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What is Trace in Soap Making

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

soap batter
Soap at Trace

This is something that seems to worry everybody who starts making cold pressed soap as most books tell you to blend the oils/butters and lye until 'trace' is achived, when actually, these days it's not something you have to worry about too much.

In the days before stick blenders the oils/butters and lye were stirred by hand using a spoon, which as you can imagine, took ages to do and you did need to know when emulsification was achieved so the mixture did not separate again.

Making soap is a chemical reaction. Using a stick blender mixes the oils/butters and lye to a microscopic level very quickly speeding up the saponication so trace is achieved much quicker.

With my students I find it helpful to break down trace into three stages - light, medium and thick. Light being the first level achieved and a stage which is easier to work with when first starting out making soap. If you continue to blend you will reach thick trace within 30-60 seconds and the thicker it becomes the harder it will be to pour into a mould. Also remember that some essential oils accelerate trace. The weather does play a part also, in the summer months trace can happen quicker than in the colder, winter months.

So how do we know when our soap is ready to pour into our mould?

The answer is simple - once all the oils/butters and lye have been thoroughly blended together and you lift your blender out of the mixture and it leaves an impression on top. The photo above shows the lines of the whisk on top of the mixture. As you get more experienced you will be able to tell by sight and sound as the blender changes note slightly when trace is achieved.

So, the long and short of it is, so long as you have worked out your recipe properly, weighed your ingredients accurately, controlled your temperatures and blended thoroughly you WILL MAKE SOAP.

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