10 Simple Tips & Tricks for Smoothly Swirling Hot Process Soap
The most common misconception I hear about hot process soap is that they are "rustic" - I am pretty sure that means plain, simple and a little boring!
While I appreciate the elegance of single colored soaps, it is mighty fun to make cool & beautiful designs in most of my soaps! And, you can, without a doubt, make gorgeous hot process soap with beautiful swirls!
Tips & Tricks for Swirling Hot Process Soap, (Like This One!)
Tips for Successfully Swirling Hot Process Soap
Here are a few of the tips and tricks I have picked up along the way, mostly from other soapers who were very generous sharing what they have learned with others:
Managing your heat is probably the most important rule if you want to keep your fluid soap "swirlable"!
It makes sense: if you take hot soap and mix something cold into the batter or pour the soap into a cold bowl, the temperature of the soap will drop dramatically, and the soap will harden up which will make swirling very difficult.
So, everything that touches the soap once it is cooked must be warm. This includes the mixing bowls, mold, post-cook additives, colorants and fragrance. Some soapers use a water bath to heat those items, however, I put all of my soapy tools and extra additives in the oven.
Sharon Johnson, a very skilled hot process soaper who regularly shares great tips, recommends using these small crockpots to keep your soap warm. I often will put everything I plan on using for my hot process soap post-cook into the oven at 170° F (76° C), which includes my mixing containers, silicone spatulas, post cook additives and mold.
Add Liquid After the Cook
I hold back about 20% of my water and add it after my hot process soap has cooked. I actually don't add water either, I prefer to add goat milk! I also make wine and beer soaps and add those liquids after the cook too (more on that in a future post).
I heat my liquid along with everything else that needs to be warmed. Part of the science (or art) of hot process soapmaking is finding the balance of using enough water for fluidity, but not too much liquid that your soaps warp from the water evaporating.
[bctt tweet="Balancing how much water to use when swirling hot process soap is part of the art and science!" username="modernsoapmakin"]
I like to make my hot process soaps with water as 35% of my oils, but many soapers use more or less with great results! If I had 100 g of oils, I would use a total of 35 g of water. (That's roughly a 27% lye solution, or a 2.6 to 1 water to lye ratio. Full water is routinely accepted as a 25% to 28% lye solution.)
Mix Your Colorants with HOT Water
This is actually something I changed recently after reading a recent post from Sharon Johnson. (She is a wealth of hot process soaping knowledge and I highly recommend joining her Facebook group because the info sharing is off the charts.)
I used to mix my micas with oil, however, you will get a substantially more fluid batter with hot water and the micas (and titanium dioxide) dissolve more easily in water. (If they are water soluble! Some titanium dioxide and colorants are not water soluble).
This may be a change for cold process soapers who mix their colorants with oils to avoid glycerin rivers from using too much water. (As an aside, you can get glycerin rivers in hot process soaps, too! If you add your colorants when a hot process soap is too hot, you can be at risk for glycerin rivers, which is another reason to add post cook additives after the soap has cooled to 180° F/82° C.)
Use a Tool Specifically Made for Swirling
There are a lot of options here!
You can use a gear tie which is great because it is inexpensive and can be bent to fit any size mold. However, if you bend and rebend it a lot, it won't keep its shape after a while.
I ADORE this swirl tool from Brambleberry. Again, it can be made to fit any mold but it holds up much longer than the gear tie (however, I do not rebend mine and it has held up for hundreds of batches so far).
[bctt tweet="In a pinch, you can use a steel wire/wire hanger with a straw over it as a soapy swirling tool." username="modernsoapmakin"]
You could also make your own from a thick steel wire if you have a way to bend it. I don't recommend a wire hanger because it is not thick enough, however, you can wrap tape around a metal hangar a few times, if you are in a pinch. (Or thread a straw over it!)
Have a Swirling Plan for Your Hot Process Soap
There are a lot of different ways to swirl your soap! You can move the tool up and down, left to right, in concentric circles or a combination of movements. Whatever it is you decide to do, plan it ahead of time!
When I have a plan for swirling hot process soap, I find I am usually happier with the final design! Besides, having a plan is always a good practice.
Be Prepared to Work Quickly
With cold process soapmaking, sometimes, you have to work quickly because the soap traces quickly on you and that's usually a huge surprise! Hot process soapmaking is great because there isn't any rushing due to trace, however, there is rushing to prevent the soap from cooling too much!
[bctt tweet="To be prepared is half the victory. — Miguel de Cervantes" username="modernsoapmakin"]
Make sure to have everything you need measured, on hand, and ready to go. Once the soap is cooked and ready to put into the mold, you don't want to risk letting it cool while you look around for your swirling tool. Once the soap is done, you want to get it split up and color/scent it as quickly as you can safely work. Being prepared in advance will make it a cakewalk!
Add in Some Yogurt
I am not exactly sure what is in yogurt that does the trick, but adding one (U.S.) tablespoon per pound of oils works magic! Adding yogurt to cooked hot process soap transforms thickish goopy soap into a wonderfully pourable liquid.
I also add sodium lactate to my water before adding the lye, and while that is helpful with making the bars harder, rumor has it that it also helps with fluidity. The yogurt is my secret weapon though! I made a soap last week and left out the yogurt, and the lack of fluidity was remarkable.
Choose Colors That Contrast
This is not a rule, but definitely a tip! When using multiple colors in a swirled design, whether it hot process or cold process, you'll find a much more striking design when you cut the soap if you use contrasting colors.
I love to use dark and light colors poured in succession for a dramatic effect.
Gently Burp Your Swirled Hot Process Soap in the Mold
After your soap is in the mold (or you can do this a few times while adding soap to the mold), gently tap the soap mold on the counter. This will help release any air pockets in the soap and smooth it out.
Do not slam the mold onto the counter, or you will get hot soap all over yourself and your work surface! Safety first!
Freeze Your Hot Process Soap
One of the many benefits to hot process soaping is the quick turnaround time. (Yes, even for production soapmaking, hot process gets it done fast!) You can make a soap at 1 pm, have it out of the mold and cut by 5 pm, which means your soap mold is available for another batch of beautiful swirly hot process soap!
Some soapers believe that putting your soap in the freezer actually makes the bars of soap harder than if they were just left to cool at room temperature. I have not personally validated that theory, however, I always put my soaps in the freezer and will continue to do so as long as my molds fit into the freezer!
Using These Tips for Swirling Hot Process Soap
This list is not meant to be a non-negotiable set of rules! These are just things that I do when swirling my hot process soap that I feel helps me create beautiful designs without the rustic feel of traditional hot process soap. Of course, you can still make wonderful soaps, even if you don't follow everything this list!
One thing I strongly suggest though is to come up with your own style for your soaps and create a look and design that will make your soaps distinctly yours!
In the video below, I use a lot of these tips & tricks for swirling hot process soap with a demonstration of making a batch of my hot process soap
And here's the results of the swirling hot process soap magic:
The Results of Swirling Hot Process Soap With These Tips & Tricks!
If you're new to hot process soapmaking, check out my tips and tricks for hot process soapmaking in a crockpot and then give swirling a try! Do you have any other tips & tricks for making swirly hot process soaps successfully? Share it up in the comments below!
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