Troubleshooting the Formula

Answers to common questions about formulating and common beginner mistakes.


Cold Process Soap Q& A

What is that powdery substance on top of my soap?

That powdery substance is referred to as soda ash or sodium carbonate.  It is an aesthetic problem and is no real cause for concern as it won't hurt you.  Some people find that placing saran wrap over the open part of their mold can prevent it.   


What are those orange spots on my soap (taken from

DOS, or Dreaded Orange Spots, is something that most every soapmaker will come across at one time or another. Basically, they look like they sound - small yellow-orange spots, about the size of pencil erasers, on your bars of soap. Sometimes they're on the edges, sometimes in the middle. Sometimes just one spot, sometimes a lot. While many theories exist as to just what causes them, most people seem to agree that it has something to do with either rancid oils, humidity, high superfat percentages, combinations of oils - or all of the above. The best ways to prevent DOS seem to be: 

  • Keeping your superfat percentages to about 5% maximum
  • Only using oils that are fresh and have been stored properly
  • Only using distilled water to make your soap
  • Reducing the amount of canola and/or sunflower oil in your recipes (I've heard Rice Bran oil can be prone to DOS too, but haven't had it happen to me)
  • Let your soaps cure in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight

Whatever you do, if you do get some spots on your soap, don't fret. It's really mostly an aesthetic problem - your soap won't look (and perhaps smell) as nice as other bars. But it's perfectly safe to use.


Why does it appear like my sodium hydroxide (lye) has not dissolved (and what is the difference between lye crystals and beads)?

First, the reason we buy sodium hydroxide (NaOh) beads is because they are 99%+ sodium hydroxide (NaOH).  The crystals available to us are not the same, they have a lower NaOH content and are used for industrial applications (drain pipes etc).  Now, that being said, if you were using another suppliers lye, previous to using ours, I am not saying their crystals are the lesser NaOH component as I don't know who their suppliers are and have never read the analysis sheets for their product.  

What I do know is that the beads are harder to dissolve than the crystals and take more stirring and care to dissolve.  If you do a deep water/lye discount then you may find your lye is not dissolving properly in the water amount you are used to.  This could be because the NaOh content is higher and needs more water to dissolve, or that the surface area of the crystals is different than that of the beads and it takes more stirring to incorporate it fully.  

Stir until your lye is COMPLETELY dissolved.  If it forms a skin on the top, make sure you incorporate this skin back into the water amd keep stirring until it dissolves or your lye concentration needed to saponify the oils will not be accurate.  

Note:  If you are using tap water you may get floaties in the water... the reason for this is because when the water heats up above 140 degrees, the calcium and magnesium separate out of the water and become solid again.  This is the reason you probably want to use distilled or reverse osmosis water instead of tap water.


Why does my milk soap smell like ammonia?

The ammonia is caused by the protein in the milk reacting with the lye.  It can also happen with ingredients such as silk protein.  Do not panic.  After you unmold and cut your soap, the smell will go away and be replaced by a wonderful scent.  


Why do I have streaks of white through my bar of soap?

If your recipe includes Palm oil or a butter with high stearic content and you have streaks of white throughout your bars of soap odds are you ..
(a) Did not insulate/gel your soap.
(b) Soaped at a low temperature and/or room temperature.
(c) possibly something else...

The reason I say this is because Palm Oil and Shea butter, Mango butter, etc have high stearic content to them.  If the oil/butter does not reach 160F stearic beads will most likely form.  They will not completely melt and when you pour your "batter" into your mold they will appear to streak.  

So, to prevent this, try heating your oils above 160F and/or insulating your soap to achieve the temperature required to melt the stearic.  

If none of the above applies... then I have no idea what could have caused the problem lol.


Why did my soap crack and appear to have tunnels or caves through it when I cut into it?

This mostly happens with recipes that contain beeswax, honey or milk as the temperature increases very rapidly.  Many people throw their soap containing these products in the freezer right after pouring to ensure that it does not overheat. Certain fragrances can also cause this to happen, as well as soaping at too high of a temperature.  The basic cause is overheating.


Lotion/Cream/Balm Q&A


Why is my balm/lotion/cream gritty?

This question is one of the most received questions I get aside from the preservative questions.  It took me a lot of reading and research to figure out the problem.

The most likely reason for graininess in your balm or butters is simple.  It's stearic acid.  It's not a bad thing, other than it effects the visual aspect of your finished product.  Many unrefined butters and Palm Oil (even refined) contain high stearic acid content.  This stearic acid melts at a higher temperature than the rest of the butter/oil and thus also becomes a solid quicker than the other components sometimes causing little beads of stearic to form.  

How do you prevent this?  

There are few methods people swear by.  The first is to cool your product in an ice bath while stick blending it so it stays homogenous throughout the entire cooling process.  This can prevent it from seperating into tiny beads.  

The second (or can be used with the above) is to heat your mixture to around 170F and hold it at that temperature for 20 minutes.  I personally never do this as I try to handle my oil as gentle as possible as to not destroy the nutrients and vitamins.  In theory, it does not have to be held at that temp... stearic melts at around 160F.  If you make sure it hits that temperature, it will fully melt and can be stirred into your formula.  You'll still have to contend with it solidifying quicker than the other components no matter how you look at it.  

Using the ice bath method, I have never had a problem with graininess for Shea Butter, Mango Butter, Palm or Cocoa Butter.  People find they have this problem with white streaks throughout their Palm Oil soap as well when they soap at room temperature.... this could be the reason why as well... if they do not insulate, the "batter" may never reach the needed 160F to melt the stearic.  

Make sense?


Why should I be using distilled water in my formula?

Distilled water is pure H2O.  It is formed by boiling water, capturing the steam and condensing it back into pure water.  It does not contain the minerals and impurities that tap water or spring water have and it does not wreak havoc on our formulas.  Minerals (such as iron, calcium, magnesium, fluoride) found present in other types of water do not exit our formulas with heating and holding, thus we need to make sure they are not present in the first place.  Using distilled water is how we do this (although I do not recommend drinking it due to the lack of minerals, our bodies need these to survive, even if our formulas do not).  




Owned and operated by Randi Marchand-Carr
Copyright 2011 Creations from Eden Inc.  All rights reserved.
Site created using Arrai Innovations's transform CMS.