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The Best Ways to Control Trace When You Make Cold Process Soap

Every time I work with soapmakers, I find that a large number of them allow the soapmaking process to control them rather than taking control of the process themselves. This usually manifests in being afraid of trying new design techniques or creating intricate and complex formulas. Getting comfortable with the soapmaking process and understanding how each part of the process works helps a soapmaker take control and relax!

Best ways to control trace in cold process soap

One part of the process that seems to hugely affect soapmakers and their confidence is trace in cold process soapmaking. Trace is often dubbed the “point of no return,” and is usually taught as a necessary part of the process. While trace in cold process soapmaking is not reversible, it is not necessary for saponification to complete!

What is Trace in Soapmaking, Anyways?

When mixing the oils and the lye solution together, many soapmakers are taught to continue mixing their soap until they reach trace, which is when the raw soap begins to thicken. There are various stages of trace, and each is defined by how thick the soap batter is.

What’s actually the important part is that the oils and lye solution are emulsified, evenly mixed, and distributed in the raw soap mixture. Emulsification occurs right before trace in cold process soapmaking. You can identify emulsification by checking that there is not any streaks of oil left in the raw soap mixture (and it has not yet begun to thicken.)

Emulsification in cold process soapmaking: All the traces of oils are gone, but it is still thin and liquidy.
Emulsification in cold process soapmaking: All the traces of oils are gone, but it is still thin and liquidy.

You’ll notice in many of my tutorials, the instructions call for mixing your to emulsification before starting the process of adding colorants or other additives. One reason to stop at emulsification rather than trace when you make cold process soap is because it allows more time to incorporate colorants and additives. You can always stick blend the soap more to reach light, medium, or thick trace. However, you can never undo the amount of mixing and thickness of a soap at trace!

A very thin trace in cold process soapmaking, the soap sinks back into the mix quickly.
A very thin trace in cold process soapmaking, the soap sinks back into the mix quickly.

Light trace is when there is no streaks of oil left in the raw soap mixture, and when the soap is the consistency of a thin cake batter, a barely thickened mixture. If you dip a spatula in lightly traced soap and trail it over the surface of the soap, it will sit on top of the surface of the soap for a second and then sink back into the mixture. Thin trace in cold process soapmaking is typically ideal for any type of swirling, especially if you want to create thin wispy swirls.

A thin to medium trace in cold process soapmaking: The soap sits on top of the surface and does not sink back in (this particular photo shows it slightly sinking in!)
A thin to medium trace in cold process soapmaking: The soap sits on top of the surface and does not sink back in (this particular photo shows it slightly sinking in!)

If you contine mixing past light trace when you make cold process soap, you’ll reach medium trace. The consistency of medium trace is similar to thicker cake batter, and is moderately thick. When you dip a spatula in medium traced soap and trail it over the surface, it will sit on top of the surface of the soap and not sink back in. Medium trace in cold process soapmaking is a great time for a lot of design techniques where a thicker swirl or more structural support is necessary, as well as adding chunkier additives like herbs or embeds of soap.

A medium to thick trace in cold process soapmaking: The soap sits on top of the surface and does not sink back in, it doesn't quite hold its shape yet, though.
A medium to thick trace in cold process soapmaking: The soap sits on top of the surface and does not sink back in, it doesn’t quite hold its shape yet, though.

Thick trace in cold process soap is usually when soapmakers start to panic, but it’s one of my favorite consistencies to work with! Thick trace is more like a pudding or custard in consistency, and is difficult to pour. The soap holds its shape when manipulated. Thick trace is the perfect stage to create layers of soap that support one another, as well as creating texture on the top of a batch of soap. Rather than trying to pour thick traced soap, it’s better to scoop it with a spatula.

Thick trace in cold process soapmaking: the soap holds its shape and has a very thick consistency, but is still workable!
Thick trace in cold process soapmaking: the soap holds its shape and has a very thick consistency, but is still workable!

Taking Control of Trace in Cold Process Soapmaking

When you want to create intricately designed soaps, use a lot of additives, or apply complex techniques to your soapmaking, it’s important to understand that there are huge variety of factors that affect how quickly a soap recipe thickens or traces. Here are the most common factors you’ll encounter:

  • The base oils in the formula itself
  • The temperature of soapmaking
  • The temperature of the room
  • The speed and amount of mixing
  • The amount of water in the recipe
  • The presence of catalysts

Controlling each factor will help you control how quickly the soap moves and sets up, giving you more time to create the cold process soap designs and formulas that you want. You can control each factor independently, or counteract a problem with one factor by controlling another. For example, if you need to soap at a higher temperature to incorporate beeswax, you can reduce your amount of mixing, increase the water amount, and avoid using catalysts.

How Base Oil Choices (& Their Fatty Acids) Relate to Trace in Cold Process Soapmaking

The oils in your formula will largely dictate how the soap formula performs during the soapmaking process. For some reason, fatty acid profiles are not commonly taught in beginner soapmaking books and classes. I think this is a huge misstep! Understanding the fatty acids in your soap formula’s base oils can go a long way for formulating and controlling recipes, as well as the process of soapmaking itself.

Fatty Acid Hardness Accelerates Softness Slows Trace
Lauric X X    
Myristic X X    
Palmitic X X    
Stearic X X    
Oleic     X X
Linoleic     X X
Linolenic     X X
Ricinoleic   X X  

As a general rule: Solid oils (that are hard at room temperature) tend to be high in saturated fatty acids (lauric, myristic, palmitic, stearic). Saturated fatty acids contribute to bar hardness and faster moving trace. Soft oils (that are liquid at room temperature) tend to be high in unsaturated fatty acids (oleic, linoleic, and linolenic). Unsaturated fatty acids make the soap softer and slow down trace in cold process soapmaking.

An example of an oil that doesn’t follow this profile is Castor Oil, which is high in ricinoleic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid – it can accelerate trace when used in high amounts and can make a soap rubbery rather than hard or soft.

There is an easy way to determine how quickly a cold process soap formula will trace when looking at the fatty acid profile, and that’s simply to plug your recipe into Soap Calc or Soapmaker 3You can either look at the total of the saturated vs. unsaturated, or add them together yourself. (Saturated= Lauric, Myristic, Palmitic, + Stearic. Unsaturated = Oleic, Linoleic, Linolenic + Ricinoleic.)

Finding your fatty acid profiles of your cold process soap formula in SoapCalc and Soapmaker 3
Finding your fatty acid profiles of your cold process soap formula in SoapCalc and Soapmaker 3

The higher the percentage of unsaturated fats vs. saturated fats in any cold process soap formula there are, the slower it will trace. For example, 100% olive oil soap is the slowest dang thing ever. Its fatty acid profile is 17% saturated fats and 83% unsaturated fats.

Most formulas fall around 30% to 45% saturated fatty acids. If the saturated fatty acids are higher than 50%, then you know to expect faster trace times (and even faster trace the higher the saturated fatty acids are.)

If you are using a recipe that is higher in saturated fatty acids, you may want to exercise caution with other factors (like water discounts, temperatures, mixing, and catalysts.)

Another common factor in oils that you may be unaware of when it comes to base oils is adulteration. I always recommend purchasing soapmaking oils from reputable suppliers, as many grocery store oils are adulterated. This may mean that they contain other oils (blended) or other additives, which makes them unsuitable for soapmaking.

How Your Temperatures Controls Trace in Cold Process Soapmaking

The temperatures in both the soapmaking ingredients and the room temperature in which you are making soap can affect how quickly a soap traces. The higher the temperatures, the faster the trace times. Ideally, your temperatures should be below 110 degrees F for best results.

This lye solution was made days in advance and has settled to "room temperature." Absolutely no heating is required!
This lye solution was made days in advance and has settled to “room temperature.” Absolutely no heating is required!

Your temperatures of your lye solution and oils do not need to be within 10 degrees of each other. The only issue you may encounter is false trace or uneven saponification, and that usually occurs when your oils are lower than their melting point during saponification.

Using an infared thermometer to monitor the temperature is recommended: no dirty thermometers to clean!
Using an infared thermometer to monitor the temperature is recommended: no dirty thermometers to clean!

If you get too low on your temperatures (below 85 degrees F), you may encounter false trace in cold process soapmaking . This isn’t really trace at all, even though it looks like it’s’ grainy cousin.

False trace is caused by the saturated fatty acids solidifying and cooling before saponification begins. As the soap heats up (remember, saponification creates heat!), the saturated fatty acids will loosen back up and melt. If you have already poured your soap into your mold, this will result in lye pockets and uneven saponification as the saturated fatty acids haven’t been able to join in the mix properly.

If you encounter false trace, do not pour your soap into the mold! Keep stirring with a whisk or pulse your stickblender – the action of mixing will help create friction and heat, getting everything evenly distributed again!

How The Speed & Amount of Mixing Affects Trace in Soapmaking

When it comes to the amount and speed of mixing, I’m pretty infamously known for telling soapmakers to put down their stick blenders, and have been known to advise soapmakers who have never hand-stirred a batch to give it a go. The reason for this is because most modern soap makers have become dependent on this little power tool and are usually using it too much. If you’ve ever watched one of my videos, you’ll see me stick blend for minimal amounts of time – anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute. That’s it. 😉

(Don’t get me wrong, I love my favorite stick blender. I just use it in moderation!)

Pulsing your stickblender to reach an emulsification is ideal for any design! This soap is not quite emulsified, as there are still ribbons of oil in the mixture.
Pulsing your stickblender to reach an emulsification is ideal for any design! This soap is not quite emulsified, as there are still ribbons of oil in the mixture.

When you are aiming for intricate designs, I recommend using short bursts with your stickblender to initially mix your lye solution and oils together, and then switch to using a whisk. If you know you are going to deal with some heavy contenders for accelerated trace (higher temperatures, lower water discount, etc.), use a whisk from the get go. No one says you have to use a stick blender or any other power tool to mix soap! Besides, you can always mix your raw soap mixture more, you can’t un-mix!

How Your Water Amount Influences Trace in Cold Process Soapmaking

The amount of water in a formula also affects how quickly soap traces. The higher the water discount, the faster it will trace in cold process soapmaking. If you are aiming for intricate designs, you will likely want to use a 25% to 33% lye solution to give yourself the maximum amount of time.

One thing to keep in mind is that the higher the water discount, the shorter the temperature phase during saponification will be, which often results in partial gel. If you are keeping your temperatures low and use a higher water discount, you will likely need to force gel by using a heating pad or insulating the soap well (if you want to gel.)

How Catalysts React In Cold Process Soapmaking

Catalysts are a wide variety of additives that can be added in soapmaking that can increase how quickly the soap traces. They include (but are not limited to!):

  • Some fragrances and essential oils (usually those with spicy, floral, or ozone notes)
  • Some water replacement liquids (usually those containing alcohol or sugars)
  • Some colorants [These vary far and wide, but the most common that I have had issues with are clays, orange/pink/red colorants of all types, most pigments (oxides and ultramarines), and select FD&C dyes]

Mixing your fragrance into your soaping oils before adding your lye solution will help dilute the fragrance and give you more control. Fragrances with mint, citrus, and bakery scents usually move slowly. Remember, this is just a guideline – not all florals will accelerate, and not all mints will behave!

If you use a water replacement liquid with alcohol or sugar, you may want to use lower temperatures and skip the water discount to give you the most working time.

And there you have it – all the factors you need to look at when controlling trace in cold process soapmaking!

When you take the reins of the soapmaking process and stop letting it dominate you, you’ll have much more confidence which leads to success in creating intricate designs, beautiful swirls, and complex cold process soap formulas. Since each recipe is different, you can now apply what you need to your formula when you need it!

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82 Responses

  1. Hi! I’m very new to soapmaking and love your blog! One of the things that attracts me to this craft is the ability to be creative and the need to truly understand the underlying scientific process. This post is perfect for me! It gives me some of the scientific background that will allow me to control my outcome. Thanks!

  2. Is their any best composition to make soap without oil with stearic acid,lauric,palmic with surfactants like sodium laurath sulphate.

    I want to do with out oil.

    1. Soap, by very definition, is created by a chemical reaction between fatty acids and an alkali. Detergents are made with surfactants, or a mix of detergents and saponified fatty acids.

  3. Thank you for this excellent tutorial! I am typically an HP-er, but need to CP for a challenge I entered. This brush up was just what I needed, as the challenge calls for a slow moving batter for the design.
    Thanks again!!!

    1. You’re welcome, Ashlee! 🙂 Feel free to print it out! If you use the print buttons on the post itself, in the social media sharing section, it will keep the formatting and give you a few options. 😉

      1. I love your lecture ,I find it hard to get the measurement of my ingredients ,can I operate with litres.
        if so how many litres of oil is best to saponify 15litres of lye solution.

        1. Ebenezer,
          No, you cannot use liters. Liters are a measure of volume and all of your ingredients need to be weighed for accuracy. Also, lye solution comes in a variety of strengths and different oils have different SAP values, so I cannot say how much lye solution it would take to saponify a certain amount of oil. For safety and accuracy, you will need to use a scale and a lye calculator (or learn to figure SAP values manually).

  4. Thank you so much for this, Kenna. I look at my fatty acid profiles often, but as individual components. I like your discussion of using the ratio of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids. I have never looked at it this way. I’ll be putting some of my recipes back into soapcalc to take a look.

    1. You’re welcome, Leanna! I formulate entirely by fatty acids and their ratios, so it is part of the recipe creation process for me. Once you get in the habit of looking at those numbers, you’ll be able to predict how a soap will perform both in the process of making and in the process of using! 🙂

  5. I thought I know everything about water in Cp soaps, somehow I am forcing my SM3 to go on more water, it is not right:)
    I thought more water slower trace.
    Excuse me my English, it is my second language, You blog is a jewel. Thank you

  6. Thanks Kenna. This article was very informative. I’ve encountered a few quickie traces which required me to redirect my soap design. Ironically most have turned out to be rather interesting keepers although not sure I will be able to duplicate. I honestly think that is what I like about CP soaps. They are the most beautiful but challenging.

    1. OMG I AM SO HAPPY I FOUND THIS!! I have made soap a few times and now making some more have everything ready but was getting super nervous about it until I read this! Thank u so much for explaining everything I was worried about!!

  7. I hope you don’t mind if I link this tutorial for every new soaper I encounter. It is so very well explained that I know I will be copy/pasting the link quite often. Excellent, awesome tutorial!

  8. Thank you Kenna for your article, it has very nice information gathered upon trace with very beautiful pictures.

    As it concerns the “Sat : Unsat Ratio” in every recipe that soapcalc is giving us on the top-right of its view recipe page, I would like to share with you, in case you haven’t read it before, Roberto Akira’s table that shows which lye concentration will work more efficiently when we know the specific Sat | Unsat ratio.

    http://www.japudo.com.br/en/2013/05/14/the-importance-of-lye-concentration/

    So we can adjust the water amount in our recipe (lye concentration) to have the desired results.

    1. Thanks, Nikos! I had never seen Roberto’s blog. As a general rule, this is a good resource for beginners.

      Although I disagree with the example of 100% coconut oil, as I find it’s easier to handle this formula with a higher temperature (to avoid false trace) and use a higher lye concentration (higher water discount) to prevent overheating. A lower availability of water in the solution will help to reduce the overall temperature of saponification. (Unless I am misunderstanding his writing on it due to the translation…)

      I haven’t encountered a formula that couldn’t successfully be completed with a 40% lye solution, which I generally soap with outside of recipes/tutorials for Modern Soapmaking. Plus, it has the benefits of lower heat for larger batches and faster curing periods. However, it does take a lot of control and experience to handle a higher lye concentration like that.

      That being said, it definitely is a great way to break it down for newer soapmakers.

      1. Hello Kenna,

        Coconut oil (76deg) doesn’t need high initial temperature to work with as it has a melting point of 76­°F (25°C) so you can combine it with soda at a temperature of 83-86°F (28-30°C) without worrying about false trace.

        For 100% coconut oil soap (I haven’t made it yet) Roberto is advising to use more water than normal (30-28% Lye Concentration) in the recipe so as 1) not to create a lot of exothermic heat (that less water will create), and also 2) more water will not accelerate trace that the saturated fatty acids are prone to.

        According to Kevin Dunn’s report (from page number 32 and further) http://cavemanchemistry.com/HsmgTemperature2009.pdf
        it shows that combining lye & oils with full water at a starting temperature of 104°F (40°C) does not actually rises the soap’s temperature very much maybe a few F°/°C units, in contrast with low water recipe that raises soap’s temperature around 68°F (20°C).

        Pages 34-36 also shows that the neat (gel phase) is occurring at around 194°F (90°C) with low water, at 158°F (70°C) with medium water and at 140°F (60°C) with full water.

        From your writing I assume that you think that if the soap gels then it has reached very high temperatures, but this is not true, as gel is occurring at different temperatures influenced by the different amount of water.

        Nikos

        1. Yes, gel ranges in temperature completely, and is strongly contributed to by water discounts. Kevin Dunn covers this is in much more depth in Scientific Soapmaking, which is my #1 recommended soapmaking book. 🙂 We’re essentially saying the same thing, but the variances are in preferences of management and soapmaking style.

          Soaps with a lower water discount (more water) enter gel phase at a lower temperature than higher water discount (less water) soaps, but they stay in the gel phase longer and take longer to cool down. To prevent prolonged heating , using a reduced water amount (higher lye concentration) ensures that gel phase happens quicker and lasts a shorter amount of time, reducing the period of time that heat is building up in the soap mass itself. Prolonged heat is a strong contributor to cracking, volcanos, and the like, as the heat can’t escape and is continually building.

          Since coconut oil is high in saturated fatty acids, and will heat up a lot on its own, preventing that prolonged heat helps to reduce overheating. IMO, it’s much easier to micro-manage a batch of soap’s temperature with ambient room temperature, air circulation, and the like for a short burst of time sooner, rather than hours into saponification.

          I should have been more specific about temperatures (heat vs. prolonged heat) and lye concentrations. I normally soap at a 75 to 80° F range, so when I make 100% coconut oil soaps, I do need to raise my temperatures to prevent false trace. I usually soap that particular formula at 100° to 120° F oils + room temperature lye solution – which drops the temp a few degrees initially. (Also, I often have 92° Coconut rather than 76°, yet another differing variable.) Also, I tend to use silicone freestanding molds, which are horrible insulators. I would never use a wood mold to accomplish the same processes as the wood would insulate the soap far too much, and that hot but short gel phase wouldn’t stay put in wood.

          I don’t find that it traces too quickly when using a higher water discount and temperature, despite having a heavy saturated fatty acid profile. The high (20% ish) superfat helps a bit there as a buffer. (I did a tutorial for Soap Queen a few years ago, using such a formula with a mantra swirl & embeds, for instance.)

          As long as a soapmaker has the tools and basic understanding of the chemistry behind it, they are able to make those choices to suit their ingredient choices, molds, climate, style, etc. That’s the beauty of it for me!

          1. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge. I’m learning and filling my knowledge gaps I have upon soapmaking.

            I’ll take notes as it concerns the buffering thing of big superfat and the prolonged heat phenomenon that happens with more water, which solves the puzzle to the streaking and mottling issues (aka glycerine rivers) that shows up along with colorants when the soap slowly cools.

          2. Hello once again Kenna

            After reading a page of Kevin’s Dunn book and your opinion:

            ” Prolonged heat is a strong contributor to cracking, volcanos, and the like, as the heat can’t escape and is continually building. ”

            I just wanted to say that I think that the total amount of heat that will be created by the saponification will be the same whether we use high or low concentration. And this is because the same amount of soda will react with the same amount of oils while everything else are the same (additives, mold, ect.).

            So I guess that prolonged heating that you mentioned will be in lower temperature of the lower lye concentration and will not affect any worst the soap batter than that with the short time heating in higher temperature of higher lye concentration.

            Friendly Nikos

        2. As a side note, it’s important to remember that it’s possible to push both low and full water soaps to much higher gel temps, dependent on the fatty acid profile and additives involved in addition to water amount.

          One of my favorite things to do when I teach classes is to push soap into gel, and allow the students to crack into the soap with spoons/spatulas to see the consistency and to check temperatures. I’ve temp’ed gel phase upwards of 220° F in varying formulas, ranging from low to high lye concentrations, high sugar/alcohol additives, catalysts, etc.

          It’s not that this is normal or that gel phase is always a high temperature part of the saponification process, but that it’s possible for it to be one very easily.

  9. I would also like to add that I think there is an exception as it concerns hard oils and fast moving trace, and that is lard. Although it is an oil with saturated fatty acids profile, it seems that it does not contribute to fast trace for some reason as palm/coconut would do.

    1. Lard actually has a much lower saturated fatty acid profile than coconut or palm, so that makes sense. While it’s a “hard oil” at room temperature, I definitely wouldn’t classify it as a high sat oil. This is why I think it’s so important that soapmakers look at the oils for their fatty acid profile, rather than their state of fluidity. But, the hard vs. soft for a newer soapmaker is a good starting point. 🙂

      Thanks again, Nikos, for commenting. I really appreciate the introduction to another soapmaker’s blog that is a fab resource. 🙂

      1. Yes you are right about this, the key is to always look at the fatty acid profile. It deciphers many of the hows and whys in a recipe.

        Nikos

  10. More pearls of wisdom from Ms Kenna 🙂 I’ve just recently began playing around with water discounts, mainly to quicken cure time a bit. But the info about the fatty acid profiles in soap calc is super helpful! I will be working on my own slow to trace recipe now. So many things to be mindful (not fearful) of. And I promise to use my stick blender as little as possible – it’s so tempting to blend “just a little bit more”!

  11. Hi. Inhabe been soaping for a year plus and am still continuously learning something new about cold process soaping. Thank you for your post and will try your method to control my soap trace. 🙂

  12. I have been using the same recipe for years:
    30% palm
    25% coconut
    20% soybean
    10% rice bran
    10% sunflower
    5% avocado
    32% water with 3% superfat
    in varying batch sizes with much success. It traces quickly into a thick trace within 20-30 minutes, which I prefer to work with and always gels in a predictable, short timeline so I don’t have to hover over it.

    I just made a new recipe, substituting 10% of the soybean for 10% castor, adjusting lye, water at 35% and 3% superfat, and it DID NOT trace. After 6+ hours of periodically stirring and reheating. I tried to heat on the stove in a pan to essentially make hot process and it just was as liquidy as plain oils. It got very hot and no sign of gel or thickening. I have no idea why. I added more lye/water solution and waited another couple hours or stirring and blending. Nothing. So I just molded it and called it a night. It must have hardened overnight because they were fine to cut the next day, but a weird grainy sort of texture. I’ll have to see if they’re lye heavy after curing.

    Thinking I must have mis measured and screwed up my lye content, I tried again yesterday with only 5% castor and same thing. At 1am I finally had to give up trying to get it to trace (it’s emulsified), after 13 hours!!! I finally poured into molds where they are still, very very soft after 24 hours and are like mashed potatoes or frosting. My finger could sink right in. I make my batches in huge quantities (5000g, or around 10 lbs) so the losses were significant for two batches like this. Especially, too, the first one was supposed to be fancy facial soaps and they had organic argan and some other expensive stuff. 🙁

    Can you think what’s going on? I use Soapcalc.net and always have. I heat to the same temperature. Any thoughts will help!!

    Dawn
    Sapling & Sprout Soap Co.

    1. Hi Dawn,

      Something like this happened to me, though I don’t think the castor was the culprit, although there was 3% in the recipe (and I’ve used 10% castor in a similarly complicated mix with no problems)… anyway the result was a lot of soft soap.

      Afterwards I sat down for ages and weighed everything I’d got and redid all the calculations and worked out that even if I had wrongly measured my olive oil / castor mix (ratio-wise, that is) it shouldn’t have come out so wrong.

      Two things I became suspicious of in my process –

      1) Where I weighed the oils: on the kitchen table in a new extension. I’d assumed the floor was dead level but it wasn’t. I think more oil went into the pot than the scales registered. Now I only weigh on the kitchen counter that hasn’t moved since 1938! Also if using a battery powered scale ensure the batteries are not going flat. Check when you start, whatever your scales, that they’re operating properly with some calibrated weights (or things of a certified weight… 50g balls of yarn are handy!)

      2) The state of the caustic soda. I’d pre-measured it into small batches, storing it in plastic containers that weren’t as air-tight as I thought. This means it had probably reacted with air (oxygen) turning partly into sodium carbonate; also, water vapour would have got in, all meaning that whatever I’d weighed out, less of it was caustic soda than I’d thought – and the only way to tell how much would be a proper chemical assay.
      So now I will make sure to store my caustic in proper air-tight containers, and also, not to store a small amount in the large tub it comes in. And not to keep it too long!

      Did you make anything else with that batch of lye, and was it ok?

      Hope this helps someone.

  13. Hello, Kenna,
    Thank you for the very useful article! Can you please clarify one thing, I just want to make sure I got it right: by changing the way we use the lye solution (e.g. bringing it to room temperature before mixing), we also obtain longer times the mixture spends in it’s different phases? – I mean, it will keep more minutes at thin trace? Or do we just prolongue the initial time (the pre-trace time)?
    I appologize if this issue has already been discussed and I missed it.
    Thank you!

  14. namaste,
    hello everyone…I made my first batch of soap and it was very nice coconut oil soap. In my next trial the soap traced quickly and thickened. For future relevance I want to know can I pour water after emulsification in soap.

  15. Hi Stacey,

    I am trying to find out if it’s ok to mold the soap at thin trace and if so, does this affect the cure time, is there a possibility of liquid oil sitting on top of the soap?

    Thank you very much!

  16. Hi Kenna,
    My question concerns what temperature to mix lye and oil when trying to prevent acceleration. I’m stumped. I usually blend my lye and oils to thin trace; and work at temperatures between 110 and 120 degrees F. On one hand, the recommendation is to mix at lower temperatures, such as 100 degrees F or below. But then I’ve read that to prevent seizing one should mix lye and oils at temperatures ABOVE 110 degrees F. I would appreciate if you could clarify this.
    Thank you!

  17. Hi! Great information! I have been soaping for almost 2 years, and I love reading your posts! I am always learning something new! You cover lots of aspects that are not discussed in other blogs!
    I never really understood why oils and water+lye should be 10º Fahrenheit apart (in Celsius it is about 5ºC), and I have soaped with bigger differences. I was happy to see that you say it isn’t a problem either (just to be careful about false trace because of lower temperatures).
    Thank you for sharing your valuable experience with us! 🙂

  18. Hi Kenna,

    I hope I’m not too late in the conversation to get a response because me-frustrated! Okay, so I’m asking here because you are curiously one of the few (I don’t want to say *only* so I don’t offend others who may have advocated this too, but I don’t think I’ve read it anywhere else) to say that stick blending is not a must. As it happens, I’ve only just bought a stick blender. I couldn’t afford it before now. Imagine my excitement and anticipation of a faster, easier and more consistent soapmaking. Unfortunately, the first time I used it my soap mix separated and I ended up with a badly botched batch which was beyond fixing and had to be thrown out. I suspected my temperatures and even the oil as I was using a new supplier and the oil did look suspect. My suspicion was mostly because of the false trace I was getting. But I also had a little sniggering feeling it had something to do with my brand new labor-saving stick blender. So the next time I made a batch I omitted to stick blend it and it came out okay. Unfortunately I refused to believe this was the problem and so today I tried using the stick blender again. And my soap mix separated again! Badly. Clear (lye) water at the bottom and thick (false traced) soap on top!

    Now I want to know, have you or anyone else you know had issues using a stick blender (not read of one single instance online!)? Am I blending too long (it was a large batch and I think I might have gone a little over five minutes in short bursts, but that was because of the false trace and how you said to just continue blending a little longer in case of false trace)?

    Should I throw away the stick blender finally or is there a sleight of hand I am missing with using it?

    Thanks for any advice!

    1. This has happened to me in the early days of using a stick blender. Particularly if your utensil is deep. It takes a bit of learning to go right through from the top to the bottom of the soap (this happens more easily with the whisk, but is necessary with whatever method you use to mix). If you use a lot of hard oils, what looks like a thick trace may form on top, and you may not realize you have not mixed all the way to the bottom.

      Personally, the stick blender is my enemy. I use a lot of hard oils, and they hit trace too fast with a stick blender. But I imagine if you’re making say…. castille soap… the whick could turn into the enemy by the time you hit the second hour of whisking or something. LOL.

      Soft oils are better mixed with the stick blender and hard oils with the whisk, in my experience.

  19. Hi,
    just joined. very useful regarding controlling trace. Well explained and your page is very easy on the eye. Important detail. I want to read on. …so i joined. Oh..am i the only “soap guy”? I never understand that. Anyway..their loss.

    1. Hey there, Jazz,
      We just launched the redesigned website a few weeks ago, so the positive feedback is great to hear! Guys are certainly welcome. We have a few hiding in the corners around here. 😉

  20. I like to use hard oils in my soaps (70 – even 100% sometimes – bars last better) and I also like to do swirls and stuff. The stick blender is my enemy!!! Stick blending some of my recipes may not even get them into the mold on time with the essential oils and color, let alone designs. I always use a whisk and mix to emulsion and go straight to the coloring and essential oils. Just mixing those in takes the soap all the way from emulsion to trace easily. I thought I was odd like this. You are the first person I came across recommending against the stick blender and boy, does it feel like coming home. 🙂

  21. Thank you so much! I’ve been struggling with trace, big time, especially when it comes to adding FO! More supplies are arriving today and I can’t wait to get started now that you’ve demystified this for me!!!

  22. I am a complete beginner and tried out my first batch of soap after going on half day soap making course. What I don’t understand is the melting temperature. Our tutor mixed the lye solution the night before and melted the hard fats during explaining the soap making. All the oils (liquid and melted) and the lye solution were at room temperature when mixing to trace and I have just used my first soap I made after 6 weeks of drying out. What I don’t understand is do I have to get the hard oils to 100 degrees for any other reason other than to melt them please? I have since made my first batch at home and just melted the hard fats but not to any particular temperature and when cool mixed the cool lye solution. They are now drying for 5 more weeks. Thank you in advance.

    1. It sounds like you are good to go with this batch. Please see my response to your other comment.

      I urge to test your soap at weekly intervals during cure and make notes on how the lather changes. Also, set aside a bar to weigh so that you will know when it stops losing water weight. Then you can make your own choices on cure time. Six weeks isn’t set in stone.

  23. I am a complete beginner and tried out my first batch of soap after going on half day soap making course. What I don’t understand is the melting temperature. Our tutor mixed the lye solution the night before and melted the hard fats during explaining the soap making. All the oils (liquid and melted) and the lye solution were at room temperature when mixing to trace. What I don’t understand is do I have to get the hard oils to 100 degrees for any other reason other than to melt them please? I have since made my first batch at home and just melted the hard fats but not to any particular temperature and when cool mixed the cool lye solution to trace. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hey, Gl,
      It’s hard to follow up after another teacher, not knowing how in depth they went into the process.

      Higher temps accelerate trace. Lower temps can cause false trace, fooling you into thinking your batter is evenly mixed and resulting in a bar that is unevenly saponified and possibly dangerous.

      But, high and low are relative. Oils and oil blends have different melting points, so the same temp will influence different base recipes in different ways.

      Making sure all of your oils hit their melting point is basically insurance. The heat produced as the oils react to the lye solution generates heat and a skilled maker can recognize the difference between true and false trace, but, for beginners, it’s really best to start with melted oils, so you can learn what trace looks like.

      I like to use a lot of hard oils, so I still melt them all down completely after two decades of soaping. And while 100 degrees isn’t the magic number for all blends, your teacher likely knew that that was the sweet spot to melt all of her oils and have a fully liquid mix that would incorporate and come to trace easily and fully.

      Hope that helps.

  24. I use a lot of clays in my soap recipes and I regularly misjudge my trace and it hardens before I can ‘pour’. Is there anything you can do to make your soap batter creamy and pourable again after its thickened?

    1. Hey, Lauren,
      You are better off controlling trace rather than trying to reverse it. Trace is the point of no return when it comes to soap. Check out this article: Controlling Trace.

      Also, we suggest no more than 1 tablespoon of *any and all* additives per pound of oils in your soapmaking formula.

  25. Hi,
    Thanks for this very clear post !
    I want to make 100% olive oil soap, and I know that with only olive oil in my recipe (and lye solution) it will take a loooong time to get to trace.
    However, I would like to avoid using a power tool for the whole time – or at all if it can be avoided.
    Do you think that mixing the oil and lye solution by hand (or with an automated machine recreating the hand-mixing movement – ie. an automated slow mixer) will be sufficient to reach emulsion and eventually trace ? Any idea of how long it might take ?
    And to go further, do you think that I could pour the soap into the mold simply after it has emulsified, without waiting for it to trace ? I dont intend on creating any special effects, and I dont mind waiting for 2 weeks or more for the soap to harden in the mold before I can cut it…
    I look forward to your reply. Thanks for your help !

    1. Hey Caraco,
      While I think it *can* be done, you are right to think it is going to take a long time. How long will depend on batch size, mixing temps, ambient temps, mixing technique/tool/speed, lye solution strength, variety of olive oil – basically everything mentioned in this article.

      While you could pour at emulsion, if you aren’t doing any special effects, why not take it to trace? You would avoid the risk of not having a solid emulsion and getting separation.

      1. Thank you Thank you, Im a total beginner and have been following a book which recommends to stir intermittently. having read loads of blogs about it in the past which seam to suggest constant stirring I’ve been trying to understand the science behind it. So the trace is about a solid emulsion and the saponification is a continuous process which exponentially slows down. You have really helped me.

  26. Wow what an amazing blog filled with so much detailed information about making soap! I wish I found this at the very beginning. I’m already starting to feel more confident just knowing more about things I knew nothing about before!! Thank you!!

  27. Hello.
    Its a wonderful blog. I am relatively new in soap making. Its rather a hobby for me.
    I always wanted to ask why people add some oil at the end of CP or HP process for superfatting. Isn’t it easier to choose a certain % of superfat while calculating lye, and just mix oil and lye in necessary proportions?
    Thank you.

    1. Hey, Misha,
      People add superfatting oil at the end of the process thinking that they can select the particular oil that will make up the superfat. With cold process, the lye is very much still active when the soap batter is poured into the mold, and holding out a particular oil until just before pour does not have the desired effect. However, with hot process, saponification should be complete or close to complete with the soap is molded, so, if the superfat oil is added late enough, it should remain largely unsaponified.

      And yes, adding all the oils upfront is easier.

      1. Thank you very much.
        To make sure I understood well: To make 6% superfat CP soap from ie 100 g of coconut oil we need 17.191 g of lye. But to make it with HP process should we use 18.289 g of lye to make it 0% superfat, and add 6 g of oil right before molding?

        1. Misha,
          If you are making a one oil soap (coconut), there is no need to hold back any oil. The reason people hold back some oil to superfat is because they want the specific features of that oil, usually a luxury, expensive oil.

          If that’s something you want to experiment with, I’d urge you to try it both ways…adding all of your oil at once versus holding some back. See if you notice a difference. But, you absolutely do not *have* to hold back your superfat to hot process.

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