Common Mistakes to Avoid When Making Handmade Soaps

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Making Handmade Soaps

Making handmade soap is a fulfilling and creative endeavor, but it can also be challenging, especially for beginners. Whether you’re crafting soaps for personal use or to sell, avoiding common mistakes can ensure that your final product is high-quality and safe to use. Based on my experience of curating soaps in the last few years, here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid when making handmade soaps:

  1. Not Following a Recipe Accurately
When it comes to soap making, precision is key. Not following a recipe accurately can lead to lye-heavy or too-oily soaps, which can be harsh on the skin or fail to set properly.
Tip: Always measure your ingredients carefully and follow the recipe to the letter, especially when you’re just starting out.
  1. Incorrect Lye Measurement
Lye is a crucial ingredient in soap making - using too much or too little can affect the safety and quality of your soap.
Tip: Use a digital scale with at least 2 decimal points to measure lye accurately and always double-check your calculations. Use a reliable lye calculator if you’re creating your own recipe. I usually use the lye calculator by BrambleBerry. It’s quite easy to use.
  1. Improper Mixing
Mixing lye and water can be dangerous if not done correctly. Adding water to lye can cause a violent reaction and you need to make sure it is done extremely carefully.
Tip: Always add lye to water slowly and carefully, never the other way around. Do this in a well-ventilated area and wear proper protective gear (full sleeved shirt, safety goggles and gloves)
  1. Not Using Protective Gear
Lye is a caustic substance that can cause burns and injuries if it comes into contact with your skin or eyes.
Tip: Always wear safety goggles, gloves, and long sleeves when handling lye and during the soap-making process.
  1. Incorrect Temperature
The temperature of your oils and lye solution is crucial for proper saponification (the chemical reaction that creates soap). Adding lye when its too hot can lead to early tracing of soap which may end up ruining the entire soap batch.
Tip: Use a thermometer to ensure both your oils and lye solution are at the correct temperature, typically between 100-110°F (38-43°C), unless your recipe specifies otherwise.
  1. Over-Mixing or Under-Mixing
Achieving the right trace (thickness of the oils, water lye mix) is crucial for proper soap consistency. Over-mixing can make the soap too thick to work with, while under-mixing can prevent proper saponification.
Tip: Use an immersion blender to mix until you reach a light to medium trace, which is when the soap batter starts to thicken and leaves a trace on the surface.
  1. Adding Fragrance and Color at the Wrong Time
Adding fragrance oils, essential oils, or colorants at the wrong time can affect the scent and color of your soap.
Tip: Add fragrances and colorants at light trace for even distribution. Be aware that some fragrances can accelerate trace, so work quickly. If you want your soap to be one color, it is best to add those natural colorants in water before adding in the lye to ensure they blend evenly in the soap.
  1. Not Accounting for the Gel Phase
The gel phase is a part of the saponification process where the soap heats up and becomes translucent. Not understanding this can lead to uneven textures or “glycerin rivers.”
Tip: Insulate your soap mold to encourage a complete gel phase or place it in the fridge to prevent it if you prefer a more uniform appearance.
  1. Removing Soap from the Mold Too Early
Removing soap from the mold before it has fully set can lead to soft, misshapen bars.
Tip: Allow your soap to stay in the mold for 24-48 hours before unmolding. If it’s still too soft, give it more time.
  1. Inadequate Curing Time
Handmade soap needs to cure for several weeks to harden and allow the saponification process to complete fully.
Tip: Let your soap cure for at least 4-6 weeks in a cool, dry place with good airflow. This helps the soap to harden and improves its lather and longevity.
  1. Not Testing New Recipes
Experimenting with new ingredients or recipes without testing can lead to unexpected results.
Tip: Always make a small test batch first to ensure the recipe works as expected before making a larger batch.
  1. Ignoring Safety Instructions
Safety is paramount when making soap, especially when dealing with lye.
Tip: Always follow safety guidelines and best practices to prevent accidents and ensure a safe soap-making experience.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can create beautiful, high-quality handmade soaps that are safe and enjoyable to use.

Happy soap making!

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