Pine Tar Soap – It’s Easy!

Pine tar soap has been on my list of soaps to try. Pine tar has a long history of uses in veterinary and wound treatments, as it is antiseptic. It’s well known for treating horse hooves. It’s been used for hundreds of years as a wood sealant. Pine tar has also been used in soapmaking. It provides relief for a wide variety of skin ailments and is also safe for use on pets. Here is an excellent article on the benefits of pine tar soap.

Since I’d just had two batches of soap seize on me when trying new fragrance oils, I thought I might as well do a batch of pine tar soap. It’s known to set up extremely fast. Since there would be no color or fragrance going into it, I figured it should be a breeze.

Many soapers on Facebook and YouTube have mentioned that pine tar stinks, smells bad, stinks up the house, or some version of that theme. Your mileage may vary, but I think it’s the difference between the Auson pine tar, made in closed kilns in Sweden (, and the Bickmore brand, made in closed tanks in the U.S. (

I bought Bickmore because it seemed a lot less expensive than Auson. I ordered it from Amazon because I live in an urban area, and that’s the only way I can get it. If you live in a rural area, pine tar can be obtained in tractor supply stores in the equine care aisle for less. I assumed pine tar was pine tar, and it should all smell the same. I was wrong.

The Bickmore pine tar didn’t smell particularly strong, certainly not anything like when they tar a roof or re-asphalt a road, which was kind of what I was expecting. It was far more tolerable than the smell of neem oil when I made neem soap. The pine tar did not stink up the house. It didn’t smell as strong as the Healthy Porcupine pine tar soap I bought online to try out before deciding to make my own. I liked the Healthy Porcupine pine tar soap a lot. They use Auson pine tar in their soap, and it has a nice, smoky campfire smell that the Bickmore doesn’t have. I was disappointed that the Bickmore pine tar didn’t smell as good as the Auson.

Did a lot of research on pine tar soap recipes, and I made my own version using Anne L. Watson’s pine tar soap recipe as a model. Basically all I did was reformulate her recipe for a different sized batch that would fill up my wooden loaf mold, left out the sugar and reduced the ratio of hard to soft oils. Her recipe was 44% hard oils to 56% liquid oils. I changed mine to 40/60. Her recipe doesn’t give superfatting or water ratio, but when I ran it through SoapCalc, it looks like it was full water (38%) and 5% superfat. She also used a very small pine tar concentration, possibly only 5%.

I used full water, superfatted at 8% and used a 20% pine tar concentration, which is what was used in the Healthy Porcupine soap. I thought about substituting shea butter for lard because I thought it might give more skin conditioning qualities, but I decided against it.  Shea butter accelerates rapidly, and pine tar does, too. Not a good combination. Lard’s conditioning numbers are practically the same as shea, so there would be no real benefit. I also added salt (for hardness), sodium citrate (reduces soap scum) and kaolin clay (many benefits), each at 1 teaspoon per pound of oils.

I’d read that pine tar is hard to work with, that it’s messy and hard to clean up. I had none of those problems. It was very liquid when I opened the can. If you work with pine tar in colder temperatures, the tar may be more viscous. If so, you can either put the can in a pot of hot water for a while or warm a small amount in the microwave.

Because pine tar has a strong scent — or at least I thought it would before I opened the Bickmore can — I removed the silicone liner from my wood loaf mold and lined it with freezer paper. I didn’t want to take the chance that the pine tar scent might permeate and linger in the silicone liner and interfere with the fragrance of the next batch of soap I made.

Pine tar is oil soluble, so I measured it in the same plastic cup I used to measure my liquid oils in. That kept it from sticking, and the cup was very easy to wipe clean and wash afterwards. In fact, all the utensils were very easy to clean up. If anything had been sticky, I would have wiped it off with a little oil first before washing it.

Since pine tar sets up so fast, it’s recommended to soap with it at room temperature. I used ice for the lye water. When all the ice had melted, I added the salt and sodium citrate to the lye water. I combined the melted oils with the room temperature liquid oils, added the kaolin clay and blended well. Once the temperature got to about 107, I added the lye water, which was at 84. I blended to emulsion, probably less than 30 seconds.

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Then I added the pine tar, stirred with a spatula for less than a minute and poured the batter into the mold while it was still liquid. I don’t understand why so many soapers keep stirring until it’s at thick trace and have to glop it into the mold in a hurry. It goes from liquid to mashed potatoes in a flash. Then you have to rush it into the mold and end up with very rough textured soap.

The batter does not need to be mixed that much, and it will still turn into soap. It was starting to trace but was very liquid when I poured. But by the time I was scraping down the batter bucket with the spatula to get the last of it into the mold — less than a minute — it was setting up already. I pounded down the mold, but that didn’t level off the top because it was too thick already, so I gave it a quick swirl with a chopstick, and I was done. It could not have been easier.

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The next day I unmolded it. It’s solid but still very soft and picks up dents and fingernail scratches easily. Pine tar soap takes a long time to harden, so it won’t be ready to cut for several days to a week. However, the more exposure to air it has, the faster it can evaporate the water, so being out of the mold is going to help.

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Three days after making it, I cut the pine tar soap. It sliced easily, no tearing. And the texture was perfect!

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Pine tar is known to stay soft longer than most soaps, but I noticed mine were hardening rapidly on the fifth day after I made them. I stamped them, and it was none too soon. I’d tried the tip of covering the soap with plastic wrap before stamping to keep the stamp impression crisp and the stamp clean, but that didn’t work too well for me. This time I experimented and sprayed the stamp with rubbing alcohol first. I got a good impression, a clean release and nothing stuck to the stamp.

Did some further price comparing on Amazon. Auson pine tar (imported from Sweden) is $27.50 for one liter, which is almost 34 ounces. (They sell several types of Auson pine tar on Amazon, but Dale Burned 773 — sold on Amazon under the name of Kiln Burn Pine Tar — is recommended on the Auson website for soap and veterinary uses.) Bickmore pine tar is $14.50 for one quart (16 ounces). If you multiply Bickmore x2 to get 32 ounces (nearly one liter), it costs $29 a liter vs. $27.50. If you live in an area where there are tractor supply stores, you can get Bickmore for a lower price than it sells for on Amazon. Both can be purchased on Amazon with free shipping.

Based on my purchase of one bar of soap made with Auson (the one made by Healthy Porcupine), the Auson pine tar has a much more potent aroma than Bickmore. I could smell the bar of Healthy Porcupine soap from several feet away for about three weeks before it began to fade. Considering that the aroma would have been that strong or stronger for the six weeks cure time, I can understand why it could be overpowering for some people. Bickmore does not have that powerful of a scent out of the can, but it smells more like Pinesol or Hexol, where the Auson-made soap smells more like a smoky campfire. The soapers who say that pine tar “stinks up the house” may be using the more potent smelling Auson. If strong scents bother you, you may be more comfortable using Bickmore. It did not have a very strong smell either during the soapmaking process or 24 hours later when the soap had hardened.

Soapers on Amazon who have reviewed the Auson Dale Burned pine tar have given it rave reviews. The consensus is that it’s better quality and smells better than Bickmore. Based on the price per ounce and the smoky campfire smell which I like better than Hexol, I will be using Auson Dale Burned pine tar once the can of Bickmore is used up.




Adventures in Seized Soap

It happens to all who soap, sooner or later. Heartfelt thanks go to all the YouTube soaping video makers who put up everything — not only their successes, but their mishaps and failures. Watching the experts react when things go off the rails has taught me a lot. First, always have a Plan B in case your soap prevents your Plan A from happening. Second, think fast and work fast. Third, don’t give up. Power your way through, no matter what happens.

Today’s Plan A was a five-color spin swirl, my attempt at trying Sarah Milroy of Spicy PineCone’s gorgeous galaxy soap. After several unhappy results with vanillin, I researched my fragrances and decided on Ocean Mist from Aztec International. No vanillin, and no reports of problems by any of the reviewers except one, who said it riced a little bit. The fragrance was pleasant but mild. Also, I only had two ounces and was making a three-pound batch, so I planned to add one ounce of lemongrass essential oil. Lemongrass is not known to accelerate soap.

My recipe was one I’d used twice before successfully, one that stayed fluid and was good for swirls. Lye had been added to ice cubes and was down to 93 degrees. Sugar and sodium lactate were added to lye water. Check. Melted hard oils were added to liquid oils, kaolin clay added and everything was blended together. Now I added the fragrance oil and essential oil and stick blended again. I let it sit there a minute or two while I fiddled with micas.

Added the lye water slowly to the blended and fragranced oil mix. Stick blended on low for less than a minute, just to emulsion. The batter was nice and liquid when I pulled out the stick blender and set it aside. I looked away for two seconds. When I looked back, the batter had turned from soup to applesauce! Think fast. Was it false trace? Couldn’t be, I was soaping too cool. But I first tried stirring it up with the spatula. No, it was seizing. No time for swirls. Plan B: just get it in the mold as fast as possible before it finishes solidifying.

By now it was not liquid at all and would not pour. I dumped three mica colors in three different areas of the bucket, knowing it wasn’t going to do even an in-the-pot swirl. Tried stirring the micas into each area, but the batter was too thick. I had to get it into the mold FAST. Using the spatula, I ladled out huge globs of each color and splatted them down in different areas of the slab mold. The bottom, uncolored soap in the bucket where the  micas didn’t reach was already soap on a stick. It didn’t even want to break up when I used a metal spoon. I broke up the white soap as best as I could mostly with my gloved hands and mushed the smaller pieces into the different parts of the batter, which was now the consistency of that white paste we used to use when I was in elementary school.

Smushed down the top, sprinkled some water over it and tried to smooth it over with a spatula. The stuff was already nearly solid, and the outside of the mold was warm. It was in the mold, but it wasn’t pretty. So very not pretty. I felt almost defeated. This was my fifth batch in a row where things did not work out. Didn’t cover it, didn’t care.

A few minutes later, I went back to the kitchen and looked at it again. What the hell. Dusted it with white glitter. It sure as hell didn’t look anything like outer space. Looked more like space trash. Hmm. It kind of looked like the surface of the moon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you:  Moon Puke. If I were trying to sell this, I’d probably call it Lunar Surface.

Six hours after I made it, the soap was hard as granite. I was able to unmold it in the evening. The bottom looked intriguing. These might make some interesting if rough looking bars of soap!

I posted my adventure in seized soap on Facebook and got a really good piece of advice from Irena at Ginger’s Garden Soaps & Lotions:

When a soap seizes due to a naughty fragrance, let it! Then let it go to a full gel right in the soap pot. In full gel, the soap is soft enough to color, then thick pour into your mold. Plopping seized soap into the mold invites lye pockets or fragrance pockets.

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Twelve hours after crushing, smashing and brutalizing the seizing, paste-like soap batter into the mold, it has slickly slid into the outer world. This is the back side. Now this is outer spacey looking! It was a little oily on the back, so I let it rest outside of the mold overnight. The score marks were made by the mold.

The next morning the oil had reabsorbed, and it seemed hard enough to cut. It cut cleanly with no tearing or drag marks. It’s rough, like the surface of the moon, but I like the rustic look on this batch. I prefer the back side, as that’s where the colors really pop. I’m happily surprised with how it turned out. I wonder if I could do this again…

One day maybe I’ll get to the point where I’m working with only known ingredients and have more consistent results.

Nah! That’ll never happen! There’ll always be a new fragrance to try, a new color to try, a new swirl or technique to try. Sometimes, there’s even a new technique to invent! That’s why, even with all the disappointments, soapmaking is so much fun. I’m always learning.





Vanillin — My Enemy!

I had no idea how many fragrance oil blends had vanillin in them until I experienced some nasty color changes. Vanillin is known to discolor, usually turning things brown, which is why the best soaping suppliers report the vanillin content of all their fragrances. Vanillin is found in all coffee fragrances and a whole host of others you’d never suspect.

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My first bad experience with vanillin was when I made coffee soap. Coffee fragrances all have vanillin, so plan on discoloration if you make a coffee soap. I’d planned on three layers, from dark to light with some copper glitter. It looked so nice when I put it to bed!

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Overnight the beautiful copper glitter turned into an orange horror! I hate orange! I was so disappointed.

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Three days later, it had darkened considerably, thus lessening the appearance of the orange on top. I thought it looked a lot better but still was disappointed that the white top layer had turned to chocolate. I’ve since learned that experienced coffee soap makers simply don’t put any coffee fragrance into the part of the soap they want to keep white.

Everyone I’ve given the coffee soap to has loved it. Not one person even mentioned the orange color on the top. They immediately sniffed it, inhaling the delicious coffee scent, and loved it.

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My second encounter with vanillin was when I made my first confetti soap batch. The base was supposed to be white. What a surprise it was to me when it came out tan! I’d used orange blossom fragrance oil. Why in the world would it have vanillin in it?  I don’t know, but I looked it up, and it does! The only reason the copper glitter didn’t turn orange was that I first dusted the top with a layer of silvery white glitter. That must have created a barrier between the vanillin-laced soap batter and the copper glitter that followed.


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My third and most recent vanillin encounter of the horrible kind was two days ago. I learned that vanillin not only turns things anywhere from tan to brown, it also goes orange in some circumstances. I knew it happened from my experience with copper glitter, but yesterday I found out that vanillin also doesn’t play well with red mica. I used a wine red as a base for a confetti soap with brown to caramel colored chips.  Added Midnight Pomegranate fragrance oil, thinking that would go nicely with the wine red base. Didn’t even give a thought to whether it might have vanillin. Why would it? Put it to bed thinking it was going to be very pretty.

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Overnight I was horrified to discover that my lovely wine red soap with copper glitter had turned into taco vomit. I hated it!!

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Here they are after the cut. My friend thinks these soaps are pretty. I find them pretty repulsive.

I hate surprises of this kind, not to mention the disappointment and the waste. This batch of soap doesn’t meet my standard to give as a gift. So I started checking the vanillin content of all my FO’s so I’d know what I was up against when I make my next batch. I was surprised to find vanillin in florals and fruit scents but more surprised to find out just how pervasive it is. A couple of my suppliers had vanillin in most of their fragrances. Others had it in only some of them. Oddly, some of the FO’s that had a higher content of vanillin than this one (Midnight Pomegranate, 0.4%) didn’t cause me any problems.

If you want to avoid unhappy surprises, do your homework and research the vanillin content of all your fragrances. I had to learn this same lesson three times before it really took hold. I was shocked and annoyed to find that several suppliers don’t bother to list the vanillin content of the fragrances. I’m now boycotting any supplier that doesn’t give this important information on their website.

And keep meticulous notes on your soapmaking, including photos of how they turned out.

Wrapping Your Homemade Soap


I don’t sell my soap, so fancy packaging isn’t necessay. Plus, I work only part time and will soon retire, so I look for the most cost effective (meaning CHEAP!) way to package my soaps to give them as gifts. I was doing them cigar band style, as cold processed soap needs to breathe. It’s a popular style among soapers. I made up a simple label using the free Avery Design and Print program for the labels and dollar store gift wrap for the bands. It made a nice presentation, and it’s very economical. (CHEAP!)

Recently I learned a new way to wrap soaps from’s Soap Packaging Tutorial. Someone out there is very clever! It looks so nice and it seemed so easy, I decided to give it a try.

Was browsing the dollar store earlier today, wondering if I should use something heavy like construction paper or cheap manila file folders or if gift wrap would work for the new style of wrap. Decided I’d practice first to see what weight of paper worked the best, so I went home and tore out some pages from a Crate & Barrel catalog that came in the mail. I liked the slickness and weight of their paper.

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I am not buying anything else to wrap my soaps with! These look fine, and I love not buying any more gift wrap and using something that would have been thrown away (and whatever the soaps are wrapped in are still going to be tossed out in the end). Plus I have a constant supply of colorful catalog pages that come to my mailbox for free! Best of all, my friends are all conservation and recycling minded, so they love this kind of thing.


Natural Colorants and Fading

It took about six weeks of self education before I made my first batch of cold process soap. I read scads of blog posts, devoured several books and marathon-watched YouTube soaping videos. Then I did it all over again. Finally I got up the nerve to make my first soap.

Since I was just starting out, I didn’t have any fragrance or colorants. I’d read enough to know that I could use certain herbs or spices to color my soap. I had several spices that were getting too old to use for cooking, so I put 2 tablespoons of turmeric in a half pound batch of soap.

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Soap colored with turmeric, fresh out of the mold.

What I didn’t know then that I know now is that spices added to the soap batter at trace without being infused with oil first will give a speckled look. It was a nice surprise! I liked it. If too much is used, it can give a scratchy feel to the soap. It turned out fine.

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Turmeric soap, three weeks old.

What I also didn’t know then was that plant colorants fade from exposure to light, even if they’re never in direct sun. And there’s nothing you can do about it. There is such a thing as a UV light inhibitor, sold on Brambleberry. However, the Soap Queen says it’s for melt and pour soap and doesn’t really work on cold process.

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I had worse luck with spirulina. I’d read what a great colorant it was, but I wasn’t sure how much to use. I put 3/4 teaspoon into a 2 pound batch of soap batter. The batter got very dark, so I thought it was enough. The soap turned out a very pretty shade of green. I was very happy with it!

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I was not so happy less than three weeks later when it looked like this.


The next time I used spirulina, I used 2 teaspoons in a one pound batch. Now, that deep green is more like it! But when I cut it, it STUNK!! Smelled like something died in the swamp. Spirulina is an algae, so it has kind of a dirty aquarium smell. The cut soap smelled like a dirty aquarium with a dead fish in it. I was all set to throw it in the trash, but I first posted my experience on one of the Facebook soaping groups. The overwhelming consensus:  don’t trash it! The smell may dissipate when cured. I had nothing to lose, so I kept it out of sheer curiosity. Started referring to it as the Swamp Bars. A couple of days later, it did stink less, but it already started losing color.

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Eight days after I made them, the spirulina batch had already faded by several shades.


Two months after making this batch, the swamp bars made with spirulina have faded to a drab olive color.

A few weeks later, the swamp bars faded to olive drab. Very drab. This is their final color. They still smell funky to me, but a friend who doesn’t care for sweet floral fragrances likes it.

I had the reverse experience with alkanet. Alkanet is supposed to give lovely shades of blue to purple. No matter what the amount I used, I ended up with brown soap and several shades darker than when it came out of the mold. Many plant colorants will turn brown when interacting with lye, especially if the plant material is fresh. It’s also possible that I’ve only gotten brown with alkanet because I use tap water instead of distilled water to make my soap. I’m on a budget and don’t want to buy anything I don’t absolutely  have to, plus I don’t like all the plastic water jug waste, even though I put it into the recycling bin. I haven’t had any problems with my tap water soap (I run the water through a Brita filter before putting it into the soap), so as long as I live in my current location, I’ll still use it.

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Two months after unmolding, the cinnamon/paprika soap has held its color.

The only plant colorant I’ve used that didn’t fade or morph is the batch made with cinnamon and paprika. It has held its color from the day I took it out of the mold. However, I was warned by a soaper on Facebook that she used cinnamon to color a batch of soap, and when she used it in the shower, it was “very unpleasant.” She didn’t go into detail, but I’m guessing it probably burned or stung. The cinnamon I used was years past its expiration date and barely had any scent left, so I doubt that it would have any adverse effects. I’ve since learned that the paprika was responsible for the color. I made another batch of turmeric colored soap and added a tiny bit of paprika. It instantly turned medium brown, just like this.

These mostly disappointing experiences have completely put me off natural colorants. I want more control over the colors in my soap, and I want them to last. I’ve had far better luck with micas. The choice is up to you.