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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 & 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:

Heat Management

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¬į F (76¬į 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¬į F/82¬į 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. ‚ÄĒ 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:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=467RB-QkR7k” color=”white” theme=”light” modestbranding=”1″ rel=”0″]

And here’s the results of the swirling hot process soap magic:

The Results of Swirling Hot Process Soap With These Tips & Tricks!
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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77 Responses

  1. Thanks Molly! I really appreciate the info. Quick question so I get the math right in my head you say you soap at 35% water. You also said you usually save about 20% for after cook. Is 15% enough to dissolve the lye fully? Also does saving that much liquid for after cook effect how long it takes to cure as I know one of hot process methods big plus is a super short cure time compared to cold precess. Thanks so much again for sharing this all with us, and I am really excited to try these tips.

    1. Hi Veronica! The percentages are a little confusing – my apologies about that. The 20% held back is basically one fifth of the total water used. So, if you are using 100g of water (in total), cook with 80g and save 20g for after the cook. Hope that clears things up!

  2. Thanks for the great article. I am lactose and casein allergic, and will not be using yogurt or milk in my soaps, I am wondering if you have ever used coconut milk, and if that might be an option for me? Thanks!

    1. Hi Kirsten, I have used coconut milk in soaps many times, however, I don’t think you will get the same fluidity result. You may want to try soy or coconut yogurt if you can get those. You may want to you use sodium lactate as that can also help get things fluid enough for swirls.

      1. My experience with the coconut milk was awesome, it gave me the same fluidity as yogurt with 1 Tblsp ppo of coconut milk added after the cook.

    2. Thanks so much! I am enlightened, I had not tried swirling .. is it still possible to swirl a rebatched soap? what process do i have to watch out and when will i do it? Will I still add a little liquid, like yogurt and milk, which can make it easier to swirl?

      1. I have never tried to swirl a rebatch. Most of the rebatches I have done were swirled initially and had to get rebatched because of an error (forgot the fragrance is most common). So, the rebatch is a blend of the colors already added. Give it a try and let us know what happens!

        1. I have swirled a rebatch. I only used half the batch and brightened the color. I made a new batch with titanium dioxide to which I swirled with the rebatch. Turned out great. I repeated with the other half of the rebatch but changed up the colors. Worked great.

  3. When you use yogurt in your soap, what do you put on the label for the ingredient list? Do you just put “yogurt” or list it some other way?

    1. You should be listing the ingredients list that is on the yogurt container in your product’s ingredient list, if you are listing ingredients/selling as a cosmetic.

      So, for instance a vanilla greek yogurt might be: Cultured Pasteurized Nonfat Milk, Evaporated Cane Juice, Vanilla Extract

  4. I guess I just don’t understand why anyone would go to all that trouble when you can just make cold process. Am I missing out on some major benefit of hp?

    1. Hi Mikey – I talked about the HP benefits in the first post but each soaper must decide for themselves how they want to make soap, and many people still prefer CP. My goal here is just to share my experiences making HP so that everyone can pick the best method for their soaping goals. Thanks!

    2. Hi Mikey,
      HP is great for scents that change in CP. I used to stay away form HP, but one day I found that I can use one of my favorite scent in HP and have it smell the exactly in the bottle! woohooooo !!

      1. I believe in HP you benefit more from any additives (aloe, clays, flower powders, infused oils, colloidal oatmeal, etc.) since they are added after the cook. NO Lye processing or chemical reaction. Any thoughts on that?

      1. There’s no need to wait 4-6 weeks to use or sell CP soap either, if it is properly formulated. Our production recipes are ready to box in a week. Just an FYI for folks who find HP on a large scale to be a hassle.

    3. When I make HP soap, I get 100% control of whIch wonderful, often expensive, skin loving oils become my superfats. I completely sapponify my cleansing oils during the cook and add my superfats after the cook. With CP soap you have very little control as to which oils will be left unsapponified to become the superfats, other than using oils that do not fully sapponify in your formulation. I like having that control and I’m too impatient to wait weeks for my soap to dry out. ūüôā

  5. I have made it too (swirly) using yogurt at the end. That, plus FO, plus SL, plus dispersed colorants, is enough to make it fluid enough for swirls. If I’m not swirling, I don’t add yogurt. I have used coconut milk too. I also use less water total. Only 30%, and I can still swirl. Quickly, of course. And the main trick is to not over cook, I think. I was a member of Sharon Johnson group, but I could not afford her very expensive ebook. I kind of figured things out on my own, just by reading comments and researching things myself. Well, I posted my first picture on there and said that I was very sorry that I couldn’t afford her book, but thanks everyone for being helpful. I was immediately blocked from the group. Honestly, I still can’t believe it. Anyway, thank you for sharing your tips and your soap looks beautiful. I still have a problem with HP soap slightly warping when dry, even though I use slightly reduced water than most HP soapers. That’s why I still prefer CP. ūüôā

    1. Hi Martina – one of the great things about soaping is that there are so many ways to make great soap. There are many people who prefer the CP method so I completely respect that! Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Molly!
    You’re articles keep getting better and better. I think you’re finding your writing voice, and I really like the format of this article. The tweet-able quotes are brilliant . Regarding Sodiun Lactate, do you have a GMO free, corn free vendor? I can’t use either, anaphylaxis.
    Thanks for the great tips,

  7. Molly!
    You’re articles are better and better. I especially like this article’s format; the tweet-able quotes are brilliant. Question: do you have a GMO free, corn free source for Sodium Lactate? I’m allergic, anaphylaxis.
    Thank you for the great tips,

  8. I am relatively new at hp soap. Thanks so much for the tips and the wonderful way they are presented. I am “writing” challenged so I always appreciate it when someone can put down their thoughts so well on paper.

  9. The way I understand it, there is lactic acid in yogurt which makes sodium lactate in soap(combining with lye) and sugar is supposed to do something. There may be something else to it especially since it’s at the end of the cook but I thought you might like to know that. I’m curious about something though, do you think too much water makes the crust that forms on top as it cools (and your trying to pour it)form more quickly? I don’t know if that is a crazy thought but I wondered about it with a few batches I tried when someone suggested more water makes it more fluid. It may be the opposite, a little less water would make less reactive to the air or something.

  10. Hi i have a question about the superfat, would I set my super fat to 0% and then add that extra 5 % after the “cook” aspect?

  11. Hi Molly,
    in your experience do you find that Hp soap retains scent (especially Eos) better than CP over time? I gather that you don’t have to worry about scents morphing, but do they stay stronger all together?
    Thank you!

    1. My HP soaps retain their scent for a long time – I have quite a few from a year ago that still smell great. However, i have not done a side by side comparing the same EO or FO made both ways. Some fragrances, however, will last longer than others which is not a function of the soap making process.

  12. Do your costumers appreciate the pretty swirls or do you get the “oh, it’s too pretty to use” often? I guess, what I’m trying to get at is, if all the work you put into your beautiful soaps actually result in more sales for you.

    1. I actually get the “its too pretty to use” more on the soaps i make in detailed silicone molds. I leverage the swirls most to sell online via photos. in person, my soaps are in boxes so it is all about the scent.

  13. Hi. I’ve never put my soap in the freezer. Do you leave it for the full 24 hours, or just part of the time? If so, how long?

    1. About 4 hours is usually enough for a loaf size batch, but a larger slab mold could stay in longer. I have left mine in the freezer overnight many times. Just be careful if you have a wire cutter to wait until the soap is thawed (or you can break your wires).

  14. Wow, the tips for hot process soap all make so much sense. I had been wondering about other processes. The swirls here are so beautiful! Great tips!

  15. Hi Molly,
    I’m new to soaping and have only just discovered HPS. I love your designs, and appreciate your tips on swirling.
    Someone asked the question “Do swirled HP soaps take longer to cure?”, and I’d like to know the answer to that as well. Also, as you add the yoghurt after the cook, does it eventually make the soap go off?
    Thanks for your blog.

  16. We tried this method yesterday and the results were fantastic. We did a red-white-and-blue swirl with spearmint EO, but can’t figure out how to post a pic here. I think I made a mistake by adding the yogurt when I mixed the lye and oils. The mix never got above 199F and stayed about 50 percent liquid. After more than 1 1/2 hrs (our hot process usually cooks in 45 mins), we finally just ladled the mix into three separate containers, added colors/scent, and poured into the mold. We swirled with the BrambleBerry overpriced wire and a chop stick, similar to your video. Today we cut the soap and it is soft in places, especially the white. I’m thinking shoulda waited a couple more days to cut. We’ve never seen hot process behave like this recipe did. (Soap Queen’s Swirl Quick Mix). We’d like to try it again with a different recipe to see if it behaves more like we’re used to. But we proved that hot process can be swirled! Never woulda believed it!

    1. Hi Bob – Thanks for your comment! I always add my yogurt after the soap is fully cooked and the soap has cooled to 180F. You may want to try that. Another suggestion is to put your soap in the freezer for a few hours. It can actually help the soap harden up more quickly. Just be sure to let the soap thaw if it freezes solid before trying to cut it. You can leave it in overnight with no issues. Happy soaping!

  17. Great tips! How much hot water do you use to mix your colorants AND do you discount that amount from your total water?

    1. it really depends on how big of a batch you are making, but you just want just enough water to thoroughly dissolve the colorants. You should discount this from your total water used so that you don’t end up with bars that warp.

    1. The ph of soap is too high for bacterial growth, combined with the lack of water in bar soap that bacteria needs to grow. I have made thousands of bars of soap with both goat milk & yogurt added and have never had an issue with any sort of spoilage as a result.

  18. Molly, you said you freeze your hp soaps everything. I have tried this but I find that after I pull the soap out of the freezer it thaws and gets mushy. It takes it a while longer, usually another day to dry and harden again. Does this happen to you? If not how do you prevent that? Thank you!

    1. I do freeze all my soaps – usually overnight for the big batches. I then let them thaw and sit uncut for another 24 hours before splitting into logs & cutting into bars. I don’t have any issues with the soaps getting mushy, but I do let them sit for a bit before cutting them up.

  19. I made my first batch of hot process soap yesterday. I went to pull it out of the mold today, and there is a clear liquid (water?) at the bottom of the mold. What did I do wrong?

  20. Hi, Molly.
    I love all of the helpful information and have gotten a lot of my questions answered by reading your post and answering questions from other “soapers”. I am not very good at figuring out the discounts for the percentages of, for instance, the deduction of water, yogurt and amount of water used if I mix a colorant in water to add to my soap after it is cooked. I do use the soap calc when developing a recipe, but still unsure about the water discounts to use after the soap is cooked. I have always used a 38% water discount when using the soap calc. Any easy way that you can suggest to me would be greatly appreciated, and thank you soo much for sharing.

  21. Beautiful soap. How do you manage loss of fragrance (essential oils) with those high pour temps? I normally cool HP soap a fair bit before I mix in essential oils, otherwise I find they tend to disappear, particularly lavender and citrus. I still have problems even after cooling the mix before pouring. Thanks

  22. Hello Molly!! I’m super new to soap making. I made my first batches using your hot process tutorial so a HUGE Thank You!! Regarding this article, if I add goat milk or yougurt should I hear them up to add the fluidity and what should be the maximum temperature?? Thank you!

  23. Would any experienced soaper offer me some advice, please? (Maybe even Molly???)

    I tried a hot process tonight. 3 oils – Olive, Castor & Coconut. I deducted 2 T of water so I could replace it with yogurt (Thanks Molly!). I let the soap cook in the crockpot until it was quite obviously gelled around the edges. I covered it with plastic wrap – great idea, Molly!

    I believe I read here that Molly recommends not adding the yogurt until the soap gets down to ~150 degrees. It was at about 200 when it seemed done. While I was waiting for it to cool, stirring it like a salad with two big spoons, I noticed it was starting to create big hard flakes. I hadn’t added colors or fragrance yet. : (

    The yogurt changed the consistency, but when I added the azure mica (2 T in 2 T warm water) and titanium (4 T in 2 T warm water), it was in big sticky chunks. Never turned white, nor very blue. Big yellowish chunks. Super hard to mix. I packed it down in the mold, but it’s more like sticky cottage cheese. I’m pretty sure it will crumble when I unmold it.

    I put Saran wrap on it, wrapped it in towels (I don’t know if this is needed in hot process) and I’m hoping for a miracle overnight, but…ummm….where did I go wrong here? Help! Help!

    1. I think you may have let the soap cool too much. I add my post cook additives when the soap is just below 190. At 150 the soap is definitely getting hard and may have caused your issues.

  24. Good work you are doing dear Molly I must commend. please I need Sharon Johnson’s link. I’m a lover of HP. Thanks.

  25. Hi Molly, Thanks so mush for the helpful post. doesn’t the soap need to be at 150F so the FO scent stays on the soap?And is there any way you can do a tutorial to teach us how to do a water discount. I just made an hp soap and it’s really soft. I wonder if I added too much water.

  26. I’m just not finding yogurt to be the “secret weapon” that you do. I’ve tried it several times but haven’t been impressed, lol. I’d chosen it over sodium lactate because I prefer organic ingredients in my soap making. There doesn’t seem to such a thing as organic SL. Do you think the oils in a recipe might contribute to a less fluid batter? I love high percentage coconut oil. Do you know if vegan yogurt works?

  27. I’ve been using your HP method for more than a year and am generally satisfied with the results. However, on large batches (10 lbs), the cook seems to act differently each time. Three days ago, the soap turned back to liquid after mixing to trace. It never gelled the way we’re used to seeing. We have better results with smaller batches (3 lbs) in a small, round crock.

    We thought maybe the crock wasn’t heating uniformly, so we bought a new, larger crock and did a batch of HP yesterday. Once, again, it never gelled the way we’re used to, and started to “boil” up over the edge, pushing the lid up. Good thing we were watching and quickly scooped some out, stirred the mix back down, then added the soap back.

    If you have a video of the time between mixing oils/lye water and cook, it would be nice to see. I’ve seen two temps: 180F and 190F listed as the post-cook temp to use when adding yogurt, held-back water, etc. Which is it?

    Also, even adding yogurt below 180F, running into curdling. Tried mixing held-back water and yogurt out of oven just prior to adding, mixing with a frother and that seemed to help.

    One thing I’ve thought of doing to get a more precise pattern is to use frosting bags/tips to place the soap in the mold, then hanger swirl. Does that seem practical?

    1. My oatmeal honey soap separates at the end of cooking when I do HP so I stick blended it and it recombined and the texture was fine. Don’t know if that’s what happened to yours though.

  28. Forgot to add that I’ve put my mold into the freezer and have cut it straight out of the freezer after 2-3 hrs. No mushiness and looks fine.

  29. What kind of yogurt do you use? Some yogurt is made with whole milk and some with skim. Does the fat content in the yogurt affect the soap?

  30. I have not yet tried fragrance. Could you recommend what EOs or FOs you can depend on with Hot process soaps? which ae better for CP soaps? I have been doing both CP and HP for the same recipe. I make over six and a half pounds and can make two loaf pans and one small bars. I pour some of the soap into the small bar silicone mold after trace and make the rest into HP. They look a lot different. The trace soaps are lighter and smoother and are nice for a molded soap. One time with a cocoa butter/shea butter soap I got DOS on the HP but none appeared on the CP.
    Thanks, Susan

  31. I use a recipe that is already super fatter, but I want to make a chocolate peppermint scented soap and was wondering if any of you have ever added melted cocoa butter after the cooking process? I was thinking maybe 3-6 ounces per batch. My batches are 44 Oz. when done.

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