This is my first post about soap maker pains – and it starts with soap acceleration, no less. Probably the most common soap making issue of all. I want to share my own soap acceleration failures with you to better guide you and advise you on how to avoid it, or how to fix it.
Soap acceleration happens when homemade soap batter hardens very quickly. This means that the saponification process, the chemical reaction that forms soap, overreacted and accelerated, like a fast-forward movie. Soap acceleration is always related with temperature increase, denoting the increase of a reaction that releases heat.
Learn what causes soap aceleration, how to avoid it or how to solve it.
Table of Contents
What Is Soap Acceleration?
When you make homemade soap, it can accelerate, or seize, meaning that your soap batter is solidifying much faster than intented. Something in the ingredients or process is speeding up the saponification process. Then you need to mold the soap still as a paste, under stress, ruining your original molding intention.
Soap acceleration is also reffered as “tracing too fast”. The explanation is simple: when you are trying to reach trace, what you are doing is emulsifying your soap in order to ensure full saponification between oils and lye water, getting the soap batter ready to mold. The soap batter turns from liquid (light trace) to pudding-like (medium trace), to paste (heavy trace). So, if your soap batter is solidifying before your eyes, it’s “tracing too fast”. But it’s the same thing.
This is a bore. You want your soap to be perfect, liquid or just a little bit pasty for your designs, you add a super-wonderful fragrance oil, and a nightmare of rush begins. And I don’t know what’s worst: to not be able to mold your soap, or to mold it and find it a soap Frankenstein.
What are the causes, how to avoid them, or how to fix your seized soap?
Why Did My Soap Accelerate So Fast?
Soap acceleration causes range from ingredients used, the amount of ingredients, to the soap making process itself. One of the most common causes for soap acceleration is too much stick blending for inexperienced soap makers. The second most frequent cause, from my experience, is the usage of fragrances, or certain essential oils, especially for the first time.
Having no knowledge of what I was doing, on my very first attempt at making soap, I’ve stick blended and stick blended it. Fortunately, it was olive oil soap, that takes long to reach trace. The result was that, when I had to mold soap, it was a paste. I didn’t know I could/should’ve molded it while still liquid. And I’ve used the stick blender too much.
Fragrance oils can cause the soap to seize or even rice. They have alcohols or other substances – scent enhancers, synthetic substances to reproduce the intented scent – in their composition that reacts with the soap salts already formed, accelerating them.
If you have already subscribed to my newsletter, you have now a free e-book that explains the influence of hard oils in soap. Yes, they make the soap harder. They also speed up trace/soap acceleration. If you are making a 100% palm oil soap, it takes but a few seconds to reach medium trace. One more stick blend pulse and your soap is seizing…
Resuming, everything related with increasing the saponification process, such as higher temperatures, higher concentrations of lye or the usage of hard oils will accelerate your soap batter. In the case of fragrance oils, as we don’t know its composition, we don’t know what can accelerate soap. That you can find out only by trial-and-error. Soap acceleration causes are explained throughout my recipes at YouTube.
Here is the full list of soap acceleration causes:
Causes Related With Ingredients
- Using fragrance oils / certain essential oils. Some compounds are soap accelerators.
- Using hard oils: coconut oil, palm oil
- Using clays, they absorb water and have the same effect as water discount
- Using ingredients with sugar content: honey, milk, beer, etc. They increase soap temperature
Causes Related With Process
- Stick blending too much. You are accelerating soap mechanically.
- Using high temperatures when mixing lye water and oils. You are accelerating soap termically.
- Water discount, a technique where you use less water in lye water. More lye, less water, and you are accelerating soap chemically.
And here are some good examples:
What Causes Soap To Rice?
On both videos you can see the soap looking “granular” with lumps. That is called ricing. Ricing occurs when an ingredient in the fragrance oil binds with some of the hard oils compounds to form these lumps that look like sweet rice. It is clear from the videos that my fragrance oils cause ricing in my soap.
Does Coconut Oil Accelerate Trace?
As coconut oil is a hard oil, it contributes to soap acceleration, i.e., it accelerates trace. However, even 100% coconut oil soap can be made with the proper precautions, without soap batter seizing. Just follow the recipes and be careful with the stick blender.
How To Prevent Soap Acceleration?
Knowing the causes, preventing it is easy: you either reduce or eliminate what causes soap to accelerate. Use room temperature to make your soap, be sparse with the stick blender, use less concentrated lye water are just some of the measures you can take. Always be careful with fragrance oils.
Last year was the year I really felt annoyed/frustrated with soap making. I had a little experience and wanted to improve on scents and use natural colorants. But I kept having my soap to accelerate. So annoying. So, I’ve started to read what could be the causes and really paid attention to when it happened.
Then I’ve tried new recipes where I’ve adopted one or more of these measures, and truly started to feel under control of cold process soap. I still make soap that accelerates, for example, this Red Clay Soap Recipe With Horse Chestnut has a lot of soap accelerators, but I was prepared for them, and the soap went well in the end. Don0t worry, I do warn about it on the videos or the recipe instructions.
Use Room Temperature
I usually set as temperature 38ºC – 40ºC (100ºF – 105ºF) as this is the most balanced temperature for most recipes. However, if you are afraid that your soap might accelerate, you can use room temperature. Follow two simple rules and use room temperature or the lowest temperature possible:
- Your oils must be liquid and transparent. This is especially true if you have solid oils in your mixture.
- Your oils and lye water need to be within a temperature difference of 10ºC – to avoid volcano effects.
Reduce Stick Blending at a Minimum
Use your stick blender only until you are sure you’ve reached trace. When you’re beggining, it’s easier to reach medium trace, finding the “pudding-like” marks on the top of the soap. With more experience, you will be able to start recognizing light trace – liquid soap batter when the oils and lye water fully emulsified into soap – and stop there.
After reaching trace, use only a spoon or spatula to mix the remaining ingredients. Use the stick blender only if you’re not sure you’ve reached trace.
Use Fragrance Oils You Already Know
Make small batches of 3 soaps (225g or 1/2 lb) to test a new fragrance. If the soap rices or siezes, you will know this fragrance accelerates your soap. If you *really really* want to use it, because you love its scent, add the fragrance after doing everything else and right before molding. Oh, and use a large soap mold, the next tip.
In this post, the soap maker advises to add your fragrance oil to your melted oils before adding the lye solution. Something I’ve never tried, but it might work.
Use a Large Soap Mold
If you know your soap will accelerate, forget about pouring soap for 3 minutes in individual soap molds. Use a large soap loaf, and once your soap is ready – add your fragrance or essential oils at last -, even if it’s ricing or seizing, just pour everything into the mold, fast.
Then beat it hard against your counter to release air bubbles. Your soap will look a bit rustic, but it will look ok. Check out my Red Clay Soap Recipe With Horse Chestnut below. What do you think?
Formulating Soap: Use More Liquid Oils
Are you adventuring yourself into doing your own soap recipes? That’s great! Don’t forget to use a soap calculator (check out How Do You Use a Lye Soap Calculator?) and start small! You will do great!
If you want to avoid soap acceleration, use as much liquid oils as possible, and avoid the solid ones. Olive oil is well known for taking a very long time to trace. Is one of the slowest oils to saponify. So… use it. You can also use some of the solid oils as a after trace ingredient: for example, shea butter added after trace as a superfat.
My best oil mixture for soap swirls, i.e., that doesn’t accelerate, is the one used in this Cedarwood Soap Recipe – With Drop Swirl. I’ve also found that this Turmeric and Ylang-Ylang Soap Recipe or the Paprika Cold Process Soap Recipe that uses an oil mixture with 50% palm oil and 50% liquid oils (curiously, no olive oil), doesn’t accelerate notably either. And it’s very white. I’ll probably risk myself with other soap swirls with this oil mixture.
Formulating Soap: Use Lower Lye Concentrations
When doing olive oil soap the lye concentration is of 33%-35%. Meaning you use 33% of lye and 67% of water in your lye water. Because you want to accelerate a bit the tracing or olive oil soap or you will end up stick blending for 15 minutes.
If you want to reduce soap acceleration, do the opposite. Lower the lye concentration of your lye water below 30% to 25%. It might increase the probability of soda ash creation (because it has more water) but your soap will take longer to saponify (since the lye water is less strong).
Formulating Soap: Avoid Clays
Clay absorbs water, and this is why it speeds up trace, because it directly works in the lye concentration. Some of the water is absorbed by the clay and the lye water is more concentrated (see previous section). It’s difficult to know how much water you need to add to compensate the clay addition.
On my Red Clay Soap Recipe With Horse Chestnut I’ve used 25% of lye concentration because I was going to use 1 teaspoon of clay per 500g of oils (a bit more than 1lb). The soap didn’t seize, it only riced (it’s the yellowish soap from the video above).
How To Fix Seized Soap?
So, it happened, your soap seized. It will eventually happen… Making mistakes is part of life and soap acceleration is very common. But now you will know how to fix it, instead of thinking about throwing all soap into the trash bin and forgetting about that day. With soap, I’ve learned you can always reuse it!
First let’s assume you managed to mold your soap. The soap itself is good, but it looks ugly. If you don’t care about its appearance, go head and use it. It’s handmade soap for all that matters 🙂
If your soap seized in your bowl, then first try to remove as much of it as possible. Use the chunks you were able to recover. You can rebatch the soap grating those chunks or use them in another soap. I have rebatched my red soap that seized completely, here is the result:
But I really like the idea of cutting your seized soap into cubes, and dive them into a fresh batch of soap. You can play with colors and make your soap cubes to stand out from the fresh soap. It will look a bit like my other rebatched soap:
You can also try a partial rebatch: just shred your seized soap into small bits or almost powder, and use it in a fresh batch of soap, cold process or hot process. This technique is explained in this recipe by Lovely Greens, she uses a cold process soap recipe. Looks like a pain to make (grating soap is painful), but you can use your failed soap and turn it into something truly artistic:
Another way to use seized soap is to Make Liquid Soap With a Soap Bar, if you are fine with the idea of making liquid soap from soap bars. The final product is not as good as any of the solutions previously presented. And you need to pay attention to shelf life, as this liquid soap can only be used within a month. But there you have it.
When Is Soap Acceleration Desireable?
When you want to make 100% olive oil soap, to reduce the trace timing. Honestly, I don’t see another reason. Or when you want a thick paste to make your own designs. sometimes it’s simply a colateral effect: you want to use high temperatures to gel your soap, and you need to deal with soap acceleration.
I hope you enjoyed this article, or at least, find the help you needed about soap acceleration! If you have doubts, suggestions or a question, leave a comment below.