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It’s hard to believe that only one year ago today I made my first soap.  Over the this time, I’ve made over 150 batches of soap.  I’ve learned a LOT, thanks to the generous teachers who have written books, made videos and answered countless questions online.  This entry is written for the newer soapers. I want to impart to you some random nuggets of wisdom that I’ve learned over this year.

  • Gloves. Goggles.  No Aluminum. And Pour the Lye into the Water, never the other way around.  Once used for soaping, your soaping bowls and utensils should no longer be used for food.  Those are the hard and fast rules of making soap.   After that, all else is a matter of personal preference.
  • In my opinion, there is no miracle oil for soap.  Pick a half dozen quality oils and save the expensive oils for lotions and body butters.  After much trial and error, I favor Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Palm Oil, REFINED Hemp Oil, Castor Oil, Lard or Tallow.  Avocado Oil, Sweet Almond Oil, Rice Bran and Safflower Oil are also quite nice and affordable.  I could happily never use Shea Butter in my soaps again, but do keep it around for lotions.
  • If you’re having problems with your soap accelerating and seizing, it may be your fragrance oil; the your choice of oils / butters; or the type of liquid you are using with your lye.   Florals and Spicy fragrances will get you every time… Okay, not EVERY time, but you’ll see a trend.   Substantial amounts butters, hard oils, coconut milk and yogurt will thicken considerably as well. Try soaping at lower temperatures… it really is okay!
  • If you are making a fancy swirl, then make sure your FO will not discolor.  It’s a sad thing when you make a spectacular soap and it turns to mud brown in the first two weeks.   Though Vanilla discolors, many fragrances without vanilla will also discolor.  Read the reviews and information from reputable suppliers before choosing your fragrances.
  • Not all Fragrance Suppliers are equal… and I’ll just leave it at that.
  • There can be a big difference in the appearance of soaps cut horizontally vs. the traditional vertical cut.  If you are swirling from the top of your soap log to the base, there might be some really beautiful surprises waiting for you with a horizontal cut.
  • Liquid Colorants will bleed. Color divisions and lines will not be crisp.  Micas and Pigments are more stable for CP.
  • Yes, you can be creative with Hot Process.
  • While there is a smaller margin for error on small batches, I’d suggest keeping your batch size around 2 pounds to start with.  This gives you the opportunity to practice new techniques and recipes without overrunning your shelves with soap.
  • Seriously, don’t plan on selling your first dozen batches.  You’re just learning.  Until you’ve had some time to refine your recipe and techniques, just give the soaps away.  Give them to family, friends, women’s shelters, your kids teachers, etc.
  • You can force gel or prevent gel.  Personally, I like to oven process most of my soaps in a warm oven (170 degrees) for 30-45 minutes then leave the soap in the warm oven (no peeking) overnight to finish gelling.  Of course, milk, honey and spicy fragrances may overheat so preventing gel should be considered for those soaps.
  • Shop hard!  Your favorite fragrance supplier may not offer the best price on oils.  You’ll likely find better pricing on packaging by shopping outside of the soaping industry.   Pricing for similar items vary wildly from one company to the next.
  • Sodium Lactate is your friend and will harden soaps for easier removal form silicone molds.  Stearic Acid will add hardness but accelerate substantially.  I do not recommend using added stearic acid for a beginner.
  • Palm Oil and Palm Kernal Oil are not the same and are not interchangeable.
  • INS numbers really are helpful. If you don’t like the bubble numbers, then add sugar, maple syrup, honey, etc.  If you don’t like the creamy number, then add some coconut milk powder.  Take time to learn how to use SoapCalc and how different fatty acid will effect your soap.  Note to self, High Stearic Acid will accelerate every time.
  • If you want to sell soap, you MUST read Marie Gale’s book, Soap and Cosmetic Labeling. Read it, Absorb it.  It will keep you on the right side of the law.  I’ve read a dozen books on soap making over the last year.  If I were buying only two soap making books, I’d start with Anne-Marie Faiola’s new release, Soap Crafting which is RICH with inspiring pictures of beautiful swirling techniques and Susan Cavitch Miller’s book, The Soapmaker’s Companion, which is thorough in information for beginners as well as a handy reference for the experienced soaper.  A fourth outstanding reference would be The Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winters which gives needed information on all of the ingredients you might use in soap as well as ingredients you will find in commercial soap and cosmetics.
  • And finally, no matter what you’ve read in a book, don’t ever tell someone “It can’t be done.” They might prove you wrong.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and test new boundaries.  But at the same time, don’t jump on the bandwagon of putting “stuff” in your soap just for the challenge of it.  I’ve put chocolate in soap.  Why?  I don’t know.  Label appeal I guess.  Wine is better in my belly than as a soap ingredient… though beer really is friggin’ awesome in soap.  Know why the ingredients are being used.  I used to have this fantasy about using Grape Crush in soap just to see if I could.  Finally, I talked myself out of it as it would serve no useful cosmetic purpose.
  • Be sure to watch a lot of YouTube videos. But, be aware, there are crackpots out there who make exaggerated and untested claims that the essential oil blends in their soaps will treat various medical conditions.   Soap is intended to clean the skin. In my opinion, soap, as a product that washes off the skin, doesn’t add moisture to the skin.  But compared synthetic detergent bars, it is less drying and does not strip the skin of it’s own oils.  Don’t believe everything you see on t.v. (or YouTube).

These have been some hard learned, expensive lessons.  I hope this list helps shorten the learning curve for beginners.  If you have any experience at all, I’m sure you’ve already found things I’ve stated here that you may disagree with.  As I said, everyone has different opinions and there really are few hard and fast rules.