The following are several Tips & Tricks submitted by Oregon Trail Customers (and a few by me!).
We would love to hear your own personal Tips & Tricks and even add them to our resource list. If you have a great tip or trick to submit, please click on the "Submit Tip" button on this page or send us an email through our "Contact Us" page.
Tips from Suz
Q: How much flavor should I use when making Lip Products?
A: Lip flavors are like anything else, some are stronger than otherrs, but... Rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon for every 2.5 to 3 ounces of lip base.
A really slick way to tell if that's right or not is: At least an hour or more before you are going to make lip blam, put a spoon or other METAL, non-sharp object in the freezer. When you make your base, (you probably already know not to overheat it & NEVER, ever over 160° F ) so it's melted, you mix in what seems right for the base, stir well, then take the spoon out of the freezer and dip the tip of it into the base. You have an instant tester! Remove with your finger and put it on your lips. You will know right away if you have enough or not. I keep two baby spoons in the freezer that I got at a yard sale... so if I add more, I use the second spoon to test again once I've added more. More testing may be needed, so several spoons is a good idea.
Q: Are these flavors sweetened?
A: No, our flavors have no artificial or natural sweeteners, they are formulated correctly. This means that they are formulated with natural components so that when you apply the lip balms, you smell the flavor and it smells sweet so your brain believes it's sweet. Great, isn't it not to worry about adding ingredients you do not need. BUT... If you really must sweeten it, we recommend using Liquid NUStevia available for 8-10.00 at most grocery stores... one bottle will last indefinitely, as a little goes a long way. NUStevial is charcoal filtered, not processed like most Stevia's with chemicals.
Tips for Using Beeswax:
Dedicate separate utensils for working with beeswax. Beeswax will not come off the utensils easily. It leaves a thin coating that is wonderful for the body, not the spoon! :) Melt slowly, beeswax takes time to melt. Higher temps can damage the oils and cause a fire hazard. Nature takes time. When adding essential oils to the recipe wait until the base is cooling enhance the natural healing effect of the balm. Consistency? If it's too thick, add more oil and reheat. Too thin? Add more Beeswax.
To keep your scale nice, slip it into a lightweight inexpensive plastic bag. Any spills or drips go on the bag and whenever you need to, just change it and you will keep your scale nice indefinitely.
The best way I have found to clean containers with melted wax is to put it in the microwave for a few seconds to re-melt any wax, then wipe it out with paper towels. Put it back in the microwave a few more seconds and wipe again. Then I hand wash with liquid dish soap, by squirtint the soap directly into the container and and thoroughly scrubbing with one of those green fiber scouring pads....Scotch makes one, OCedar makes one. Anyway, then rinse in really HOT water. That usually takes care of it. Sometimes I go ahead and run it with the next batch in the dishwasher, but it usually isn't necessary. BTW...I love Suz's lip balm flavorings!
Kathy, Ozark County Arts & Crafts
Cold Process Soap Making
When I started soapmaking I used to melt all oils and butters together and watching the temps until both the lye water and the oils were at about 100 to 110 F before mixing them.
Now I just forget about the thermometer and watching temperatures and just soap at ambient temperatures (a little below or about 90 F). I mix the lye and water first and put the pitcher with the solution in a bowl of water and ice to let it cool.
While the lye is cooling, I start weighing the oils. I weight the hard oils like palm, palm kernel and butters together and when they are completely melted and out of the heat source I add the coconut (if it it at solid state it will melt easily with the hot melted oils. I just stir the coconut until all is melted in), then I add all the weighted liquid oils at room temperature. When I finish adding all the coconut and liquid oils at root temperature to the melted hard oils, the oil mixture is completely cooled or almost cooled, so not much time waiting until the oil mixture is at room temperature. The lye water should be cooled by the time I finish weighting oils and the rest of the ingredients, then I just start soaping.
I started using this method and never turned back. Weigh all my oils/butters, mix my hot lye and add it to the room temp oils to melt the hard oils. Sometimes if it's like shea or soy wax which I use all the time I pre-melt a bit and just add it in with the room temp oils, give a good stir and add the lye and the lye will melt the rest of the hard oil/butters. It's so much quicker than trying to watch the temps and waiting for it to cool down.
My tip is that I use little tiny wooden craft spoons to make my molds totally level. I live in a 1891 house and my floors are slightly sloping. When I sit my soap molds on the table, and use my level, I can tell which way the molds are leaning and I use however many little wooden craft spoons are necessary in the corners to make the mold completely level. They are extremely thin, and you can use one or 6 or whatever to get the correct amount of lift. I can't imagine I'm the only one with this problem and this is an easy fix.
Here's my tip- (Goatmilk Soapmaking) I don't just freeze my goat milk. I freeze distilled water, juice, pumpkin, whatever I'm going to use. I use about 1/3-1/2 frozen whatever for my liquids. For example, it might be just half distilled water ice and half water, so it's really cold. I can dump my lye in without making it a long drawn-out process and I don't have to wait around for it to cool. One of the reasons that works so well for me is that I weigh out all my oils and butters the day before I want to soap, melt them all down and leave them on my workbench in the garage. In the summer, they're usually ready to go whenever I am without any additional heating or fuss.
I keep my formula(s) in a plastic sleeve. As I weigh and add ingredients to my pot, I check them off with a dry erase marker. When cleaning up, I can use a damp paper towel to wipe it clean. All I have to do is place it back in a binder and it is easy to access for the next batch.
I finally solved an ongoing problem with my soapmaking and wanted to share. Sudsy soap is a huge deal for people going from store-bought to natural and that was the one thing that I kept being asked about. While I had read that adding a little sugar to the soap worked, it just didn't do the job so I kept fooling with it til I came upon this solution. After measuring the water for my lye, I take some of the water and put in a dixie cup. I add 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar per pound of soap. The trick is to add the sugar to the water very slowly and make sure it is dissolved completely. If I am using Titanium White in my soap I then use some of this liquid to mix the white. I mix the rest of my water with my FO or EO and add like normal at trace. Since I make very moisturizing, conditioning soaps with a lot of OO and butter, this has made a fabulous bar that is super sudsy and not drying.
The day before making soap, I figure out what kind of soap I want to make, make up the recipe in SoapCalc and measure out the amount of water and/or milk and/or aloe juice or tea and put in the freezer. I also get out the coffee grinder and grind any herbs that I want to use, put it in a zip lock bag and set it aside.
The next day, I do the morning dishes and clean the counter where I always make soap. I get out the oils and butters for that recipe and put them on the counter. The oils I put in one Pyrex measuring cup and the butters in another. I use a process of elimination, add the oil or butter, then put the container away right after I've measured out the amount needed. This way I know I've added it already. Of course, butters are easy most of the time because of their colors, but oils are not so easy. Anyway, everything gets put away after I've taken out the amount needed. I have a specific plastic pitcher I use for the lye water. The lye is kept in the garage and that is where I mix the lye water. This gets set on a shelf until I'm ready for it. Back in the house I melt the butters and slightly heat the oils and set this aside. I line the mold for the recipe amount I'm making and also get out the guest soap tray mold. I usually always make a larger batch of soap then
what I need for the wooden mold I'm using, so I can make up small individual guest soaps also.
Once I'm ready to mix the lye water into the melted butters and oils, the countertop is completely free of any other ingredients except for the color I'm using and/or the herbs and the fragrance or essential oil(s).
I do this same process for making lotions, creams or any other products. In the morning, everything gets cleaned and soaked in the sink with some bleach added to the water, especially if I'm making lotion or cream. I dry the bowls and pots with paper towels and then spray with alcohol and dry again with paper towels.
I have to have everything set out ahead of time, like the pipettes for fragrance, spoons just so I won't forget anything.
For clean up I scrape out what I can with a spatula and then wipe out anything remaining with paper towels. Yes, I go through a lot of paper towels but this is what works for me.
If I'm making lotion or cream just for me I'll put the batch in a large zip lock bag and put it in the fridge. If I'm making it for sale then I fill the bottles or jars immediately. I label the batch with a small sticker that says what it is, the scent and date. I try really hard to sit down and do the labels right away but sometimes I don't get to it for awhile and the sticker helps me to remember.
That was fun!
Tips from a "Newbie"
I use plastic Crystal Lite containers as soap molds. Line them with freezer paper, spray the freezer paper with pam or olive oil and pour the soap in. Makes great sample bars.
Since I'm a newbie, I don't have any actual soap molds so I use what I have on hand. My favorite is to line cleaned Pringles cans with wax paper. By using the wax paper, I can reuse my Pringles cans over and over again. I do the same thing with oatmeal containers and shoe boxes. My husband, bless his heart, took an actual bar of soap that I liked the shape of and shaved the brand name off of it. Then, using plaster of paris and a plastic container that the soap fit in, he made me a soap mold! Of course, it's a two-piece that takes a thick rubber band to hold it closed, but it works for single bars! I also save my yogurt containers and jello containers (the pre-made jello) and use them to make sample soaps (obviously these don't work well with lye soap because of how hot it is, but it works great with rebatch/hand-milled ). You can get 3-4 "slices" of soap out of these that are perfect for samples or as travel size soap! They're also great for the kiddo's little hands that can't hold on to a regular sized bar of soap. Sometimes I spray these smaller containers with veggie non-stick spray, although I have done some that didn't need any spray as you can "wiggle" the container around the soap to loosen it and still clean and reuse the container.
I like to mix up large batches of my oils ( and other fats) at once. Then divide the recipe into say three pound batches, and a few one pound batches, and freeze them in Ziploc bags. After they are frozen, I remove them from the Ziplocs, and repackage with my Food Saver. The three pound batches I freeze individually, the one pounds I stack with a square of freezer paper between. I only do one recipe at a time, or in one afternoon - no mix ups that way, and I double-mark all packages. I then have all the oils I need for a batch pre-measured and melted together; just set them out to thaw, and warm slightly. I can make a small batch with one pound sizes, or larger batches by combining. Saves me a lot of time, I can mix up several gallons of oils this way, have a batch ready to go on a whim. Oh, I cut the Food Saver bags a little large so that I can clean them and reuse - same with the Ziplocs - I clean them and reuse, also. The Food Saver keeps the oils very well (pulls out all air), and they stack well after freezing.
I weigh out all my ingredients and set them all to my left. As they are added to the soap bucket, they are moved to the right side. That way I can easily see if I added everything I was supposed to. When using a floral for the first time or something known to seize, I add the FO to the oils before mixing in my lye water and don't have any seizing. I buy all my lye in 50/55 pound bags. You all know messy working with lye can be ! I set the bag in my bath tub and weigh it out into smaller packages for resale. Because lye can be so messy and because we have 3 dogs, 2 cats, and 14 grand kids, I use the bath tub every time I work with lye. When I'm finished, any spill is contained and easily rinsed down the drain by turning the shower on for a final, 'just in case some lye got away' rinse.
From a Chandler
The best thing I have found when I'm making soaps, candles or lotions, etc., is to have my ingredients lined up on the counter in the order I use them, and as I use them, they go back into my box to be put away. Since my supplies are all in the basement and I work upstairs, I carry everything upstairs in a plastic dairy box and as they are used they go back into the box.
I have learned the hard way that I need to be organized when I'm weighing my ingredients, so that I don't double an ingredient or leave one out. If I'm weighing out ingredients for several soaping pots at one time, I'll leave the spoon in the last pot I poured an oil into, so I know which pot needs the next ingredient; also I mentally number my pots so I know that each pot has the recipe-required oils in it. Ask me how I learned to do this...lol.
When I'm melting wax for candles, I keep a 30-cup coffee pot going with hot water to replace in my double boilers...so much easier than trying to heat water and melt wax at the same time.
Colors & Misc.
I weigh everything I use to make soap, lotion, cream, whatever. The soap pot, measuring cups, everything. Then, if I’m not sure if I have put in a particular ingredient, I can weigh it in whatever container I’m using, deduct the weight of the container and I know if I have everything or not. Also, I keep this info handy on a piece of paper stuck to the inside of a cupboard right above my scale where I soap, along with my favorite recipe for Soap, Lotion, Body Butter, Lotion Bars and Lip Balms.
I keep those little plastic condiment containers from Gordon Foods (I especially like the 3 oz. size) for mixing colors, weighing preservatives and/or super-fatting oils---and any number of other things. I use the oxides and they are a PAIN to clean out of dishes; I can snap a lid on excess and refrigerate till the next day for use in swirling, etc. and dispose of the container when finished. I don't like full-strength preservatives on any of my dishes, and disposable equipment keeps the handling of preservatives to a minimum. I also keep craft sticks (popsicle sticks) handy all the time for scooping pigment into the dishes, stirring, scraping colors or preservatives, and holding candlewicks centered in tins when pouring candles. As far as I am concerned, the sticks and condiment containers are indispensable to soaping and lotion making.