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Essential oils should be researched extensively before adding them to your products. Some essential oils are highly toxic, irritating, or sensitizing. 

They are all extremely volatile with powerful constituents. 

Request a material data sheet from a supplier if in doubt. 

You’re bound to have a few batches that don’t turn out for one reason or another. We try and address some of the common maladies here, along with suggestions for troubleshooting.

Soap batch mixture is taking forever to trace:

Formula contains oils that are naturally slow to trace like unsaturated fats.
You have added too much water.
If you are stirring by hand, it will take significantly longer than with a stick or hand blender and should be expected.
The proportion of oils and lye may be off in your formulation – measure accurately.
There may be an insufficient amount of lye.
There may be a problem with the temperatures of the oil or lye.

Chances are, if you are having problems getting to trace, you are either hand stirring or using a regular mixer. Give your batch mixture more time. Again, if you are “hand stirring”, tracing will take significantly longer (hours). Stick or hand blenders are actually “blenders” on a stick and they incorporate the batch mixture with a strong spinning motion. This action forces the oils and lye to come together at a fraction of the time of mixing or hand stirring. If you still haven’t reached trace at the point you should, pour it into the mold anyway. If there are still problems after 12-24 hours, toss it in the trash.

Soap bath mixture is setting up too quickly and chunks of “glop” are forming:

The oils and lye solution, or both, may have been at a temperature that was too high for your formulation.
You may have been stirring too slowly or blending inconsistently.

Try smoothing out your batch using a stick or hand blender and before it becomes too thick, pour into your mold. If you see any problems with your finished product other than aesthetic ones, throw the batch away.

Soap is cracking or breaking at the cutting stage:

You may have added more lye than was necessary for your formulation.
You may have added too many dry ingredients.

Always double-check your formulas using a lye calculator that has the sap values recommended by the oil’s manufacturer or supplier. Use a lye discount percentage of between 5 and 10%, meaning that you will use 5 to 10% less lye than it would take to saponify your oils at a 0% discount. Make sure you are weighing out the correct amount of oils and lye for your formulation. If you add dry ingredients, try using a little at a time in each batch until you can determine the correct ratio to fit your formulation. Keep notes.

There is a thin layer of white powder on your finished soap:

Your mixture has reacted to the oxygen in the air causing a buildup of sodium carbonate.

This is easily remedied by trimming the thin layer off before you set it out to cure. It will not affect the quality of your soap.

Your finished soap contains liquid or powdered lye pockets, or small shiny chunks of lye:

You may not have blended or stirred your mixture sufficiently or consistently.
You may have added too much lye to your formulation.
Your mixture may not have gone to trace before being poured into the mold.

I don’t think this happens too often, but it does signify the importance of accurate oil to lye ratios, the importance of sufficient and consistent blending, and the importance of reaching trace before it is ready for the mold. Again, stick blenders work phenomenally well. You have the freedom to control where your stick blender is needed most and you can fix more potential problems in this stage than when you have a finished product to work with. Regardless, lye pockets or any other indication of “lye” in your finished product means that you must throw it out and try again. There is no solution to this problem.

While your soap is cooling, a thin layer of oil is present at the top:

The oil to lye ratio in your formula is incorrect – too much oil and not enough lye.
Inaccurate weighing/measuring.

If your formula does not contain enough lye to saponify all the oil or fat ingredients, you will see the unsaponified oils on your finished soap. Pay close attention to your formula and double-check that the sap values for each ingredient are correct. Weigh out your oils carefully, using an accurate scale.

Your finished soap is hard and brittle.

Your formula may have contained too much lye.
You may have a soap comprised of oils with properties that naturally create a harder bar of soap.

I think the solution to this depends on the overall quality of your finished soap. I have had a few hard, seemingly brittle batches that have been very useful in the kitchen or suitable for rebatching. However, if you sense that the problem is an indication of too much lye and that some might remain in your finished soap, there is no other alternative than to throw it out.

Your finished soap smells rancid:

You may have used an oil that has reached the end of its shelf life.
You may have used too much fat or too little lye in your formulation.

An oil’s stability is an important consideration in soapmaking. Rancid oils are generally not harmful, but they smell bad and will compromise the quality of your finished product. Researching the shelf lives of the oils you choose is important. Some soapmakers believe that the saponification process will extend the shelf life of an oil indefinitely, while others say that saponification does not make a difference and that unstable oils can still go rancid within your finished soap. The safest way to ensure this does not occur is to treat unstable oils with an antioxidant such as Vitamin E T-50 or Rosemary Oil Extract (ROE) as soon as you open them. Exposing your oil to the oxygen in the air will begin the oxidation process and cause spoilage.