Making soap that will not set!

by Steph
(Shropshire UK)

Hello, I am new to soap making and have been following Anne L Watson's book milk soap making and also have her other book Smart soap making.

I first tried to make some soap with goats milk using the first recipe which called for 255g coconut oil, olive oil, 255g fluid milk and 116 lye, after a day the soap was still wet so I put it into a fridge for a day. After a day in the fridge the soap still was not hard but I still managed to shape it into soap, took it out of the moulds and was using a knife to smooth some soap around the edges and then wrapped it into clinge film!

I have just thrown away one batch of soap from the Smart soap making book which called for almond oil and fractionated coconut oil with 119g lye made with water, after 3 days, one day of which it was sitting in the fridge it was still a thick paste and not soap.

Now I have got digital scales and have measured the grams exact and have been trying to keep the goats milk cool but mixed the goats milk lye with the oils between 85 and 90C and the temperature was between 89 and 94 for the almond soap.

The only fault that I can see that I might have made it that I have used an electrical hand held blender to mix the oils and lye, it does not say what temperature the oils and lye should be.

I have put the steel bowl into a plastic bowl full of cool water to
keep the lye cool with the goats milk. I have used tea tree essential oil as well as grapefruit extract.

I have plastic moulds that I bought online for soap making.

The only thing that I think is maybe there is not enough lye but that would mean that the recipe is wrong in the first place because I have been careful measuring exact quantities.

Any ideas?

Thanks Steph X


Sorry Steph, I am not familiar with Anne Watsons recipes or methods at all.

I suggest running the recipe through a lye calculator to see if it has been printed correctly.

I don't see how using a stick blender could be the problem...I think that is fine. Just be sure that you have reached a full trace when you do use a stick blender. A stick blender can thicken the soap batter and make it look like the soap has traced which is called a false trace. To see if the soap is at a true trace you will need to stir the mixture for a couple of minutes with a whisk or spoon. If the mixture loosens up and becomes runny again then you will need to continue stirring to reach a full trace.

I have a couple questions - Why are you putting the soap into the fridge? Are you trying to stop the soap from going through the gel phase?

I've not done this myself but I have heard that this can prolong the time it takes for the soap to harden. I've also read that curing soap does not like to be subjected to extreme temperatures.

Good luck,

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My soap has taken a week to harden
by: Anonymous

I got this recipe from Wellness Mama.

I used:
2 cups sunflower oil
1/4 cup sodium hydroxide
3/4 cup warm water
2 water bottle caps of strawberry fragrance

I have used this recipe before but without the fragrance oil and it set really fine. I remember during the mixing my brother mistakenly hit the container and some poured out.

Is it possible that the little that poured would cause it to not set or is it the fragrance oil? Because normally I use lemon fragrance.



When making handmade soap it is very important to use weight measures rather than volume as you have done.

It takes a specific amount of sodium hydroxide to turn each type of oil into soap.

If you are measuring by volume, each cup will not weigh the same amount. This makes it extremely easy to be out enough that your soap is either lye short or lye heavy. Neither of which you want.

For this batch you could try hot processing it to see if that will help. It not, you will likely have to just throw it out as it is impossible to tell how much lye you are short.

I strongly suggest using a scale that weighs in grams or ounces next time. They can be purchased for less then $20 at pretty much any department store that sells kitchen ware.

I've put the recipe for 1 pound of a 100% Sunflower oil soap into SoapCalc and the measurements are below for you to use.

Water - 6.08 oz or 172.36 gr
Lye - NaOH - 2.05 oz or 58.07 gr
Sunflower Oil - 16 oz or 453.59 gr
Fragrance - 0.50 oz or 14.17 gr

Good luck,

Trace Question
by: Sharon Newbie Soap Maker

How long should you blend until it reaches trace? I made a simple batch of soap and its been not quite 2 days and still not hard. I thought it was at trace but after reading this blog I'm not so sure. How thick does it get? If I didnt blend long enough, how do I fix it? Or is it too far gone and need to be tossed?

Anne Watson's milk soap
by: Sarah D (NZ)

I made the exact milk soap recipe today for the first time and it has worked out really well. Yes the stirring of the lye into the frozen milk took 10 mins, but I made sure I stick blended the batter until definite trace, then popped it into the fridge for a few hours. It looks fabulous and has set well.

I have only been making soap for 18 months and am up to my 77th batch.

Sticky soap
by: Karen

I'm afraid my soap never set up either . I have allot of gel soap instead . It works beautifully and smells awsome but it's globs of gew .

Almond and Fractionated Coconut oil Soap
by: Petals

Hi Steph,
I also have taken some of Anne Watson's recipes - but still ran them through a soap calculator. All came out absolutely great. The most recent was the Almond and Fract. Coconut recipe.
If you check the information on oils you will find that almond oil will give you a soft soap that needs long curing time. I left mine in the mold for 48 hours - still soft, but carefully unfolded easily. Now the "loaf" is sitting in my basement with de-humidifier and I am sure that I can cut the loaf in another day or two.

Also, as a new sopamaker, starting with goats milk soap is not doing yourself a favor. Milk soaps are special. Instead, find a nice and simple recipe , like the one of "Thirds" - 1/3 Olive oil; 1/3 Coconut Oil; 1/3 Palm oil, check your lye and water commensurate with the amounts of oils in a simple a soap calculator, like Brambleberry or MMS and you should have no problems.

Another thought comes to mind: did you actually reach 'trace' when you made your soap? I do feel for you, it is upsetting when you have gone through the whole process and then have a flop.
Don't give up Steph, there is success waiting for you.

My recipe
by: Sharon

I am a newbie to soapmaking as well but using a recipe I found online have made four batches of goat milk soap that all turned out great. My recipe called for 32oz olive oil, 10 oz coconut oil, 30 oz. lard, 24 oz goat milk, and 10 oz lye. I melt my oils and try not to let them exceed 100degrees. I freeze my goat milk in ice trays and only partially thaw it before adding the lye. I too set my lye mixture in a bowl of ice to keep it cool. I use a stick blender and when I am judging trace when I pull the blender out of the soap mixture, I can see an imprint of the blender head in the mixture. I pour it up, cover with saran wrap and then with towels for 24 hours. Each batch has turned out well. Hope this helps.

Problems with recipe
by: Anonymous

Steph, it looks to me as if you combined a recipe from Smart Soapmaking with a method in Milk Soapmaking. I'm not surprised it didn't work.

There's contact information in the book if you have questions or problems, and I answer emails very promptly. Please let me know if you have any other difficulties. I'm very happy to help readers.

by: Anne Watson

Thanks, Heavenly Scent Soaps!

Hi Anne
by: Heavenly Scent Soaps

Hi Anne:

Saw your post and couldn't resist saying "Hello". I enjoy your book "Milk Soapmaking". We have two nice batches of milk-based soap curing on the rack right now (along with a batch of beer soap made with a recipe from this site). We've always had good luck with your recipes. THANKS!

Heavenly Scent Soaps

I'm the author
by: Anne Watson

I'm the author of Smart Soapmaking and Milk Soapmaking.

What recipe are you using? To the best of my knowledge (and I've just leafed through the book to be sure), Milk Soapmaking contains no recipe with fractionated coconut oil. ?????????

Thank you for your help!
by: Steph

Hello, thank you for your good advice, in the milk soap making book it said to put the soap in the fridge so I thought that it as to go into a fridge to harden. The Goats milk soap I made I put into a fridge for over an hour at first, after a day it was still wet and only hardened up a little after being in the fridge for a day but was still not solid and still wet like I said.
The almond and fractionated soap didn't go into the fridge at all as this soap did not contain milk.

Do you recommend not putting milk soap into a fridge at all?

I am not sure about the false trace, the soap did reach a creamy mixture like eggnog but it never thickened, I did stir it for 10 to 15 minutes which I thought might have been long enough.
Thank you very much for your advice I shall try stirring for a few minutes at least next time and see whether it says the same or whether it separates. Also I am wondering if the temperature is a big factor, it doesn't actually say what is the ideal temperature for adding the oils with the lye. I was trying to keep the milk soap recipe cool so put the lye mixture in a large bowl with ice cold water to reduce the heat in the soap pot, is this wise when the milk is already frozen?

Thank you very much for your comments. X

Comment About Soap That Will Not Set
by: Heavenly Scent Soaps


I have used Ann Watson's Milk Soap recipes with good success. With several of her recipes, she does advise putting her milk-based soaps in the fridge to prevent the gel phase. Normally, I gel my soaps, but I followed her recipe in this case and the soap turned out fine - although it does take a little longer for the soap to harden and cure.

In reading your post, I'm wondering, too, if you had a false trace when you poured your soap into the mold.

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