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How to create Soda Ash

Soda Ash

A full proof way to create soda ash on cold process soap.

What is soda ash? The quick explanation is, soda ash forms when unsaponified lye reacts with naturally occurring carbon dioxide in the air on the surface of cold process soap. Soda ash is harmless on fully cured soap and can occur inside cold process soap.

Why would you need a step-by-step way to create soda ash? If you don’t know how to create it, breaking these steps down and applying them to your accidental soda ash, may help give you insight to your creation of soda ash, which is all soaper’s nemesis.

I would not have thought to create soda ash as a lesson on soda ash, but that is exactly what I did. I taught myself how to create soda ash on cold process soap and it was successful!

Lately I have had soda ash on my entire cut bars of cold process soap. This has only happened once on an entire bar out of the hundreds of bars of soap, and it stumped me.

The first thing I wanted to focus on was the fragrance oil, since that seemed to be the only variable, however, upon closer examination I saw subtle alterations in the process.

I thought I knew how to successfully avoid soda ash – that light dusting of white substance (sodium carbonate) –  that generally covers the top of soap, but can cover the entire bar.

After much investigation, asking for guidance in soap groups and doing a lot of reading I have the key steps to create soda ash.

  • First of all, have a lot of water in the soap. What does that mean exactly? There is a water percentage that hits the sweet spot but is highly contingent on the humidity in the area. Too much water per oil/butters.
  • Second, ensure that the soap is exposed to as much air as possible.
  • Third, ensure there is humidity in the air.
  • Fourth, interrupt the saponification process by un-molding and cutting the soap into bars, therefore creating more surface for air to come into contact with un-saponified soap.
  • Fifth, understand that more water in the soap combined with humidity in the air lengthens the saponification process. Now, cutting the soap gives more area surface for air to interact with the lye/water evaporation causing a sure-fire dusting of calcium carbonate on every exposed surface.

How to avoid Soda Ash:

  1. Depending on humidity in your area, create cold process soap with a steep water discount. Less than 30% water is a good place to start.
  2. Spray the top of the fresh soap with 91% alcohol. This causes faster evaporation on the surface, temporarily.
  3. Cover the top of the soap to lessen the air contact. Plastic wrap and seal the air away from the active soap.
  4. Allow 3-4 days to let the soap go through the full saponification process. Although soap can be un-molded that does not mean saponification has stopped.
  5. Pray the soda ash gremlins do not visit your house. Putting a sign on your front door that says, “Soap Witch Lives Here” has been known to keep those pesky soap gremlins at bay, however there are those who are persistent. (This requires more investigation and is on-going process. Check back for “Soap Gremlin Updates”.)

Yes, soda ash can be washed or steamed off easy enough, so adding more tasks to preparing soap is also accomplished. Now we have the perfect storm to create soda ash, if you so desire. A little known fact is that by consciously creating soda ash, the Soap Gremlin are highly confused.

Good luck with your next project if you choose to create soda ash, I hope you are as successful as I have been.

Please, if you know other techniques about creating or avoiding soda ash, leave your helpful comments here. Together we might be able to confuse those soda ash gremlins, if not defeat them. 😉

P.S. Heat helps water evaporate, so let’s not forget that little bit of chemistry.

P.S.S. You can do all there is to create soda ash and it won’t happen, while other times we can do all those things to avoid it and it happens in spades. Fickle unscientific soap chemistry, indeed.

10 thoughts on “How to create Soda Ash

  1. Love this! 😀 Thanks for all the tips!

    Merry Christmas!

  2. So happy to hear some of it was useful. I make lite of it because this is a tricky subject, and truly, there are few if zero, sure fire ways of avoiding or creating soda ash. It seems only guidelines. If all else fails I tell myself I did not break the soap and it’ll still clean. That is if I successfully made soap. 😉

  3. Lol, I see you made lemonade from your lemons figuratively speaking 😉

  4. Merry Christmas and a very fulfilling 2017 Bee, you always give such helpful and interesting tips and I just love how you have turned the tide on soda ash…. So cute and finally, for me , 2017 my soap making year, at long last. Super tips that I’m sure I will remember. Love to you.

  5. Pouring at emulsion or very light trace also encourages ash, the reason being that soap at cool temp and liquid consistency will take longer to saponify than soap at higher temp and more solid consistence. Longer saponification time > longer window of opportunity for ash to form.
    Since cpop increases the rate of saponification it doesn’t encourage ash. If you reduce water adequately you can cpop on low heat without the soap entering full gel phase.

  6. Psssst… soda ash is sodium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is limestone.

  7. Truly helpful. Thank you!

  8. You are absolutely correct! I will make the correction. Good catch! Thank you. 🙂

  9. A fun and informative post about the bane of soap makers – soda ash! I love the photo of the “melting” soap, too.

  10. […] come together and soda ash was not created? That is why I brought this point to the surface, “Create Soda Ash.” No one wants soda ash, but knowing how to create it is another aspect of knowing how to avoid […]

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