Why do I have white spots in my hot process soap?


If you’re constantly struggling with white spots on your soap, it really can be very frustrating. You are not alone. A lot of people are having the same problem, however not to worry, here’s how you fix it or even avoid it altogether.

White spots occur in hot process soap due to the lye solution and oils not being mixed at the right temperature. This causes the stearic acid to start solidifying at low temperatures. White spots may also occur due to false trace or, lastly, the wire cutter, which is easily fixable when you cut your soap again with a knife. 

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White spots are a common occurrence when making hot process soap. This is especially the case when experimenting with different recipes and methods, but don’t worry! The good news is that there’s an easy fix for these pesky white specks. This blog post will explain why those white spots appear and how to prevent them from happening.

Why do I have white spots in my hot process soap?

It’s not unknown for many soapmakers to experience white spots when making hot process soap for the first time. These white spots, which are luckily easily noticed, are known to be undissolved lye, but the truth is that it isn’t always the case. Sometimes this may be caused by your oils or even by the type of equipment you’re using to cut your soap. 

Some are easily fixable while aren’t but, the good news is that, once you’ve learned why this happens, you’ll also be able to easily avoid it.

What are stearic spots in soap?

When you have white spots on your soap, it’s usually because of palmitic acid or stearic acids. These occur when the lye reacts with certain oils too soon and turns them into solids that form as tiny, lightweight particles in bars of soap, and this is what it calls stearic spots. Stearic acid starts solidifying at low temperatures, which creates an unbalanced soap mixture and ultimately leads to those hideous white spots. 

What causes stearic spots in soap?

Stearic spots are mainly caused by stirring your soap below recommended temperatures. The lye solution and the ingredients should be at the same temperature when mixing them. The recommended temperature levels are between 80 and 100ºF.

A lot of people leave their soap in the fridge, but this will make it really hard to get them later at the same temperature. Leaving them at room temperature will make the whole soapmaking process a lot easier.

Stearic acid in oils

But sometimes, these white spots may also occur even if you don’t use stearic acid at all. So, why does this happen? Well, this is because a lot of oils contain stearic acid. 

For instance:

  • Cocoa butter has between 27 and 37 percent stearic acid.
  • Shea butter has between 20 and 50 percent stearic acid.
  • Tallow has about 14% stearic acid.

Stearic acid is one of the primary components in these oils and also one of the reasons why they’re solid. It’s worth noting that the melting point of stearic acid Is 156.7ºF or 69.3ºC. You don’t need to mix your soap at this temperature, however.

False trace

Sometimes, these white spots may not be caused by stearic or palmitic acid. If you notice that small white spots that resemble traces start appearing in your soap batch, it’s because some of the oils have already solidified, specifically those with high melt points.

Use a wire cutter

Sometimes, the issue may not be related to either of the problems mentioned above. It’s well-known within the soapmaking community that using wire cutters to cut soap may end up giving them tiny air bubbles, which tend to be rounder than stearic spots. Although both issues look alike, the bubbles created by the wire cutter will not appear again when you cut the soap again with a knife.

If, for whatever reason, you end up mixing your ingredients below the recommended temperature, your soap will likely start forming stearic spots throughout its surface. It can make them look bad, and you may feel heavily frustrated. However, stearic spots will not cause any damage to your skin.

It all comes down to a temperature problem. If you’re not aware of the temperature levels of your ingredients, this problem is likely to happen. Lucky for you, there are ways to prevent stearic spots in your soap.

How to prevent stearic spots on soap

Preventing stearic spots is not complicated. You can follow the advice given below to prevent stearic spots in your next hot process soap batch.

  • We covered already this point but, mixing your oils and lye at the correct temperature will most of the time fix your problem. 
  • Evaluate the oil you’re currently using. If the oil has a high percentage of stearic or palmitic acid, maybe you should mix it at a higher temperature. In this case, a temperature between 100 and 120ºF should be enough.
  • If you’re using solid oils, please make sure to melt them completely before adding the liquid oils. If the solid oil has not acquired the required liquid form, it will be more likely to produce stearic spots once the soap starts hardening. You need to melt the oil to make sure that the stearic acid does so as well.

Sometimes, you may observe clear white spots in your soap. You can confirm they’re actually stearic spots by cutting a small portion of the soap bar with a knife. If the spots disappear, then they’re just air bubbles that likely were caused by the wire cutter.

Note: While stearic spots are not harmful, we recommend making a test on a discrete area of your skin. Use the soap in such a location. If it doesn’t zap or ooze, it’s perfectly safe, and you can continue using it as you do in your everyday life.

How do you prevent stearic spots on CP soap?

When it comes to cold process soap, you can apply the methods mentioned above. However, since it’s an issue directly related to how the soap cools down, you can control it using different methods.

  • You can try forcing the gel phase.
  • You can also try cooling down the soap in the fridge after it has reached the gel phase.

Still, please take into account that stearic acid has a very high melting point. Therefore, once the soap starts cooling down, it will start solidifying. Also, stearic spots are harmless on cold process soap as well.

What are lye pockets, and how do you prevent them?

An additional issue presents itself in the form of white spots in your soap. This phenomenon is known as “lye pockets.” Some people refer to it as botched soap

Lye pockets happen when the ingredients within the soap batter start separating. Thus, all the different ingredients will be easily visible: the oils, glycerin, and the lye, obviously. Lye pockets often happen in the soapmaking world, resulting from insufficient mixing or overheating. In other cases, they can be caused by the essential oil.

It’s not challenging to prevent lye pockets from appearing in your soap. Here are some of the ways you can use to prevent lye pockets.

  • Firstly, mix the soap at cool temperatures but make sure that all the ingredients are appropriately blended. You can use an immersion blender to make the process easier. Once it leaves a thin trace, you know that your soap has been blended correctly.+
  • If you’ve used spice essential oils, like cinnamon, please note that these oils can heat up quite rapidly, this is especially the case if you’ve used too much. Therefore, they’re prone to separation and cause lye pockets. It’s recommended to leave your soap cooling down at room temperature while allowing it to reach the gel phase naturally. Once the soap is fully gelled, please put it in the refrigerator, so it doesn’t heat up again.
  • If your soap has lye pockets, that doesn’t mean you should discard the whole batch. Another option you have is to re-batch the soap by using the hot process method. Re-batching soap is an excellent way of reusing materials.

Conclusion

Four different factors can cause the white spots in your soap:

  • Stearic spots. These spots appear when you’ve used a fat with high steric or palmitic oil levels, like shea butter. They’re inoffensive. 
  • False trace. Sometimes, you may encounter white spots in your soap that are soft and greasy to the touch. These are solidified oils. False trace is more common in oils with high melting points.
  • Lye pockets. Lye pockets can be hazardous, and they appear when the soap has not been mixed well. Thus, all the ingredients will start separating.

All of these problems are easy to avoid in future batches. However, sometimes these spots may appear after you’ve used a wire cutter. If that’s the case, don’t worry – they’re just air bubbles.

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