Varying the Cold Process

Experienced soapmakers are always looking for ways to not only make better soap, but also make soap better. The “rules” of soapmaking are different for each soapmaker. As a soapmaker gains experience with materials, processes, and procedures, he will find ways to customize the basics to suit his own style. The variations on process discussed in this section are best saved for a time when you have gained considerable experience with more customary materials and processes.

Room Temperature Cold Process

One of the patience-trying parts of learning to make cold-process soap is waiting for the lye to cool to the suggested working temperature and then getting the oils warmed and melted to the same temperature. Rather than waiting for the heat — energy — to dispel, it makes sense to use the idea of an energy exchange — to use the heat of the lye and water reaction to melt and warm the oils. This procedure is called room temperature cold process.

The success of this alternative cold-process technique depends on many factors. The temperature of the working area has an impact on how the energy exchange occurs, as does the consistency of oils that are sensitive to temperature. It takes a lot more energy to melt and warm oils that are in a cold room. Coconut oil and shea and other butters take more energy to become liquid and therefore able to be incorporated into the mixture. If your workspace is very cold and you are making small amounts of soap with a large percentage of solid oils, there may not be enough heat energy generated to melt them.

Conversely, if your working area is quite warm, you may end up with more energy than is needed and have a soap mixture that is too warm. When the soap mixture is too warm, it can trace too quickly, even seize completely. A worst-case scenario, which is thankfully very unusual, would be for the soap mixture to “volcano” up and out of the soap pot.

Scent materials that at lower temperatures don't accelerate trace may do so under these conditions. The only way to know what is going to happen is to try it and be prepared to get the soap into the molds quickly.

Discounted Water Cold Process

After you've been making cold-process soap for a while, you'll notice that you can safely touch and use the soap after just a few days of making it. It will be more drying than older soap, but you'll observe that what the four-week waiting periods mostly deal with is hardening the soap through evaporation of extra water.

In an effort to shorten the “cure” time, soapers began experimenting with using less water at the beginning, leaving less to evaporate from the drying bars.

Like other “extreme soapmaking” practices, using less than the customary six ounces of water per pound of fats is a more risky procedure.

Safely using lye should be at the top of your soapmaking priorities. When you use less water, you're still using the same amount of lye. You'll be creating a stronger lye solution, which poses the danger of being less forgiving than the customary dilution. You can get a more serious lye burn faster when the solution is stronger.

It bears repeating that the stronger caustic solution must be approached with extra care. Arrogance and disrespect for the nature of the materials has led many an artist to at best failed batches and at worst injury and disaster.

There is an entire online discussion group dedicated to pushing this soapmaking envelope. If you are interested in pursuing experimentation with “how low can you go,” you should have a great deal of “normal” cold-process experience and take extra precautions to shield yourself from caustics. You will find that when using less water the soap behaves differently. Fragrances mutate, seizure and ricing are more common, and the soap batter traces rapidly. As long as you plan ahead for these possibilities — understanding the nature of your scent materials, using an immersion blender to smooth soap batter with a curdled look, having your molds prepared, and using a spatula to scrape and scoop thick soap — you will have success. Try experimenting with five ounces of water per pound of fats; make another batch using 4.5 ounces. Be sure to keep notes on your process.

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