How to Use Indigo to Color Cold Process Soap

If you’ve ever tried to use indigo to color your cold process soap and ended up with a nasty gray – or worse yet, no color at all – this post is for you! I’ve been there too, which is what drove me to figure out the best ways to get a beautiful color – from a light grayish blue to beautiful teal to dark navy blue. But what about color transfer and colored lather? Can you use too much? Definitely!

It should be noted that there are different types and intensities of indigo available from different suppliers and they are used in different ways. I will show you the benefits and disadvantages of each.

Let’s start with the different types. There are two different types of indigo: powdered and pre-reduced crystals. You can purchase the powdered form from several reputable soap supply vendors. (Thanks to the samples provided by Amanda Gail of Lovin Soap, I tested powders from Bramble Berry and From Nature With Love.) The only supplier of the crystals that I could find is Dharma Trading.

There are also different intensities of indigo powder. In addition to the powders from Bramble Berry and From Nature With Love, I tested a powder from Botanical Colors. They are not a soap supplier, but market their products to those who dye fabrics. It is an organic indigo powder that is much more saturated than the ones I tested from the soap suppliers.

I experimented with four different ways of incorporating indigo in cold process soap. 1. adding it to the hot lye solution, 2. creating strong oil infusions and adding after the soap was mixed, 3. dissolving the crystals in hot water, allowing it to cool and adding it after the soap was mixed, and 4. incorporating an oil infusion in addition to soap that already had indigo added to the lye solution. The powdered indigo can be added either to the lye solution OR in an oil infusion, but the pre-reduced crystals must be dissolved in hot water.

It’s important to use a soap recipe with light colored oils so that it doesn’t yellow and turn what could have been a lovely blue soap into an icky green or brown. I also made sure every batch went through gel stage to brighten/darken the colors. In a couple cases, the soap only reached a partial gel. This is the recipe I chose for all of my testing:

33% tallow
33% avocado
30% coconut
4% castor
5% superfat
30% lye concentration

Experiment #1: Testing saturation levels with the organic indigo from Botanical Colors using oil infusions.

Lightest layer: 1/16 tsp indigo in 1 tsp oil in just under 1 c soap; middle layer: 1/8 tsp indigo in 1 tsp oil in just under 1 c soap; darkest layer: 1/4 tsp indigo in 1 tsp oil in just under 1 c soap

The colors are grayish blue, just as they should be! I was worried that the darkest layer might bleed, so I did some testing on a cream-colored wash cloth:

Just the slightest bit of color transfer onto the wash cloth

I love that you can treat this indigo just like mica by pre-mixing it with a bit of oil and adding it to portions of soap. It makes it easy to do design work. However, the indigo takes a bit longer to incorporate than mica, so it requires you to plan ahead at least a few hours before you want to make the soap.

Experiment #2: Testing organic indigo and pre-reduced indigo crystals in the lye solution.

I used 1/2 tsp of indigo in both lye solutions for the same size batch (16 oz of oils). The powdered organic indigo is pictured on the left, and the pre-reduced crystals are on the right in the following photos:

Both types of indigo resisted being incorporated into the hot lye solution – the powdered even more than the crystals. The crystals turned green and also produced a rank odor when added to the lye.

By this time, the lye solution is starting to cool, but the indigo is still resisting in both solutions. I even considered that I might have to toss the one with the powdered organic indigo at this point.

This is how both solutions looked right before I added them to the oils. The organic powder finally incorporated – mostly. The crystals formed a skin on top and the solution remained a rather bright green.

This is the particulate that remained in the bottom of the measuring cup after I poured out the lye solutions.

The results of this test are rather stunning! The organic indigo remained a very dark blue – even darker than the darkest layer of the oil infused soap, while using almost half the amount.

Organic indigo from Botanical Colors in final soaps

This begs the question whether the lather of this super dark blue soap would stain the cream-colored washcloth:

This dark color definitely colored the washcloth, but fortunately it washed out! I probably still wouldn’t sell a soap colored this dark.

The soap colored with the crystals also came out beautifully – a very lovely dark greenish blue, with a lighter teal green around the outside. I think this may have happened because I put this soap in the oven to force gel stage and the heat pushed the green plant material to the outside. Just a theory though.

Soap colored with pre-reduced indigo crystals

And the color bleed test:

This one transferred just slightly more color than the darkest layer of the BC infusion soap, but not as much as the BC lye solution soap. The indigo washed out of the cloth, but I would still consider using a bit less.

The advantage to using this method is the ability to use much less colorant to get a strong color. The disadvantage is that you can’t do any design work. Your soap will be all one color – all one very lovely color though! I would also advise mixing the lye solution in a stainless steel container instead of plastic, as the indigo has now permanently stained the plastic measuring cups.

Experiment #3: Testing indigo powders from Bramble Berry and From Nature With Love using oil infusions.

I could tell just by looking at the color of the powders from these two different suppliers that the results from this experiment would be different.

Indigo powders

For this batch, I made 4 cups of soap (24 oz. of oils). Each oil infusion was made with 1 teaspoon of avocado oil mixed with the following amounts of indigo powder:

The intensity of the color is quite different between these two different suppliers! You can also observe the color difference between the gelled and ungelled portions of the soap.

Experiment #4: Testing pre-reduced indigo crystals dissolved in water added at trace.

For this experiment, I boiled 1/8 cup of water in the microwave, then added 1/8 tsp. of pre-reduced indigo crystals and stirred to dissolve. This method still puts off an odor, by the way! This time I made a batch of soap with 16 oz. of oils and poured off 1/2 cup of soap to add 1/4 tsp. of white kaolin clay dispersed in water for some drop swirls (just to add a design element). I took photos of the remaining soap batter after adding increments of 2.5 ml of the indigo solution:

The soap wasn’t poured off after each addition, I simply took a photo each time I mixed in more of the solution.

Once I had 10 ml of indigo solution added, I was happy with the color and poured the soap into the mold, adding the white drop swirls. Instead of putting the soap in the oven, I put it on a heating pad and covered it with towels. This produced a partial gel phase, and you can see the difference in color between the soap that didn’t gel and the soap that did:

No gel on the left, gel on the right

Isn’t it the most beautiful Tiffany blue? I just love how it turned out! I also observed that there is some shadowing around the white drop swirls – possibly due to the migration of the water that dispersed the clay or indigo, I’m not sure which. The other observation is the white outline around the outside of this soap, similar to the outline around the soap made with the crystals in the lye solution. Now I’m starting to think it’s because both of these soaps were made in a mold lined with silicone instead of freezer paper.

I thought I was finished now, but after seeing the results of Experiment #4, I knew I had to try one more batch using the indigo powder from Bramble Berry in the lye solution to see if I could get a nice blue color.

Experiment #5: Testing indigo powder from Bramble Berry in the lye solution.

Instead of adding the powder straight into the hot lye solution, I heated up the distilled water and mixed the powder into the hot water first. I had to cool it down in a cold water bath in my sink before adding the lye. It took an extra step to cool the water down twice, but the powder seemed to incorporate better this way. As soon as the lye was mixed in, the indigo turned a bit green, but you can see that after pouring the solution into the oils, there wasn’t as much residue left:

Lye solution is a dark olive green

Again, this batch size was 16 oz. of oils and I wanted to try one more thing to boost the blue color – layering more colorant into a portion of the soap by adding an oil infusion. I poured off 1 cup of soap and added an oil infusion of 1/2 tsp of indigo mixed with some avocado oil. Here you can see the difference in the color of the raw soap batter:

Oil infused batter is much darker!

And the final soap:

Beautiful gray-green from the lye solution infusion, and dark gray-navy from the added oil infusion.

I can see how layering different amounts of oil infusion on top of a soap that is already colored with indigo in the lye solution could produce some beautiful designs!

In case you are wondering if that dark soap will bleed:

Just noticeable amount of color bleed

Here’s one final comparison photo of the soaps made with 1/2 tsp of powder or crystals in the lye solution of a soap batch size with 16 ounces of oils:

This shows not only the difference in the intensity, but also the shades of greenish-blue to true dark navy.

This has been quite learning experience! I’ve discovered that not all indigo colorants are the same, and that you can achieve different colors and shades using different methods of incorporating the indigo into the soap. I have much more confidence in my ability to color soap naturally with indigo, and I hope you will too!

Secret Feather Swirl soap by Amy Warden

Soap Challenge Club Wood Grain Winners

The challenge for October was to create soaps that look like real wood grain. Members were given a variety of techniques to choose from and given pretty free reign to do what they wished to achieve the desired outcome as long as the soap was made with the cold process method and featured a wood grain technique. The entries were divided into two categories: soaps made with all natural ingredients and those that had synthetic colors and/or fragrance added. Huge thanks to our sponsors!! Modern Soapmaking was a new sponsor this month for the natural category, which came at the perfect time as Kenna has been coming out with new resources for soapmakers using essential oils, including her newly released book, Smellgoods: How to Use & Blend Essential Oils in Handmade Soap & Skincare available for pre-order HERE. Long-time Challenge Club supporter Bramble Berry sponsored the synthetic category with a combination of gift certificates and various sizes of their wood molds. Clever, right?

There were significantly more entries in the synthetic category, and I will start with those winners first – mostly because ALL of them are first-time winners in the Challenge Club!!

Taking home GRAND PRIZE is Nancy Jameson of Artwork Soaps in Texas, and indeed Nancy’s soap is a work of art! She created a beautiful tulipwood soap for the challenge, scented with a Cedarwood and Patchouli fragrance. Take a look:

Tulipwood Soap by Artwork Soaps

Tulipwood Soap by Artwork Soaps

Nancy has been participating in the challenges for quite a while, so it’s very exciting that she is finally taking home a prize – congratulations!! Nancy wins a $75 gift certificate, plus a 9-bar wood mold with silicone liner from Bramble Berry! Be sure to click on the photo to read more about Nancy’s process on her blog.

In second place is Sarah Riedel in Sweden!! Sarah is fairly new to the Challenge Club, but has already shown herself to be a contender! Her soap, titled “Forest Walk” might have you fooled into thinking it is real wood if you didn’t know it was soap:

Forest Walk soap by Sarah Riedel

Forest Walk soap by Sarah Riedel

Since Sarah lives outside the U.S. she wins a gift certificate equivalent to a 5-lb wood mold with silicone liner + $50 from Bramble Berry. What a great prize!! Click on her photo read more about the soap on her Instagram post.

Third place goes to Kate Munroe in Rhode Island – a first-time member of the Challenge Club! Her soap looks like blocks of wood straight from a tree – bark and all! You’ll want to click on the photo to read more about how she did it:

Into the Woods soap by Kate Munroe

Into the Woods soap by Kate Munroe

Congratulations to Kate on winning a $25 gift certificate, plus a 2-lb wood mold with silicone liner from Bramble Berry! Fantastic work!

The Sponsor’s Choice winner from Bramble Berry is Julie Miller in Pennsylvania, another first-time Challenge Club member, for her Autumn Woods soap! Amber Strawn speaks for her team at Bramble Berry when she says, “We love the unique and creative design. The ‘knots’ in the wood add interest and texture, and the colors are vibrant and perfect for fall!”

Into the Woods soap by Julie Miller

Into the Woods soap by Julie Miller

You’ll have to be a member of the Soap Makers Plus Facebook group to see her post, which I think MOST soapmakers are. Julie wins a $25 gift certificate from Bramble Berry – yippee!!

Now, on to the winners in the all-natural category, who in contrast with the synthetic category have all placed in the Challenge Club at least once previously! The grand prize winner is none other than Bann Matson of Homely Animal in Utah, who took 3rd place last month in the experienced category of the piping challenge! Bann’s soap is made to look like weathered, reclaimed wood. It is an unscented 100% olive oil soap, colored with activated charcoal and raw cocoa:

Reclaimed Wood soap by Homely Animal

Reclaimed Wood soap by Homely Animal

Congratulations to Bann for winning a $100 gift certificate from Modern Soapmaking!! You can click on the photo of her soap to see her Instagram post.

Second place goes to another member of the Challenge Club who has been making her mark lately: Helene Glemet of Chez Helene in Canada! This is her fourth time placing in the top 3. This time her prize-winning soap is called Firewood, aptly named for its real log-like appearance, down to the moss growing on the bark:

Firewood soap by Chez Helene

Firewood soap by Chez Helene

The soap has been scented with pine needle essential oil, and the colors were all achieved with varying shades of cocoa powder. Spinach powder and paprika were used to create the moss and lichen effect. Be sure to click on her photo to read all about her process on her Facebook page. Helene wins a $75 gift certificate from Modern Soapmaking – congrats!

Our third place winner is also a seasoned Challenge Club member who has created many beautiful soaps, including her first place winning rimmed soap in March. Congratulations goes to Anastasia Krasilnikova in the Czech Republic for her Thuja Wood soap with its rich, wood grain texture, colored with 99% Lindt chocolate and scented with thuja and sweet orange essential oils! (Thuja is a genus of coniferous trees in the cypress family, in case you were wondering like I was.)

Thuja Wood soap by Anastasia Krasilnikova

Thuja Wood soap by Anastasia Krasilnikova

She wins a $50 gift certificate from Modern Soapmaking – fantastic!! Click on the photo to read more about Anastasia’s soap in her blog post.

Finally, Kenna of Modern Soapmaking has chosen Belinda Williams of Love Your Suds in Canada as her Sponsor’s Choice prize winner for her Beekeeper soap, Belinda’s second time as a Challenge Club prize winner! Kenna says, “I loved how the wood grain design was the foundation for combining textures on either side of the soap, and bringing together complementary facets of nature into harmony. So creative!” Her inspiration came from Tree Stump Beekeeping, as you can see from the design:

Beekeeper soap by Love Your Suds

Beekeeper soap by Love Your Suds

Belinda wins a $25 gift certificate from Modern Soapmaking – congratulations!! To learn more about her process, click on the photo to read her blog post.

To see ALL of the entries from the Wood Grain challenge, please visit THIS PAGE.

We will be doing another fun technique for the November Challenge, with guest teacher Tatsiana Serko of Creative Soap by Steso. It is the technique she created called “Cosmic Wave” and this is the soap she made for the video tutorial that you won’t want to miss:

Cosmic Wave soap by Creative Soap by Steso

Cosmic Wave soap by Creative Soap by Steso

This will be one big challenge, with Mad Oils as our sponsor. Registration will open Monday, October 24, with the opportunity to register for December’s challenge also at a discounted rate. Click the photo above for more info about these challenges, and sign up to be notified when registration opens below:

notify-me

Making of Sunflower Soap

I was so excited to be among several recipients of the new Spring Fever Fragrance Collection* from Bramble Berry!
fragrance-collection
I started by making some embeds scented with the Blueberry Jam fragrance, which is absolutely heavenly!! It is by far the best blueberry fragrance I’ve ever used, and smells fantastic in the soap as well.

Then I decided to make a soap scented with the Sunflower fragrance. The notes on this fragrance say that there could be some mild acceleration and discoloration to a light tan, so keeping this in mind, I decided to do a layered soap and create a golden yellow lower half to mimic the petals of the sunflower (the state flower of Kansas where I’m from, by the way!), and mix up browns and black as well as some uncolored soap to mimic the deep brown center of the flower.

I was thinking that a nice, dark brown line between the layers would set them off nicely, so I decided to use cocoa powder for this. The golden yellow is a mix of two teaspoons of Yellow Lip Safe Mica and a half teaspoon of Racing Stripe Orange Mica from Bramble Berry with some olive oil. I used cocoa powder mixed with olive oil for the two different browns, and activated charcoal mixed with olive oil for the black.

Paper cup with dry cocoa powder and a piece of nylon knee highs secured with a rubberband, golden yellow mica mix, cocoa powder mix, and activated charcoal mix.

Paper cup with dry cocoa powder and a piece of nylon knee highs secured with a rubberband, golden yellow mica mix, cocoa powder mix, and activated charcoal mix.

I mixed the oils and lye solution when they were around 85 degrees – a little cooler than my usual 90 degrees. I used my regular recipe for the oils (48 total ounces of oils) and kept the lye solution at 2:1 water to lye. I used the stick blender just until I felt the soap batter was emulsified, then poured off half and colored it with most of the golden yellow mica mix and added half of the fragrance. I actually needed to stick blend it a bit longer to get it to set up enough to hold the other half of the soap and be able to create a texture between the layers.

Golden yellow soap mix

Golden yellow soap mix

I had an idea to use a plastic fork to create some texture:

Texturizing the soap

Texturizing the soap

Then I started sprinkling the cocoa powder over the top of the soap. Only, the cocoa powder was too caked up and didn’t really want to come through the nylon cover. This method works great with tiny particles of dry mica; however, it wasn’t so successful with the cocoa powder. Increasing the force of the shaking of my cocoa powder cup only managed to loosen the nylon cover and I ended up dumping a fair amount of cocoa powder in one section of the soap!

Oops!!

Oops!!

I realized a better method of dispersing the cocoa powder was to use a micro-sieve, tapping it over the top of the soap:

Micro-sieve method

Micro-sieve method

After this, I divided the rest of the soap batter into four equal parts and colored them with the activated charcoal and cocoa powder, leaving one cup uncolored but adding 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds for a bit of texture, then adding the remaining fragrance, divided into each of the four cups:

Four cups of soap for the top

Four cups of soap for the top

My original idea was to swirl these together in one pot and then pour, but the soap was still really runny at this point, so I started by pouring a thin layer of the uncolored soap to offset the dark cocoa powder line:

Thin layer of uncolored soap

Thin layer of uncolored soap

Then I just started pouring thin drop swirls of each color in circular motions until all the soap was in the mold:

Drop swirled soap

Drop swirled soap

Finally, I used a skewer to swirl the top in two different sections:

Swirled top

Swirled top

Even using rubbing alcohol spray on top of the soap, it developed some really bad ash. You can see the comparison between the ashy soap and the one I planed:

Comparison of soap tops: unplaned vs planed.

Comparison of soap tops: unplaned vs planed.

There were only two bars of soap that were adversely affected by the cocoa powder dump. I will cut them up into smaller pieces to be used as samples:

Too much cocoa powder!

Too much cocoa powder!

The rest of the soaps turned out beautifully! Here are some that have been all cleaned up:

Sunflower soaps by Great Cakes Soapworks

Sunflower soaps by Great Cakes Soapworks

I will plan to have these available for purchase at Greatcakessoapworks.com on May 6.

*All links to Bramble Berry products are affiliate links which simply means a small portion of your purchase comes back to me at no added cost to you.