Cold Process Soap Troubleshooting Questions And Answers



My Cold Process soap didn’t come out as I expected

First double check your recipe and make sure you have used the exact amount of base, superfatting oils, lye (whether sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide), and water. Use a saponification calculator to double check the amounts of lye.

Secondly check your scales. To do this keep one or more items for reference, for instance take a can of vegetables or soup and put a label on the top and take it to the post office and ask them to weigh it for you. Then write the weight on the label. Use this item on your scale and see if it gives you the same weight. It is good to have more than one that way you can also check to see if your scale is correctly weighing combined items.

Thirdly try to go over every step that you took in the process to make sure that you didn’t forget to add any oils or that you have not added too much? Maybe you decided to substitute an oil or other ingredient with another at the very last minute, or you are using a new ingredient for the first time?

Lastly consider your temperature variables, were your oils/fats warm enough, or too hot? Did you let the lye solution cool down before adding to your oils? Did you insulate your soap properly after pouring in the molds? Is the weather hotter or colder than usual?

To help you answer these questions and get a good troubleshooting picture clear in your mind, you might want to get in the habit of keeping a pen and paper at hand while making your cold process soap. That way you can tick off your ingredients, steps, and make notes of temperatures and any changes made.

Now that you know what you have done, it will be a lot easier to determine the right answer for your cold process soap problem.

If you can't find an answer to your cold process soap troubleshooting question please feel free to contact me through the contact me form. I will be more than happy to try to answer your question.



My Cold Process soap mix doesn’t trace!

Chances are that you have used either too much water, or too little lye. Make sure that you double check your recipe and the accuracy of your scales.

If your recipe contains a high amount of unsaturated fats (warm at room temperature) your tracing time can be much longer than the average. If the amounts are right and your scales are not out, you may not have stirred fast or long enough, and reaching trace may just be a matter of stirring a bit longer. Olive oil soaps for instance take along time to trace, stick blenders shorten the tracing times considerably.



My Cold Process Soap traced but turned back to liquid once I put it in the mold!

This is probably an example of a false trace. False trace usually happens when the reaction temperature drops low enough to let the solid fats to solidify before they saponify. Place your cold process soap mixture back in your soap pot and reheat while stirring until it traces again. Next time you make this soap check your starting temperatures.



My Cold Process soap after unmolding has bright white hard spots, – or is hard brittle and crumbly, – or has pockets that contain a cloudy liquid!

These kinds of soaps are most likely lye heavy and should not be used for the skin. However, don’t throw the soaps away; see if you can reclaim it with hand-milling or rebatching .

Crumbly cold process soaps can also be the result of using wrong mixing temperatures, or not insulating the molds correctly, or not using enough liquid, and even adding too many dry ingredients like oatmeal etc. In these cases your soap can be used with no adverse side effects.

Again double check your recipe and check your scales.



How Can I be sure that my Cold Process soap isn’t too caustic?

Cold process soap is naturally alkaline. It is normal for soap to have a pH between 8 and 10.5. Industrial made soap has an average pH of 10.5, while the pH of quality handmade soap can be as low as 8.5. Any so called soap products that with a pH lower than 8 are in fact “synthetic detergents” and only soaps with a pH of 10 or higher are drying to the skin.

To double check the pH of your finished soap you can use a special pH strips that you can get from soapmaking suppliers. Or you can do what’s called “Hand Testing”.

Hand testing your cold process soap is quite easy. You simply wash your hands with your soap. Soap with an acceptable pH will rinse clean and will leave your skin smooth and refreshed. IF your lather instead feels slimy, difficult to rinse and leaves your hands with a boiled skin appearance, similar to soaking in hot water to long, then your soap is most likely lye heavy. If your cold process soap has already been curing for two weeks or more, chances are it won’t get better with age, but don’t throw it away you can reclaim it by hand-milling or rebatching. IF your soap gives you a burning or itching feeling while hand testing chances are it is too caustic to be used on the skin, and will only be usable for the laundry.

If your soap passes hand testing satisfactorily you may want to test further on more delicate skin such as the inside of your elbows before giving it the final approval.



My Cold Process soap is covered in a white, somewhat sticky and powdery film!

This powdery substance is called “soap dust” and does not affect the quality of your cold process soap. Soap dust is more likely to appear on soaps that have been mixed and poured either too hot or cold, or not insulated properly after pouring, so that the temperature either drops or spikes to quickly during your gel phase. Soap dust is more common in soaps containing milk or sugars. If you don’t care for the soap dust you can cut it off with a knife.



My Cold Process soap won’t come out of the mold!

This can happen when rigid plastic, glass or ceramic molds are used without lining the bottom and the sides, as well as with recipes that use high amounts of some unsaturated oils, such as sunflower, olive, caster, rice bran, and corn oil or shea butter. The soaps will eventually come out when they are dry enough. IF you cannot wait, you can try placing your molds in the freezer; however this can kill or reduce the soaps scent.



My Cold Process soap mix has gone solid or has become too thick in the pot!

This is what is called seizing. It is usually caused by ingredients such as sugars, waxes such as beeswax, Jojoba oil, stearic acid, alcohols, and some fragrance oils . Some base oils such as neem oil, shea butter and sometimes caster oil if used at more than 5%. Some essential oils especially cinnamon and clove can accelerate trace or cause seizing of you soap mix.

Try scooping your soap into your mold and then press it down with the back of your spoon. If the seizing is really bad, where it has gone virtually solid in your pot, you can try to reclaim it by cooking it right away in a double boiler set up.

To minimize your seizing problems with fragrance oils, blend them into a small amount of warm oils, taken from your soap pot before you have added your lye solution, and add at early trace. In general seized soap can still be used, but some seizes create such a reaction that they might compromise correct saponification.



After 24 hours from pouring My Cold Process soap appears to have two layers with an oily film floating on top!

There are several things that might have caused this separation.

First is it might have been possible that your cold process soap mix was not stirred long enough, or that its temperature was too low and the solid fats have congealed before having a chance to react with the lye solution. This is sometimes referred to as a false trace.

If this is an olive oil only soap and you are certain the exact amount of oils and lye have been used, it might simply mean that the soap has not been mixed long enough. Stir the oil in thoroughly and wait another day before unmolding.

A few essential oils and some of the citruses in particular, might sometimes float and form a film around the soap. This oily film is only noticeable if large amounts of this type of essential oil have been used and might dry up in a few days. You might however want to reduce the amount of essential oil used in the future.

Finally in some cases the separation is caused by adding too much lye, if this is the case, you might have to reclaim the soap by hand-milling and rebatching.



My Cold Process Soap looks Mottled and Speckled!

Some oils, particularly some saturated oils such as palm and shea butter might give the cold process soap a mottled look if the temperature during the gel phase was not even across the whole soap mass. Shea butter for instance can create small whitish speckles, while palm oil might show various tones of beige or pinkish beige. This is a purely visual issue, and the soap is otherwise perfectly usable.



My Cold Process Soap is remaining slimy, spongy and soft several days after pouring!

The recipe you used has too much water or unsaturated oils, or too little lye. Wait for a couple of weeks and check the soap at this time. If your cold process soap has become harder (even if it is still not hard enough) and the surface is dry, you should be able to use it after a longer curing time.

If however, the soap is still spongy and slimy after 2 weeks, chances are there was too little lye, and you might want to reclaim it with hand-milling and rebatching.



My Cold Process Soap is lumpy!

This usually happens with milk soaps, when milk is used as the only liquid for the lye solution, and is an indication that the milk fats have saponified too early. If you are using a stick blender, chances are these lumps will melt and the cold process soap will turn out perfectly.

In some other cases lumps may become visible after adding a fragrance oil. This is called ricing and is a reaction to fragrant oil solvents similar to seizing.

If adding flours, blend the flour with the essential oils, or with a little of the base oils before adding at trace to avoid lumps.



My Cold Process soap has dark brown spots and appears to be seating dark droplets!

This will sometimes happen when making honey soaps and is usually an indication that too much honey was added, or the honey has not been diluted properly before addition, or that your cold process soap has gone through a very hot gel phase. In general your honey soaps will need only minimal insulation, the honey droplets will eventually dry up, and the soap is still usable.



My Cold Process soap sweats!

Clear droplets on the surface for your cold process soap after a few days or weeks of curing are usually only an indication of high quality soap. Handmade soap is very high in natural glycerin, which attracts water. When the weather is really humid the glycerin in the soap will attract extra water from the air and the soap will appear to sweat.

Even though these tine droplets are a sign of good soap they can cause your unsaponified oils to go rancid quickly. In hot humid areas and seasons it is preferable to store your soap in an air tight container to avoid this problem.

Your sweating soaps can be dried out by placing them in an oven with the light on, but with the oven off, or under a heat light.



The surface of my Cold Process soap has one or more dark spots softer to the touch the rest of the soap!

Having darker spots in various hues of yellow, orange, or brown, appearing on the surface of your cold process soap after a few even several weeks is not a good sign. This phenomenon is called DOS short for Dreaded Orange Spots and is a sign that the unsaponified oils are oxidizing and going rancid. Oxidation is more common when the climate is very humid, and when soaps are either too much superfatted, more than 8%, or contain too many oils with a short shelf life.

Your DOS soaps can be used by yourself after removing the dark soft spots, but will need to be used quickly, and before the rancid smell becomes noticeable. These soaps cannot be sold.



My Cold Process soap looses its scent!

This is the most common complaint that I get from beginner and seasoned soapmakers, and is often addressed with chemical solutions, such as adding benzoin powder or some other type of fixative, or replacing natural essential oils with fragrance oils.

However there are three things to understand before considering whether fixatives or fragrance oils are needed.

  1. Some fragrances are whether essential or fragrance oils may be too volatile for cold process soap. Try a small batch with twice the amount of fragrance and see if it lasts, if it doesn’t you might have found a fragrance that is not suitable. You could then try the fixatives if it still doesn’t stay then it will be more suitable for hand-milled or rebatched soap.
  2. Any soap will gradually loose it’s surface scent especially if left unwrapped, even those strongly scented industrial soaps will lose there scent after a few days if taken out of the wrapper.
  3. In many cases especially for those who make soap on a regular basis, the perception that soaps have lost there scent is biased, as we tend to get used to or sensitized to the strong undiluted scent of essential oils. Once the scent has been put into the soap and diluted we perceive it as being too weak. Getting a second unbiased opinion from customers or an outside friend might help reconcile this matter. I should also be noted that as a consequence of the enormous amount of perfumed gadgets and concoctions there are an increasingly large amount of people becoming sensitized to scents and perfumes.

So the best way to preserve the scent of your soap as long as possible is to wrap them individually at the end of the first four weeks of curing to protect their surface from excessive scent evaporation. If this is not possible, soaps should be stored in closed containers by scent. In general paper bags or cardboard boxes do a better job at preserving scents than plastic. If you are thinking of storing your soaps in a plastic container place your soaps in paper bags first.

Although using high quality, undiluted essential and fragrance oils are more likely to ensure that your scent lasts longer. Buying your fragrances from reputable suppliers who can guarantee purity and concentration is always crucial to obtaining good soaps.

Also remember that essential oil fragrance soaps that include solids such as flours and herbs or flowers will hold their scents longer if these solids are blended with the essential oils before adding to the soap.



I was just about to pour my Cold Process soap into my mold when I realized I forgot to add one of the oils!

Your cold process soap is now lye heavy. There are two ways to deal with this, you can either try to reheat the soap gently to make it more liquid and then add the forgotten oil, or you can mold it then rebatch it with the addition of the forgotten oil.



I will be adding to the list of troubleshooting questions and answers as they arise so check back. If you don't find your answer here please contact me I may know the answer and don't have it up yet or I can find the answer for you.


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