Well, That Didn't Go As Planned
This batch of soap was a great example of several small mistakes turning into a disaster!
I have a tiny test batch-sized recipe that makes two bars in the mold I wanted to use, but I wanted to make 8 bars. So I recalculated the recipe and set out to make a soap I plan to call Wild About Blueberries. I was excited to use Ultramarine Blue color in the soap to mimic the bright blue of perfectly ripe blueberries, and I had my design all set in my mind.
I carefully weighed my oils and melted them. I looked at the recipe to check how much milk to use, then I weighed the milk and added the pre-measured lye, stirring, stirring, stirring to be certain all the lye was dissolved. (My first clue that something wasn’t right should have been when the lye was taking longer than usual to dissolve, and the milk/lye solution turned orange. But I was determined to get this batch in the molds so I could move on to something else – anyone else see that red flag?)
The lye mixture was close to 110 degrees, and the oils were sitting in cool water and had gotten down to about 130 degrees. I added more cool water to the sink and stirred the oils until they were about 120 degrees. Then I added the lye mixture to the oils and stirred. The consistency of the batter looked good, though the color was a lot darker than this recipe usually is. (Another warning I missed.)
I started using my stick blender, pulsing and stirring to bring the batter to a very light trace. At one point I felt like the oils were not mixing in well, so I did the walk away test to let the batter sit a minute or so to see if any oils rise to the surface. When I returned, there was not an oil slick, so I went on blending.
I had looked up my fragrance usage on our Fragrance Calculator, which gave me a usage range and did not indicate this fragrance would accelerate trace or cause any other issues. I decided to use a relatively strong fragrance usage rate because Blueberry Bliss Fragrance Oil smells so good! I poured the fragrance into the soap batter, gave it a few pulses with the stick blender, and WHOA!!! The batter went from light trace to a big glob before I could even grab a spoon. I realized about the same time that the soap batter had heated up dramatically, and I could feel it through my heavy protective gloves. I dumped it into (onto) a silicone mold, snapped a quick photo for posterity, and ran out onto the porch with it and left out there. I put the very hot plastic tub, which still contained a lot of hot soap batter, into the sink and filled it with cold water. I was surprised the tub had not melted! When I checked the temperature of the soap on the porch a few minutes later (it was about 18 degrees outside), the inside of the batter was just over 200 degrees. Egad! What the heck happened?!
I chatted with one of our technical support team, and she asked me a few questions. I got to thinking, and as I looked carefully at the recipe, I realized where I’d made several small errors.
Mistake: I did not double check my recipe by running it through the Lye Calculator. ALWAYS double check!
Mistake: In my recipe, I was including the lye and the liquid in the 100% instead of just having the oils be the 100%. The amount of lye and liquid depend on the composition and amount of oils. You can’t just figure lye and liquid as a percentage, and I KNOW that. I just didn’t clue into the mistake I’d made. If I had double checked my recipe with the lye calculator, this entire mess would not have happened.
Mistake: I did not pay attention to a sign (the lye that took too long to dissolve in the milk) that should have had me double checking my recipe! I did not look carefully enough at the recipe, and the number I saw was not the correct amount of milk. It was the lye weight, which was about half of what the milk should have been.
Mistake: I was in a hurry, and my head was not in the right place. I wasn’t in a huge hurry, but enough that I was not being thorough. Soap making is all about chemistry, and the errors I had made turned my beautiful soap idea into an ugly, smelly mess.
I learned several things along this journey, and I share them in the hope that someone else might learn as well and avoid such a mess. And if you get a chuckle out of this, know that I’m laughing with you. If I can’t laugh at myself, then I need a reality check!
First, I learned that asking someone more experienced to look over a recipe is a brilliant idea. I have been making soap for several years, but I have never tried making up my own recipe. I was very blessed to have a soaping mentor who taught me how to make her very own recipe. I never had to go through the trial and error of figuring out a recipe, and though I did make some adjustments, I had always checked out my changes in the Lye Calculator to be sure I was working with the correct amount of liquid and lye.
Second, I learned that there are good times to make soap and not good times to make soap. As Tina, our technical support whiz, always instructs, make sure you have plenty of time, are not in a hurry, and are not distracted. I failed on all three counts. I had not really given myself enough time, resulting in my being in a bit of a hurry. I also am feeling some stress and distraction, as my husband was just diagnosed with pneumonia, so I’m playing nurse as well as working and holding down the entire farm operation. This was not the best time to start a batch of soap. I still had evening chores to do, which meant I wanted to be out of the kitchen within an hour.
Third, after thinking about some of the changes I’d made to the recipe, I realized I had substituted Beard & Hair Oil Base for Rice Bran Oil, and that was not a good substitution. I’d recently been reading an old blog series about beginning soap making, and I recalled the 6-5-4-1 rule for recipe creation. I looked at my recipe with this rule in mind, and I realized that I had messed up by substituting Beard & Hair Oil Base (which is a blend of oils considered to be luxury oils in soap making) for Rice Bran Oil. The problem is that the Rice Bran Oil in the formula is there because it contributes small, dense lather. The oils in the Beard & Hair Oil Base do not fit that description, and Jojoba Oil – one of the main oils in the blend – can cause excessive heat when you have too much in a formulation.
Fourth, I did not cool my lye solution and oils adequately. Milk soaps are best created at 90-110 degrees. Milk just does not perform well at higher temperatures.
It’s amazing how so many little things can add up to one big mess! But I’m glad I had this experience because it woke me up. I lack the foundational knowledge of soap making because I learned only one recipe. I did not learn WHY that recipe worked. I am learning those things now.
You want to know what’s really ironic? I discovered that I had posted comments on the blog series Introduction to Soap Making, published in 2014! Obviously, I’d read the posts, but it seems that information did not stay with me. I have been following The Sage and ordering products from them for many years, and I feel so very blessed to work with these fantastic folks now! Here’s to continuing to learn!