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Tips For Using Fragrance Oils by Kathy Miller

Republished with kind permission from Kathy Miller.  Kathy has been making soap for over 30 years and has compiled her years of experience on her website, Miller's Homemade Soap Pages (well worth the visit but be warned, you could be there some time.  With huge thanks Kathy, from all the members at Fresholi :o)

Tips for Using Fragrance Oils

If you think a fragrance oil might give you trouble or have not used it before, mix it with about a cup of your base oils before you mix up your soap. It will dilute it somewhat and reduce the tendency to clump and seize... you may still have to work fast, but are less likely to develop those little annoying pockets of FO in your soap if something goes wrong. This was shared on a forum by Toni. You can also warm it up before adding it into the soap (to about the same temp, but it doesn't have to be precise).

Another thing that effects the success of fragrance oils is the mixing temperatures. Most of the fragrance oils from Sweet Cakes prefer a lower mixing temperature (maybe around 100 to 110). If you get some of them too high, they will tend to curdle. A few other temperamental ones actually do better with higher temps... an example is one I bought in bulk from Lebermuth, Peach-Gardenia. It made a horrible mess... like Cream of Wheat with an oil slick on top until I heated it to nearly 130 degrees. With some stick blending and higher temperatures, it smoothed out and I could use the soap. Most FOs prefer the lower temperatures however, if you've purchased them from a reputable supplier of fragrance for cold process soaps.

Really important... is the water addition rate in the soap. Most of the recipes I've posted on this site use a lower addition rate... this makes a nice firm bar in 24 hours that will harden up quicker during cure time. When using a problematic fragrance oil (one that accelerates trace) or an unknown one, it is better to use more water. I still don't like to put in the full amount recommended by Majestic Mountain Sage, but go with about 28 to 30 oz. for the size batches that use 12 oz. of lye. This helps a lot to make sure the soap stays smooth and workable. One last tip... when using a fragrance oil in a batch that is to be swirled, it would probably be wise to NOT put the fragrance oil in the small amount of swirling color. Take out the soap that will be colored for swirling, get that prepared, and then add the FO to the largest part of the batch that will be the base color. Adding the fragrance oil is generally the last thing I do just in case. Some of them can go either way, but when in doubt, play it safe! ;-)

Something I've noticed is that some fragrance oils change the character of the finished bar and tend to "soften" it. I think that some of that may be due to the fact that part of the fragrance oil makeup is carrier oil that actually has a SAP value (unlike essential oils). If I'm using more than 2 ounces of fragrance oil in a batch, I reduce the base oils by an ounce or so to compensate (such as when I'm using 3 to 4 ounces of fragrance oil in a batch that uses 12 oz. of lye). The oil I reduce is usually the olive or whatever I can "pour" ... never the coconut or palm, etc.

These suggestions are only that. I'm still working out the bugs with fragrance oils. Essential oils as a lot are much better behaved, but I think they fade more quickly in storage than many of the better fragrance oils. There are exceptions of course, like patchouli! =:o If you have hit on some things that work well for you in the use of fragrance oils, please email me and I'll share them with others here.

You might wonder why it's even worth fussing with some of these fragrance oils if they are going to cause problems... my answer is the latitude it provides in the scents you can make and create by mixing some yourself. There are some great copies of perfumes and flowers that you cannot get from using essential oils alone. Certain fragrances have a reputation for being difficult to work with. Offhand, I can tell you that some of the most notorious problem children can be: gardenia, carnation, some rose fragrances (these usually get thick quickly, but you can still work with them). Formulations can vary, so it's worth getting fragrance oils that have been cold process tested. When using temperamental FOs, go with a higher water addition rate. Some of my fellow soapmakers sometimes even add the FO to their base oils at the beginning. In a desperate case like that, a bit more FO will probably be needed to get the same end result.

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