Intentional Crop Circle Design Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's

Intentional Crop Circles: Water Discount As A Design Tool

posted in: Auntie Clara's Blog, Blog Post | 70

The world is full to the brim of beautiful pictures of soap. They are the backbone of soaping sites, Pinterest pages and soaping groups worldwide. Beautiful images of extraordinary masterpieces are a joy, a pleasure and very inspirational, but often it is images of soap that didn’t quite turn out as planned that are the more interesting.

Since I have taken a special interest in heat and gelling related issues of late (you can read about my previous experiments here and here) I tend to home in on images related to that. A couple of months ago I saw a striking image in one of the soaping groups I belong to; a bar of soap with double ’crop circles’. Crop circles is a term of endearment for the visual manifestation of non-uniform gelling in soap. Beginning in the centre of the soap, the heat generated through saponification makes the soap go through gel phase. Depending on size, shape, insulation, ambient temp etc the area gelling in the centre of the soap may or may not spread out to the edges of the soap through the course of saponification. If not, the gelled area vill often look like a dark circle inside a lighter area of un-gelled soap.

In this case the soap had started gelling in the centre but had not gelled all the way to the edges. It had subsequently been placed in an oven with a fairly high ambient temp but only for a relatively short time. The result was an awe-inspiring effect where the heat generated through saponification had created an inner gelled area and ambient heat in the oven had created an outer gelled area. Between the two gelled areas was a lighter ring of ungelled soap. Most striking!

Among the usual comments about possibly rebatching this rare work of art were comments in line with “You couldn’t recreate that effect if you tried”.

Probably true.

But what if you could? From my past heat and water discount experiments I have learnt that the heat generation and gelling pattern of saponifying soap can be manipulated by manipulating the water content. Since it’s well known that gelling affects colours in soap, wouldn’t it be possible to harness contrasting gelling behaviour as an intentional design technique? An intentional crop circle technique.

Time for a new experiment! 🙂

From earlier experience I knew that powdered wheat grass gives very different intensity of colour when gelled as compared to ungelled. Hence I decided to use powdered wheat grass as colourant for my first experiment. Chlorophyll greens are nice and natural but they change from bright green to olive-green or brown over time. It’s inevitable and you need to consider this when planning chlorophyll green designs. A good way of keeping things looking interesting even after colour changes, is ensuring that you have enough contrast in the design.

First, I prepared my mould for a polka dot pour.

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Then, I prepared my ingredients. Much like in my second glycerine river experiment I divided my lye amount in two equal parts and made two different lye solutions; one with a 1/1.4 lye/water concentration (for low-water soap) and one with a 1/2.4 lye/water concentration (for high-water soap). Then I prepared my oils and stickblended in the fragrance and the colourant. When everything was carefully blended I divided the oil, colour and fragrance mixture into two equal parts by weighing it. I added each lye solution to its respective oils and stickblended each soap batter to light trace.

At this point the high-water batter was lighter in colour than the low-water batter. It could be that this was simply because the same amount of colourant was dispersed in a larger volume of batter due to the extra water – or perhaps because the higher oil concentration in the low-water emulsion gave that batter a darker appearance. I intended to make ‘negative’ crop circles (light circles in darker soap) and so the low-water soap was poured into the cylinders and the high-water soap was poured around the cylinders.

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(I apologize for the poor quality of these iPhone snapshots) The mould went into the oven where it spent a few hours in 60C after which I turned off the oven and left the soap with the ’night light’ on until next morning.

I didn’t watch the soap the whole time, just noticed that after about 1.5h in the oven the colour change had occurred: the low-water soap that started off being considerably darker than the high-water soap, was now lighter.

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Here it looks as if the low-water soap is going through gel phase..
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..and here it looks as if the high-water soap is in full gel while the low-water soap has finished gel. Note the uneven, puffy look of the high-water soap in contrast with the smooth evenness of the low-water soap.


The next morning was cutting time and yes, I had created a pretty perfect set of intentional crop circles, ie a pattern where the colour or shade differential is due to differences in heat generation and gelling pattern, differences which in turn were caused purely by manipulation of the water content. One oil formula, one colourant, one fragrance, one pour, one ambient temp but two different water concentrations. The high-water soap went through typical, extended high-water gel phase which darkened and intensified the colour. The low-water looked like it went through gel. If it did gel – helped along by the 60C ambient temp – it did so in a swifter and different manner than the high-water soap resulting in less intensive colour.

Intentional Crop Circle Soap by Auntie Clara's

It was the result I expected – I had managed to create intentional ‘crop circles’ and it was nice to see my theory confirmed. What was particularly interesting, though, was to take a close look at the top of the soap.

Intentional Crop Circle Soap by Auntie Clara's

As in the glycerine river experiment, the high-water part of the top showed signs of expanding and puffing up during gel resulting in the pronounced craters and the knobbly surface. The low-water soap showed no such signs. But most interesting is the slight but definite soda ash pattern on the surface. The ash had developed on the high-water parts but not on the low-water parts and most notably it had developed where high-water areas bordered on low-water areas. Due to the different heat generation patterns of saponifying low-water and high-water soaps, there will have been a sizeable difference in temp on each side of these border lines during saponification. The low-water soap will have reached a higher temp in shorter time after which it may have cooled down enough for the gelling high-water soap to be warmer. I rarely get ash on my soaps, possibly because I mostly do a steep water discount, but when I’ve had ash it has often developed where soap still hot has been exposed to cool air. Here hot soap would have been exposed to relatively cool soap instead.

Intentional Crop Circle Soap by Auntie Clara's

The horizontally cut bars, seen at a low angle against the light, show the tell-tale indentations of glycerine rivers surrounding each circle of low-water soap.


Intentional Crop Circle Soap by Auntie Clara's
Absolutely Fabulous Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's

The lighter ring inside the perimeter of the low-water circles is due to the same phenomenon that causes ’haloes’ in some soaps with embeds. It happens where saponifying, warm soap in the gel phase borders on a cool surface. In the case of my green soap the cylindrical low-water soap is likely to have generated more heat faster than the surrounding, cooler, high-water soap. Where it bordered on the high-water soap a ’halo belt’ developed in the warmer soap. In the picture on the right of a soap with embeds that I made a year ago, the blue soap developed halo belts as it gelled next to the relatively cool, cylindrical embeds.

So, using my oven at 60C it was possible to manipulate the colour development of relatively big portions of soap next to each other just by manipulating the water content. But what about swirls? Could the method of influencing depth and intensity of colour by water content manipulation be used where thin layers of soap lie next to each other? Would relatively thin layers of soap in close proximity even out temperature differentials to the extent that the effect would be lost? And how would this work with a different kind of colourant?

Time for the next experiment.

Since the first experiment involved a plant derived colourant I now decided to use a mineral pigment. Ultramarine blue works well in soap in that it doesn’t mind either high alkalinity or heat. Ultramarine doesn’t morph and doesn’t change over time. If used at low concentration it may appear grey or take on a greenish hue if used with yellow oils. Ultramarine blue is quite a strong colourant and for a medium blue I usually use about half a teaspoon per 1000g of oils. This time I decided to go with a quarter of a teaspoon of ultramarine blue per 1000g of oils.

I prepared my ingredients just like I did in the first experiment. One lye solution at 1/1.4 lye/water concentration and another lye solution at 1/2.4 lye/water concentration. Colourant mixed with a small amount of glycerine and then carefully stickblended into the oils together with the fragrance. Oil mixture divided into two equal parts and lye solutions added each to their own half of the oil mixture and stickblended to emulsion. As with the green soap the high-water soap was again slightly lighter in colour, but this time the difference was minimal.

I then proceeded to pour the two batters in a kind of faux funnel pour, alternating low-water soap and high-water soap. I’ve never done a faux funnel pour before and I now know that I’ll do it at light trace rather than just emulsion next time. I was worried about the soap setting up too soon but it turns out I had plenty of time to keep pouring the batter in small increments. When I had finished pouring, the soap was still very fluid and the top looked very flat. Since I was planning to cut the bars horizontally I didn’t want to do anything about the top and so I just left it as it was.

I put it in my preheated 60C oven and after about 1.5h I turned off the oven when it looked as if the gelling was nicely under way.

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I took the iPhone shots above for documentation purposes and I’m posting them here purposely unedited to show the rather interesting colour changes that this one-colourant soap went through.

In the first pic on the left I’ve just finished pouring the soap, it’s still glossy and fluid and you can see a darker ring of low-water soap around an ’island’ of lighter high-water soap.

In the next pic it has spent about 30 min in the oven. The soap is setting up but no sign of gel yet. Note how the low-water ring has now become lighter than the high-water island.

The third pic was taken after about 1.5h in 60C. Don’t know how anybody else would interpret this but to me it looks like the low-water ring is going through gel phase. The little low-water drip on the surface next to the ring looks exactly like vaseline.The high-water island still doesn’t look as if it’s going through gel phase.

The last pic to the right shows what the soap looked like the next morning. The low-water ring now looks white and the high-water island is clearly darker.


Apart from those couple of low water details on the top you couldn’t really see any great contrasts or differences in colour on the surface of the soap. The slightly veined and uneven light blue was very pretty and looked a bit like blue agate but that was it as far a the surface and moulded sides were concerned. “Ag,well” as we say in South Africa, you can’t win them all and at least I knew I had given it my best shot..

But then I cut the soap..

Intentional Crop Circle Design Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's

I had expected some kind of difference in shade between the low and high-water soap, something like a two shade gradient perhaps, but I had never imagined anything remotely as dramatic as this! Not only was the contrast in shade between the low and high-water soap strikingly clear, I also had very clear dark contours between all the low and high-water areas. And because the cut went through very thin alternating layers of soap I also got a show of almost every shade between the lightest and the darkest as the translucent, gelled layers veiled and revealed each other. Pretty impressive for one colourant used at the same colourant/oil ratio throughout.

Intentional Crop Circle Design Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's

Interestingly, I can’t see any halos in the light low-water areas, although those areas must have been significantly warmer than the surrounding high-water soap during the initial stages of saponification. The explanation might be that the low-water areas are, in fact, completely ’haloed’. In the green soap as well as in the soap with embeds above, the halo belts are about 3-5mm wide. Since the layers in this soap are thin it could be that the halo covers the entire volume in each low-water layer thus adding to the contrast in shade between low and high-water soap.

Glycerine rivers? Plenty. The amount of pigment used was relatively small and although you can’t see any typical crackle, those dark contours between the low and high-water layers are magnificent ‘rivers’. When you look at the freshly cut bars at a low angle against the light you can see them as indented topographical lines.


Whatever the composition of those so-called rivers really is, I have until now assumed that they are more water-heavy than the surrounding soap and that water evaporation causes them to shrink more than the surrounding soap. Looking at this picture now I’m inclined to think that there is more to it than just water evaporation. The fact that the indentation appears as soon as the bars are cut makes me think that it’s a case of uneven thermal expansion. When the soap is gelling and soft, the ’rivers’ expand more than the surrounding soap from the heat generated by saponification and push away the surrounding soap. As the soap cools down and solidifies, a low pressure builds up in the contracting rivers causing internal tension. As you cut through the fresh soap, the tension breaks and the rivers pull in on themselves creating that immediate indentation.

Nice theory. I’ll stick to it until somebody can tell me what those rivers really are and why they behave like they do 🙂

Lessons learnt? These experiments once again suggest that there’s a lot more to water discount than just how long until you can unmould and how long it takes for the soap to cure.

The ash build-up on the green soap was an interesting lesson suggesting that a steep water discount may help prevent ash. While there was no ash visible on the top of the soap in the second experiment, a closer examination of my stickblender attachments some 24h after the soap was made, is interesting:



The attachment on the left was used to blend the low-water soap and the attachment on the right was used to blend the high-water soap.  The un-gelled soap residue on the high-water attachment is powdered with a fine coating of ash while the soap on the low-water attachment shows no signs of ash. Again, one oil formula but two different water concentrations. Just a coincidence – both times? Not likely.

I learnt that it’s perfectly possible to use water concentration as a tool for visual design. I now know that you can manipulate colour intensity not only by making sure that the soap goes through gel phase but also by manipulating water content. In the future I’ll think twice before doing a steep water discount when wanting to achieve deep colours through gelling. Likewise I’ll think twice before not doing a water discount if I want to keep colours light. Of course, I only tested two types of pigments here and it may well be that other types of colourants behave differently.

Finally, I’ll introduce you to the fine cast of characters featured in my blue Intentional crop circle soap:

Intentional Crop Circle Design Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's

Aliens? That’s what you get for making intentional crop circles.. 🙂



70 Responses

  1. Robin Herz

    Awesome Clara! Not only are your soaps beautiful art and photography simply stunning but these experiments certainly have been eye openers. Thank you for taking the time to share your results.

  2. Pam

    Clara another wonderful experimentation you’ve shared. How can we ever thank you enough? Thank you ever so much!.
    So as some mysteries are solved others crop up! To add to the mysteries I have created the same topographical (brocade effect) in cut soap. In my case I used 3 different clays and they each took different amounts of water from the initial batter. To add to that mystery this soap was cut at 2 days and had the brocade effect. A large 1 1/2 inch bar set for 3 – 4 weeks was split and there were no topographical effects on the fresh cuts. So curing does change that over time I assume.

    A friend does lovely swirls. Some times she add a touch more water to a small amount of soap to loosen it up so when she pours it is more fluid. Over the cure she has seen that the water downed portion actually creates what she thought was ash but tests as lye concentration marks that actually look like the halos you have created here. We think it was because the with held soap that was watered down for the last pour was cooler than the body of soap it entered.

    Please remove this post if it is too large that isn’t a problem with me.

    A question though. With equal amounts of colorant and fragrance in this water experiment I’m wondering if the final product (after the cure) you can smell and feel the difference in the high water or low water portions of the soap? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could use less fragrance in the low water soap batter for the same effect!

    Again my appreciation to a true artist/scientist!


    • Clara

      I think it makes a lot of sense that curing diminishes the indentation effect of the ‘rivers’. As the soap ages it hardens and there will be less ‘bounce’ in it, ie the pulling back effect will be less pronounced. The soap in my second experiment was cut about 12h after it was made. Had I waited longer I probably would have had less of a brocade pattern as you call it. As with ungelled soap – the longer you leave it before cutting, the smoother your cut is likely to be.
      Don’t know how the different gelling patterns affect volatile fragrance and residual fragrance is difficult to really measure. On the one hand the low-water soap reaches a higher temp, but it keeps the temp for a relatively short time. The high-water soap doesn’t get as hot, but it goes on gelling for a longer time. Here these gelling patterns intermingle in the same bar so I don’t think you’ll be able to tell much difference. But it would be very interesting to know if there is a difference.

  3. Nancy

    I’m not clear about one thing?? The low water soap, how do you make that soap not be lye heavy? Your results are amazing.

    • Clara

      The fundamentals of saponification is that oil and lye give soap and glycerine. Water is there to ‘facilitate’ the process, ie think of water as a facilitator rather than a main actor. If a soap is lye heavy it means that it has a surplus of lye in relation to the amount of oil, not in relation to the amount of water.

  4. Laurie

    Intentional crop circles ? Aliens ? Hilarious ! There are fields in the southwest of the US that are cut just like that…and they think aliens do it !!! Of course you knew that, but I am so delighted to have noticed the metaphor. And your experiments are so darned interesting !! I have studied and studied the pictures and your words while you are slaving away to teach us . Thank you very much !

    • Clara

      I thought it was pretty funny that those aliens turned up in my crop circle soap. A little eery.. 🙂

  5. Natalia

    This is super experiment, thank you very much for sharing and the detailed explanations. Your blog and your soaps are inspiring.

  6. Debbie

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiments, Clara. Your observations are fascinating, and both soaps you produced look stunning.
    I’ll definitely try something similar – but would like to see what, if anything, happens when you don’t gel the soap (because I generally avoid gel).

    • Clara

      I think it would be very interesting to see how a relatively big difference in water concentration like I did here affects un-gelled soap. I’d love to know how your experiment turns out 🙂

  7. Stacey

    Love love love this post! Soapy science at its best! Thanks for sharing your experiment, and congrats on your truly unique and beautiful soaps.

  8. Seawolfe

    This is really astounding! Thank you so much for sharing your findings.
    I have one question about your lye/water ratios, and I’m sure I’m just being thick. You said “one with a 1/1.4 lye/water concentration (for low-water soap) and one with a 1/2.4 lye/water concentration (for high-water soap)” does that mean 1 part lye to 14 parts water by weight? That cant be right, what am I missing?

    • Clara

      1 part lye to 1.4 parts water for the low water soap and 1 part lye to 2.4 parts water for the high-water soap – by weight.

    • Clara

      Sorry about the font being hard to read; there is a decimal point between the 1 and the 4 and between the 2 and the 4.

  9. Susi @ SoYummy

    You have done it again Clara ! Pushing this wonderful material to another limit ! Thank you for sharing your findings. It goes without saying that you are an inspiration to many of us.

  10. Elisa

    Hi Clara! Amazing techniques and photos. And also greetings from Finland! How on earth did you end up in South Africa?

    Helteiset terveiset Itä-Suomesta 🙂

    • Clara

      Hei Elisa ja vastaterveiset aurinkoisesta mutta talvikylmästä Kapkaupungista! How I ended up here is a long story, but once upon a time I had the opportunity to choose where in the world I wanted to live and South Africa was my choice. No regrets! 🙂

      • Elisa

        That must have been a great opportunity and such a big choice to make. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed life there and you’ve made absolutely great job with this soap business. Looks amazing! I love your photography too, and I bet I see some “finnish eye” behind the camera 🙂

        All the best!

        • Clara

          Thanks! Yes, despite living far away and loving it, my roots are strong and the Finnish connection is very important to my family and myself 🙂

  11. Janine

    Great article and how timely for me! I was asking on one of the fb groups recently about water discounts, how low can one go? No one knew. Thank you for taking the time to experiment and post the results. I will do this on my next batch. Seems easier than trying to swirl! 😉

    • Clara

      I think there’s fairly wide agreement that 1 part lye to 1 part water is the highest discount you can do; beyond that you risk the NaOH not dissolving properly. But, just because you can do a discount that steep doesn’t mean that you should do it. Your soap might set up very quickly with a lye solution that concentrated.

  12. Eva

    Hello, Clara. Sorry for the English.
    You are amazing. Many thanks for all that you share with us.
    South Africa is also amazing. Live there and my girlfriend.

  13. Veronica

    Hi, I have just found your site and love it. I will have to work backwords thru all of your experiments and enjoy your beautiful soap at the same time. I love the time you take to do the experiments and then share with us. Thank you

  14. Tessa

    Thank you! The page itself is lovely informative and thought-provoking but your photos have turned it into a work of art.
    I’m gonna go muse on this for a while 🙂

  15. Tracy

    Very beautiful how you used water to morph the effect of color and texture. Amazing work you have done here and I really enjoy reading your blog as I learn so much from your experiments. 😉 My husband thinks I have transformed our kitchen into a laboratory. I can’t wait to show him snippets of yours, lol! Thank you!!

  16. Sue


    Your soaps are truly stunning. I have really enjoyed reading your experiments with common issues soapers encounter. I have had many problems with ash and so I was curious to try a steep water discount to see if it helped and it does!! I have made several batches this way now and have noticed a dramatic reduction in ash. I was wondering if you could offer some advice about my new problem- overheating. Almost every batch I make cracks on top within an hour. How do I ensure a gel phase without overheating? Once it overheats, I put it straight in the fridge but it takes a long time to saponify this way and one of my batches discolored on top where it was exposed in the fridge. I use wood molds and do not insulate because of this issue. I soap at around 100 F. I’ve changed the recipe but they all overheat. I don’t add any additives such as milks or honey or things that heat up. Just a straightforward recipe of olive oil, coconut oil, rice bran oil, lard, and castor. I do add kaolin clay, fragrance oil and micas. Any advice would be appreciated!! Thank you!! 🙂


    • Clara

      Are you saying that the cracking started happening after you started doing a steep water discount? To date I’ve only ever had one batch crack and that one did not have a particularly steep water discount but it had milk and sugar and notably lanolin, all of which can heat up nicely. I regularly oven process milk soap with discounted water and I don’t have overheating problems. What I have noticed in my recent water discount experiments is that oven processed high-water soap seems to suffer more readily from shape distortion than low-water soap. However, this kind of shape distortion is due to ambient heat in the oven whereas cracking is a result of rapid internal heat generation (the centre of the soap heats up, softens and expands rapidly while the surface of the soap is still cool and firm – and cracks under the pressure from within). I’m afraid I haven’t experimented enough with this to be able to provide a practical solution to your problem. Looking at your recipe the only suspect is really the fragrance oil – and possibly the water discount 🙁 You could try to refrigerate your moulds before pouring and see if that helps.

  17. Sue


    Thank you for your response!! To clarify, no it did not start cracking from water discount. That sped up overheating but I have had trouble with it before. I was just curious because you have done experiments with soap and didn’t know if you noticed how to avoid overheating. It is very frustrating. I have tried all recipes and temps and still get it. I appreciate your advice though and I will try freezing my molds before hand to see if that works 🙂 !



  18. Jani

    Missuz Clara! You`r a PhD. of soap science and a true inspiration to all that wonder through the amazing alchemy of handmade soap wizardry! 🙂 Thank you for your work!

    • Clara

      No PhD of soap science – or any other science for that matter. Just passionate – and curious 🙂

  19. Emily

    Clara, your amazing and your knowledge that you gracious share with us all is a blessing. I’ve learned more from just two of your blog post than I have on my own soaping since 99′. I’m a perfectionist so that’s been my downfall to not trying more challenging soap recipes. I do make cold process with mica powders and fragrances but never imprinted them. The mexican lace soap you created is beautiful !! You have given me wealth of information to try soaps I was scared to create. I believe I will read your post take notes than try my hand at something new to my soap making. As the other readers ask about fragrance holds that’s also a mystery to me as well. I too would like to find a great recipe that holds fragrances well. Thank you again for sharing all your knowledge and tutorials.

    • Clara

      Thank you Emily! Soap is a fantastic and fascinating medium. Infinitely variable yet true to its nature. You can tame it to an extent but you can never push it beyond its limits. It keeps you on your toes and can slap you hard if you let your guard down. Experimenting and trying new methods and tricks in soapmaking is about taking calculated risks – sometimes you lose but sometimes you’re richly rewarded. Testing fragrances in soap is like that too. The truth is that soap is always a difficult environment for volatile oils and fragrance components and some volatile oils are more prone to morphing or fading than others. I doubt that there is a perfect recipe that holds fragrance better than others, but selecting ‘hardy’ fragrance, using enough fragrance, anchoring it and keeping temps low is likely to increase the staying power of the fragrance.

    • Clara

      Thanks! It’s a while ago, but if I say 2 tsp ppo I’m not going to be far off.

  20. Judet

    I just stumbled upon your blog, and I love it! I’ve been soaping as a hobby for about 12 months. I love experimenting and trying to understand what goes on with each batch of soap. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. Your blog is a treasure trove for those of us learning the art of soap making 🙂

    • Clara

      Thank you! Experimenting is what makes it all so interesting – the more you learn the more interesting it becomes 🙂

  21. luminitza

    Clara, I have a question-if the soap is gellified in the oven, need stand to cure 4 week ?

    • Clara

      Oven processing speeds up saponification, but it does not speed up evaporation significantly. The one thing that will cut down on evaporation time is to add less water to the soap to begin with. A steep water discount will shorten evaporation time, but it will also accelerate saponification so you need to keep low mixing temperatures, blend less and work fast.

  22. Pam

    Clara I was just re reading from May 2014 post glycerin rivers.

    This comment caught my eye in relation to the above response-

    “The end of the log. The high-water half reached slightly thicker trace than the low-water half, but it was still fluid enough to pour easily into the mould.”

    So my question is if a water discount (low water soap) accelerates saponification and high-water soap reached a thicker trace, how is trace different than saponification?

    • Clara

      Hi Pam. Several factors influence the speed of saponification. Low water content, i e a relatively concentrated lye solution usually speeds up saponification compared to a weaker lye solution, everything else equal. Heat is another factor that influences the speed of saponification with higher heat speeding up saponification compared to lower heat, everything else equal. Agitation is a third factor. The more vigorously you agitate the soap batter, the quicker saponification will happen. This is why we tend to use stickblenders; they make soap become soap much faster than with hand-stirring, everything else equal. Then, of course, you can have any combination of these and other factors, too. In this case the high water soap was blended slightly more than the low water soap (this would be a matter of seconds when using a stickblender in a soap batter made with 500g oils), hence the slight difference in consistency when the soap was poured. I’m sure somebody can work out a formula for calculating exactly how agitation with a given power affects the speed of saponification in a given mass of soap batter made with a given oil formula and a given mass of water at a given temperature and pressure, but I’m not that somebody 🙂 In answer to your question I would say that trace (not false trace) is a physical manifestation of the chemical sodium saponification reaction, ie trace shows you that saponification is happening. The more soap molecules you have in the batter, the higher the viscosity, i e the thicker the trace.

  23. Fitri

    Hi Clara,

    If you don’t mind me asking, I’m also intrigued with how you create the mold for this soap design. Were you using paper toilet roll for the circle accents? I’m sorry if this is not true, because that’s the only thing I can think of by looking at your photos.

    Truly work of art, both your soaps and your photos. As a beginner soapmaker, I’m slowly getting into the techniques and also the photography skills. You can’t imagine how inspiring reading your blog is for me. 🙂

    • Clara

      Hello Fitri! For this project I used PVC pipe cut to fit in my mould. You could use toilet roll just as well; you just can’t re-use the same rolls for your next project 🙂

  24. Anastasia

    Hello, dear Clara. I would like to thank you very much for sharing with us your experiments and pictures of your beautiful and stunning soap. May I ask you about soda ash on your soaps or I would rather say absence of soda ash. I prefer to make soap with high water but after reading about your experiments I tried to make lower water soap but still it had ash on it. As I understand from what you are writing you normally use low water 1.4:1 in combination with cpoping at 60C. You do not cover or insulate your molds. Am I wright? May I kindly ask about working temps, I usually mix oils with lye at 37-38C. Pouring at light trace always bring me ash on my soap even if covered and sprayed with alkohol. Do you do smth else to avoid ash?
    Thank you in advance for any responce

    • Clara

      I usually soap at ‘room temp’. That’s a bit of a sliding definition because indoor temp here varies a lot depending on season. I also don’t measure temp as a rule. I use a variety of formulas with different hard oils so my rule of thumb is that the oils need to be cooled but comfortably transparent in the bowl before the lye gets added and the lye solution needs to be slightly warmer to the touch than the oils. I don’t use beeswax, I never use alcohol and very few of my soaps go through full gel phase and I rarely have much ash. Besides keeping water low I think the most important thing in preventing ash is preventing cool airflow on the saponifying soap. I keep it in the oven, door closed, until it’s saponified and that seems to work well for me. While I’m working on the soap in the mould I keep doors and windows closed and I don’t have air con.

      • Anastasia

        Thank you very much for your replay and information.
        I was experimenting with low water together with covering the mold during time in the oven and then insulating it… and it seems not to work good as I used to work at higher temps (40C for start mixing oils and lye). But now including soaping with lower temps seems to work best to prevent soda. I don’t use wax too and don’t like the look of alkohol sprayed soap…
        I understand by pics you are showing that you also do not insolate or cover your molds to prevent the ash and also not to have gel if I understood you right.
        May I also ask why don’t you like soaps that were gelled and in a case you don’t have air con and are keeping your doors and windows closed, do you use full face respirator or other safety mask during soaping?
        Thank you in advance,

        • Clara

          I have nothing at all against soaps that are gelled, in fact the slightly transparent look of gelled soap and the rich, deep colours can be very appealing. One reason for which I prefer not to have some of my soaps go through gel phase is that I often use oxides and ultramarines for colour. These pigments are notorious for creating the crackle effect known as ‘glycerine rivers’ in gelled soap. Glycerine rivers will not happen in soap that has not gone through gel phase. Another reason is overheating. If I keep the soap at a temperature where it doesn’t reach gel phase I can be fairly certain that the soap will not show puffing, cracking or other signs of overheating.
          Because I work with steep water discounts and small batches, I spend limited time together with the soap batter from adding the lye to the oils to covering the mould with the soap inside. At all other times my soap studio is well-ventilated. I normally don’t use a full face respiratior, but it’s always a good idea to protect yourself.

    • Clara

      Well, you can make all sorts of embedded designs with melt-and-pour soap. But since this is all about how soap behaves during saponification you can’t make that happen with soap that is already fully saponified.

  25. Kelley

    This is very informative . I am so impressed by your knowledge . I read your comment on the soap making forum about people just reading other people’s methods and adopting it without their own research . You are right and I am guilty of that too.
    I have made a soap with avacado oil, shea and olive oil.Chamomile infused water too I love the green colour it turned out but want to make it more interesting without adding any colour at all. So I am thinking about making two batters. One of which will be 100% coconut oil . Hopefully it will work and I will get a green marble effect! .

    • Clara

      Sounds like a nice project making use of the natural colours of the oils. Hope it turned out well!

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