Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Tree Feather Swirl

Seasons greetings, everyone!

I hope that you all are gearing up for a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. And I also hope that you've got your holiday soaps ready for gifting!

This year, I made only two holiday soaps: Peppermint Wonderland and this Christmas Tree soap. I usually make more, but hubby and I have been anticipating a move, which has kept us both distracted, and I still have plenty of other soaps that I can gift.

But when I saw this Christmas Tree Swirl tutorial on the Soap Queen blog, I just had to make it. It is inspired by the Secret Feather Swirl technique created by Zahida of Handmade in Florida. (Check Zahida out - her soaps are absolutely amazing!)

This soap features a sort of reverse feather swirl. Instead of pushing a hanger swirl tool into the soap after pouring, I poured the soap over the hanger swirl tool and then pulled the tool out to create the Christmas Tree look.

I used my Essential Depot RED silicone mold along with my hanger swirl tool from Great Soap Shop for this project.

For the oils, I used olive oil, vegetable shortening (soybean/cottonseed blend), coconut oil, and rice bran oil. I had some coconut milk in the freezer, so I used it for part of the liquid along with some distilled water to make up the difference.

The scent is "Eucalyptus Cedar" from Elements Bath and Body, and it is a woodsy, outdoorsy scent
that is perfect for a Christmas Tree-themed soap. It appears that Elements no longer carries this scent, which brings a tear to my eye because it is fabulous. Oh, well, life is full of disappointments.

So, here's what I did. After scenting and bringing the soap to light trace, I split off two 8-ounce portions. One portion I colored with hydrated chrome green pigment and the other with gold sparkle mica.

The rest I colored with super pearly white mica, and also some titanium dioxide just to make sure that the soap turned out a vivid white.

The green and gold soap were then poured into squeeze bottles. (Remember to snip the tips!)

My hanger swirl tool fits snugly into my mold, so I placed it at the bottom and then poured a layer of white soap on top to cover it. Then I squeezed a thick line of green on top of the white soap right above where the hanger swirl tool rested beneath. Then another layer of white, followed by a thick line of gold, more white, more green, and so on and so forth, alternating the colors. I ended up making three green lines and two gold with a layer of white in between each.

Tip: It's good to bang the mold on the countertop and give it a gentle shake every now and then to get rid of air bubbles.

Once I had poured the final layer of white, I pulled the hanger swirl tool straight up and out of the mold to create the Christmas trees inside the cut bars. Then I finished the tops off with the remaining green and gold and texturized the soap just below the surface with a spoon, being careful not to disturb the feather pattern underneath. Actually, I think I held back a bit too much green and gold soap and could have gotten by with less.

I wanted my soap to be at a thin trace, but once again I had trouble with the batter thickening up. Fortunately, the soap was still manageable and everything worked out okay.

At any rate, it definitely looks like there are little Christmas trees inside the soap (although some look more like Christmas trees than others), and the fragrance fits the soaps perfectly.

Here's a video I made showing the process:

I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday! As I mentioned earlier, hubby and I are moving to California at the end of December, but we are going to work in a trip home to Florida for Christmas before we go. After Christmas, we'll take a few days to make the cross-country drive. I'm not sure when I'll have the chance to make another batch of soap since we'll be spending a good chunk of January getting settled. But I will make some as soon as I can!

Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Dreaded Spots of the Orangeness!

Geranium Patchouli soap with DOS
So you've made a beautiful batch of soap and it is hanging out on the curing rack, evaporating out its water and whatnot. Over the next few weeks, you lovingly check on it and marvel at this wonderful thing you made.

And then you see it. An orange-colored spot - or maybe several spots - marring the pretty surface of your soap and seriously harshing your soap buzz.

What is this ugly plague that is plaguing your soap with its plaguey plague?

It's - dah, dah, DAH! - DOS. No, not the ancient computer operating system. 

Dreaded Orange Spots.

You may remember this Geranium Patchouli soap I made about 16 months ago. I still have some bars from that batch hanging around, and I went to grab a bar recently. I usually let the soap bars cure on my curing rack for 6-8 weeks and then store them in paper bags and it seems to work out just fine. This time, though, the bar I pulled out felt wet and beads of glycerin dew glistened on its surface. 

Handmade soap naturally contains glycerin, which attracts moisture from the air. Humidity can increase the likelihood of glycerin dew, and it can get awfully humid here in Louisiana. It was interesting that none of my other batches that were stored similarly developed the same issue. At any rate, I wiped the afflicted bars dry and let them hang out some more on the curing rack. Now the glycerin dew is gone, but the ugly rust-colored spot remains.

So what causes DOS? Oftentimes it is caused when oils are exposed to oxygen and oxidize, resulting in rancidity. Every oil has a shelf life and some oils have shorter shelf lives than others. DOS can appear at many points during a soap's life - during the cure time or months later, as was the case with my soap. Old oils or oils with short shelf lives may contribute to DOS. And it's sometimes difficult to know how long an oil has been sitting on a store shelf before you buy it. Get your oils from quality vendors that replace their oils frequently to ensure that they are as fresh as possible and pay attention to expiration dates. (To see a comprehensive list of oils and their properties - including shelf life - check out this Soap Queen post.) Some oils - such as canola, grapeseed, and sunflower oils - have a reputation for contributing to DOS, although I haven't soaped with any of those oils and therefore can't comment on my own personal experiences with them.

Oil storage is important. Some short-life oils are best kept refrigerated, and it's always good to store any oil in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight. Another tip is to transfer oils to smaller bottles as you use them up so that there is less contact with oxygen and therefore less risk of oxidation. Some soapmakers also add antioxidants such as rosemary oleoresin extract (ROE) or Vitamin E to fragile oils to extend their shelf lives.

Higher superfat percentages can also contribute to DOS. "Superfat" refers to the amount of oils that do not interact with the lye and remain unsaponified and sorta free-floating in the finished bars. Most soapmakers factor in a small percentage of extra oil in their recipes to create a more nourishing bar of soap. Some soapmakers advise keeping superfat percentages to 5% maximum (with the exception of recipes containing all or nearly-all coconut oil, which need a higher superfat of up to 20%). I usually use a superfat of 7% in a typical recipe with no problems, but could it have been an issue in this batch? Or was it something else? Perhaps I should experiment with a 5% superfat.

Water is also another important soapmaking ingredient. It's a good idea to use distilled water since tap water may contain minerals that could oxidize and cause DOS.

The curing environment is also important. Let your soap fully cure in a cool, dry place with plenty of ventilation. During the curing process, water evaporates from the soap and the moisture needs to be able to escape. Wire racks are great for curing, just make sure that the metal is coated so that it doesn't rust - rust can exacerbate DOS. If your curing area is particularly humid, a dehumidifier may help.

What caused DOS in my case here? Dunno. Could have been the oils, humidity, storage issues, or something else. It seems that so many soapmaking problems remain mysteries even when potential culprits are identified. I can't point with certainty at any one factor or factors. Hopefully, though, I can better avoid DOS in the future by keeping these tips in mind.

So what should you do if your soap gets DOS? Don't panic. The spots are rather ugly and the soap may smell a bit off, but it is merely an aesthetic issue. I wouldn't want to sell or gift these bars with DOS because eww-gross, but they're still fine to use.

At about the same time I was cogitating on this post, Anne-Marie wrote a great one about DOS on the Soap Queen blog. And also check out this helpful post by David Fisher for more info on DOS.

Have you experienced DOS? What are your thoughts on what causes it and how to prevent it?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Christmas Disaster Story

Although I must say that for a disaster, this soap actually turned out pretty well. Just about everything went wrong in the soap kitchen, but this was what I ended up with. Coulda been a lot worse.

First off, let me just acknowledge that, yes, I know, I know. I'm a bit late posting.

I have an excuse, though. A good one even!

Hubby and I are moving soon from Louisiana to southern California. He got a new assignment out there and we are looking forward to the new adventure!

Everything has happened pretty quickly and we're starting to kick into high gear now. If you've ever moved, you know how rapidly you can go from oh-we've-got-plenty-of-time-and-there's-not-that-much-to-do-anyway to oh-my-god-we're-never-going-to-get-all-of-this-done-in-time.

A million and one things that need attention RIGHT NOW are starting to bubble to the surface. In the next few weeks, we need to sell my car, clean out the apartment, tie up loose ends, close accounts here and open new accounts there, coordinate with the movers, and we still have to find a place to live.

And, of course, the normal daily hassles of life continue and stuff like this happens:

Oh, good, another flat.

So, please do forgive me if I am highly distracted for the next little bit while we're moving and getting settled. I did make two batches of holiday soap (this one and one other) before things get too hectic so I would at least have something to blog about, providing I can carve out the time to do so.

Now onto the things about the soaps!

Can you believe that it's already time to start thinking about the winter holidays? Well, it is! And I can't not make a pepperminty soap for the holidays.

This soap, which I think I will call Peppermint Wonderland, was supposed to be a Taiwan Swirl. Obviously, it didn't work out.

My recipe was 8% mango butter, 25% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 30% rice bran oil, and 12% sweet almond oil.

Alas, I did not end up with the thin trace that I was hoping for. I don't think the problem was my fragrance oils because I used both without incident last year. (The scent here was a combo of Nature's Garden's Peppermint and Winter Garden fragrance oils.)

I used the full water amount, too, and soaped at around 100-105 degrees F.

And I also tried really hard, you guys, to make sure that I didn't overmix, that I brought the soap to the lightest trace possible. And still it thickened up like cake frosting.

So, after finding that cussing profusely did not make the trace any lighter, I accepted the fact that a Taiwan Swirl would be impossible and opted to just plop the soap into the mold with a spoon. I finished with a clumsy attempt at a Celine Swirl.

I think, all things considered, it turned out beautifully and the final bars are pretty enough to be Christmas gifts. And the scent combo is wonderful - the Peppermint and Winter Garden together (the Peppermint:Winter Garden combo was a 1.5:1 ratio) smells like a brisk, minty aftershave or shaving cream to me.

Here's a video showing the disaster unfolding, prompting a change of plans. (Make sure you stick around until the end for bloopers galore!):

And that's how we saved Christmas.

I gotta tell you guys, I am having one helluva time lately finding new palm-free recipes that don't accelerate trace. There are a couple of palm-free recipes that I have had success with: the recipes I used for my Orange Basil Swirled Hearts Soap and Fireburst Soap both behaved well. I may stick with one of those when I want to be sure of a thin trace. 

You know what I've noticed, though? The recipes that give me trouble contain rice bran oil. Maybe the rice bran oil isn't the problem. Perhaps it's just a coincidence and it has more to do with my fragrance or essential oils or my method. But I just found it curious that the four or so recipes I've tried with rice bran oil have accelerated.

What are your thoughts? Does rice bran oil behave well in your recipes?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Avocado-Coconut Milk Soap

So, there I was perusing my copy of Soap Crafting, looking for inspiration, when a project called "Avocado Moisturizing Bars" caught my eye. I've wanted to try avocado in soap for a while and this recipe sounded intriguing.

I wanted a palm-free recipe, though, so I went in search of such on the interwebs. And I found this Sea Clay Avocado Facial Bar recipe on the Soap Queen blog, guest-written by Amanda from Lovin' Soap. Bingo. An avocado theme, lots of avocado oil, and no palm oil. I omitted the sea clay, but otherwise followed her recipe.

And then I remembered that I had bought some coconut milk a few months ago, vowing to use it in a batch of soap. This would be the perfect time to make good on that promise to myself.

Avocado plus coconut milk should equal mad luxury.

So, I ended up sort of combining Amanda's recipe with Anne-Marie's technique, adding my own touches along the way.

Anne-Marie's project in her Soap Crafting book is a gradient soap. I wasn't feeling up to a gradient, so I opted to do a single pour.

But! Wouldn't a droplet swirl be a pretty way to jazz things up? And what if the soap used for the droplets was colored with activated charcoal! The black and green would look stunning together, and the charcoal would up the spa-like factor.

So much luxury. I hope everyone can handle it.

And so, here's how the recipe I ended up with looks:

Of course, if you use this or any recipe you find on the web or in a book, please run it through a lye calculator to double-check it! Typos happen!

You may notice that I have listed the coconut milk and water separately. That's because I replaced two ounces of my coconut milk with water for my avocado puree. (More on that in a sec.) The full liquid amount recommended for the entire recipe is 12.160 ounces (345g).

For the scent, I chose Bramble Berry's Wasabi fragrance oil, which is also the FO Anne-Marie uses for her avocado soap project. I love the Wasabi FO! It smells to me like freshly-cut grass with notes of peppermint and ginger. I thought that the bright, green scent would go perfectly with the avocado theme. The Wasabi FO sticks like crazy, too, and it behaves well in cold process soap.

I also added some sodium lactate at 1.5%, which worked out to about 1 1/2 teaspoons per pound of oils, to help create harder bars.

So how do you get the avocado into the soap? After slicing and measuring out 2 ounces of avocado (that's one ounce per pound of oils), I subtracted 2 ounces of liquid from my coconut milk and replaced it with distilled water so I could make a slurry of pureed avocado, as Anne-Marie suggests in her recipe. I suppose I could have just used 2 ounces of coconut milk pulled from my total, but the coconut milk was frozen. (To keep my temps low and to prevent the lye from scorching the coconut milk, I measured the milk and then froze it ahead of time.)

To make the slurry, I added two ounces of water to the avocado and then pureed it with the stickblender until smooth.

Using fresh fruits and vegetables in soap can potentially affect its shelf-life, so it's important to fully puree fruits and veggies because larger pieces or chunks can go bad and get moldy. It's probably best to use bars containing food ingredients within a year or so for optimal freshness.

Once my oils and lye solution were cooled to around 90-95 degrees F, I added the avocado slurry to the oils and stickblended the mixture to get the avocado really well incorporated. Then I stirred in my fragrance oil and added the coconut milk-lye solution. Once the soap was at a light trace, I separated out about one cup and colored it with activated charcoal. I colored the rest of the soap batter with Green Chrome oxide.

Something I seem afflicted with lately is overmixing my soap batter. It seems that I get to a nice trace and then hit the soap one last time with the stickblender, just for good measure, I guess? I did that with my Honeysuckle Mantra Swirl soap and I did it again here. This time, I had a light trace - which was what I wanted - but then after I added the colorants, I stickblended briefly just to mix them in well. I should have just stuck with the whisk because my soap was a tiny bit thicker than I would have liked. The soap was still very manageable, but I wanted a lighter trace for swirling. I have to learn to stop myself when I get that urge to mix things one more time.

I poured the green soap into the mold and then drizzled the black soap onto the green from up high so it would penetrate into the loaf. Looking back at the video, though, I don't think I poured from high enough. That plus the slightly thick trace made for less dramatic droplet swirls. Oh, well, the soap is still pretty!

After pouring the soap, I stuck it in the freezer overnight to prevent gel phase because there is a risk that the avocado could turn brown if the soap gets too hot. I also used a thin plastic loaf mold - I didn't want anything insulated (like a wooden mold) that would retain heat.

Here's that video I mentioned showing how I made this soap:

I am very pleased with how the soap turned out! The ingredients are luxurious, and the Wasabi scent is amazing! Overall, I like the droplet swirls and the texturing on the tops. I've tested an end piece, and, boy howdy, is it nice.

Have you ever tried avocado in soap? Coconut milk? How did you like it?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Honeysuckle Modified Mantra Swirl Soap

You may remember a technique called the Mantra Swirl that was popular a while back. There was even some mantra swirl soapmaking challenges on the interwebs. I thought all of that happened just a few months ago, but it was LAST SUMMER, you guys. A whole year. Time is moving faster than a batch of clove soap.

Anyways, I figured it was high time that I gave the mantra swirl a whirl, especially since I got some cool tools to help make things easier.

One of the reasons I put off attempting the mantra swirl is that I'm lazy. And not very handy. And also lazy.

You see, back when the mantra swirl first caught on, most people made themselves dividers out of cardboard. Those cardboard pieces had to be cut just so. And then they had to be held upright in the mold, usually with more cardboard pieces that were cut into brackets. And I suppose that the brackets had to be anchored to the mold somehow, too. I was like, "Pfft! I'm not doing all that! What am I, an engineer?"

But then I heard somewhere about Great Soap Shop on Etsy. Michelle sells lots of nifty soapmaking tools, including HDPE plastic dividers for the Mantra/Taiwan swirl. So now I have no excuse not to try it.

The dividers I bought were specifically designed to fit Essential Depot's RED silicone soap mold. (Great Soap Shop offers tools for other molds, too, so do check it out.)

I decided to try a modified mantra swirl from Anne-Marie Faiola's Soap Crafting book. I did a simple side-by-side two-color batch and then used a squeeze bottle to pour a line of soap down the center. Then I took the stick end of a meat thermometer, put it all the way down to the bottom of the mold, and did a figure-eight pattern all the way across the length of the mold to swirl the tops. (Of course, you don't have to use a meat thermometer. Skewers or chopsticks or any stick-like thing will do.)

Here is my poorly-drawn example of the Mantra Swirl figure-8 pattern.

For the fragrance, I chose Bramble Berry's new Heavenly Honeysuckle scent. I got to try this one out when I was on their S.O.A.P. Panel this past spring and it was my second-favorite scent of the eight samples I received. The colors that came to mind for this scent were orange, yellow, and green. So I decided to do Tangerine Wow and Fizzy Lemonade side-by-side with a line of Hydrated Chrome Green along the top.

I concocted my own recipe of 30% rice bran oil, 25% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 12% mango butter, 5% sweet almond oil, and 3% castor oil.

After I brought the soap to trace, I colored about a half cup of the batter with the Hydrated Chrome Green and poured it into a plastic squeeze bottle. (It's good to snip the tips of the squeeze bottles so that the soap flows more easily.) Then I split what remained of the batch into two portions and colored one with the Tangerine Wow and the other with the Fizzy Lemonade.

I poured the orange and yellow soap into my mold at the same time so that none of the soap would slip under the divider and onto the other side. Once the two halves were poured, I took out the divider and squirted the green soap along the center line. Then I used my stick to do the mantra swirl on the tops.

My soap did get pretty thick on me and I worried that it would affect my final soap. Everything turned out just fine, though. Bramble Berry notes that the Heavenly Honeysuckle does accelerate a bit, but I didn't have any trouble with it when I tested it for the S.O.A.P. Panel. But then, I wasn't trying to do anything fancy then, either. When I was on the Panel, I added the FO after trace, whisked it in, watched it for a couple of minutes, and then poured it into the mold. I also suspect that my actions may have caused the soap to accelerate. Looking back, I continued to mix it for too long. When I watch the video (hey, there's a video!), I can pinpoint the moment when I should have stopped mixing. And then I watch myself grab a stickblender for one more go. Aargh. Also, this is a new recipe that I just sorta came up with and hadn't yet tested. (As a side note, it seems to make really nice soap!) I need to try this recipe a few more times before I can truly know how it behaves. I did use full water, though, and I soaped fairly cool, right around 100 degrees F. But I do think the soap may have turned out more swirly if I had poured my soap at a thinner trace.

Here's a video I made of the process. I tried something new this time, you guys. I talked my way through this video instead of relying on captions. I was shy about talking before - and I still am - because I tend to babble like a crazy person when I feel pressure to talk. Plus I don't really like my voice. But I thought I'd give this new format a shot. Whaddaya think? Do you like the talky stuff? (Oh, and make sure you stick around for the blooper at the end!)

Overall, I'm pleased with this soap. The colors are pretty and the bars smell uhmazing. I think next time I would like to try the mantra swirl with three colors side-by-side (which I can also do with my plastic dividers!) so that the middle of the bars are more interesting. That way, too, I could cut the soap horizontally and have a nice big swirl on each bar, since the swirl will be on the top and the bottom of the loaf that way. This time, since the mantra swirl was only on the top, I cut the bars in the traditional way so that each one would have a bit of the swirl on it.

I'm already thinking about a mantra swirl for the holidays ...

Have you tried the Mantra Swirl technique? What about the Taiwan Swirl? That one is on my list, too!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

S.O.A.P. Panel Update: Mystery Scents Revealed!

Think back. Way back.


Think aaaaaaaall the way back to February.

That's when I was testing fragrance oils for Bramble Berry's S.O.A.P. Panel, which gave me the opportunity - along with seven other soapers - to preview, test, and help select some new scents for Bramble Berry to carry. None of us knew what the mystery scents were or how they would behave. Our job was to try out each FO and provide feedback.

You may have been curious all of this time to know what fragrances are what, and which fragrance oils Bramble Berry chose to carry based on feedback from the S.O.A.P. panelists. I've been super curious myself!

Well, be curious no more! Here are the mystery scents revealed!

Scent #1
To me, this scent smelled like Balsam & Citrus with notes of orange and fir. It strikes me as a slightly masculine scent with a hint of sweetness. This FO was revealed to be Autumn Fig Harvest, a scent that combines apple, lemon, and ginger with earthy fig, caramel, and cinnamon. I'm happy to see that Bramble Berry is carrying this FO -  it was my third favorite of the eight S.O.A.P. Panel mystery scents.

Scent #2
Out-of-the-bottle, this scent smelled like watermelon with a hint of apple. After soaping it, I thought it smelled more of watermelon exclusively. The FO is actually Pear & Goji Berries.

Scent #3
This scent smelled like straight-up Honeysuckle to me. It sticks well and behaved beautifully for me. Turns out, it is honeysuckle! (Score one for my nose!) Bramble Berry has decided to carry Heavenly Honeysuckle, which I am thrilled about since it was my second favorite S.O.A.P. Panel scent.

The Mystery Scents
Scent #4
I thought of a green apple Jolly Rancher when I sniffed this scent. It smelled to me like sour apple with perhaps a bit of pineapple or pear. Out-of-the-bottle, it was sweet and sugary, but the sugariness seemed to mellow after soaping, allowing the sour apple to come forward. Another score for my nose, because this FO is called Apple Pickin'.

Scent #5
This scent was the only one of the bunch that I didn't care for. I thought that it was supposed to be some kind of garden scent. It had notes of grassiness and fresh dirt (two things I usually like), but it also smelled damp and musty and it kinda reminded me of canned corn. Turns out, this mystery scent is Yerba Mansa. I didn't know what that is, either. After consulting the Googles, I discovered that Yerba Mansa is an herb native to the southwestern U.S. and northwest Mexico. I tried to find out what Yerba Mansa smells like, and I read descriptors such as "musty," "pungent," "warm," "spicy," and "clean." One site said that it smelled like a combination of wild ginger and eucalyptus. I found this particular FO to be more on the musty, pungent earthy side.

Scent #6
Initially, this fragrance made me think of Sweet Tarts. It smelled sugary with clean, sharp notes of grapefruit. After soaping this FO, I thought that it smelled sweeter and more like pomegranate. If I had to name this one, I would have called it Sweet Pomegranate. It is actually Guava Citrus.

Scent #7
I thought that this scent smelled like delicate Baby Roses. The FO is Cherry Blossom, though.

Scent #8
I loooooooved this scent! It was my most favorite of all of the mystery FOs. It is a sporty, masculine scent that smelled to me like an Abercrombie & Fitch cologne. This scent is called Mahogany, and Bramble Berry has decided to carry it. Yay!

In closing, Bramble Berry is adding what happens to be my top three favorite mystery scents to their lineup - Mahogany, Heavenly Honeysuckle, and Autumn Fig Harvest.

You may remember that Bramble Berry decided to do two S.O.A.P. Panels this spring, so another group of soapers got to try more mystery fragrances. Last week, BB sent me some full-sized samples of the three scents mentioned above as well as Mandarin Oasis and Lavender & Cedar from the other S.O.A.P. Panel, which was a very nice surprise!

Once again, a big thank you to Bramble Berry for allowing me to participate on the Panel! It was lots of fun testing the mystery scents and helping BB choose which scents to include among their products. And another thank you to Bramble Berry for the generous fragrance oil samples! (And I must say an additional thank you to Brittany at BB for all of her help and support!) I am looking forward to soaping with three of my new favorite FOs, and I can't wait to try the other two scents!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fireburst Soap

If you've been following this blog for a while, you may remember some Candy Cane soaps that I made for the holidays using the Impressionist Swirl technique. To do the Impressionist Swirl, you divide your soap into as many colors as you'd like and then use squeeze bottles to drizzle the soap into the mold.

Typically, the soap is drizzled horizontally into the mold, along the long sides, to create the Impressionist Swirl. A while back, I saw a post by the Otion Soap Blog where they did something similar to an Impressionist Swirl, but instead of squirting the soap horizontally, they squirted it vertically, making S-shapes along the short sides of the mold.

I thought I'd give that a try for this batch.

For a project like this one, you want to pick a well-behaved soap recipe and fragrance oil. For the recipe, I chose David's palm-free recipe using vegetable shortening, olive oil, coconut oil, and castor oil. (Make sure you check the label carefully on the vegetable shortening if you want a palm-free recipe. Some shortenings contain palm oil. The one I used was a blend of soybean and cottonseed oils.) To calculate the recipe, I headed over to SoapCalc to figure out the lye and water amounts. For the vegetable shortening, I selected "Crisco, old" from the Oils, Fats, and Waxes list. (For tips on which shortening to select from SoapCalc's list, see FAQ #9 on their website.)

I have been experimenting with palm-free recipes lately. I haven't settled on a favorite yet, although I have tried many that I enjoyed. I have used David's recipe once before and knew from my notes that the batter stayed nice and loose for me, which is exactly what a project like this one requires.

For the scent, I chose Bramble Berry's Energy fragrance oil. It is one of my favorites, and it has always behaved well for me.

To do the swirls (or whatever you want to call them), I used squirt bottles that I found in the baking/candymaking aisle of the craft store. After I brought the soap to a light trace - the soap needs to be emulsified, but still fluid and loose - and scented it, I divided the soap evenly among four plastic measuring cups prepped with colorant. For my colorants, I chose Bramble Berry's brick red oxide, yellow oxide, titanium dioxide, and orange mica. (BB no longer carries the orange mica, which gives me sad face.) To avoid clumping, I mixed each colorant with some liquid glycerin before adding the soap to it. After I added the soap to the measuring cups, I whisked it to mix the colors in well, and then gave it a quick buzz with the stickblender to make sure that the colors were fully incorporated, being careful not to blend too much in order to keep the soap at a very light trace.

Once the soap was colored, I poured each color into a squeeze bottle. (Tip: Be sure you snip the tips of your bottles to create a bigger opening so the soap flows more easily.)

Then, instead of squirting the soap along the long sides of the mold, I squirted the soap in a S-pattern along the short sides, alternating colors as I went. I tried to hit different spots while drizzling, going in between one color with another and covering different parts of the mold.

After a few sweeps, it's good to rotate the mold so that the colors are more evenly distributed throughout the loaf. Tap it against the countertop, too, to get rid of air bubbles. And if the soap starts to thicken in the bottle, just put your finger over the top (very important!) and give it a good shake.

When squirting the soap, I try to drizzle the same amount each time I sweep through. A good thing to do is to count to three or whatever each time so that roughly the same amount of soap is being used with each squirt.

Even though I try to evenly split the soap, it seems that I somehow always end up with more of some colors than others. And it also seems that no matter how hard I try to drizzle the same amount each time, I end up running out of one or two colors before I'm done with the batch. This time, I ran out of yellow and orange before I was completely finished. Fortunately, I was almost done, and I was able to finish off with the red and white without compromising the effect too much. Once I was done drizzling all of the soap, I took a toothpick and did a sort of herringbone swirl on the tops, dragging the toothpick just below the surface in alternating directions.

Here is a video showing how I made this batch:

I love this effect, and I really like how this batch turned out. Because the scent and colors are so lively, I decided to call this soap "Fireburst." I'm not sure if the soap gelled, as it was still very soft a week later when I cut it even with the sodium lactate that I added to the lye solution at 1.5%. I may experiment with adding some cocoa butter or something like that to the recipe to make a harder batch.

Squirting the soap vertically along the short sides of the mold creates wavy lines in the cut bars, while squirting the soap along the long sides horizontally creates more of a teardrop effect. Here is how the two compare:

Right: Impressionist Swirl (horizontally); Left: Twist on Impressionist Swirl (vertically)

Oh, and here's another tip - after I was done with the squirt bottles, I got as much soap out of them as I could and then added a couple drops of dishwashing detergent to the bottles along with some warm water. I gave each bottle a few shakes, emptied and rinsed it, and repeated until clean.

I've already tried an end piece from this batch, and it is very nice soap with lots of bubbly lather. I can't wait until it fully cures!

Have you used squirt bottles in soapmaking? What are some of your favorite ways to use them?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Spa Salt Bars With Activated Charcoal

If you are a soapmaker like me, you probably have several batches of soap laying around at any given time. And you probably don't use up one batch and then start in on another. You probably take a bar from this batch, and then next time take one from another, and ooh, I haven't used one of these bars in a while...

Sometimes I end up with soap that has been around for a year or more. Which is fine. It seems soap is like wine - it gets better with age. I even still have a bar from my very first batch of cold process soap back in February 2011. It's a plain little bar and the scent has completely faded, but it still looks to be a fine bar of soap otherwise.

Anyway, that is how I ended up making my last batch of salt soap last over a year. If you've been following this blog for a while, you may remember that it was a Pineapple Ginger-scented soap made with coconut oil, avocado oil, castor oil, and Pink Himalayan salt.

I really enjoyed that batch. The recipe makes big, long-lasting bars. And I especially like salt bars for my face. I have oily skin, and it feels like the salt just gets into my pores and balances everything out.

When I realized that I was down to the last bar, I just had to make some more. I did things a little bit differently this time, though.

Last time, I followed Sarah's salt soap recipe. I love this recipe and highly recommend it. The avocado oil makes the bars more luxurious, and the castor oil gives the lather a boost.

This time, though, I decided to try a recipe of 100% coconut oil with a 20% superfat. Usually soapmakers
use about 30% or less of coconut oil in their recipes because it can be drying. But, as a neat kind of break-the-rules thing, coconut oil can be used exclusively if you include a high superfat. Superfat refers to the amount of unsaponified oils in the soaps, meaning that those oils don't react with the lye and remain free-floating in the soap, resulting in more nourishing bars. For a normal soap recipe, I usually go with a 7% superfat. But for 100% coconut oil soap, I went with 20%.

Coconut oil is the main oil in salt soap because coconut oil is the only oil that lathers well in salt water, making it perfect for salt bars. It's typically 80-100% of the total oils. Last time I used 80%. This time I wanted to try 100%.

The salt I used was different, too. Instead of using Pink Himalayan salt, I just used plain old table salt. The amount was different, too. Last time, I used the salt at about 65% of the total oil weight. This time, the rate was 100% of the oil weight, meaning that for 32 ounces of oil, I used 32 ounces of salt.

Salt soap is great for the entire body, but, as I mentioned, I especially like it for my face. So, when deciding on how to proceed with this new batch, I thought of activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is supposed to be good for detoxifying oily, acne-prone skin. I figured the salt plus the activated charcoal would make a great facial bar. I used one teaspoon of activated charcoal per pound of oil.

I love how the sides are shiny and smooth like granite!
Because salt bars have a spa-like feel to me, I wanted to keep things more natural this time, fragrance-wise. So I scented this batch with cedarwood essential oil (which, according to Wanda Sellar's The Directory of Essential Oils, may be good for oily acne-prone skin, too) and clove essential oil. I would have liked to have used sandalwood essential oil as well, but, gawd, have you seen how much that stuff costs? So I used Bramble Berry's Indian Sandalwood fragrance oil instead. For 32 ounces of oil, I used 1 ounce of the sandalwood FO, .80 ounce of cedarwood EO, and .20 ounce of the clove EO. I went easy on the clove because too much can irritate the skin. Clove can also accelerate trace.

When my oil and lye solution were both around 100 degrees F, I added the fragrance blend and the activated charcoal to the melted coconut oil. (I mixed the charcoal with some glycerin first to avoid clumping.) Then I added the lye solution to the oil and stickblended to trace. Once the soap traced - which it did pretty quickly - I gradually whisked in the salt. When it was incorporated well, I poured the soap into the mold.

For this batch, I opted to use my slab mold. Salt soap can set up very quickly, and if you make a loaf and don't slice it at just the right time, you can end up with hard, crumbly soap that is difficult to cut. Using a slab mold with dividers takes the guesswork out of when to cut. I let the soap gel and unmolded it the next day.

Here is a video showing how I made this batch of salt soap:

The lather of a salt bar is different from that of a regular bar of soap. Salt soaps tend to be more frothy and less bubbly. The lather kinda reminds me of shaving cream or the foamy head of a beer. You can see the difference in the video above - I compare the lather of my regular soap to that of the salt soap.

I'm so glad to have salt soap back in my rotation, especially as the weather heats up. It seems that the hotter it is the more oily my skin gets. And these salt bars will be a treat for my face and the rest of my skin!

Have you made or used salt soap? Did you like it? Do you enjoy any other additives to make salt soap extra special?

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?