Thursday, April 24, 2014

Merlot Wine Soap

I'm finally getting around to something that I've been meaning to try for a while now - wine soap!

Making wine soap is a lot like making beer soap, and wine and beer bring similar qualities to the bars. The natural sugars in each help to boost the lather, making it fluffy, creamy, and luxurious. Both are wonderful additives, and they add interest to a batch.

Using alcohol in soap can be tricky, though. Alcohol can cause the lye solution to bubble up like a volcano eruption. And it can make the soap seize, which will absolutely ruin a day in the soaping kitchen. (If you want to see an epic seize, check out this video to see the time I got soap-on-a-stick.)

The good news is that you can take steps to avoid volcanoes and soap seizes. The best method I know of is to bring your wine or beer to a boil on the stove top and let it simmer for about 10 minutes or so to cook out the alcohol. You'll lose some of the liquid due to evaporation, but you can either boil more than you need, or simply make up the difference with distilled water.

Boiling, measuring, and freezing the wine
For this batch, I used Recipe 1 from Amanda at Lovin' Soap. It contains olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil, cocoa butter, and rice bran oil. I replaced the water with Merlot wine (go ahead and buy the cheap stuff, you guys), which I boiled first as described. A 750 mL bottle worked perfectly for my recipe - I needed 18.24 oz. (or 518g) of liquid, and 750 mL (which is about 25.36 oz. or 719g) of simmered wine ended up being just right. If you end up with more wine than you need or you want to reserve some for later, you can portion some out and freeze the rest. Just weigh what you need and pour it into plastic freezer bags. It's helpful to write the weight on the outside of the bag for future reference.

Another thing about working with wine or beer or even milks is that the natural sugars can cause the soap to heat up quickly. Also, if your lye solution gets too hot, the sugars can scorch. To combat this problem, I froze my wine after it had been simmered and cooled. After adding my lye to the frozen wine, I stirred the lye solution in an ice bath to keep the temperature low. Overall, I soaped cooler, too. I normally soap between 100-110 degrees F, but for this batch, I combined the lye solution and the oils when the lye solution was at about 84 degrees F and the oils were at 91 degrees F. And because batches that contain wine, beer, or milk can heat up more than batches that don't, I didn't insulate my mold.

For the fragrance, I chose Bramble Berry's Bordeaux Blend, which I had bought a while back. It is perfect for a red wine-type soap. It's fruity and spicy; sweet but sophisticated.

The wine/lye solution had a bit of a brownish-green tinge, and it smelled a little funky. (Don't worry, the funky smell should disappear during the cure.) To make sure that my soap stayed a deep red Merlot color, I added a generous amount of Merlot Sparkle mica into my oils before adding the lye. (I mixed the mica with a bit of glycerin first to avoid clumping and streaking.)

Once I added the fragrance oil and the mica to my cooled oils, I mixed in the lye solution, pouring it through a strainer just in case there was any undissolved lye. Then I stickblended the soap to a medium-thick trace.

Bramble Berry mentions that the Bordeaux Blend FO may move quickly, I would guess probably because of the cinnamon and clove notes. The soap did get thick on me, but it wasn't unmanageable at all. Besides, I was doing layers so a thicker trace worked out perfectly.

Fragrance oil and micas
You guys remember the mica oil swirl trend last year, right? I thought that it might be interesting to do mica oil swirls not just on top of the soap, but inside of the soap, too.

To make the mica oil, I mixed some Gold Sparkle mica with some olive oil. To make the swirls, I drizzled the mica oil onto the soap with a pipette. The olive oil saponifies along with the rest of the soap, leaving behind the shimmery mica.

I poured about one-third of the batter into my mold, drizzled some mica oil on top and then swirled it with a spoon, poured another third of the batter and drizzled and swirled more mica oil, and finally poured the rest of the soap batter and topped it off with more mica swirls.

I was going for crackled, wispy gold lines running horizontally through the bars. Overall, I was happy with the results, although the lines ended up being a bit more subtle than I was hoping for. So, I decided to jazz things up a bit more by stamping the soaps. To stamp the soap, I pressed my stamp into some dry mica, tapped off the excess, and then gently pressed the stamp onto the surface of the soap. It is best to stamp freshly-cut soap so that the mica will stick.

Here is a video showing how I made this batch:

I am very happy with how these turned out! The stamp adds so much drama, and the gold looks so great against the deep red. You can see the wispy mica lines faintly, which I think is nice even if I was hoping that they'd be a little more distinct. A jagged mica pencil line might have been cool, too. Or it may have been neat to drizzle the mica oil in between the layers and leave them be without swirling. The effect may not have been as widespread throughout the bars, but it may have created some dramatic mica specks.

I've already tested an end piece sliver, and these bars lather great! The bubbles are fluffy and creamy, and the soap smells spectacular. I've also got some Pinot Grigio FO in my fragrance bin, so there will probably be more wine soap in my future someday.

Have you ever made or used wine soap? Did you enjoy it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Resizing and Converting Soap Recipes

Have you ever seen a soap recipe that makes much more soap than you need and you want to scale it down and aren't sure how? Or have you seen a recipe expressed in percentages and wondered what that means and how to translate it into ounces or grams?

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me how to do those very things, and it got me thinking about writing a blog post dedicated to those questions.

Percentages and conversions can be confusing, especially in the beginning. Different soapmakers may do different things, but here is how I convert recipes into something I can use.

First of all, it's important to know how much soap your mold will hold. A three-pound mold holds three pounds of soap. Makes sense, right? But how much of that is oils and how much is water? How do you know how much oil to include in your recipe so that, when added with the lye solution, you end up with three pounds of soap?

And what if you aren't sure how much soap your mold holds? Let's say you're using a lined shoebox, a silicone baking mold, a homemade mold, or even a wooden box that was once packaging for something else. How do you determine the mold's capacity?

L x W x H
One thing you can do is fill your mold with water and weigh the water. A scale with a tare function is good for this. (The tare weight is the weight of the empty container. The tare function on a scale allows you to reset the scale to zero after you have placed the container on the scale, thereby weighing only the contents of the container once they are added.) Place your mold on the scale, press the tare button, and then add water until your mold is filled to your preferred level. Note the weight of the water to get an idea of how much your mold will hold.

Of course, the water method works better with some molds than others. You wouldn't want to pour water into a wooden mold unless you lined it with a plastic bag or something first. If it isn't convenient to use water, or if you just don't want the hassle, here is a handy formula you can use to help determine the capacity of your mold:

L x W x H x 0.4

This formula will give you a good idea of  the OIL WEIGHT in ounces for your mold, which is helpful since soap recipes are built on oil weight. The lye solution (water + sodium hydroxide) will account for the rest of the weight, filling your mold to capacity.

For example, my three-pound wooden mold has the following dimensions: 10 inches in length, 3.5 inches in width, and 2.75 inches in height. To fill the mold all the way to the top, I would need a recipe with 38.5 ounces of oil. If I want to leave a quarter-inch of space at the top to allow for texturing, a lid, etc., I would need 35 ounces of oil (10 x 3.5 x 2.5 x .4).

If the maths make you sad, the Summer Bee Meadow soapmaking calculator will resize a recipe based on the dimensions of your particular mold. Just take a recipe, plug it into the lye calculator, and then use the recipe resizer after you've calculated the recipe.

Here's an example. Let's say that I found a great-looking soap recipe, like this Beginner 6.5 Pound Soap Recipe from Teach Soap:

5 oz. Canola Oil
5 oz. Castor Oil
32 oz. Coconut Oil
32 oz. Palm Oil
11 oz. Lye (5% superfatted)
24.4 oz. Distilled Water

This recipe makes way too much soap for my three-pound mold, so I'm going to need to resize it to fit my mold's dimensions. Let's go to the Summer Bee Meadow soapmaking calculator and plug in those numbers:

After entering the oil amounts and desired superfat, I will hit the "Click Here When Done" button to get the full recipe, including lye and water amounts. (It's always an excellent idea to double-check a recipe that you find online or in a book or wherever by running it through a lye calculator, just to make sure that it is correct.)

So there is the the complete recipe. It's way too big for our mold, though. Right below the recipe is the "Soap Recipe Resizer" area where I can specify the dimensions of my mold and generate a new recipe based on those figures:

I selected "Rectangular Mold" and plugged in my dimensions. Notice that I opted to use 2.5 inches for the height to allow for a quarter-inch of space at the top. Here is the recipe resized to fit my mold:

Voilà! There's my new recipe, resized to fit my particular mold. (And note that the oil weight is 35.60 ounces, which is pretty close to the 35 ounces of oil I figured I would need by multiplying 10 x 3.5 x 2.5 x .4.) This resized recipe should be about right. Notice that it does give a total recipe weight of 3 pounds, 5.41 ounces. If you have a little left over, just pour it into a small mold. You can tweak the numbers later if you find that you need to.

Tip: This recipe is in ounces, but I recommend measuring ingredients by weight in grams for better accuracy. Summer Bee Meadow is working to implement a grams calculator. (SBM also has lots of other great stuff on its website, so do check it out. Also, Steve is working on a new interactive website,, and it should be lots of fun when it is fully implemented!) In the meantime, you can find handy ounces-to-grams conversion calculators online. Or you can plug your recipe into the SoapCalc lye calculator, which will calculate your recipe in pounds, ounces, grams, and percentages.

Speaking of percentages, what the heck does it mean when you see a recipe that looks like this?:

45% Olive Oil
29% Coconut Oil
17% Palm Oil
6% Shea Butter
3% Castor Oil

Basically, this is a breakdown of the proportions of each oil in the total amount of oils. Olive oil is 45% of the total oils, coconut oil is 29% of the total oils, and so on and so forth. 

Why would anyone express a recipe in percentages instead of ounces or grams? Well, the great thing about percentages is that it can be adapted for any recipe of any size. If a recipe is expressed in ounces or grams, you would have to either visit the resizer calculator, or figure out the percentages and then translate the percentages into a recipe that fits your needs.

But how do you translate those percentages into a recipe?

Let's say that I want to try out the above recipe in my 3-pound wooden mold. I already know that I need about 35 ounces of oils to create a soap recipe that will fit nicely into it. With that information and the recipe's percentages, I can go to SoapCalc and easily create a recipe that will work for my needs:
I am using sodium hydroxide, so I selected NaOH in field #1. In field #2, I entered 35 ounces for my oil weight, since that produces a perfect-sized recipe for my three-pound mold. I am going to leave the water at 38% of the oil weight (which is the "full water amount," something you may hear soapmakers say), but field #3 allows me to specify a water discount if I so desire. In field #4, I set my superfat at 5% (the superfat is the amount of unsaponified oils that are sort of free-floating in your bar, making the soap more nourishing). Here, I can also specify a fragrance oil usage rate, which is .50 ounces per pound by default. I'm not going to worry about field #5, but I could play with soap qualities there if I wanted to. To create my list of oils, I select an oil from the "Oils, Fats, and Waxes" list and hit the "+" to add it in field #6. I can express each oil in either ounces or percentages. I'm using percentages here. (I could also use grams or pounds, too, but I'm going to stick with ounces and percentages for now.)

Once all of that is done, I click on "Calculate Recipe" and then "View or Print Recipe" to get the full recipe, including lye and water amounts:

And there it is. A recipe that is perfect for my 3-pound mold and shows me all of the measurements in pounds, ounces, grams, and percentages. It even shows the weight of my soap (3.398 pounds), which should be just about right. SoapCalc also provides all kinds of interesting info, such as the qualities of the particular recipe.

Another neat thing you can do? You can reverse-engineer a recipe with SoapCalc to figure out the percentages and then adapt it to your needs.

Let's use the same recipe, but instead of it being presented in percentages, let's say that it looked like this:

36 oz. Olive Oil
23.2 oz. Coconut Oil
13.6 oz. Palm Oil
4.8 oz. Shea Butter
2.4 oz. Castor Oil

To make it fit into my 3-pound mold, I can plug those numbers into SoapCalc, find out the percentages, and then do what I did above and plug those percentages into a recipe of my desired size.

Here's a visual. There are 80 ounces of oil total in this recipe. I enter the ounces of each oil in field #6:

After calculating the recipe and hitting "View or Print Recipe," I can see the percentages for each oil:

Now I can recalculate the recipe using 35 ounces of total oil weight and the percentages of 45% olive oil, 29% coconut oil, 17% palm oil, 6% shea butter, and 3% castor oil, just as I did above earlier to make it fit into my 3-pound mold.

Cool, huh? And SoapCalc is more than just a lye calculator - it has some great tips, links, and videos, too.

So that's how I convert my recipes. What tips and tricks do you have for resizing your soap recipes?

(Oh, and if your head hasn't already exploded, check out this Soap Queen blog post to learn more about converting usage rates, parts and ratios, and percentages!)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Testing S.O.A.P. Panel Mystery Scents!

Here it is - the big, big S.O.A.P. Panel fragrance oil testing and results post!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared my first impressions of the mystery scents out of the bottle. Now it's time for Phase 2 where I actually soap with the fragrance oils and see how they behave and how well the scent holds up.

I chose to test each fragrance in cold process soap and melt-and-pour soap.

I kinda geeked out and went all high school science project on this, so I hope you guys won't be too disappointed that I didn't do anything fancy. No swirls or artsy techniques. In fact, I didn't use any colorants at all. Just the soap and the fragrance oil. I decided to keep things simple and pure in order to eliminate as many extraneous variables as possible. (Told you I geeked out.)

I felt that it was also important to keep conditions as similar as possible throughout the process because of those extraneous variable thingies I just mentioned. I really wanted to isolate the effects of each fragrance oil, so I used the same recipe for all eight scents and soaped at approximately the same temperature for each batch. On Day 1, I soaped at a combined temp of 102 degrees F (the oils were 99 degrees and the lye 105); on Day 2, I soaped again at a combined temp of 102-103 degrees F (the oils were at 101 degrees, the lye at 105).

The weather even cooperated and was roughly the same both days. Temperature and humidity can sometimes play a role in soapmaking, and here in the south one day it can be freezing and the next day you're running your air conditioner. The indoor temp was about 71 degrees F both days. On Tuesday, it was cold and cloudy (36 degrees F with 96% humidity). On Friday, it was still cold (36 degrees F with 60% humidity) and we actually got snow flurries, you guys, which was a bit distracting because when it snows in Louisiana you are supposed to lose your mind and go outside to take pictures. I resisted the urge, though, because I had Very Important Work To Do. (We did get a wintry mix of snow and ice the following week, though, and I did run outside to take pictures then.)

Insulating the soap
For my recipe, I used Steve's "Easy Soap Recipe" from the Soap Making Resource. His five-pound recipe calls for:
26.5 ounces Olive Oil (50% of total oils)
16.5 ounces Coconut Oil (about 31% of total oils)
10 ounces Palm Oil (about 19% of total oils) 

I used full water, which is a lye concentration of about 27%, and a 7% superfat. This was actually the recipe that I used for my very first batch of cold process soap three years ago. Since then, I've used it as a base for many other recipes, tweaking it here and there to allow for a small amount of butter or castor oil. It has a nice slow trace and allows for plenty of time to work. And it makes a pretty great bar of soap!

Okay, so here's what I did: I split the testing up into two days. On Day 1 (which was February 4), I tested scents 1-4; on Day 2 (February 7), I tested scents 5-8. Both days, I made a five-pound batch of soap and poured four 16-oz. portions into plastic measuring cups. The remaining soap I reserved as my control batch so I could compare it to the scented soap and see how much discoloration occurred. I then added .70 ounces of fragrance oil to each measuring cup, using one 16-oz. portion of soap for each scent. (So, that works out to .70 ounces of fragrance oil per pound of soap.) After stirring the FO in really well, I poured the soap into a cavity of my four-loaf silicone mold from Nature's Garden. This mold is perfect for testing FOs - each cavity holds one pound of soap.

I did my best to insulate the soap. I set an inverted plastic shoe box on top of the mold and then covered it with towels.

Here's a video of the process I followed to do my testing:

After letting the soaps cure for about two weeks, I took photos of each cut soap side-by-side with the unscented control loaf. As you can see, some of the soaps did discolor from the fragrance oils. None of them went too dark, though.

The fragrances also held up well in the finished soap. Here are my findings, according to my testing procedures. Keep in mind that different soapers may have different results. Different conditions and methods can affect the final outcome. Temperature can play a role - soaping at higher temps can accelerate trace, while soaping cooler can slow it down. The soap recipe itself can be a factor, too. Some recipes trace faster than others.

Cold Process Results (Two Weeks Later)

Scent #1:
This one smelled like Balsam & Citrus to me with notes of fir and orange. It seems less sweet to me in the finished soap. It matures into a lovely, slightly masculine scent. It is still in my top three of favorites. This FO has a light orange tint and it behaved beautifully - it did not accelerate, rice, or seize. Discolored the soap to a medium yellow.

Scent #2:
Out of the bottle, this one smelled like watermelon and maybe a hint of apple. In the finished soap, the scent faded some and it smelled exclusively of watermelon to me. The fragrance didn't completely disappear, but it is very light and I wish that it had stuck a little stronger. The FO is clear and was well-behaved, though. No issues at all. Soap discolored slightly to a creamy off-white.

Scent #3:
Ahh, honeysuckle! This was my second-favorite scent. It stayed strong and true in the final soap, too. I was a little nervous about this one acting up since it is a floral, but it behaved gorgeously for me. No issues at all. The FO has a yellow tint and the soap discolored to a medium yellow.

Scent #4:
This scent made me think of a green apple Jolly Rancher. It smells like sour apple with perhaps a bit of pineapple or pear. It is a fruity candy-like scent out of the bottle, but it seemed less sweet and more subtle in the finished soap. To me, the sour apple scent came forward and the sugariness mellowed. This FO was well-behaved and gave me no problems. It has a yellow tint and it discolored the soap slightly to a creamy off-white.

Scent #5:
You may remember that I did not care for this scent at all out of the bottle. It is supposed to be some kind of garden scent, I believe. I could smell grassiness and fresh dirt - which I usually like - but I thought that this scent also had some musty, damp notes that weren't pleasant. And it also kinda smelled like canned corn to me. I will say that I like this scent a lot better in the finished soap. The mustiness has mellowed, allowing more of the earthiness to come through, although I still think it smells a bit like canned corn. The first few times I sniffed this scent, my reaction was a big Grumpy Cat "No." It may be slowly growing on me, but it is still my least favorite of the mystery scents. The good news is that it is very well-behaved and had a nice, slow trace. This FO is clear and there was no discoloration. I think this soap loaf may not have gelled because it had an ashy layer all around and crumbled a bit at the edges when I cut it.

Scent #6
Scent #6:
This scent initially made me think of Sweet Tarts out of the bottle, but as I kept sniffing it I thought I detected grapefruit and sugar. The soaping process seemed to change this scent a bit. After soaping it, I thought it smelled more like pomegranate with a hint of sweetness. I liked this FO out of the bottle, but I like it even better in the final soap. This fragrance is clear but discolored the soap to a medium yellow. I did experience a bit of acceleration with this FO, as you can see in the photo on the right. It wasn't anything unmanageable, but the soap did thicken to a pudding-like consistency. While this fragrance oil may not be the best choice for delicate swirls or intricate patterns, it would probably be great for layering. I'm wondering now if maybe there are floral notes in this one since it did accelerate some. But this is a really nice scent and it sticks well.

Scent #7:
This one smells like delicate baby roses. It is a good, subtle, true-to-scent rose and isn't powdery or perfume-y at all to me. The scent held up well in cold process soap, staying pretty true to the out-of-the-bottle smell. Again, I was a little worried about acceleration since florals are notorious for speeding up trace, but this FO didn't give me any problems at all. This FO is clear and discoloration was minimal. The finished soap ended up being a slightly off-white.

Scent #8:
This was my favorite scent out-of-the-bottle and it's still my favorite now that I've soaped it. It is a fresh, sporty masculine scent, like cologne or aftershave. It reminded me of something and I finally realized that it makes me think of the scent that wafts out of an Abercrombie & Fitch store. The scent stayed true and stuck well in the final soap. This FO has a slightly yellow tint and discolored the soap to a light beige, and it behaved well and didn't give me any problems.

* * * * *

After testing each FO in cold process soap, I had a little bit left over, enough to test each in two ounces of both clear and white melt-and-pour soap base. Most soapmakers use somewhere between .25 - .50 ounces of FO per pound of M&P base. I usually use about .35 ounces per pound of M&P, which works out to about 1/4 teaspoon for two ounces of soap.

Melt-and-pour soaps
For my M&P testing, I chopped up and melted down two ounces of clear melt-and-pour soap base in the microwave (which took only 30 seconds) and added the FO after it had cooled down to about 135 degrees F. Then I poured the soap into a silicone mold and allowed it to set up overnight. I did the same with the white melt-and-pour soap base, too.

Here's a tip: When melting your M&P base in the microwave, cover your container (I use Pyrex measuring cups) with plastic wrap to keep the moisture from evaporating.

I let the soap hang out for about a week and then took photos of each soap side-by-side with an unscented, uncolored control soap so I could see how the FO affected the final soap.

Because M&P soap doesn't go through the same saponification process as cold process soap - M&P soap is already saponified - the scent did not change much in the finished soap. With M&P, the out-of-the-bottle scent is pretty much WYSIWYG (what you smell is what you get).

But FOs can discolor M&P soap, so that's really what I'm testing for here.

Clear Melt-and-Pour Results (1 Week Later)
Scent #1:
This was the Balsam & Citrus-like scent. It discolored the clear melt-and-pour to a medium orange hue.

Scent #2:
The watermelon scent. The soap took on a slightly yellow tint.

Scent #3:
Honeysuckle. This one also discolored the soap slightly yellow.

Scent #4:
This one smelled like sour apple to me, almost like a green apple Jolly Rancher. No real discoloration, but it does seem that the base became a bit more cloudy and less transparent.

Scent #5:
The garden scent. No discoloration.

Scent #6:
This one smells to me like grapefruit and sugar out of the bottle, and more like sweet pomegranate in cold process soap. The FO gave the soap an orange tint.

Scent #7:
Baby roses. No discoloration.

Scent #8:
Masculine Abercrombie & Fitch-like cologne scent. This FO gave the soap a very slight yellowish tint.

White Melt-and-Pour Results (1 Week Later)
Scent #1:
Discolored to a light creamy orange.

Scent #2
Discolored to a light creamy yellow.

Scent #3:
Almost no noticeable discoloration. Took on a very slight yellow. 

Scent #4:
No discoloration.

Scent #5:
No discoloration.

Scent #6:
Almost no noticeable discoloration. Very slight yellowish tint.

Scent #7:
No discoloration.

Scent #8:
Slight discoloration to a light creamy orange/beige.

So, how would I rank the mystery scents? Here are my preferences, from most favorite to least favorite: Scent 8 (A&F cologne), Scent 3 (Honeysuckle), Scent 1 (Balsam & Citrus), Scent 6 (Sweet Pomegranate), Scent 7 (Delicate Baby Rose), Scent 4 (Sour Green Apple), Scent 2 (Watermelon), and Scent 5 (Garden).

* * * * *

Whew, so there you have it! This was a long post, so if you've made it this far, congratulations and thanks for hanging with me!

I want to say a big thank you to Bramble Berry for allowing me to be a participant on the Spring 2014 S.O.A.P. Panel! This was a fun experience and I enjoyed being a part of it. I hope that my nose got at least a few of the mystery scents right!

Which of the mystery scents do you think that you'd most like to see Bramble Berry add to their spring 2014 lineup?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: First Impressions

Last week, my S.O.A.P. Panel fragrances arrived! Underneath the pretty tissue paper and official S.O.A.P. seal were eight one-ounce samples of mystery fragrance oils from Bramble Berry. My job is to test them in at least one bath and beauty product and offer my feedback on each scent. Seven other panelists will do the same and then Bramble Berry will decide, based on our feedback, which scents to offer in their 2014 spring lineup.

Each mystery scent bottle is labeled with a number, and there are no clues as to what the fragrance is supposed to be. This is so that the testers won't be biased and can give honest assessments. And also because it's fun.

Since this is the spring S.O.A.P. panel, the scents are mostly fruity, floral, or outdoorsy. The day I received the FOs, I did an initial sniff test and took some notes. A few days later, I returned to the scents and my notes and sniffed again, hoping to deepen my interpretation of each fragrance.

It can be tough to identify scents when you don't know what you are sniffing. It's kind of like trying to figure out who is doing a voice-over in a commercial. Maybe you think you've heard the voice before, or maybe you think you haven't. But then when someone says, "Hey, that sounds like so-and-so," you're like, "Oh, yeah, that's totally who that is!" Same with mystery scents. You may identify some notes or maybe think, "I've smelled this before, but I can't put my finger on it ..." If someone hands you something that is Brown Sugar and Fig-scented and says, "Here, smell this. It's Brown Sugar and Fig," you'll smell it and be all like, "Hey, this totally smells like brown sugar and figs!" But if someone hands you something that is Brown Sugar and Fig-scented and says, "Here, guess what this is," you might be all, "I have no idea, dude."

So, here are my first takes on the fragrances. And I did purposely avoid reading about the other panelists' impressions until I had organized my own thoughts so that I would not be influenced by their opinions of the scents.

The mystery S.O.A.P. fragrances

Okay, here we go:

Scent #1: This fragrance reminded me of something I had smelled before. I immediately detected citrus, but also something else. After much sniffing and pondering, I realized that the other note was fir-like and that the scent makes me think of a Balsam & Citrus FO that I bought from another supplier a couple of years ago. This scent makes it into my top three of favorites.

Scent #2: This one smells strongly of watermelon with maybe a hint of apple. Very yummy.

Scent #3: Strong floral scent. Again, I thought, "I've smelled this before." Sniff, sniff, sniiiiiiiiiff. Ah, it's honeysuckle! This fragrance is my second favorite of the bunch.

Scent #4: This one is very sweet and candy-like. To me, it smells like sour apple with a touch of pear or maybe pineapple. It reminds me of a green apple Jolly Rancher.

Scent #5: I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, you guys, but I didn't like this fragrance out of the bottle at all. It smells kinda grassy and green, which I usually like, and it also has earthy notes, which I also usually like. But the notes in this scent smell musty and damp, not like the lovely fresh-dirt earthiness of patchouli that I adore. And this may sound weird, but to me it also sorta smells a bit like canned corn. I think it is supposed to be some sort of garden scent. This is my least favorite fragrance. Maybe it will smell better after I've soaped it.

Scent #6: Initially this fragrance made me think of Sweet Tarts, but as I kept sniffing, the scent grew sharper and cleaner. Once again, I found myself thinking, "I've smelled this before, what is this?" And then it hit me - grapefruit! And something else - something sweet, like sugar.

Scent #7: Another floral scent. This one smells like delicate baby roses. It is a good, subtle, true rose scent. Not powdery or perfume-y at all.

Scent #8: This is my favorite fragrance. It is a fresh, clean masculine scent, like cologne or aftershave. Very sporty. I kept thinking that it smells like a men's cologne I've smelled before, but I couldn't remember which one. Then I realized that it reminds me of the scent that wafts out of Abercrombie & Fitch stores.

With the exception of Scent #5, I enjoyed all of the fragrances. Of course, these are out-of-the-bottle impressions. The scents might be somewhat different in the finished product. Sometimes scents can fade, especially in cold process soap. Or the scent may change a bit, with some notes becoming stronger or mellower in the final soap. It will be interesting to see how each scent holds up after it's been soaped.

I have already begun testing each fragrance in cold process soap, and I may also experiment with melt-and-pour soap, too. I am taking lots of notes, photos, and video. Later this month, I'll share the results of my testing!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Grapefruit Geranium Hanger Swirl

Well, Bramble Berry's S.O.A.P. panel mystery FOs are on their way! They've been shipped and now I just have to wait for them to get here.

In the meantime, I'm finally getting around to trying the hanger swirl! This technique has been around for a while, but I never gave it a try. Honestly, I think what held me back was the idea of having to get out the pliers and alter a coat hanger to fit my mold. I can make soap, but I'm otherwise not very crafty or handy.

 Then I found this hanger swirl tool from Great Soap Shop on Etsy. It fits Essential Depot's RED silicone mold - I have the natural-colored RED mold with the stainless steel basket - and it looks like Michelle offers a hanger swirl tool and straight dividers that fit the RED mold, the Crafter's Choice 1501 or Bramble Berry's 10" silicone molds. (She sells lots of great soaping tools - do check out her shop!)

Celine, the lovely and talented soapmaker behind, created a tutorial to demonstrate how to do the hanger swirl and I followed her tips.

For the soap, I used a palm-free recipe from Amanda at Lovin' Soap that includes olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil, cocoa butter, and rice bran oil. (It's Recipe 1.)

To color the soap and to add a touch a luxury, I used activated charcoal and red Moroccan clay. The scent is a combination of grapefruit and geranium rose essential oils at a 4:1 ratio. I added the EOs to the cooled oils before adding the lye, and then split the batch in two after reaching trace. One half was colored with the charcoal (1 tsp per pound of oils) and the other with the clay (1 Tbsp per pound of oils). I mixed each with a little glycerin to avoid clumping. Be careful not to overdo it with the charcoal - too much can make your lather gray and possibly stain your washcloths.

I wanted the soap at about a medium trace so I could layer it. Starting with the black soap, I poured a thin layer maybe a half-inch thick. Then I spooned a pink layer on top of it, being careful not to let it break through the layer beneath. I repeated that process, alternating the colors, until I had built up six layers.

Next came the fun part! I took my very special hanger swirl tool and carefully pushed it into the soap and onto the bottom of the mold along the side farthest away from me. With the tool on the bottom of the mold, I moved it just a tiny bit toward myself. Then I lifted it straight up, moved it a tiny bit toward myself again, and then pushed it straight down to the bottom again. I repeated the movement until I had traveled all the way across the mold. Then I reversed course and did the same, only pushing the tool away from me this time. I also tried to lift and sink my tool in between the lines I had already created, hitting different spots to maximize the effect.

When I had moved all the way to the other side again, I was done. I had reserved some soap, and I drizzled it over the top of the loaf. Using a spoon, I texturized the tops, being careful not to disturb the swirled layers beneath.

Here is a video I made of the process:

I really like the hanger swirl technique! It's a fun, easy way to create a gorgeous and unique soap bar. I'll be revisiting this method, methinks.

And the lather on these bars feels so nice! Activated charcoal and red Moroccan clay are supposed to be wonderful for the skin. These bars should be quite luxurious!

Have you tried the hanger swirl technique? Do you like it?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Woo-hoo! I Can S.O.A.P.!

Hi, everyone! Just a quick update to pass along that I was selected to be a member of Bramble Berry's S.O.A.P. panel!

Last week, I applied for the panel and I found out yesterday morning that I was one of the lucky few chosen to help Bramble Berry test and select some new fragrance oils for spring 2014. Within the next few weeks, I'll receive eight mystery FOs and try them out in a bath and body product. Then I'll give my feedback about each scent and how it performed. Seven other panel members will do the same, and then Bramble Berry will decide which of the mystery FOs to include in their spring lineup.

I definitely plan to test my FOs in cold process soap, and possibly melt-and-pour soap, too.

A big thank you to Bramble Berry for this awesome opportunity, and congratulations to all of the panel members! I'm so excited to be a part of this process, and I can't wait to get started with the mystery scents! I'm also looking forward to following the other panel members and reading about their impressions and experiments.

More on the S.O.A.P. panel in the weeks to come ...


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Can I S.O.A.P.?

I'm real good at sniffing stuff.
It's that time again! Bramble Berry has announced that they are looking for S.O.A.P. panel members to test some of their new spring fragrances.

S.O.A.P. stands for "Soap Opinion Awesome Panel," and here's how it works: The selected panel members receive eight one-ounce bottles containing mystery fragrances. The scents are unlabeled in order to get an honest, uninfluenced review of the fragrance. Panel members must test each fragrance in a bath and body product (e.g., cold process soap, melt-and-pour soap, lotion, etc.) of their choice. Then members share their results and give feedback to Bramble Berry.

In order to be considered for the panel, applicants must blog, Tweet, Facebook, Pin, or Instagram about their favorite BB product and why they should be chosen for the panel (and leave a link to their post in the comments section of the Soap Queen blog post so Bramble Berry sees it). So that's what I'm doing here.

I got to get a taste of what being on the S.O.A.P. panel would be like about a year and a half ago when I met my soaping friend Laura, who had been picked for the fall/winter panel in 2012. (You can check out more of Laura's soaps here.) She brought the mystery fragrances along to our lunch date to get my impressions of them. It was great fun to try to decode the scents, and it was interesting to see how closely our noses agreed ... or disagreed. After that, I started thinking, Hmm, maybe one of these days I'll toss my name into the hat when another S.O.A.P. panel opportunity comes along. I think that it would be fun to be a part of the process!

Picking just one favorite Bramble Berry product is difficult, though. Several products come to mind when I think of my favorites. I love their 7-lb. bag of coconut oil because I can pop the plastic bag into the microwave to soften the coconut oil. (Same with their 7-lb. bag of palm oil since palm oil needs to be completely melted down and mixed before each use so that the stearic acid doesn't settle at the bottom. The microwaveable bag makes that super easy.)

Bramble Berry's vertical mold
And I also love BB's lye flakes. The flakes don't pick up static electricity and jump around or cling like lye pellets can, and they dissolve well in water, milks, beer, etc.

If I had to pick only one favorite item from Bramble Berry, though, I'd have to go with their vertical mold.  It's so easy to create two-toned bars and creative swirls with this mold. The center divider evenly splits the soap into two halves. Lift the divider straight up and out for a half-and-half look, or twist it on the way up to make all sorts of neat effects. And the mold has plastic liners on all sides, eliminating the need to use freezer paper to line it. Unmolding is a breeze, too - one side of the wooden mold can be removed to allow the soap to be released. Once the soap is firm enough, the plastic sides can be gently slid away.

Here are a few soaps that I have made with the vertical mold:

From left to right:

I still need to try this look, too. I love the half circles that are made by twisting the divider 180 degrees.

Being a  S.O.A.P. panel member sounds like great fun, and I would love to be considered as a participant! I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

And if you would like to apply for the panel, head over to the Soap Queen blog and check out this post. Be quick about it, though - you've got until January 15 to apply!