Troubleshooting Soap Making Problems Recipes Formulas Batches


Soap won’t trace or is tracing much too slow. Not enough lye, too much water, wrong temperatures, did not stir enough or too slow. A high percentage of unsaturated fats in the base oils can also cause a slow trace. Double check water, oil and lye measurements. If amounts and temperatures are found to be correct, continue stirring up to 3 hours or until the solution traces. If possible, switch over to a stick blender which will greatly speed up tracing. Keep in mind that you do not need to stir constantly for the full 3 hours. Stir 5 minutes and then wait 15 and repeat. After 3 hours stirring or 30 minutes blending, if it shows no signs of thickening, pour into molds regardless of trace and let sit for 24 hours. If the mixture still does not harden, discard it.
Mixture curdles while stirring Oil and/or lye poured into mixing bowl at too high temperature. Sporadic or slow stirring. Switch over to a stick blender which will smooth out mixture. After it has homogenized, pour into molds. You can also just continue stirring and pour the mixture into the molds and then check for irregularities in the soap bars. If there are irregularities discard the bars.  Blending is the best option as it will prevent lye pockets.
Mixture sets up too quickly in pan. Traces too quickly. Assuming the proper amount of lye was used then the Oil and Lye/water temperatures were probably too high or low. Or, the fats and oils are reacting to a synthetic fragrance or other additive. The percentage of saturated fats was excessive. Double check your lye calculations.  Pour the mix into the molds as quickly as possible. Smooth out with a spatula. Everything should be fine other than aesthetic problems.  This is assuming that the proper amount of lye was used.  When the bars are done you can do a ph test to make sure the soap is ok.
Mixture has a slightly grainy look. Oils and lye solution either too hot or too cold. Sporadic stirring process. Switch to a stick blender or continue stirring until trace and pour into molds. This should be an aesthetic problem only.
As soap cures and cools in the mold, a layer of oil rises to the top. Too much oil in formula or not enough lye. Incorrect measuring. Pour off the excess oil.  Reheat and blend the soap and then pour it back into molds.  If results are unsatisfactory you can rebatch the soap.
When cutting up soap after removing it from the mold or while cutting it there is a clear liquid present. Too much lye in formula. Insufficient stirring. You can try and cut up the soap with gloves on and wash away the excess lye however it would be safer to discard the bars and start again. You can rebatch but make sure to test the finished product for ph levels before using the soap.
Soft and Spongy Soap Insufficient lye or too much unsaturated fat in formula or too much water Try curing the bars for a couple weeks longer. If they remain soft discard them.  Olive oil formulas can sometimes be soft like this.
Hard and Brittle Soap Too much lye in the formula. Discard the Bars. Too much lye can irritate or burn skin.
Soap smells rotten or rancid. Too much fat or too little lye in recipe. Discard soap.  Rebatching rancid soap is not a good idea.
Air Bubbles in the bars of Soap. Stirred too long or whipped the mix while stirring Using a stick blender or regular blender can whip air into the mix.. It is not really a problem. Only aesthetic in some cases.
Pockets of lye in soap in powdered or liquid form Insufficient stirring or too much lye in the recipe. No solution other than discarding.  Consider using a stick blender to avoid under mixing. Also make sure to double check lye calculation.
Mottled or irregular looking soap with a freckled or speckled look. Uneven stirring or substantial changes in temperature during curing. Aesthetic problem only. Try using a stick blender.
Soap separates in the mold with a greasy layer of oil on top of a hard soap. Insufficient stirring and/or not enough lye.  Or mixture poured into molds too soon. Discard.  Or pour off oil and rebatch.  Just test final bars for ph to be safe.
Lots of white powder appearing on top of soap during curing process Hard water used and/or lye did not properly dissolve in water Discard batch to be safe.  You can try rebatching but make sure to test final bars for safe ph level.
Small amount of white powder on top of soap Reaction with air creating an excess buildup of sodium carbonate Aesthetic problem only.  You can scrape the tops of the bars to remove the powder.
Soap is Warped Problem in the curing and drying process.  Soap may have cooled to quickly. Not really a problem with the soap. Try shaving the bars smooth with a vegetable peeler or carve the bars into shapes or cut into shavings for rebatching.
Various cosmetic problems such as, cracks, warped soap, mottled look, unwanted colors, etc.. Assorted causes, temperature changes, bad molds, poor recipe. etc These bars should still be good as soap. Rebatching is always a good option for these bars.

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Steven Cole

Steven Cole - Author of Soap Formula Site. (Economics, MBA) - Developer of Soap Saponification Formula Software.  22 years experience in business.