What is CP Soap?
CP Soap is the short abbreviation for Cold Process Soap. This is soap that is handmade and produced, through the saponification process.
What is Saponification?
“Saponification” is the name given to the chemical reaction by which an alkali (usually sodium hydroxide - also called caustic soda or lye) reacts with fats and oils to make soap.
Does CP Soap Contain Glycerin?
Glycerin is a clear, slightly sticky chemical which is a byproduct of saponification therefore it exists naturally in CP Soap.
If CP Soap is made with lye, will it hurt my skin?
Soap is a result of a chemical reaction between lye, fat and water. In 24hrs, you no longer have lye, fat and water - you have soap! If you followed the recipe and proper soapmaking procedures, you won't have any lye at all in your finished soap.
Is CP Soap dangerous to make?
Making CP soap is a bit like driving a car, in that you are working with something powerful, and need to be safety-conscious in order to avoid injury. Make sure that you read up on appropriate safety procedures before starting to make soap, and that you work with appropriate safety equipment, including goggles, an apron, gloves, and something (like vinegar) to neutralize any spills. You should make sure that you are working uninteruppted, can concentrate on what you are doing, and don't have any pets/children around who might distract you or harm themselves or you.
What is a lye volcano?
You should also take care to always add LYE TO WATER rather than pouring water into lye which can result in a lye explosion…sometimes called a lye volcano!
Who regulates CP Soap?
Using a candy thermometer while soapmaking is helpful, too, both to get good results and avoid issues like false trace (explained later in this FAQ), and to ensure that you don't overheat the soap or lye water and create a dangerous mixture. Finally, you should make sure that you are working uninteruppted, can concentrate on what you are doing, and don't have any pets/children around who might distract you or harm themselves or you.
The FDA regulates cleansing agents. They have a very specific exemption for soap that meets certain criteria. The exemption applies to most cold process soap. Our video titled “Cosmetic, Drug or Soap?” addresses this issue. If a bar of soap meets the exemption criteria, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates the product.
What are the most common oils used in making CP Soap?
Many soapmakers start out using Crisco to make their first "beginner" soaps, as it is inexpensive, easily obtained and easy to work with. It produces a hard, white bar with stable, cleansing lather.
What is “trace”?
In everyday soapmaking, many soapmakers use a lot of palm and coconut oils, as they saponify quickly, produce excellent lather and cleansing power when saponified. They both make a nice hard, white bar of soap. Castor oil is commonly used, as it produces great lather and is conditioning. Olive oil is a favorite because it is makes a conditioning bar of soap. It does not produce much lather, and is not as cleansing as palm/coconut oil when saponified - so, it is often combined in a recipe with palm and/or coconut oil. Some soapmakers choose to make castille soap, which is 100% olive oil soap.
Trace is the term given to the stage of soap making when the ingredients are fully mixed and ready for additives and pouring into molds. This is the goal you are working to achieve when blending your lye water and oils! At the end of the mixing process, you will notice that the ingredients begin to “come together” and resemble vanilla pudding. When it reaches this point and when it is thick enough that dripping some of the mixture across the top of the mixture leaves a trail of drips (and doesn't immediately sink back into the batch), you have reached trace! At this stage, you can start adding in your fragrances, essential oils, colours, and other ingredients which you have set aside to "add at trace", and then put the soap into your mold!
My CP Soap is hard after 2 weeks. Can I go ahead and use it now?
It can be really tempting to use the soap at this point - but, it is best to wait!! While oils saponify at different speeds, even those which saponify the fastest (which are generally saturated oils which are solid at room temperature - such as coconut and palm oils) will not be fully saponified after two weeks. Those oils which saponify the most slowly - like olive oil - will still need another MONTH to saponify at that point - they can take up to six weeks to fully saponify.
Can using a stick blender hurt my cp soap?
If you use the soap too early, it may still contain active lye in the soap. Active lye that has not been saponified is dangerous because it can burn or irritate the skin. If you use the soap too early, it won't have achieved its full moisturizing and cleansing potential. It will be softer than it will be when fully cured. So, you will waste a lot of it, as it will dissolve too readily in water and go down the drain.
Stick blenders are a valuable tool, and many soapmakers consider their invention to be one of the best things ever to happen to the soapmaking process. However, it is best to use them with a bit of moderation - both to avoid "false trace" (discussed later in this FAQ) and to avoid burning out the stick blender. "Pulsing" the stick blender in short bursts (thirty seconds on, five seconds off, etc.) rather than running it continuously helps your stick blender to last longer, as it keeps the motor from overheating. Also, it helps to avoid false trace, as it keeps the soap from overheating and it gives you a chance to let it settle and observe how close it is to achieving trace. Some fragrances that tend to accelerate trace, will actually seize the soap when used with a stick blender.
What is “soap seizing” ?
Seizing is when you incorporate additives into your mixture and the soap overreacts by immediately going to trace, becomes grainy and/or becomes hard. Most often it is the result of difficult fragrance oils…but there can be other reasons. Too high or too low temperature can cause the fragrance oil and/or essential oil to overreact, causing the soap to harden suddenly and unexpectedly. Heat produced from a stick blender can often push a difficult fragrance over the edge and cause a seize. It can also be caused by ingredients such as sugars, waxes, jojoba oil, stearic acid, and alcohols. Some base oils such as neem oil, shea butter and sometimes castor oil can also cause soap to seize if used at more than 5%. Additionally, some essential oils (especially cinnamon and clove) can accelerate trace or cause soap to seize. Many Soapmakers avoid seizing problems with fragrance oils by blending them into a small amount of warm oils, taken from your soap pot before you have added your lye solution, and add at early trace.
My soap seized. Is there any way to salvage the soap?
If this happens, first take a deep breath…all is not lost! Your basic soap should be fine to use, just not as pretty as you planned for it to be. Try scooping your soap into your mold and then press it down with the back of your spoon.
Why do people talk about “curing soap”?
If the seizing is really bad (where the soap has gone virtually solid in your pot) you can try to rebatch the soap by further heating it right away in a crock pot. In this case, most add a bit of added liquid like some milk or cream.
In general, seized soap can still be used, but some seizes create such a reaction that they might compromise correct saponification.
Soap is the result of a chemical interaction in which lye (in water) acts upon fat, oils, and nut butters to convert them into soap. This process takes time - the soap is only about half saponified when you have brought it to trace and put it into your mold. How much additional time it will take from that point until it is fully cured and ready to use depends on the oils used. More saturated oils (like coconut and palm oils which are solid at room temperature) tend to saponify more quickly than less saturated oils such as olive oil. Your soap can take anywhere from three to eight weeks to cure, and is only ready for use when it is fully cured.
I want to have a book on hand for cp soap. Is there one you would recommend?
The books by Susan Miller Cavitch are wonderful; many soapmakers swear by “The Soapmaker's Companion”. Also, Essentially Soap by Dr. Robert S. McDaniel is a great book, which gives a lot of technical information about soapmaking which other books do not contain.
My cp soap has this white stuff on the top. Is it the start of mold or something else?
That white powder is called soda ash. Soda ash frequently forms on the surface of the soap and is quite harmless. To get rid of it, scrape, cut or wash off the powder on the soap before use. It does not affect the quality of your cold process soap.
I heard of a person that added chunks of mp soap base to their cp soap base. Can this really be done? Why did they do it?
Soda ash is more likely to appear on soaps that have been mixed and poured either too hot or cold, or not insulated properly after pouring, so that the temperature either drops or spikes to quickly during your gel phase. Soda ash is also more common in soaps containing milk or sugars.
Sure - and it can look absolutely gorgeous! The trick to doing this successfully is to get good adhesion, and spritzing the MP pieces with some rubbing alcohol immediately prior to adding them helps a LOT with good adhesion. Also, it's critical to not melt the MP soap base pieces, if you want them to stand out and look distinct from the CP around them. The best way to avoid melting the MP is to add it to the CP at trace - perhaps gently pushing the MP chunks into the very top surface of the CP in the mold, so that they are exposed to less heat than when fully surrounded by CP. Also, it helps to not insulate the finished soap during saponification.
How can I harden my bar of cp soap?
One of the best ways to create a hard bar of CP soap is to plan your recipe to incorporate oils which create a hard bar when saponified. For instance, coconut and palm oils contribute to producing a hard bar of soap - although they are best combined in a recipe with other oils such as olive, sweet almond, etc. which will boost the moisturizing properties of the soap. (A bar made of just coconut and palm oils will tend to be so hard that it borders on being brittle, and so cleansing that it can dry out your skin).
Why do people add Sodium Lactate to cp soap?
There are also additives that can be used in CP to produce a harder bar - like stearic acid and sodium lactate. Make sure to follow the Wholesale Supplies Plus usage guidelines when adding these to your soap. You do not want to add too much or have poor incorporation of your additives!
Sodium lacatate is thought to harden cold process soap while minimizing shrinkage associated with curing.
When my soap is ready to use, what is the ideal pH of my soap?
Cold process soap is naturally alkaline. It is normal for soap to have a pH between 8 and 10.5. Industrial made soap has an average pH of 10.5, while the pH of quality handmade soap can be as low as 8.5.
How can I test the pH of my soap?
There are three ways to check the pH of your soap.
1. pH strips. Special pH strips give you an immediate indication of the pH.
2. Use testing. For this, you simply wash your hands with your soap. Soap with an acceptable pH will rinse clean and will leave your skin smooth and refreshed. If your lather instead feels slimy, difficult to rinse and leaves your hands with a reddened appearance (similar to doing dishes in hot water for too long) then your soap is most likely lye heavy and has not fully saponified. If your soap passes hand testing satisfactorily you may want to test further on more delicate skin such as the inside of your elbows before giving it the final approval.
3. Tongue test. Some soapmakers also do “tongue testing” or “zap testing”. With this method, you touch the finished bar of soap with your tongue. If the soap causes the tongue to tingle a bit (like touching the tongue to a battery), then there is still active lye in it and it should not yet be used on the skin.
My soap is fully cured but still has a high pH. What can I do?
If your cold process soap has already completed its cure and is still lye heavy, it can generally be saved by rebatching it - perhaps with a high fat liquid such as heavy cream which will give any loose lye some fat to saponify. If your soap gives you a burning or itching feeling while hand testing chances are it is too caustic to be used on the skin, and will only be usable for laundry soap.
Help! My soap turned grainy and got hard when I added fragrance. Why?
Factors which can cause this include too high or too low a mixing temperature, as well as overreaction to your fragrance oil and/or essential oil. Your basic soap should be fine to use, but just not as pretty as it would otherwise be.
Help! My soap separated after I poured it into the mold? Why?
This is probably “false trace”. Sometimes, if your soap is too warm and you work too quickly, you achieve what is called “false trace”. False trace is where the soap looks like it is at trace, but it has not reacted enough to stay together when put in the mold. One way to avoid separation is to mix the soap at somewhat above room temperature and not work too rapidly to bring it to trace. If you take your time bringing the soap to trace and avoid high temperatures and excessive mixing (perhaps pulse your stick blender or hand stir, rather than running it constantly in the batch) you are much less likely to have false trace and soap separation.
You can attempt to fix the separation by placing your cold process soap mixture back in your soap pot and reheating while stirring until it traces again. Next time you make this soap check your starting temperatures.