When Soap Turns Rogue, Sometimes That’s Okay

On some days, when I’m out puttering around in the garden, I get some attitude from the neighbors.

Remember those celery seeds you planted? Hahaha.

(It’s true. Something ate them, or they just didn’t like the dirt, or me, or something.)  On other days, I get attitude from soap.

Colorants can be the absolute bane of a soapmaker, whenever fragrance or essential oils have taken the day off from being a pain in the butt.  I’ve mentioned “morphing” before — it’s when a fragrance or a colorant, through the mystery of the saponification process, turns into something entirely different than what you expected.  I’ve made a soap that, to me, smells way too much like an armpit (this opinion might not be shared by others) and the fragrance certainly didn’t smell like that in the bottle.  (If it had, I would’ve chucked it at the guy in the picture above.)

Fragrances aren’t the only miscreants; colorants are also notorious for misbehavior.  Finding a stable and vivid red is one of the Holy Grails of the cold-process method.  And as I noted in my earlier post, I wanted to make a soap in honor of a friend of mine, a moviemaker and heavy metal singer, and it needed a lot of red.

It took three tries.

“Tommy’s Heavy Metal THUNDERR!”



Eventually, I landed it — a soap just as over-the-top as he is.




But before that there was Attempt One, which qualified as an Unmitigated Disaster.  The fragrance I was using had a reputation for giving “false trace,” which means that the lye and the soap really haven’t become best buds yet, but pretend to you most earnestly that they are.  Later, they separate just as bitterly as the couple in the top story on the Daily Mail on any given day.  That’s what happened to me, and when I tried to unmold the ungrateful little &^%$#, it was a blob of hissing goo underneath a carapace so hard I could have used it as a bludgeon.  I didn’t even bother to try to save it through rebatching, I was so pissed.

Now the next attempt I got smarter, or so I thought.  I changed the fragrance base and used the little liar only as a top note.  And I had this Absolute Stroke of Genius.  I thought I’d use some micas to produce a burning copper-gold effect in the swirl with the activated charcoal.  These two, in fact.

Ooh! Shiny! What could possibly go wrong?

I’d used micas before for some pretty nice effects.

“St. Croix Night Sky.”


There’s the brushwork on Night Sky, for example — my attempt to show the stunning effect of the Milky Way in the absolute black of a night on St. Croix.




So I mixed everything up — the micas looked great in the mix — poured it in the mold, pulled off the technique known as a “hanger swirl” (yes, you use a slightly modified clothes hanger for this), and waited. And waited.  Man, this soap was soft.  I think it was the recalcitrant fragrance giving me one final “Screw you.”  But when that soap finally came out of the mold, I didn’t have the burning copper-gold I was eagerly anticipating.

I had pink.  Pink. Oh for the love of. Pink. Pink might be many things but it is not Heavy Metal, at least by the usual consensus.

So now I had a beautifully scented, coconut, olive and castor oil soap (I’ve been working on a butters-free formula for a bit) that should be a dream in the shower.  That is, well, pink and black.  Not exactly what I was after, but alchemy sometimes works that way.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream"

A very cool friend of mine gave me the name.  It’s happily and pinkily curing now in the Lab with the rest of the crew.