Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Soapmaking - some things I've learned

Trace is when there is a 'trace (memory)' of the soap left showing, after some of the mix has been dripped from the mixer ... or you can see a 'drag' mark as the mixer is moved through the soap mix. A light trace is when this is barely visable ... a medium trace is when you can see it clearly but the mix will still pour easily ... and a thick trace is when the soap mix is almost peaking like a meringe mix. I personally have found that if I go to thick trace ... there's a chance the mix won't be so good when I have to spoon it into the moulds ... but it can be done. Thick trace sometimes happens by accident ... an accident known as 'seizing'. This is when you add something, like essential and/or fragrance oils, and the mixtures turns from a light pudding type mix to concrete is a second. It's scary ... but if you can manage to beat this a little to mix whatever it was you were adding, spoon it into moulds, smooth it out, wrap it well ... and hopefully the next day it won't look so bad. Sometimes you may have to toss this mix ... especially if the lye hasn't mixed properly. By checking the ph, you can tell if the lye has mixed properly ... soap when cured should have a ph of 9 or less. If you use your tongue to do the 'zap' test ... 9 or less will result in no zap!

Trace can happen very quickly ... in less than a minute ... or it can take many minutes. Relax and try not to stress ... although be confident you will for the first few batches you make.

After adding the lye mix to the oil mix, mix with a had beater for a minute or two, then stir for a minute or two ... now check if getting to a light trace. If it is ... now might be the time to add your oils (essential and/or fragrance). Light trace is often a good time to remove some soap to add colours. Soap is easy to play with at a light trace, but remember it can become thick very quickly when things are added, or it might still require quite a bit of mixing ... this is dependent on what you're adding and using ... and the temp you mixed at ... and the temp of the day ... so best to relax and work out these things as you go along.

Some people add the essential and/or fragrance oils to the oils before the lye mix is added ... others add them at light trace ... others at medium trace ... and some when the soap mix is a thick trace. What you decide to do, will depend on what you experience ... so keep making soap to you're happy with what you're doing ... and then enjoy it ever more.

Make sure your moulds are wrapped up well with towels and/or rugs, after you've put the soap mix in them ... the soap needs a few hours to gel and during that time it gets quite warm (this is the lye working on the oils and making soap ... so make sure the moulds ar on something that won't be damaged by heat. I use a oven rack and have the towels going under the rack, up and over the moulds and tuck in the sides to prevent any draughts. Be careful not to move the moulds, so that the mix moves and sets unbalanced.

Cover the moulds with cling wrap ... before wrapping towels around them. This helps keep the heat in.

I've found the silicon moulds are the easiest to use, as they don't require lining with anything! I like the log silicon mould and have bought a couple on ebay.

I've learned heaps more than this ... and will add more posts like this about essential and/or fragrance oils, colourings etc.

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