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.
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.