There are few things that say “DIY lifestyle” more than making your own soap. Why then, is soap making so intimidating?
If you can follow a recipe, you can make your very own soap. Follow these simple tips to avoid common soapmaking mistakes, and you can make the perfect batch of soap on your very first try.
The following is a guest post from Shannon at Natural Soap Mom. Shannon writes about creating your own natural cleaning products with pure and simple ingredients.
7 Common Soap Making Mistakes (And How to Fix Them)
When you’re a newbie at soap making, it all seems so complicated. Maybe even a little scary if you’re working with lye. The good news is that common soap-making mistakes are easy to prevent.
When I made my first batch of soap, lots of emotions rushed through my body. Excitement, nervousness, and doubt.
I felt like a kid on the first day of school all over again. So many possibilities for what I could create! And how cool would it be to make my very own soap!?
I bet you feel the same way.
Doubt and fear may creep in. What if something goes wrong?
Burn yourself or someone gets hurt? Or what if the batch failed and you’re left with a sloppy mess to clean up?
You can do this!! If you can follow a recipe, you can make soap!
It may be scary for your first couple of batches of soap, but before you know it you’ll be a seasoned soap-making pro!!
Let’s go through some of the most common soap-making mistakes so you know what to look out for.
Ditch the fear. Let’s make some soap!
Mistake #1 – Not Using Safety Equipment
Safety equipment is often overlooked and a common soap making mistake. We get excited and jump right in!
Hold up – wait a second. Make sure you have what you need to stay safe.
You should be wearing:
- Gloves – I use chemical resistant gloves but regular kitchen gloves will suffice
- Long sleeves
- Shoes or slippers (cover those feet)
- Breathing Mask – painters mask will suffice
- Safety Glasses
You may think some of this is overkill but I assure you it’s not. Especially for someone new to soap making.
On a recent batch of soap, the lye water splashed. A tiny splash. But one drop got onto my cheek without me noticing.
I didn’t notice it until it started to bug me and the damage was already done. I got a small burn. If you clean off your skin right away you can avoid a burn.
Now imagine that small burn on my cheek 2 inches to the left. Right into the eye.
BAD NEWS! Wear your safety glasses, please to avoid this common soap making mistake.
The only time I use the breathing mask is when I pour the lye into the water. You don’t need to look like a deep-sea diver with a full face mask to make soap. Put the kitchen fan on full blast and open the window to help with the smell.
The fumes can be a little strong at first, but they quickly dissipate within a few minutes. Once they do, lose the mask, close the window, and turn off the fan.
Mistake #2 – Measuring Ingredients Incorrectly
Measure your ingredients in grams. You’ll need a good kitchen scale. This is the kitchen scale I use.
You can measure in ounces, but I MUCH prefer grams as it gives you a more accurate measurement. As a result, one of the most common soap-making mistakes is inaccurate measuring.
Measuring in cups or teaspoons is a big no-no! You may end up with a lye heavy batch of soap or a soap fail. Do yourself a favor, get a scale and measure in grams.
Take time to measure slowly without distractions.
You should ALWAYS run your recipe through a soap calculator before starting. ALWAYS!
Even when it’s printed in a book or on a recipe online. Typos happen and it could be at your expense.
It takes a few minutes and it’s free. This is my favorite soap calc. Brambelberry has a soap calc too.
You should use distilled water in your soap recipe instead of plain tap water. The hardness of your tap water and impurities in the water could cause unexpected results in your soap. It’s a precautionary step that’s worth its weight and then some – only $1 for a gallon of distilled water.
When you’re more experienced, feel free to try using filtered or softened tap water. In the beginning stick to distilled water.
Mistake #3 – Unsafe or Distracting Work Environment
Another related mistake is missing an ingredient altogether. Often because we get distracted.
Make sure to check off each ingredient in your recipe as you add them. Double-check yourself.
The area should have access to running water and be free of pets, children, and distractions.
Distractions are a sure way to make a mistake.
Make sure to use an area with adequate ventilation when mixing lye into water.
I make soap in my kitchen after all my children are asleep.
Mistake #4 – Stop Overcomplicating Things
Your first batch of soap should be an easy recipe. I discourage you to use colorants or any fragrance or essential oils. Most soap-making mistakes result from the unknown effects of these additives.
Until you understand how your recipe works, they are a variable you should skip for now. Some fragrance oils and essential oils speed up trace or cause your batch to seize up. When soap seizes it means suddenly the soap turns into a hard blob of soap before you can pour it into a mold.
Until you’re a more seasoned soaper, skip the additives and stick with oils, lye, and water.
Milk soap making is also a little more complicated. Wait until you are more comfortable with the process. You should have several successful batches of soap under your belt first.
Mistake #5 – Obsessing About Your Ingredients Temperature
My first batch took me 4 hours. I read 2 books about soap making before I took the dive to make my first batch of soap. I read that the lye water and oils needed to both be the same EXACT temperature before combining. NOT TRUE!
I was heating or cooling the lye water and oils constantly. Keeping a close eye on the temperatures.
It was so stressful! Back and forth, up and down. Not enjoyable at all!!
It was like a rollercoaster of emotions and temperatures! I think back to all the dangers in handling the lye water over and over again.
Fast forward to today, I soap at room temperature. Meaning I melt and stick blend my oils ahead of time until emulsified. Then when it’s time to make my soap I only have to mix my lye into my water.
Then I immediately pour my lye water into my oils and begin stick blending.
And you know what – it works every time! Our Grandma didn’t have fancy thermometers when they made soap. Aim for a safe range of 90 to 120 degrees for the oils and lye water.
Mistake #6 – Using the Wrong Tools
You cannot use any metal with lye. The results could be explosive. Literally! Huge soap making mistake and a ticking time bomb.
All metals are a no-go with the exception of stainless steel.
I use mostly heavy-duty plastic and glass. Don’t use a wooden spoon, the lye will eat away at it.
I ruined a good wooden spoon this way.
You can pick up most items you need at the thrift store. That’s how I started.
Here’s what you need:
- 2 – 3 Heavy-duty plastic containers (or you can use glass)
- 2 Plastic or rubber spatulas (I like to use one for my oils and one for my lye water)
- Stick Blender
Spatulas work great for getting all the batter out of your bowl. I label the handles with “Soap Only” with a sharpie. Dedicate all soap-making tools to soap-making (and not cooking or eating).
A stick blender is an initial investment but very worthwhile. I found mine at the thrift store and it’s been going strong for years.
Again I only use it for soap making and recommend you do the same. Mixing by hand takes way too long.
Mistake #7 – Handling Lye Incorrectly
Lye is a caustic substance.
Handle it with respect and care. You should always treat it that way. I store my lye in a locked cabinet.
ALWAYS pour your lye into your water. That way you can control how much you add and slow down as needed. Pour slowly.
Lye water will initially be a little hazy. Make sure all the lye granules or flakes have been fully dissolved. No crunchies should be sitting at the bottom of your bowl.
I use a glass bowl so it’s easy to spot them. Otherwise, you’ll risk a lye heavy soap.
Then pour your lye water slowly into your oils to make your soap batter.
Pour anything containing lye into the other substances (water or oils), not the other way around.
Get Making Some Soap!
Now that you’ve uncovered the common soap-making mistakes, you need to make some soap!
Just like riding a bike, something new is always a little nerve-racking at first. After a few batches of soap, you’ll be a seasoned pro.
After all that, if you’re still not quite ready to take the plunge into making your own soap, how about starting with baby steps? Start by making your own DIY Foaming Hand Soap or try out some handmade soap for yourself to see the difference.
For more inspiration on DIY natural soaps, cleaning and beauty products for your home, check out the blog at Natural Soap Mom. You can also find Shannon on social media on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
Boy am I glad I read this article !!! Another website/recipe did not mention that lye does not mix with metal !! My first batch could have been my last ! Thank You !!!
Oh my! That would have been terrible Romy. Glad you prevented disaster. Stainless steel is the only metal that is ok, personally I just avoid it to stay on the safe side. Have you tried making your first batch yet?
Ive been using a blue canner on the stove to make my soap for 18 years and it works great. Just like my grandmother did! LOL!
Very good tips here. I wish I had read this before making soap many, many years ago! You also summed up my feelings perfectly the first time I made soap. Now that I am a seasoned soap maker, I still enjoy reading these types of articles as it never hurts to be reminded to be safe! Thank you for a great article.
I hear you – I know I read a lot of misinformation in the beginning too. You’re so right – safety is always something I’m reminding myself of too. In a soap making group I’m in, one seasoned soap maker shared that a grain of lye bounced up and hit her eye. Right under her safety glasses! Crazy!!! Inspired me to get a pair of goggles instead of safety glasses. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment 🙂
The only thing I would change is no using glass. The lye cab eat away at the glass and cause chipping and eventual breakage!
Thanks for the safety information. Am new in soap making, each time I tried out my recipe, l do have a stable and unstable results at different occasions.
Yes I agree with Kayla, glass, even toughened glass such as Pyrex should NEVER be used with lye. Lye will etch into glass and it could fail with possibly catastrophic consequences.
Great advice. How do you deal with hard soap? I made a lemon one, no colorants just lemon fragrance and lemon juice per book and i was not able to cut the soap. Could it be over mixing? The lye and everything else were measured out as the book stated.
Two things that I know of that might result in a hard soap. The first, and most likely, is that the soap got overheated while you were making it. The second is that the percentage of butters, like shea butter or cocoa butter was too high. Since you were following a recipe, the second one doesn’t seem as likely.
I made a beautiful batch of goat milk soap yesterday to which I added lavender blossoms and lavender essential oil. It was smooth creamy white medium trace. About 3 hours after I poured it into my molds it turned an ugly brown. Any thoughts?
There’s a great article on soap browning here: https://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/why-did-my-soap-turn-brown/
It sounds like lavender, along with lots of other fragrances, contains a compound can cause soaps to brown. The article above has suggestions for how to counteract that chemical reaction.
I’m thinking that your oils were possibly too hot when you added your goat’s milk and lye mixture. This can cause scorching of the goat’s milk. I always cool my oil and lye mixture to 150 before I add the goat’s milk.
I am grateful i read this article actually I have made batches of soap for 4 times and all keep having fault the last time I made it refused to get dried please what can I do because i don’t want to quit
Thank you for posting this article. It is very thorough and helpful to get new soapers started. Great advice all around.
So my first batch of soap had coconut milk(risky 😂) it was fine(made sure it didn’t burn) then I added titanium dioxide(coz I simply wanted a white bar and not an off white soap) and it was still fine…until I used the fragrance oil and the world crumbled down! 😂 It seized and left it for few minutes and it became soft again but not really smooth…I poured it into the mold and accepted its fate. When I washed the utensils used, it was fun to see that the batter leftovers actually turned into soap and bubbled really nice(I was wearing gloves still so it didn’t touch my skin).
Q❓Since it seized in the first place and became soft then poured into the mold, is it safe to use if I still follow the cure time? Or I should have done the Rebatching and hot processed it instead since it siezed?
Right after it, I wanted to make it right so I decided to do everything again…but there’s a high chance that the second batch had miscalculations due to the scale acting up. I only noticed it when I was measuring the lye last. Now, I have a feeling that the whole thing is messed up or maybe it was just the lye. I guess there’s too much water or oil since the scale was acting up and didnt notice it..
Q❓In case it’s just the lye and in case I used not enough lye, how would I know? What are the signs?
Q❓If I used not enough lye, will the “soap” still be usable(not necessarily harden) like a soft lotion bar due to it having too much oil?
Q❓Or there’s no hope and rebatching or throwing the whole thing are the only true options?
-I got a nice trace and was even able to color and make swirly tops(no fragrance this time) so I’m not sure if the lye amount with water was fine or not. After 24 hrs after placing it in the freezer, I took it out and it looks like it’s sweating oils on top. I tried to wipe it but it started again after a few minutes. I checked again after few hours and it looks like they got absorbed back coz I barely see the droplets. Is that normal? Also, I used more coconut and palm than olive oil…my batch is still soft but not too soft…I just know I can’t remove it out of the mold just yet. It’s like semi hard. You think I just continue to let it “cure” if it’s gonna harden? Or it should have hardened already after 24-48 hrs?
I know I made a lot of risk for my first few attempts but I know how to fix them next time.
These are not problems I’ve ever personally experienced, but I did a bit of research for you.
This is a great article on soap seizing and how to save it: https://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/soap-behaving-badly/
It suggests, “The work around: This batch had so many issues that it would be hard to salvage. If it’s not lye heavy, making it into rebatch is always an option (for more on rebatch, check out this tutorial or this Soap Queen TV episode). If you determine it’s lye heavy by doing a zap test or using a pH strip, consider making it into laundry detergent, which is easy to make and ensures no soap goes to waste. If the soap is fairly soft and fresh, Hot Process Hero is the way to go to salvage the batch. It’s a variation on the traditional hot process method that creates a rustic bar of soap.”
Since you don’t know if there was too much lye in the batch, here’s how to test for that: https://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/test-ph-red-cabbage/
Given how much uncertainty you have here though, and you don’t know how much of anything went in it’s tricky to know what to suggest. With how many things went wrong with this batch, if it were my batch of soap, my inclination would be to toss it and start again.
I will be retiring soon and want to make soap. I have watched so many videos and have read so many articles I cant think straight. I am still very confused about the lye calculator. I wish someone in my area would teach a soap making class which would help tremendously. I think I am just to follow a few recipes other people have suggested. Everyone uses olive oil and I dont want to use olive oil. Is there a reason everyone uses it? I really want to make my own recipes but I am not sure what oils will work together. Does anyone know of literature or books that tell you which oils you can mix and which oils you cant. I have seven sisters and we suffered all of our life with eczema. Thank goodness my grandmother used many of her down south recipes on our skin which helped tremendously. I would like to make a bar of soap for my grandaughter who already has very sensitive skin. I would like to make a bar of soap made from apricot oil, borage oil, aloe vera, shea butter oatmeal, honey an vitamin e. I am not sure if these can be mixed together and if it will make a good bar of soap. Does anyone have resources that could help me.
Here is a good soap calculator that you can use to help you in your journey.
Hello, I melted an already made soap with water on an aluminium vessel to make some liquid soap for home. Will there be a problem? It looks and feels fine to touch. No lye was involved. Please let me know. Thank you.
Yup, that works fine to make a liquid soap substitute and there’s no issue.
Hi, thank you for this post, really good information. 🙂
I must say that you can use metal with lye, for example stainless steel is great, but never use aluminium with lye!
Thank you for this important reminder. I’ve read and read and read different soap making articles and watched You Tube videos, and, yet, I read your tips on not making mistakes. I really think it’s important and can’t stress enough.
Thank you Shannon. I was faffing about like mad with my first batch trying to get the temperatures just so. I read somewhere that it should be 40 degrees C. It went to trace so quickly that I barely had time to get it in the mould before it set!
We used potassium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide. Therefore we ended up with liquid soap. Is there a way to doctor this up and make hand soap or is it a complete loss?
I do not believe there’s a way to turn it into a hard soap at this point. Put the recipe you used into a soap calculator (with potassium hydroxide quantities) to makes sure it’s ok for lye/fats balance. If it is, then you should just be able to use it like liquid hand soap as is. Depending on the texture though, you may need to thin it out with water. Good luck!
Thanks a lot for this. But I want to know, how should the texture of the soap be before pouring it into the mold? Should it be thick or watery?
It should be thick. You want the soap to come to trace before you pour it into your molds. “Trace” means that the soap batter is thick enough to leave a faint, fleeting imprint when it’s drizzled across itself. Here is a post on a soapmaking for beginners that walks you through the process step by step. https://practicalselfreliance.com/how-to-make-soap/
I am new in soap making but have made lots of batches of melt and pour and cold process soaps. I made my M&P few months age and then wrapped them. I unwrapped a couple of days ago and feel they are sweating a lot and I can see lots of glycerin all over. How do I fix my problem? Any help please.
Really sound advice regarding safety. The other day I came home and made up some lye. I had a new brand that was powder not balls and I poured it into the water too quickly. The whole thing exploded and all over me. Luckily I am a health care worker and was wearing the same PPE I was at work rather than discarding it. It was the PPE I wear when seeing a COVID patient.
Reflecting on the experience, I would now be in hospital and probably blind if I was not. Cover your eyes. A little sting does no harm but this was three litre of lye water splashed over me. It could have been very different
Excellent post and wonderful blog, this sort of interesting posts I really like, keep it up…
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I did not get my color mixed in correctly and I have dots throughout the soap. Is it ruined? should I rebatch it? It is multi colored soap.
It’s not going to hurt anything if your color didn’t get mixed in correctly If you know for sure that it is the color that caused the issue, then it is simply cosmetic and the soap should be perfectly fine to use.
Hello, I used lavender oil in my batch of soap and it turned brown (more of a dark tan color). Question: Is this soap okay and safe to use? I made it just for me.
Thank you and I look forward to your comment.
I’m not sure what recipe you used but as long as you used the proper lye amount in the recipe then it should be safe to use. The color may not be what you were hoping for but it will not affect the safety of your soap.
So when you say you mix your lye into your emulsified oils – do you let your lye cool down a bit first?
I have never soaped at room temp but would like to try it.
I mix my lye first and then as it is cooling I weigh my oils and heat them up. Once the lye cools to about 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, I add the lye solution to the warmed oil. I prefer to mix them when they are both at approximately 100-110.
I have an immersion blender but it is metal. Would you suggest getting one that isnt metal except for the mixing blade or will any stick blender work? TIA
If it’s stainless steel then it’s fine but I wouldn’t take a chance on any other metals.
I am interested in making soap for the first time but I don’t know that I want to invest in an immersion blender. How long does it take to hand-stir? I have a strong arm and am used to hand-stirring many things.
I would really recommend an immersion blender for soap making. You can get one for fairly cheap and it can sometimes take hours to stir it by hand.
Ok thanks for the advice! I’ll see if I can find a good used one.