The challenge of being a new soap maker is you don’t know what you don’t know. This means making mistakes, and mistakes can lead to:
- Bad batches
- Wasted ingredients
- Unsafe practices that leave you at risk of lye burns
Trust me, friend, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and atrociously bad soap, in my time.
Soap that was drying and didn’t lather worth a darn.
Bars that looked like they were full of bugs (really dried heather flowers that turned brown in the soap. But it certainly gave me a heart attack in the shower!)
Goat milk soap that burnt and curdled during processing and left me with the stinkiest bars this side of the Rockies.
And all of my beginning batches were a weird, swampy grey color.
It took me many years of experimenting and practice until I could make soap that was gentle, moisturizing, with fluffy, creamy lather—and beautiful too.
As your soap making mentor (I appointed myself, was that too cheeky?) I want to help you become a successful soap maker right off the bat. Start by avoiding these common soap making mistakes.
Mistake 1: Not Wearing Protective Equipment
In my novice soap making years, I routinely made soap without protective gloves and goggles. Yes, I was a wild woman.
Seriously, though, that was just plain dumb. One errant splash of lye water and I could kiss my eyesight goodbye.
Lye granules, lye solution, and soap batter are caustic, and can cause chemical burns to your skin and eyes. No need to be scared of lye, but do be respectful.
The fix: Protect yourself by wearing goggles and gloves the entire time you’re soap making, from start until after clean up.
Mistake 2: Measuring By Volume Rather Than Weight
The soap recipe calls for 8 ounces of coconut oil, so you grab a measuring cup and measure to the 8 ounce mark.
Hang on, my soapy friend! You’ve just mis-measured your ingredient.
All soap recipes are formulated by weight and not by volume (measuring cups). Ounces by weight and fluid ounces are NOT the same.
Because soap recipes are formulated to a very specific lye/oil ratio, you must measure ingredients precisely by weight.
The fix: Get a digital scale (you don’t need anything fancy) and weigh out all ingredients for proper measurements.
Mistake 3: Making Substitutions
You don’t have the palm oil that the recipe calls for, but you do have a tub full of coconut oil. So, you make the swap and go soaping on your merry way.
Soap recipes are formulated with a specific amount of lye per individual oil. You can’t substitute one oil for another without throwing the entire recipe out of whack.
This is because each oil has its own saponification value, or amount of lye needed to turn that oil into soap. Making substitutions requires recalculating the amount of lye for the entire recipe. Otherwise you run the risk of having the wrong amount of lye in your batch.
Too little lye and your batch will never turn into soap. Too much lye and you’ll have lye in your finished soap bar.
The fix: I suggest brand new soap makers NOT swap oils until you’ve learned about saponification values and how to properly calculate lye.
If you absolutely must make a substitution, run the entire recipe through a lye calculator to recalculate the amount of lye needed for the substitution (Bramble Berry has an easy-to-use lye calculator) or get advice from an experienced soap maker.
Mistake 4: Assuming Every Online Recipe Is Good (Or Safe)
There are plenty of soap recipes online that are fabulous, and make wonderful finished soap. The caveat here is you’re trusting these recipes are correctly formulated with the proper amount of lye, and not leave you with lye-heavy finished soap.
Where an experienced soap maker can look at a recipe and say “Wow, that’s A LOT of lye for this size batch. It looks like the writer made a typo with the decimal point…”
As a beginner you have no frame of reference. So you’ll use the typo-ridden recipe, end up with a failed, lye-heavy batch and wonder where you went wrong.
The fix: Use recipes from trusted soap making sources (like the easy 2-oil cold process soap recipe on my site.)
Mistake 5: Letting The Fear of Lye Stop You From Making Soap
The fear is real, friend! It’s the #1 thing that stops would-be soap makers from crafting that first batch. (I was terrified of using lye my first time too.)
Lye is unfamiliar, and the warnings hair-raising. But with the right safety precautions, you can use lye quite safely.
The fix: Use goggles and gloves while soaping and follow lye handling safety guidelines. If possible, get support from an experienced soap maker to walk you through your first batch.