Beginning Soap Lessons Day 4

Today I wanted to go over some terms that I have wondered about as part of my introduction to soapmaking. Now that I have quite a few batches under my belt I want to learn more about what I am doing. Since I am using the same recipe on all of my batches of soap I am not including it again in today’s blog. Some of these definitions are taken straight from “When It’s Good To Be In A Lather” by Tina S. Howard.

Saponification
This is the process in which an oil when combined with a strong alkali, turns to soap. Most people use sodium hydroxide as the alkali.

Raw Soap
Raw soap is a mixture, often very liquid, that has not had the saponification process complete. This is what you are pouring into the soap molds.

Exothermic Reaction
This is a reaction that creates heat. When you combine sodium hydroxide and water this creates a great deal of heat, temperatures of 200 degrees Fahrenheit are common. When lye solutions are combined with fats the reaction can take cool mixtures (100 to 125°F) and push them upwards of 180°F.
See the Soap Therapy with Pictures post in our Recipes section.

Gel Phase
This is a phase of the soap making process where you can actually see the result of an exothermic reaction. The soap will have a somewhat translucent appearance that starts in the center and grows outward. This is the heat working to help saponify the oils and fats in an exothermic reaction. (Look at me! I am using big words!)

Madea commented on yesterday’s blog that one of the batches of soap was going through gel phase, but the others had not yet started. This photo shows all the batches and the soap that shows gel phase is the first one I made that day.

Trace
This is a word that I hear our technical support using to help people on the phone and I really had no idea what this meant before jumping into soapmaking. It is a general term that refers to the point when you have mixed the lye and fats together sufficiently to pour into the mold and leave it to complete the process unattended. When the lye solution and fats first being mixed there is a shallow layer of fats floating on top, this layer is transparent and appears darker than the rest of the mixture. It takes time and patience to mix oils and lye solution together. When the mixing is complete enough to leave the soap alone there is a solid color throughout, nearly opaque, and this is when trace has been reached. Some people describe the mixture as being pudding like, or soft serve ice cream like, I can assure you that when I pour into the mold the soap solution is very fluid. It reminds me more of Jello that is still warm and being put into the refrigerator to chill. The mixture is not viscous, nor is it a thickened liquid, but there is some resistance on the spoon when compared to stirring pure water.

Have you noticed the color differences in each of the batches? These color variations are because of the fats being used. Sometimes olive oil has a more yellow color than other times. Many fats and oils have changes in color from lot to lot. I have two more batches to go and I will have made my first 20 lbs of fat into soap. WOW! On Friday I will show you a Cure Card we use here to help us monitor when the soap is ready for packaging.

Joy

6 batches done today

3 batches curing from 10/24

4 more batches curing from 10/24

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10 Comments

  • andrea says:

    LOVE these posts :) Thanks for being so willing to learn in public! I wish that I had this resource when I was just starting!!!

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  • Lauri says:

    Do you turn your bars while they cure? I use racks but am running out of room.

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    • Joy says:

      We leave the bars on a piece of cardboard box to cure. The bars are cut and spaced apart but other than that we leave them alone.

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  • caren says:

    Looking great Joy, looks like you will be able to start doing additives real soon!

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  • Valerie says:

    The bars look great!

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  • stella says:

    The jell phase is interesting to new soap makers. Sometimes we think “oops whas goin on here” but later find its all normal and good.

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  • Wanda says:

    Question, what if after a couple of weeks of curing and the soap has gotten soft instead of staying hard? what do the expect think I may have done wrong in this one batch? I’ve heard of soaking bars but I have no idea what that means, also grinding and “rebatching” is an option… ya think I would highly appreciate a reply if anyone has the time. Thank you MMS crew.

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  • Wanda says:

    BTW your soap looks beautiful

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  • Madea says:

    Thanks for the definitions. This is a great series. I’ve been lurking on a lot of soap boards, just soaking up the information. But its nice to have watch someone who is learning. There is a lot to learn and sometimes experienced soapers forget to explain the steps or details they take for granted.

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