it does NOTHING sitting in the cabinet.

I bought a myriad of exotic oils and butters. I'm not knocking them, and it helped me figure out what I like...and what I don't. That being said, one of my favorite soaps is a 100% CO salt bar (rolling eyes). In the future, I would only purchase them if trying to replicate a particular product that I KNOW I already love.
I'm kind of a butterfly and easily get whipped up into more projects than I know what to do with... I'm struggling to stay away from any Internet shopping until I find lard. My first recipe is with lard and olive oil (I need to keep reminding myself of this!! :D How do you know what you already love when you are just starting? Is it better to just get say.. three? five common oils? I see people talking about lard, coconut, olive, avocado, shea, castor, and palm mostly.

Don't repeat a recipe til it has cured and you know you like it! When they cured I discovered I cannot tolerate them.

P.s. I also soap in short sleeves. Dipped a sleeve in batter once.
Good to know, I can just see myself doing both of these things. I'm a hazard in long sleeves when it comes to getting them in everything! I can also see myself getting crazy about my first successful soap, without even knowing if I like it..

Early on I started an Excel spreadsheet in an attempt to keep track of each batch all the amazing things I was learning (and I still add to it often). The tabs on the bottom are things like Bar Soap Costs, Ingredient Pricing, Oil Notes, Additives Tips, Colorant Usage, EO Blends, EO Notes, Equipment Costs, General Notes, Alternative Liquids Notes, etc. For instance, on the Additives tab I have a bunch of additives listed in alphabetical order (like bee pollen, beeswax, garam masala, honey, paprika, sugar, etc), the usage per pound of oil weight (PPO), and notes about them. When I find things that sound interesting to me I note them there, and it's all in one place. For the first several months I was pretty overwhelmed by all of the things I was learning and this just helped me feel more organized. Plus, I'm a forget-ter.
I've been getting a little overwhelmed with oils, costs, properties.. I've been using a cookbook app on my phone, but it hasn't been robust enough as I've been trying to learn things like oil properties. I really like the idea of an Excel spreadsheet, it might be what finally gets me to learn Excel..

Don't go crazy with the stick blender. Once things are fully emulsified it's not really useful any more unless you're trying to mix something into the batter - fragrance, color, etc. Just standing there watching it while stirring gently is often just as fast as running the SB.

A corollary to the above: Scrape the sides of the bowl while using the SB! (Not doing this bit me on my first two batches.) Using the SB and stirring around with it like you see in the videos has a tendency to leave a layer of oil at the edges of the bowl. It's a laminar layer that the turbulent flow from the blender won't touch. You need to scrape it off the edges into the bulk batter with a spatula. If you don't and wait to scrape the bowl into the mold, you'll end up with this unmixed oil as a slick on top of your batter.
Learn about oil properties for easy recipe making. I followed tutorial recipes for a long time without really thinking about why and what was going into it. Once you learn what each oil brings to the soap, it's very easy to customize recipes to suit your needs and likes.

Start simple. It can be tempting to add sugar, sodium lactate, goat milk, oatmeal, honey, salt, clays, charcoal, beer, coffee (and so on...) to your recipes because it's all so new and exciting! But your first few batches should be very simple to get your feet wet and learn the process. First recipe: 3-4 oils, lye, water. Second recipe: Add a fragrance. Third recipe: Try a fragrance and a colour, etc. Slowly build up your recipes.

Temperature doesn't matter too much. When I first started and was following Soap Queen heavily, I watched my lye water and oil temperatures like a HAWK and combined them when they both reached exactly 120 degrees. On the forum, I was surprised to learn that a lot of people don't even use thermometers! And their lye water is room temperature! So yeah. As long as oils aren't cold enough re-solidify, it's okay if they're not the exact same temperature.

You don't need to pour at trace.
Your soap batter can be a bit liquidy if you're trying to do pretty swirly designs. You don't need to blend everything to oblivion with a stick blender until it reaches trace. Whisks are okay. Stopping early can give you a lot more time to add colours and pour your designs. As long as the lye water and oils have been fully incorporated, it's okay to pour your soap while it's still liquid.

Give your curing bars lots of air flow. I neglected this a bit when I first started. I'd let them cure for a few days, then pop them into a closet in a shoebox. Oops. Leave those babies out and exposed for at least 6 weeks to get all that water content out!

Start small. Keep your first batches reasonably sized! 500g - 1.5lbs is a good starting point. If something goes wrong, you don't want a huge pile of garbage soap on your hands. I recently saw a newbie post about a failed SEVEN POUND recipe. That's an insane amount of waste. When you're testing new recipes, small batch size is the way to go!
I feel like I should tattoo these to my arms and forehead... I have been watching a lot of Soap Queen, so I've been a little worried about all of the thermometer temperatures. And whether I'm wieldy enough with a stick blender.

I'm almost terrified of trying to color anything after watching her videos.

Do not throw any soap away until you ask here. Most can be saved. And more lessons are learned from botched batches than you can imagine.

When you come ask why your batch botched, please post your ENTIRE recipe in weights. It saves us ever so much struggle when trying to help you troubleshoot. That gets you an answer much, much faster.
I had no idea soap could be saved! Is saved when I get things like volcanoes or something? I saw cracks/volcanoes/ricing and something about orange spots..

I promise to do my best never to post something like

I made a coconut soap and it isn't working! Help! I can see that being a little impossible. :headbanging:
 
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SaltedFig

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Keep good records

Keep good records of your soaping adventures. Include things like:

Recipe -
The most important piece of information you can keep!

Cost of materials - this can be as easy as stapling the receipts into your soaping book.

Time
- document when you start and how long each step takes, or the whole recipe. Your time is valuable.

Weather - temperature and humidity can have an impact on soaps (I know a professional soap maker who does not make high olive soaps on days when there is going to be a thunderstorm - they believe that it increases the amount of stringy gel apparent in the final soap (haven't tested this curiosity, but one day ...)

Batch details of ingredients - it sounds obvious, but recording manufacturer, date and batch information of the original production may become important months or even years later (when you want to know what made that particular batch of your soap different from the others, whether for good or bad).

Notes as you go - these are jottings that may or may not be important. They are just for you, so your shorthand is fine, but do keep them! You might never read them again, but for that one ... it's worth it.

Scent blends - record number of drops and/or the weight of each component. Again, even if it's for that one, perfect, combination, it will be worth it!

Your impressions - include colour, scent, texture, bubbles and anything else that is important to you. Come back to the soaps from time to time and try them out again, and record your impressions again.

It sounds like a lot, but in reality it can be as simple as scribbling on the back of a recipe as you make it and stapling that into your book.

Lucky last - keep at least on bar for years. Like a physical diary - an old bar of soap has a story to tell you.
 

Susie

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Cracks can be sealed and hidden with the judicious use of a gloved finger and some rubbing alcohol.

Volcanoes can be avoided once you learn to keep a close eye on your soap during crucial periods of gelling. And they can be plopped into a crock pot to HP if not.

Ricing needs to be stickblended into submission.

DOS-dreaded orange spots, AKA rancidity can be avoided with knowing your oils and watching those expiration dates before buying the oil. You can also freeze oils if you don't use them often. And you can add BHT or ROE to oils to help postpone rancidity. If your soap develops DOS, it has to be tossed. I can't abide the smell of rancid oils. But you learn your lesson, and don't repeat it.
 

makemineirish

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I'm kind of a butterfly and easily get whipped up into more projects than I know what to do with... :D

Is it better to just get say.. three? five common oils? I see people talking about lard, coconut, olive, avocado, shea, castor, and palm mostly.
I have similar issues and empathize. Common oils are great to learn on for a few reasons.

First, they are readily available. Any money that you save with suppliers is typically overtaken by the expense of shipping jugs of heavy liquid (especially if you have to utilize multiple vendors). There are a number of threads that suggest bulk goods stores are more reliable than stand grocery stores with regard to freshness. I can buy Olive Oil, Coconut Oil (76), and Avocado Oil (considered luxury) at Costco. Whole foods sells Spectrum Brand "Non-Hydrogenated Organic All Vegetable Shortening" in the baking aisle of which the only ingredient is "mechanically pressed organic palm oil" that is certified sustainable by the RSPO. Lard is available in the grocery store (at least in Texas:)), as is castor oil. If I was motivated (and I am not), I could render my own tallow.

Secondly, they are less costly. If you end up trashing a batch because you forgot something (resulting in a lye-heavy product) or experience an unfortunate mishap (volcano, seizing, etc)...at least it was an inexpensive lesson. As a research hound and conscientious planner, I have yet to make any bad soap (fingers crossed that I did not just jinx myself). However, my first few batches still did not fulfill my artistic vision for them (batter thickened up too quickly for the design. Being a perfectionist, I insisted on repeating the process until I achieved my "vision".

Finally, luxury oils have their place. I utilize ingredients like kokum butter and meadowfoam oil in my body butter and love it. However, soap is a wash-off product that resides on your skin for mere seconds. It is unreasonable to expect it to do more than separate the dirt from your epidermis. Even then, most of the actual cleaning is performed by the aggitation/abbrasion that you apply. While controlling you ingredients allows you to reduce the cleansing/stripping factor, improve the tactile sensation of the lather, or increase the hardness/longevity...it's still just soap. Many of the "luxury" ingredients do more to add label appeal than functionality.

How do you know what you already love when you are just starting?
I base this on my favorite product purchases. I love a lip balm that is $22 frickin' dollars. You better believe that I am trying to find a supplier for the ingredients that I lack to make it. While I do not care for many of LUSH's fragrances, my "signature" daytime scent happens to be a discontinued perfume of theirs. I could not buy the perfume if I wanted to, but Nurture carries a spot-on dupe that I adore. My preferred designer scent retails for over $300/bottle. I have never actually bought the stuff as I just grab free samples from Neiman's periodically and am attempting to put together my own version based on the notes. Do you love EvanHealy facial moisturizer or Milk+Honey deodorant. If so, you can use the ingredient list as a springboard to craft your own.
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Store your lye in a desiccant bucket. (per kchaystack)

http://www.soapmakingforum.com/showthread.php?t=59316
 
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