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Soap Making is About the Details

Sorcery Soap Fairy Cookies

Even after having made so much soap I still have a long way to go in my apprenticeship. I am in awe of the amount of attention to detail soap making requires.

I read some where that an apprenticeship requires 10,000 hours. (Actually, what I read said to master anything takes 10,000 hours.) I use that as a rule of thumb. If I work at soap making 40 hours a week to complete my 10,000 hours of apprenticeship will take 4.8 years. I don’t think even after 10,000 hours soap will be mastered and this is the allure of soap making for me.

So, to glean as much information as I can while I’m making soap, reading about soap and thinking about soap.  I pay attention to a variety of details. I have not fully fallen down the rabbit hole and am still absorbing aspects of combining NaOH and oils/fats to make a product that cleans skin – soap.

Why do I say I haven’t fully fallen down the rabbit hole? Because much like Alice I haven’t yet picked up the cadence of the speech of the other world, not yet found my power (fully) in that other world as to make myself completely comfortable. If I have this awareness then I realize I also haven’t fully grasped the subtleties of the other world, the soap world and the magic that is soap making.

It’s much like playing Euchre. One can gasp the basics of the card game well enough to play. To know the feelings, subtleties, and nuances of this fast paced game, takes playing the game and time. I have been playing for 30 years. I am a reasonable Euchre player. I can mentally keep track of the cards and still I’ll throw off-trump. I can tell when someone plays the rules and not by gut-feeling. I also can tell when they cannot read me or the other players. All these layers of awareness take time. Some can be taught, but to fully understand and win takes practice and a dash of luck.

I also realize no one can teach these layers of awareness to me regarding soap making. I must keep my eyes open, pay attention to as many details as I can absorb and keep turning the spiral wheel; with every turn I pick up something new. With every batch of soap I have an opportunity to learn something new. Each batch is practice.

Details are Important

Not to overwhelm new soapers, because you will only see the top layer of information in the beginning, but with every new soap another layer of understanding will reveal itself, no worries. In essence, you will only see what you are ready and willing to see. This applies for soap and just about everything.

I recently asked for help in a soap group about soda ash. I know more than I did last time I asked the same question, and the time before that, but still its rather illusive. Weather (local humidity), condition of the NaOH, temperature of the room, temperature of the oils, additives, how the soap is treated after pour… All these things are important.

I also realized that there are many soapers who do not see soda ash on their soaps.  If one is not getting soda ash, does it mean they know how to avoid it? Or did all the important elements 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 it.

I have realized that creating soda ash or not creating soda ash has been one of my bigger lessons. I might be more focused on it because of the detailed embellishments I put on top, which means I cannot easily wash the soda ash off or steam it off either. Therefore, I have to focus on this details and KNOW how it happens.

Another Aspect of Soap Making

Another detail, shifting gears, is how we build relationships in our soaping world. Many of us are independent thinkers, creatives, doers of the world.  Soap gets made. Doers do. Doers move elements of this world and bring ideas into the material world. This power is not to be taken lightly, but it has been – for thousands of years.

When it comes to making business alliances we (I am speaking for all of us in a general sense) want to be treated fairly, not like employees.

It has been my experience that retailers think we, when wholesaling, work for them. This is a slightly incorrect view.

A rule of thumb: If the person (assumed to be an employee) stops doing what they do, does your business stop? Then that is the most important person to your business and therefore should be treated with at least that much respect, even if you pay them. Paying someone does not equal “employee.”  An employee is also (or should be) treated with respect, but I’ll save that topic for another day.

We have an opportunity to re-design how business works. Its not as if business has been working so well it can’t stand improvement.

We can see each other as vital and important, treating each other fairly.

There are a few things to consider when wholesaling hand made goods.

  1. Can this easily be found anywhere?
  2. Am I offering something it would take my customers effort to discover and/ or make?
  3. Is this product unique and different?
  4. Am I making a quality item available?
  5. Am I saving my customer time and effort?
  6. Am I delighted to offer this product?
  7. Will my customers love this new product?

All these things should be compensated, and therefore, a deal can be struck. Simply making money is not a good reason to build a business relationship. That is the old way of thinking and conducting business. Clearly, our world needs a new way of relationship building and a new business model.

I have been approached by big and small businesses to wholesale. Those who ask me do not understand how much time and detail goes into what I create and are just tickled and excited about my soap creations.  That’s cool, they don’t have to understand in the beginning.  It is my job to explain what I do and keep a level head for both of us. With that said, I am no one’s employee. Treat me as if I am an employee (typical condescending disrespect) and I will balk.

I work 8-12 hours a day, spend most waking moment studying and applying myself and work for myself to avoid this type of treatment. I treat myself with respect, honor and dignity. You don’t have to, but I will also know that too.

Ask me in a short email “do you wholesale?”  I will reply with as much effort. “No.”

Ask me to wholesale and after much effort in negotiations, deliberations and many emails and if you don’t keep your phone appointment three times. I will refuses you. Quite simply, our business models don’t align. I’ve seen this many times, and have learned. When it comes time to pay me for my efforts, if you cannot respect my time in the beginning you won’t respect my time later.

Just because you can get something cheaper doesn’t mean you should. Just because everyone else is doing something one way means its the best or ideal way to do a thing.

I learned a great lesson early on. If someone tells you through words or actions not to trust them, believe them. I do not doubt or argue their truth because it will result in more of what they are offering. (This applies to dating, marriage and all forms of relationships, in my opinion).

In conclusion, I focus on everything – everything in my awareness. I strive to not over look or dismiss any detail. After all, what else is there in life, but the details?

With this new lesson truly learned if I get stuck on a detail I pick up my needle, move it to a new place on the record and keep listening to the music.

The devil is most certainly in the details. 😉


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Read about Soap Dough, Alchemical Soap Making and Soap Dough/Bar Recipes.


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How to create Soda Ash

Soda Ash

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

Why know HOW to create soda ash? If you know how it happens, then you’ll see the steps required to avoid it.

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. (I live in the desert so use a standard of 33% water with this soap calculator.)
  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. Use plastic wrap and seal the air away from the active soap.
  4. Allow 2-3 days to let the soap go through the full saponification process (generally less, but its a good rule of thumb.) 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, however, if you have glitter or a complex high top this become a little daunting.

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 of applying heat to this already exothermic reaction of saponification.

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.

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Beating Soda Ash with Marcus Aurelius

Sorcery Saop Dragon Silk

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” ~  Marcus Aurelius


I saw an interview of Ryan Holiday a writer and philosopher (in my opinion) of stoicism.  I heard this quote and it stayed with me.

This Marcus Aurelius quote was attractive to me immediately, but I didn’t understand it on the face. So, I wrote it down and put the sticky on my monitor. I saw this quote for months on my desk. Even though I didn’t understand it, I trusted my attraction to it.

I can’t say I fully understand it now, but parts of this Aurelius quote have begun to reveal its meaning to me.

I struggle with soda ash regarding soap piping. I love how piped soap looks and want to get better, but each time I do pipe soap I have soda ash. (For those who don’t make soap, this is the chalky white film on top of cold process soap. It is not harmful, but I don’t like it.)

I have discounted my water, used sodium lactate, sprayed heavily with 91% alcohol, changed my soap recipe and covered with plastic wrap. All ended up with soda ash. So I haven’t moved forward with my piping practice. (I have not tried beeswax in my recipe yet, so I haven’t tired everything.)

I didn’t stop trying, I just chose another way. I have a goal, to make unique soaps that open a creative moment of wonder. I love that feeling, when I see something new I hadn’t thought of before and I have to adjust my view of the world. When art of any kind can do that, I’m pleased.

My answer to all this is to make molding soap. For some reason having this type of soap doesn’t ash. I have not had soda ash one time from molding soap. I don’t do much to it: I spray it with alcohol to encourage drying, but I don’t cover it or nurse it like I have to with piped soap.

I would love to pipe soap. Until then, what I understood about the Marcus Aurelius quote is I had to examine my path much harder to get past the impediment. I wanted so much (and still do) to make what I envision. I ask, “what’s stopping me?” Soda ash.

How can I move past it, to keep my creativity flowing?

I found another way, on the same path, to move past this soda ash impediment.

I trust a bomb-proof way to pipe soap without ash will reveal itself to me, until then I will continue to hand mold soap and keep my creativity flowing.