Bad batch

My soap experiments have been pretty successful so far, as far as I can tell. I won’t know for sure until everything’s cured and I can actually lather up, but the various concoctions I’ve mixed up so far look and feel the way I’d expect them to–until this one. It was extremely hard, bright white, and almost crumbly, in stark contrast to the soft, easily sliced, ecru-to-greenish beige bars I’ve been making.

It used the same oils I’ve been working with so far (coconut, olive, avocado, sunflower, and castor). I’ve been playing around with the proportions of each, but not to such a degree that I’d expect a radically different result. I suspect that the problem is that the oils were too warm. With soapmaking, you’re separately mixing up lye and oil mixtures that need to be roughly the same temperature when they’re combined. When the dry lye hits the water, it gets super hot (I’ve never measured the temperature right at the moment of combination, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s close to 200F) and then has to cool down to somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-110F. Meanwhile, the oils are at room temperature and have to be brought UP to 100-110 in a double boiler. Generally, it’s a lot faster to heat up the oils than it is to cool down the lye, so you wouldn’t even start that until the lye is almost in your target range, but I’ve figured out that putting the Pyrex measuring cup holding the lye into a sink with a couple inches of ice water in it cools it down extremely efficiently. With the previous batch, this was such an effective move that I really had to scramble to get the oils warm enough before the lye cooled down below where it would be effective. So, yesterday, when I was making this batch, I figured I’d heat the oils first and hold them at the right temperature while I dealt with the lye. It didn’t work — the oils got really hot and then retained the heat really well, even when I stuck the bowl in the refrigerator. And even without using the ice water, the lye cooled down before the oils and I ended up adding 100F lye to 130F oils. It achieved trace in a perfectly normal amount of time and it looked fine, but it wasn’t. Maybe it would have been okay if I hadn’t insulated the mold, but maybe not.

I think it’ll probably still be usable after the curing period; it’ll be interesting to see.

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