Troubleshooting in Melt and Pour Soap
Have you been experiencing difficulty in melt and pour soapmaking?
You’re not alone.
When working with some many variables, there are dozens of possible scenarios that could happen. Sinking lavender buds, soap spills, unfortunate inclusions of cat hair, mottled orange and blue supposed-to-be layers; I’ve seen it all. Here are some common hiccups you may experience along the way as well as remedies and points for further reference.
The colors I used to layer the soap mixed together in the mold.
- Temperature of soap was too hot
- Forceful pour
- Second layer was poured too soon
Timing and temperature are two of the most important factors in melt and pour soapmaking. Mastering both of these areas will give you less margin for error, but sometimes, things just happen. I’ve attempted and made layered soap without having a thermometer available, so I’ve learned to at least use colors that pair well together in case of an accidental “oops”. Learn more in Melt and Pour 101: Techniques, Melt and Pour 101: Choosing a Soap Base and Melt and Pour 101: Colorants.
The soap layers are coming apart.
- Rubbing alcohol was not used to help adhere layers
- Soap was too cool when poured
- First layer of soap was too cool when being poured upon
I wasn’t kidding about temperature and timing! This can, as you see on the photo to the right, that this can literally make or break your soap. You must pour around 120° F and pour gently. Layers can be tricky at first, but once you master them, there’s no going back. Learn more in Melt and Pour 101: Techniques.
The soap has discolored.
- The fragrance oil used has a high content of vanillin
- The fragrance or essential oil used has a dark appearance out of bottle
When a soap begins to turn brown, vanillin is usually the culprit. It’s exactly what it sounds like vanillin – vanilla – otherwise known for its notes of sweetness and warmth. It is a naturally-occurring compound that is often found in bakery-type fragrance oils. Plan ahead by checking the vanillin content of your fragrance oil and sticking to colors that will still work with a tinge of beige/brown. Learn more in Melt and Pour 101: Fragrance & Essential Oils.
I used botanicals/flower petals in my soap and now it looks undesirable.
- Botanicals added at a high temperature
- This is to be expected
Since botanicals such as calendula petals and lavender buds are organic matter, they are prone to (and most likely will) discolor your soap. Unfortunately, most flower petals and other botanicals will turn your soap brown or green. Due to the organic makeup of the flower buds, decomposition will occur. I recommend only adding botanicals to the soap for decoration after it has already begun to cool and you are able to visualize a skin beginning to form on the soap. Gently add your botanicals and spritz with alcohol. Learn more in Melt & Pour 101: Additives & Botanicals.
There are bubbles on or in my soap.
- Soap was not spritzed with rubbing alcohol
- Soap base was overheated
- Soap base was not stirred gently enough while melting
- Soap was poured into mold from a high distance
- Ingredients were not mixed gently enough
Bubbles may appear on the surface as you pour the soap into the mold. When the soap is being poured too quickly or harshly, it may experience aeration and bubbles will rise to the top. This is where the spray bottle of rubbing alcohol comes in handy – quickly give the surface of the soap a quick spritz after pouring and watch the bubbles disappear before your eyes! Learn more in Melt and Pour 101: Techniques.
The soap burns my skin or causes a reaction.
- Fragrance or essential oil used is not skin-safe
- Using more than the maximum recommended amount of fragrance per IFRA’s guidelines
- Possible allergic reaction
If the soap burns your skin or causes any type of reaction, stop using it immediately. We always recommend doing a patch test for allergic reaction prior to using our products. This is why it is important to keep inventory of your fragrance oils, bases and colorants used. Learn more in Melt and Pour 101: Fragrance & Essential Oils.
The additives in the soap have sunken.
- Additives were incorporated at too high of a temperature
- Suspending soap base was not used
- Additive particle size and weight do not allow for easy suspension and dispersion
If you are having trouble with having your additives sinking, the first thing I recommend is to try using a suspending soap base. These are specially formulated to suspend small particles in melt and pour soap. Other soap bases are also capable of having additives included but you really have to pay attention to temperature and timing. I recommend using a digital infrared thermometer for quick and easy temperature readings. Learn more in Melt & Pour 101: Additives & Botanicals and Melt and Pour 101: Choosing a Soap Base.
The soap doesn’t lather or bubble up as much as desired.
- Too much fragrance was added
- Too much extra oils were used
There are a few possibilities as to why this is happening. When making melt and pour soap, it is important to keep additives to a minimum. Remember, these are pre-formulated bases that are meant to be melted and poured. Using too much oil or butter (such as shea butter) in your soap base can compromise the bubbling action. Many soap bases are already enriched with those skin-loving moisturizers, so if you do want to add more butters, start with a little bit such as 1 tsp – 1 T. per 1 lb. of soap base.
Small bumps or droplets have formed on the finished soap.
- Soap is stored in a humid environment
- Drastic temperature changes
- Soap is not wrapped
Glycerin is a common component in Melt and Pour soap. Glycerin is a humectant, which means it attracts moisture. This is why our skin often feels moisturized and refreshed after we use soap. Glycerin will sometimes attract moisture and humidity from the air, creating what looks like sweat, dew or droplets on the soap bar. This is only cosmetic and can easily be fixed. Try to store your handmade soap in a cool, climate-controlled environment. If moisture develops on the bars of soap, you may gently pat them with a cloth or paper towel. The soap is still useable and the dew will wash off when the bar is used. Learn more in Melt and Pour 101: Choosing a Soap Base.
There are ripples or wrinkles on the surface of the soap.
- Soap mold was bumped while still cooling
- Soap mold was moved prematurely from work area.
Be mindful of your mold! For example, a 3×4 inch cavity mold would not need to cool as long as a 12×12 inch loaf mold. For smaller molds, six hours is recommended. Loaf molds, however, need to set longer, for about 12-24 hours. Once the soap has set for about an hour, you may carefully transfer the soap to the refrigerator to help speed up the process. I recommend playing it safe and unmolding the next day or at least 12 hours later. Be mindful of your work area and if making multiple batches; try putting your molds on a cutting board for easy pouring and transfer. Learn more in Melt and Pour 101: Techniques.
I am not satisfied with my end product.
- Soap doesn’t lather
- Soap isn’t aesthetically pleasing
- Soap is too lightly scented
- Design didn’t turn out as planned
Never throw anything away! You will be amazed what all those little odds and ends will come in useful for later! A great way to reuse this soap is to do a confetti or mosaic effect where you would put all the bits and pieces of scrap soap in a mold and pour white soap around it to make a solid bar. I’ve even heard of people who make soap in this manner for homeless shelters and those who are underpriveliged. What a thoughtful way to give back to the community! You will be surprised how gorgeous the bars turn out. Learn more in Melt and Pour 101: Techniques.
The soap smelled great but then the aroma dissipated.
- Not enough fragrance or essential oil was used
- Fragrance or essential oil was mixed into soap at a high temperature
- Essential oil was used, particularly a citrus type
- Soap hasn’t been stored properly
In my experience, typically when a fragrance fades it means that the soap has been overheated. Citrus essential oils are also notorious for having a fading aroma in soap. Try anchoring the scent with a teaspoon of Kaolin clay. Learn more in Melt and Pour 101: Fragrance & Essential Oils.
Tips for Successful Soapmaking
As we conclude our Melt and Pour 101 Series, here are some unexpected tips I have to offer. Taking the time to learn your craft will make your new hobby and learning experience painless. Some of these may seem like common sense, but these are some things that have slipped my mind and others as soap makers.
Research and learning are #1 – learn the basics of melt and pour soapmaking in this series.
Keep kids and animals away from your soaping area.
Pull your hair back.
Check out your local dollar store for supplies such as skewers for swirling, spoons for stirring, etc.
Prepare your workspace before you begin your project.
Give yourself enough time to thoroughly complete the project.
Know where you will let the soap cool – it’s all fun until you realize you poured a batch of soap you cannot yet move!
Place your soap mold on a cutting board or baking sheet if you will need to move it from the pouring area.
Explore outside the box
Find dedicated soapmaking forums and groups on social media to join in on the conversation.
Always seek answers. If you can’t find it, look further. Network.
Never throw away soap scraps. Store them in a zipper bag or plastic storage container.
Always have rubbing alcohol on hand.
Believe in yourself and trust yourself.