Learning from mistakes

One of the most common pieces of advice I have read while researching soap making is ‘expect to make mistakes’.  This is something I worried about as –

1.  The materials aren’t cheap and I’d hate to have to discard anything

2. I’m terribly afraid of making something that disintegrates me / anyone else upon touch (this may be a slight exaggeration)

So in our first unsupervised batch I thought I’d keep it simple with a straight forward recipe and follow it to the letter.  While a pleasant experience making what was truly our own soap, we did learn something along the way.  Firstly, using a majority Olive oil base (Pomace) takes a while to get to trace even with Coconut and Palm oil balancing it out.  After whisking for an age, the mixture looked great and with the nutrient (superfatting) oil, essential oil and poppy seeds all added in, it looked to be a success.

Beautiful lavender swirl soap

Beautiful lavender swirl soap


Alas, this was not exactly the success we had hoped for.  It looked and smelled fantastic but, when it came to cutting, the soap was very soft and crumbled easily.  On top of that, although I liked the swirl pattern, we noticed that there were concentrated lumps of the oxide used to colour the soap – spoiling the otherwise groovy pattern.

Soap crumble … delicious.

I immediately thought that we had created toxic waste that should be purged from the face of the earth, but, following some further research, it turns out that there are a LOT of things that can cause this effect and not just a lye heavy / caustic mix.  After leaving the soaps for a few more days to cure, I did a quick check to see whether the batch was actually lye heavy and thankfully it was not.  From what I can gather, the things that went awry were –

1.  Mixing by hand (stainless steel whisk) took too long and the mixture cooled too much during saponification.

2.  I was heavy handed on the amount of colour needed for this size batch (I used double what was needed!).

3.  We did a lot of concurrent weighing, heating, mixing – it would have been far easier to just get everything weighed and measured before any heating or mixing began.

So for the next batches, I’ve purchased an essential item (in my opinion) to make mixing quicker and therefore reduce the risk of the mixture cooling too much before adding final ingredients and pouring into the mould – a stick blender!

Beardy man in lumberjack shirt making soap .. GRRRR

Beardy man in lumberjack shirt making soap .. GRRRR

For the colour problem, it’s just a case of measuring out an amount appropriate to the batch size and not just going by what I guess is about right.  Preparedness is the next easy fix, and for our next batch we did indeed weigh, measure and lay everything out in order prior to heating and mixing.  This sounds like an obvious thing to do but, when you’re a newbie and worried about making mistakes, there is no such thing as an obvious thing to do.  These are just a few things I’ve found and I hope my mistakes may help some budding soap makers out there too.


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