Tips and Troubleshooting

Don't let the number of possible problems dissuade you from making soap. Chances are you'll only experience occasional problems. It's best to know up front if a problem is really a problem or if it's only a matter of aethetics.

PROBLEM
CAUSE
FIX
Soap won't trace Not enough lye, too much water, wrong temperatures, stirring too slow If measurements and temperatures are correct, continue stirring up to 4 hours or until trace. After 4 hours stirring, if it shows signs of thickening, pour into molds regardless of trace and hope for the best
Lye and fat separate in mold, pouring into mold Inaccurate measuring Reheat entire mixture to 1100F (430C) but not above 1200F (490C). Stir till completely melted and begins to trace. Pour into mold, wrap to insulate. If it separates again, discard soap
Soap seizes (sets up) before pouring into mold Cooking temp too high or too low, soap reaction to fragrance or essential oil, too much saturated fat used Pour or scoop quickly into mold. Smooth as best as possible with spatula. More Fragrance Oils than Essential Oils cause seizing. Oils to avoid: cassia, clove, cucumber, grapefruit seed extract and rose. Avoid ANY oils containing alcohol.
As soap cools in the mold, a layer of oil rises to the top Too much oil in recipe, incorrect measuring or poor ingredient substitutions Fix as per first solution. Check soap in 2 - 3 weeks. If it doesn't lather well and is caustic, discard soap.
Soap curdles while making basic recipe or remelting for hand-milled soaps Cooling basic recipe too fast, inaccuracy in measuring ingredients, adding dyes or additives with too much sodium, irregular stirring or not stirring briskly If curdling comes from inaccurate measuring, try Fix as per first solution. If it's from too much sodium, try diluting it after remelting. Weigh out another batch of basic soap and water and add it to the hand-milled soap. Reheat and combine. If it curdles, discard soap.
When cutting up blocks for hand-milled soap, there is clear liquid present Excessive amount of lye in recipe These are lye pockets; put on gloves immediately. If pockets are large, throw it out. If small, cut the is soap for hand-milling over the sink (wearing gloves), rinse off remaining lye and dry soap. Proceed with hand-milled recipe.
Free fat which hasn't combined with lye. It will smell rancid. Too much fat or too little lye in recipe. No remedy. Discard soap.
Soap in mold is grainy Stirred too long or too fast Does not affect soap usage, only its appearance
Soap in mold is streaky Not enough lye, too much water Does not affect soap usage, only its appearance
Air bubbles in cured soap Stirred too long or too fast Does not affect soap usage, only its appearance
Soap is too soft Not enough lye, too much water Try curing a couple more weeks to harden. Discard if it stays too soft or add more water to make liquid soap
Soap is too hard or brittle Too much lye No fix for this; discard soap
Mottled soap with shiny white spots - not streaks Too much lye, stirring too slow Shiny spots are pockets of lye - discard soap
Lots of white powder on curing soap Hard water was used and lye didn't properly dissolve Soap will be caustic, discard it.
Small amounts of white powder on curing soap Excess sodium salts have reacted with the air and formed sodium carbonate Bars must be scraped before using. Check for caustic reaction. If present, discard soap
Cracks in soap Too much lye, too much stirring, soap set up too quickly If soap is not caustic, then it is OK to use. Does not affect soap usage, only its appearance
Irregularities in cured soap. Bar appears warped, bumpy By-product of drying process or using misshaped molds. Small irregularities and bumps can be lessened by shaving with a vegetable peeler. For very noticeable problems, try carving soap into shapes. For small problems, try lightly wetting soap and smoothing with your finger (watch out for fingerprints).

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