Soap dough is made from cold process soap which saponifies anywhere from 8-36 hours. After all the lye molecules have attached to the fat/oils, the soap is safe to touch. (For those who have purchased either of my two books, see “Fear and Danger: Lye Safety” section) AFTER saponification is complete, lye is no longer active. The process of soap and how ingredients make soap.
After you know the process of saponification the next step is a course of logic – curing. Curing is the evaporation of water used to activate and carry the lye (sodium hydroxide) to the fat/oils. It takes 4-6 weeks to cure soap – for all the water to be evaporated from cold process soap. Evaporation of cold process soap is equivalent to curing.
The curing process does three things:
Curing hardens the soap bar, because water softens the soap,
Curing enables the soap to be correctly weighed, with the water fully evaporated, you are left with the weight of the actual soap,
Curing shrinks and hardens the bar, so the soap can be correctly packaged. If you want to see how much your soap shrinks during curing, wrap a piece of paper around a freshly cut bar cold process soap as tight as possible and leave it for fully 8 weeks. You’ll see how much your soap shrinks, by how loose the band will be. Not accurate but this experiment will give you a visual of the curing process.
Now that you have a working definition of “curing” you can see how the next step to maintaining your Sorcery Soap Dough is to keep your soap from evaporation.
How to Store Sorcery Soap Dough
By wrapping your soap dough in plastic wrap, placing it inside a plastic airtight bag or container, your soap dough will maintain its pliability. So, keep air away from your soap dough and your soap dough will stay moldable for months. Even the best air tight containers will allow some air, and the soap will have a harder form, simply work the soap dough in your hands and your soap dough will soften. It softens from the heat of your hands along with breaking the structure of the soap.
Working this information backward, what keeps the soap pliable is water.
Cold process soap is made with water,
Saponification takes 8-36 hours for the lye to be come inactive, touching soap after full saponification is perfectly safe,
Curing i.e. water evaporation takes approximately 6 weeks,
Maintaining water in cold process by wrapping in plastic, avoiding air exposure, keeps soap pliable and therefore “SOAP DOUGH”.
The scent I experience right out of the bottle doesn’t lie. I need to be present to that attraction or repulsion. Being aware of this response doesn’t have to stop me from using the fragrance oil, but being aware that the fragrance oil is helpful.
When fragrance oil accelerates or discolors doesn’t immediately take it off my roster. I need to take more care with it, treat it more gently and incorporate the behaviors of that particular fragrance oil in the design, if I want to enjoy it. I remember most of those that move fast or discolor. Many of my pies have gone in the trash because I’ve tried fruit scents with them. They were overwhelming and potent. That doesn’t mean you won’t like them, so I don’t list them, but I do not. I honor that about me. If I were to offer something I can’t stomach in my world, how could I stock it?
I have also learned that if I don’t like a fragrance oil in soap I cannot offer it. I can’t get behind the entire soap and say, “yeah, this is awesome.” Which is what I want to say. I want to create something extraordinary, something you can’t live without, at least trying once.
What do you want your soap to smell like? The ocean in winter? Meadow flowers in spring? The scent of fresh hay, leather and the hint of barn wood? How about fresh cut grass the first day of summer vacation?
I look for scents that are either so unique they create new memories, or sincere scents that drum up old pleasant memories. Right behind this desire to create something that makes a series of images in your mind I want you to get present to that moment – ground in that very moment of your present state while experiencing your soap. Yes, all that I ask from my fragrance oils and blends.
The last two companies, I used a lot of them, couldn’t like any but those listed, and love them. I can’t live without them.
This is my cultivated list. All those that have a “Y” means yes I would or have purchased again. Those I have listed are ones I happen to have, like, but not enough to buy again for the following reasons: 1.) I haven’t used it yet, 2.) I haven’t found a soap to use it in yet (like Whiskey) 3.) No answer means I might buy it again, but not soon. Those I have a big Yes to, means I love it so much I will use it for-EVER!
A full proof way to create soda ash on 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:
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.
Spray the top of the fresh soap with 91% alcohol. This causes faster evaporation on the surface, temporarily.
Cover the top of the soap to lessen the air contact. Plastic wrap and seal the air away from the active soap.
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.
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.
Shooting in natural light is no different than controlled artificial lighting; its still a light source and still needs to be understood. Shooting with “natural light” is using a light source.
If natural light is your only light source than your photography is being controlled by the time of day. Using artificial light offers a bit more freedom and an opportunity to understand your light source, the big light bulb in the sky.
In the beginning I was so afraid of on-board flashes and external lights I only used natural light. I’ve over come that fear and now its all fair game! Oddly enough I understand natural light more by using artificial lighting.
Its time to go SUPER-natural!
Tip #1 While photographing soap, if you want to get rid of cracks, contours, blemishes – over expose. This is called “high key.” This can be done with flashes, camera settings or post editing in software. This is tricky because too much light is equally unappealing. Practice: blow out (over expose) your subject and then ratchet it back until you get the light/contrast you’re looking for.
Tip#2Shadows show contrast. To photograph details in your soap throw light on the product to create shadows. Controlled shadow reveals areas next to the the shadow.
Tip#3 Avoid over prop use. Each photo tells a story and the story you want your audience to focus on is the object in the photo. Unless the props are essential to the story, avoid props. Its distracting. Caveat: putting a bowl of honey next to a soap made with honey can help to communicate the story of the soap. Most of us talk too much and we add things to images as a result. Over communication. Ask this question, “how can I tell my soap story effectively, with as few words/props as possible?”
Tip #4A direct flash on your soap, unless controlled, is rarely appealing. The flash that pops up on your camera… Don’t use it. If the light isn’t right, (unless you are a journalist documenting a moment), find better light or create it.
Direct flash can create harsh, uncontrolled shadows, while over exposing the subject. A better use of light is to bounce the light at a bright surface above or around the soap and let the light fall on your subject. The light wraps around the subject, not blasts it into another color spectrum!
A light box can be helpful to wrap light. If you are just starting out, don’t worry about expensive lighting or a light box, just use what you have or pick up some inexpensive lights and set them around, bounce them, put them directly on the soap and see… Really see. There are lots of DIY light box tutorials, just line a cardboard box with white paper and wa-la! Light box. At least, this will get you started, and photography is all about practice.
Tip #5 Use your eyes! Look at the light. Look at the shadows. Look at your soap. Now look at the light and shadows and soap. Now SEE! Are the soaps stacked? Are they propped up and look staged? How does the background work with the soaps? Does the soap have swirls, is it competing with the background? Is there a pattern on in the background? How do they all work together? Take a photo and look at it on screen.
A plain bed sheet will work for a background. A towel has texture, and that becomes something other when its photographed and that simple texture can compete with complex soap swirls. Don’t you want to share those crazy wonderful swirls? Why let that silly towel take center stage?
Tip #6Clean up each photo. When cutting soap little crumbs can appear that our eyes cannot see, but the camera can. Any soap blemish or specks will be focused on, and that will be what your viewer sees. Its a natural behavior to pattern-match and when something is out of sync the viewer will focus on that and the mind will continue to move to the mis-matched pattern, missing the glory of your soap, but only seeing the soap crumbs. Much of photography is controlling the viewers eye, showing them what to see.
Tip #7Be mindful of whites. The whites of the soap and whites of the background – the other term, white balance. This means that white is white, and not reflected color of the colors around it, but really white. This can be corrected on board (in the camera) or in post editing. Example: use your “day light” setting and take a photo. Is it warm, meaning is it “orange” or is it cool, too much “blue”? Is there a color cast to the image?
White in paint are void of color (or titanium dioxide).
White in light (computer) are all colors.
Tip #8 Go Super Natural! Use natural light and fill light, and bounced light. Who cares where your light source is coming from if you can present your soap in a compelling way?
Tip #9 MOST IMPORTANT TIP, strive to SEE the information in the image. Say what you see out loud. Name the things you see… Soap, crumb, shadow, table, background… Hey wait, there’s the cat! This act will change you in ways other than just photography.
Tip #10 Fearless post editing! Photoshop or any other editing software is necessary. Did you know that Ansel Adams edited so extensively in the darkroom (photoshop back in the day) that he even added things that were not in the original image? Yup. A little trickery or artistic license? This is a fine line, but no one likes to see a red soap crumb on a white background. What to do when the image is exactly what you wanted except for that one soap crumb?
Caveat: We must tell the tale of our soaps! If our soaps are so edited that when the product arrives and the customer is disappointed, no one is happy… No matter how good the soap. The story must be told in some semblance of reality.
Understand what you see, not what you interpret, or the quick meaning you make. We take so much for granted that most information is just absorbed. This is a good practice in all areas, not just soap photography, to really see.
The first thing we look at when we view something, generally, are the white parts. So if the entire image is white, the eye will move toward the colors. That is a controlled use of white. Example: if the soap is colored (void of white) and is on a similar color background and small section of the background is white, eliminate that area. Believe it or not, that’s the first thing the viewer will look at, that small shape of white in the background.
Another example, the soap is colored, but then on a white background. Now the soap has center stage.
EXPERIMENT: squint your eyes next time you see an image, and ask, without judgment, what stands out. This is simply a contrast trick, (or uhm… photographic sorcery). Where is the high contrast? And that is where your viewer will look. It all happens in seconds, so breaking this down to the mundane seems extreme, however, there is truth in all I tell you.
The idea behind product photography, in my opinion, is not a journalistic style exactly. Journalistic style is to report facts, and some great photographic journalist (remember the image of the sailor kissing the nurse?), can tell a story as it is with complexity. (Another subject entirely.)
In person our eyes see differently, we imagine things, take in textures, can touch and smell the object. We experience the object. To convey this experience takes time and patience through photography.
And, always remember, a photo that makes you happy is better than just getting the job done. Soaping can be a happy process, even product photos of your soap can be fun. Every area is an opportunity for your creativity to flourish. Let photography be fun as well, leave the stress trolls at the door, and just have a sense of humor about it all. Take a ton of photos and then see them on your screen. Then take more.
When its all done and said, which ones make you happy without thinking about them? I’ve broken all these ideas down to words, but mostly, now that I’ve shot over half a million (literally) images I just shoot on feeling. I was told a long time ago by a famous photographer that photography is the study of light. I poo-pooed it and said “its all feeling” and now that I’ve been doing it awhile, I agree. No matter what your subject is, its seeing light and responding to it.
This process is not meant to kill bacterial, but to disturb dirt and remove it from the surface. Some surfaces, like skin, need bacteria, so using soap and water is effective and necessary for skin health simply to remove dirt and unwanted oils. Many non-helpful bacteria are washed away during this process, if the soapy skin remains under the water for at least 20 seconds, to wash away the disturbed oils and bacteria, now attached to the oils in the soap. The disturbed skin acid mantel and bacteria will reestablish itself soon enough, generally within 12 hours. Its a balance to remove unwanted bacteria and dirt and not to disturb the acid mantel too often, which are the natural oils skin produces as a layer of protection. Read more from Scientific American…
Sanitizing – reducing germs on inanimate surfaces. A cleaning product can be used for this level of sanitation called Citrus II.
Citrus II – “Cleans, deodorizes, and disinfects surfaces, equipment, and non-critical instruments. A broad spectrum germicidal cleaner, effective as a bactericide, fungicide, and virucide, including Hepatitis B and C, HIV-1 (AIDS) and Tuberculosis, with excellent residual biocide action. It’s also effective against mold and mildew. Great for use in veterinarian offices and clinics , effective against Parvo Virus! EPA-registered, non-alcohol formula contains no toxic chemicals such as phenols or glutaraldehydes, and is tested safe for a variety of surfaces including vinyl and naugahyde. It’s non-acidic, non-corrosive, and non-staining.”
This is ideal for daily cleaning.
Disinfection – “Disinfectants are products that are applied to inanimate surfaces or objects to kill many or all microorganisms except resistant bacterial spores.” “All disinfectant products are categorized and regulated by the EPA as “pesticides”, so don’t be alarmed that you are using an especially toxic product. Disinfectants are poisons that kill organisms, so they should be handled carefully. Also, disinfectants are only effective when they are applied per instructions for the correct time period. If a surface disinfectant requires 5 minutes to be effective, it will not do its job if it dries on the counter or is wiped off in three minutes.” Differences…
I certainly could not have said this any better, many think we are disinfecting, but this is a process we rarely, if ever, do in our own households, this process is meant for areas that effect the public. The CDC also states, “Isopropyl alcohol (20%) is effective in killing the cysts of Acanthamoebaculbertsoni (560) as are chlorhexidine, hydrogen peroxide, and thimerosal. Uses. Alcohols are not recommended for sterilizing medical and surgical materials principally because they lack sporicidal action and they cannot penetrate protein-rich materials.”
Sterilization – “Sterilization is an extreme physical or chemical process that eliminates all forms of microbial life, including transmissible agents (such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, and all bacterial spore forms).” Differences…
This process is mainly used on instruments. An example would be to autoclave metal tools or surgical tools. Autoclaving involves high heated steam and/or chemicals to kill everything on the surface.
Each process is determined by if the instrument/surface is porous, if the instrument, for example in aesthetics, is plastic or inexpensive and/or invasive like a lancet, (a small needle used for extraction) then these are disposed of and never cleaned or reused.
As an aesthetician we were taught to spray all surfaces, anything we touched (gloved or not) anything that is possible to be wiped down, to be wiped down with Citrus II in between clients and at the end of the day. On non-corrosive surfaces it is advisable to use a bleach mixture, the CDC has guidelines. This is good practice for any soap maker as well. Alcohol is an inferior sterilization product as the CDC states is not recommended lacking sporidical action, because it “cannot penetrate protein-rich materials”.
Before you start seeing everything as a germ colony, let me tell you a story. I worked for a medical instrument company a long time ago. One day I was asked to help out in receiving. What I saw put the fear of germs in me for a long time. There were medical instruments being returned with blood on them. The company I worked for did not require us to wear gloves. I was appalled, and not long for that company… And I survived, unharmed but wiser.
A doctor friend of mine gave me this advice, which has served me well. I asked her how she isn’t sick all the time. She responded, “host receptivity” and explained that as long as she takes responsibility for herself, her health and well being and ensures she is balanced, the chances of a harmful germ or bacteria making a home on or in her are slim. She ensures that she is an inhospitable place for unwanted guests. This idea has given me great comfort when I touch a public bathroom door.
A Few Things You Might Want To Know
I have been a licensed aesthetician since 2012 and although I no longer practice I use the cleaning practices I learned in school daily. I also practiced those standards in the field, although my employers were not trained, it was my job to ensure my clients were safely cared for and protected.
Along the way I worked in many restaurants as a server and bartender. Regardless of the less-than-stellar habits of those I who employed me, I stood by my standards for food and drink safety. I learned about how standards and discipline keep the balance of healthy bacteria and those little creatures that can threaten us. (I do have a food handlers card, but that doesn’t mean much, for $10 and a test anyone can obtain this card.) I practice protocols and continue to learn about health and self-responsibility.
Today, I keep a clean soap lab dedicated to soaping, employ standards and practices and hope to, someday, teach others in my employ how to live with higher than average standards.
I hope this helps to clear up some mis-information about how to clean our environments and our skin.
I have included a video, however, I didn’t have a recently cured loaf so I tried to show the motion of how to cut a loaf of soap.
Some things to remember:
(I cut from right to left.)
Place your recently unmolded soap on plastic wrap and then lay it inside your miter box. When you need to move the entire loaf, pull the plastic wrap and the soap won’t be marred on the bottom.
Make a cut mark on the top of the miter box with a maker, to ensure uniform slices. There are hash marks, but hard to see.
Spray both sides of the spackle knife with alcohol, this helps the knife slide through the soap.
Hold the spackle knife (some call it a putty knife, but I see those as much smaller) in your right hand and line it inside the opening on the miter box.
Keeping your loaf of soap flush with the right side of the miter box (or left if you’re left handed), eye up the other side, rock the knife toward to the other side of the miter box slot.
Wipe spackle knife off in between cuts. Use a very clean knife for less clean up on individual bars.
If you don’t rock it, and just bring the knife down like a guillotine the soap will not be consistent. Also, hold the bar steady with opposite hand, because the pressure of cutting will move the entire loaf.
It is an exercise in concentration, however, it pays off. For $15 for the knife and box you’ll have crisp even bars every time, without the expense.
*Soybean oil can be substituted with castor oil or olive oil.
In the video the color has been adjusted, as the warm lights made all things orange, but in adjusting the color all the color of the yellow soap dough has been eliminated. It is a bright yellow color.
The “flour” used for dusting is cornstarch, in a muslin bag. More corn starch would generally be used, for example, when making cookies, however, with soap its ideal to avoid over use, as it dries soap and could produce cracks. So, the soap appears to be a bit sticky, however, produces a much nice result.
I hope the video and downloadable template help you see how to fold the gift bag. It took me a few times, so I used copy paper until I got it right.
A secret to a nicely wrapped package or gift is sharp edges and thoughtful touches, like a sparkly ribbon or a hand written note. Good luck and let me know if this helps!
The “Happy Holidays” is meant as a greeting, and will remain on the inside of the bag, just for a visual. Its another animal (more complex) to show how to print on both sides, so for educational purposes knowing the printable area is useful. When you understand how to fold the bags simple print on the opposite side. Have fun!
It is necessary to run risks. We only properly understand the miracle of life when we allow the unexpected to happen. ~ Paulo Coelho “Life: Selected Quotations”
If you want to break out of molds, try your hand (pun intended) at hand molding!
There are many molds on the market for embeds and after a trying many of them, I wanted a larger creative palate.
On one of my many cold process soap failures, I began molding some of that batch. I squished it, mushed it and felt its full textured as it warmed in my hands.
I learned a great deal from touching soap. (If you’re familiar with cold process I shouldn’t have to say this, but… Wait at least 24 hours to work with newly made cold process without gloves. Read Kevin Dunn’s book, Scientific Soapmaking: The Chemistry of the Cold Process on a scientific explanation of saponification.)
All of my embeds and tops are made with cold process. Use your favorite cold process recipe to begin and just pour off a cup to start. I’ve cultivated a particular recipe for soap and its reliable and consistent and of course, top secret.
I generally use my normal hard bar soap base for embeds, but I will make a total batch just for molding, when I need a particular color. This soap is made with a touch of silk which I find helps the smoothness of the embed batch. That’s the only hint I’ll give for now, but if you read my blog you’ll have read many secrets.
The best tool you have, beside your hands, is research, curiosity. Search this site for videos, more blog posts about soap molding, etc. To look for a “how-to” and have someone tell you every detail about how this works, you’ll lose the plot. This is a path of creativity, even if you make what you wanted, it is not the end. Its just the beginning. Its the possibility of seeing the world differently, with a touch more magic.
Sorcery Soap™ is a small batch soapery that specializes in hand-crafted Super-Natural soap potions, soap molding and soap dough.
Bee, the blogger/author, photographer, thought provocateur and crafty Soap Witch behind Sorcery Soap™