Tag Archives: combination of hand stirring and stick blending

Jul
08

What is Trace in Soap Making?


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What is trace in soap makingWhat is Trace in Soap Making?

What is trace? Baby, don’t blend me; don’t stir me, just pour. Trace is when you’ve reached emulsion- your oils are blended with your lye mixture and are no longer capable of separating. How can you tell when your mixture is at trace? The easiest way is to use your stirring utensil: hold it a few inches above your mixing container and move it back and forth. If the soap batter dripping off the stirring utensil leaves little lines that sit on top of the mixture in the bowl- that’s trace. It can be difficult to capture in photographs, but you’ll know it when you see it in motion.

heavy traceSo I reach trace and that’s it? Well, yes and no. There are different degrees of trace, but the important thing to remember is that once a mixture has reached trace- it’s only going to continue to solidify from there. Light trace is considered the bare minimum. Light trace is helpful when you’re looking to make swirls or other designs that require easily pourable, almost-liquid soap. Moderate trace is in the goopmiddle and means you’re ready to pour your soap into the mold. Heavy trace is when your soap gets thick. The picture above shows heavy trace. A soap batter at heavy trace is resistant to change shape and almost impossible to pour into a mold. Heavy trace may result in the need to scoop your soap into the mold, seen in the photo on the left. Not a pretty sight. Work quickly to ensure the soap does not set before you are ready.

What Causes Different Levels of Trace?

Trace can be affected both by your ingredients and your blending method.

Ingredients:

  • ‘Hard’ oils, including palm oil and coconut oil, and butters will reach trace much faster. Using softer oils such as olive oil or canola will decrease the speed of trace, but your end product soap will be much softer. Increasing the amount of oil to superfat your recipe will also slow down trace. (Be careful not to add too much or you’ll have an excess of unreacted oils.)
  • In addition, fragrance oils can accelerate trace. (Check out our CP Soap Testing results to see how our fragrance oils perform in the CP soaping process.)
  • Inversely, the more water you use, the slower your soap will reach trace. A water discount (using less water than the recipe called for) will accelerate trace and is recommended for only advanced soapers when they see fit.

Blending:

  • The speed at which you blend can accelerate trace. Using a stick blender as opposed to stirring manually with a spatula will increase the speed of the reaction and trace will be reached faster. If you suspect that the mixture will accelerate, stir it manually to slow the rate of trace.
  • Furthermore, the temperature at which you blend your ingredients will affect trace. Higher temperatures accelerate trace. If you wish to slow down trace, let your lye mixture cool down to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit before you add it to your oils.
  • The order also matters. If the fragrance oil you’re using is known to have a tendency to accelerate trace, be sure to add it last, after you’ve made your soap mixture and added any colorant, and be ready to move.

False Trace

All this talk about trace and the need to rush your soap process may have you running around like a chicken with its head cut off- but BEWARE FALSE TRACE. False trace usually occurs when oils in your mixture begin to cool down and solidify without going through emulsion or saponification. So, much like Goldilocks, you don’t want your mixture to be too hot or too cold, but juuuuust right.

Ahhh!

I know it seems like a lot- but if you pay attention to the factors listed here- you should be alright. Remember to have all of your ingredients ready before you start soaping (always, but especially) in case of any unexpected trace acceleration. You can do this, I promise. And if something goes wrong, you can always melt down your soap and try again. Thanks for reading and happy soaping!

Apr
30

Color Dispersion


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color dispersionColor Dispersion in Soap

This picture shows the same exact recipe using two different methods of color dispersion in soap. Once the soap was poured, we noticed that some of the colorant was still on the sides of the bowls instead of actually incorporated into the soap (as shown in the soap on the right).  In addition, we noticed concentrated pockets of colorant in this cut soap.   Mainly, it is the difference between hand stirring the colorants in verses stick blending the colorants in, and failure to scrape the sides of the bowls to incorporate all of the coloring.  Regardless of the method that you choose, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages. The key to knowing which method works best for you is knowing your soap recipe and the time that it allows you.

Color Dispersion in cold process soap making can be a tricky aspect. After you figure out your color scheme for your recipe and the technique as to how you are adding your color, it then comes down to the actual challenge.

Really there are three options to color dispersion in your soap. They are hand stirring the colorant into the batter with a spoon, stick blending the colorant in, or the combination of both. The correct decision relies on a few factors though. These factors are: your recipe, time, and the number of colorants you want to add.

Hand Stirring
The best advantage of hand stirring colorants into soap is that it does not speed up trace. This allows you the perfect fluid soap batter for accomplishing a multi color swirl in your soap. But, hand stirring the colorant into your soap batter is slightly more time consuming because you really have to stir for some time to get the colorant dispersed. So, this is where knowing your recipe and window of time, especially if you are using multiple colorants, comes into play.

You will also have to be ready to move. When hand stirring, you have to stir, and stir quickly to get the full color dispersion of the soap colorant. And, do not forget to have your spatula ready to clean the sides and rotate the soap from the bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the colorant is evenly dispersed.

However, not all colorants can be hand stirred. Some of the colorants do not disperse as well as others with this method. The examples of these types of colorants would be titanium dioxide and the ultramarines. Colorants like these often need to be stick blended in order to get the full color dispersion among all of the soap.

Stick Blending
Stick blending your colorants in soap batter is ideal for true color dispersion. But, with stick blending time is a major factor. Stick blending will speed up trace (or the saponification process) in your soap. If too much time elapses while stick blending your colorants into the batter; certain swirling techniques cannot be accomplished. This is because the soap batter will be too thick, especially if you are using more than two colors in your soap recipe.

Besides speeding up trace, there is another factor to consider. When using multiple soap colorants and stick blending you will have to quickly clean your stick blender in between colors. But, you do have a few options when it comes to this. Some soapers keep a small bowl of water by their coloring station to quickly clean their stick blender in between colors. And, some just stick blend their colors in the correct order, but gently tap the stick blender to remove as much colored batter as possible before moving on to the next color. For example if you are coloring your soap green and yellow; you would start by stick blending the yellow first. This is because the yellow color is the lightest, and then move to the green.

The Combo
For the situations where you want to use ultramarines which almost require a stick blend to get the best color dispersion, but you still want several other colors in your soap; you can combo the blend. You would start by stick blending the colorants that need it, and then move on to the hand stirred colorants. If the stick blended colorants become too thick, simply stir them by hand and the soap batter will thin out slightly (or enough to pour). Just remember, you must move quickly.

What this really all comes down to is testing. Through making various batches of soap, you will be able to find exactly which method of color dispersion is best for you and your soaping recipe. There really is no right or wrong answer as to which method to use. Each soap recipe will vary.

Natures Garden offers FUN Soap colorants for soap making.  We even carry multiple neon colors to really make your soap “come alive”.