Coloring Your Cold Process Soap

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If you’ve made the time to experiment and measure out how much color you use each time you make soap, you may know how much color you’ll need to achieve the results you’re looking for. But if you’re somewhat new to the soapmaking world and haven’t made dozens of batches yet, there isn’t a whole lot of information from suppliers about usage rates. I’ve seen things like “add desired amount” or “if your soap lather is colored, you’ve added too much”. Well, that’s not so helpful since you can’t really judge that until after the soap is set up and you’ve already ruined it! Sometimes the supplier will tell you how much color to use per pound of oils. Rarely do I color an entire batch of soap the same color anymore. It’s usually pulling out a cup of soap, or splitting the batch into smaller parts to do a design.

I’ve come up with my own basic usage guidelines for the various types of micas and pigments like oxides and ultramarines. I’ve also experimented with neons which will give a very nice range of color. These are the guidelines I use PER CUP of soap:

Micas – I use 1 tsp. per cup of soap for the most brilliant color
Oxides and ultramarines – Use 1/4 tsp. per cup of soap
Titanium dioxide – use up to 1 tsp. per cup of soap. (Less is better!)
Neons – Use 1/2 tsp. per cup of soap for the most brilliant color, 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. per cup for pastels or lighter colors.

(These are my own guidelines. It’s always a good idea to do your own testing!)

Pre-mixing your colorants: You’ve probably seen soapmakers using glycerin, oil or water. How do you know which one to use? Glycerin is a safe bet because it will mix with both water and oil soluble colorants. That’s why you can buy colorants pre-mixed with glycerin from soap supply vendors. It’s also easy to clean up! The only issue with using glycerin is that you absolutely have to stick-blend the colorant into the soap to get it fully incorporated. This works most of the time – it’s just when you need your soap batter as fluid as possible for an intricate design that you wouldn’t want to stick-blend the color in. It’s also more difficult to tell how much colorant you are using when you purchase it pre-mixed, so you’ll just have to eyeball it.

I prefer to mix my colors with water whenever possible – even micas that don’t seem to incorporate very well. That way any extra liquid I’m adding to the soap will just cure out. You can test oxides and ultramarines to see if they mix better with oil or water. Titanium dioxide will be labeled with its solubility, and I like to get the water soluble variety. Most ultramarines and all neons have to be mixed with oil, however. You can use some of the oil from your recipe if you remember to do it that way, or just add a tiny bit extra to the colorants.

Example of ultramarine violet that didn't mix into the soap.
Example of ultramarine violet that didn’t mix into the soap.

Clumping is another issue you might be having even with pre-mixing – especially with oil-soluble titanium dioxide, oxides and ultramarines. Using a mini frother will help remove all the clumps in a hurry. If you don’t have one, I suggest pre-mixing before you start the rest of your soap preparations and give it a stir every once in awhile as you walk by.

Offsetting yellow tones or discoloring fragrances with titanium dioxide: Titanium dioxide is a strong whitening agent in cold process soap. You can use it to off-set the natural yellow or beige tone of your soap to create a white soap, or use a small amount with your colors to make them lighter or more pastel, and especially if you are using a fragrance oil that discolors to a light to medium tan it will help retain the color of your soap. Using whiter oils in your soap base will also help! If you have a fragrance that is mostly vanilla, or you know it will turn dark brown, it’s an exercise of futility to try to work against it. Titanium dioxide will not offset it, and vanilla stabilizers tend to break down over time. You can either add fragrance to a portion of your soap so that only that part will turn dark brown, or just go with it and have a soap that is completely dark.

Super crackled Lily of the Valley Soap
Super crackled Lily of the Valley Soap

What about the crackle effect from titanium dioxide? Sometimes you will get a crackled soap from using titanium dioxide with a soap recipe that overheated. There are certain fragrances that will overheat your soap, such as many of the florals, as well as certain oils in your soap recipe that can cause problems. For example, after I removed rice bran oil from my recipe, the amount of crackling from titanium dioxide was drastically reduced. Since it’s just a cosmetic issue, you don’t have to worry about it affecting the performance of your soap, and sometimes it just looks really cool! Use the least amount of TD you can. Using too much can cause your soap to become brittle, so no more than 1 tsp. per cup of soap. Seasonal changes can affect your soap, so remember it’s not necessary to over-insulate your soap in the warmer summer months!

How do you get a true red? This used to be a more elusive problem, but I’m seeing more suppliers who carry the true red, non-bleeding colorant. Most of them are pre-mixed, however, so if you want to get more bang for your buck, you can order the powdered form from TKB Trading – red lake #30 – and mix it yourself with either oil or glycerin. Nurture Soap has a Really Red colorant, and Mad Micas has a true red set.

Morphing colors: low ph dyes will morph in a high ph environment. Sometimes you can make the color changes work for you, such as a blue that turns purple. Sometimes a blue will just turn a nasty gray though. If you want a true blue, stick to ultramarine blue or a mica that you know is stable. I can recommend soap stable micas from both Mad Micas and Nurture Soap.

Bleeding colors:
Most FD&C and D&C dyes will bleed and/or fade in sunlight. I usually avoid these for soapmaking. If you buy soap colorants from the hobby stores, they are made for melt & pour bases and they are usually FD&C or D&C dye that are highly diluted and will bleed and fade in cold process soap. Be sure to purchase high quality micas, oxides or ultramarines from a reputable soap supply vendor or get the Lab Colors that are specifically for cold process soap from Brambleberry.

If you are more of a visual learner, please watch this video I created for more information:

More resources from Anne-Marie Faiola of Brambleberry:

Soap Coloring Options

How to Color Handmade Soap

More information on using titanium dioxide to off-set dark oils from Majestic Mountain Sage:

Neem Oil and Titanium Dioxide in Cold Process Soap

There is so much information around using colors in cold-process soap. I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg, so if you have more questions, please ask in the comment section below!

Page with Comments

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for such great and comprehensive information. I know it takes a lot of work to put these things together. 🙂

  2. THANK YOU for such an informative post! I have been struggling with colors since I started using them over a month ago. I also had problems mixing td, ultramarine blue and green oxide with oil, and after switching to water, it has been a lot better. I just use a small wire whisk to mix. I never knew what the crackled look was (it was just a small area on one bar) and that rice bran tends to increase the temperature, but thanks to you, I have been enlightened!

  3. Thank you so much for such great information! I am new at soaping and am finding I need more help on coloring soaps! I know in my head what I want them to look like but they don’t always look that way so your information should help! Thank you! 🙂

  4. Love your article!!! great info if you are starting to soap and if you need to reference back 🙂

  5. Thanks Amy for doing this post. I have always tended to use clays and spice infused oils. Just recently I have been trying out micas and other colourants, but have always been puzzled at how much to use. I am now going to print off your guidelines and put them in the front of my note book that I keep track of batches made.

  6. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned through countless hours of testing. This is such a fantastic guide!

  7. This was an excellent video. Very information. I only wish you ran the soap under water do we could see if the bubbles turned white or the color of the soap. That is the problem I had when I colored my soap. I get a rainbow mess.

  8. I’ve been all over the Internet looking for insider knowledge of colorants. I’ve had all kinds of issues…too much oxide turning white washcloths neon blue, clumps of titanium dioxide dragging through my soap when I cut it, etc…. Thanks so much. I’m learning! Your articles are top notch.

  9. I love the video and the per 1 cup soap method. Totally simplifies the process and measuring. Had to pause mid stream blog to go order red lake #30 (and some other cool stuff from their site), and have the ruby red! Off to try my first titanium dioxide add – thanks for the boost!

  10. Hi, im a new soap maker, and made my 1st mistake, added to much violet and my soap is deep dark blue, after the cure process ive tried it and it makes a very pretty violet foam! can I fix it? coz I don’t want to give it away and them get complaints that all their washrooms are stained in violet..any ideas? can I rebatch or mix it with a new batch to dilute the color? have big concern on this coz its already cured..TIA.

  11. Love the info! Thanks so much. I have an odd question that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere. I’ve made soaps for years and never had a problem but my last 4 batches have had color problems. The color looks perfect when I poured but after cutting it gets darker and darker. The fragrances are tried and true, from reputable dealers, and don’t contain vanilla….. I’m wondering if it has to do with temperatures??

  12. @Mea – Interesting problem! Usually it has to do with vanilla content, but I believe there are other things in fragrances that can cause the soap to darken as well such as spices. If your temps are unusually high, that might contribute to the problem, but it seems like the fragrances are a more likely culprit.

  13. @Paula – Excellent question! It somewhat depends on how big your batch is. If it’s just a couple pounds or so, you will definitely want to deduct any oil that you use or you can end up with a soft soap. The water will generally evaporate out anyway as it cures.

  14. Thanks a lot for the info, will appreciate if you let me know how many cups per pounded soap. So let’s say that a pound of soap is 2 cups for example. 🙂

  15. can you please tell me how to stop over heating when i use honey or milk? all my fragrance evaporated and my soap smells funny. i knew the first time was due to insulation. now i don’t know what the heck it is. please help

  16. @RIKKI – Sounds more like your fragrance may not be top quality or formulated for cold-process soaps. If you want to keep your soap from overheating, you can put it in the freezer for a couple hours after pouring, and then move it to the fridge until it’s ready to cut.

  17. Amy!

    You’re a soaping goddesses. You, Brambleberry’s Anne Marie, Kim at Essential Soaps, and our Soaping 101 friend are the artists on whom I rely to share awesome tips, tricks, and techniques, which save me time, money, and the heartache of spoiled soap.

    I know CP mutes a mica’s shimmer, but they retain their mute-shimmer in TD whitened soap?

    Thank you, again, you’re awesome,
    Leela

  18. I put too much colorant in. Can you tell me how to rebatch a 5lb loaf and add more soap to this to dilute the color? Thanks!!

  19. @Roseanne – I have no idea how much extra colorant you put in, but your best bet is to grate up the soap and put it in a new batch rather than trying to melt the entire thing down and mix in the fresh soap. You’ll get a beautifully flecked soap, and end up with twice as much. If you only have a 5 lb mold, just make up two separate batches using half the shredded soap in each with half new soap. Hope that helps!

  20. Hi Amy,
    I am wondering if you need to stick blend water soluble titanium dioxide into your soap or if just whisking it is ok? All of my soaps are moving to trace so fast lately. I think maybe because of this heat wave? It is super warm in our house right now.

  21. @Lina – I’ve tried just whisking TD into the soap and it just doesn’t quite incorporate the same. Sometimes just going through gel stage will cause the particles to disperse further around the soap. You could test that out!

  22. Thank you so much! This was very detailed & informative. I had a very difficult time trying to find info on this topic. So grateful to find this article & video.

  23. Amy!
    I appreciate this post even more today than I did a year ago. Again, you’re the Soap Goddess.

    Thanks for all your hard work,
    Leela

  24. @Amanda – I would make up a batch of whatever size you need to test the number of colorants you have, then pour off your single size bars and mix in the colorant, keeping notes on your ratios of color to soap, and pour into individual molds.

  25. hi – have just come across this info – i hope you can help me – at the start you are talking about oxides to colour your soap – my question is – are they the same oxides i use in my pottery glazes??? if you can help me on that one i would appreciate it – i have just started making CP soaps and one day want to venture into colouring – swirling – column pouring etc etc but i have to make sure i know what i am doing first – thanks

  26. @liz – I’m guessing they are similar and may even come from the same source. The oxides for soapmaking are purified to be skin safe, where a colorant used for pottery may not be.

  27. Hi-
    Thank you for a great article full of helpful info for a new soaper!!! I was wondering, at the ratio of mica you use, does that prevent all lather discoloration and any staining of washcloths or do you still get a little bit? Praying you have an article on your blog about rebatching. 🙁

  28. Thank you Amy for this great informative video; I am fairly new to soapmaking and have used Micas with success. Recently, I purchased ”Oxydes” for the first time and did several batches of soap to find out I used way to much. All those soaps are discoloring and there is no way I can sell them or even give them away. Is there a way to salvage those soaps? I am guessing rebatching will not get rid of the discoloration issue…
    Thank you so much for your help.

  29. Does the color set after curing? I made a 2 lb loaf with ultramarine blue and titanium white swirls. I used 1tsp in 1 lb as per directions on the brambleberry site (I didn’t come across your site until last night). The next day after I unmolded the soap I tested the lather to see if it was blue. It was blue-ish. Not too blue, kinda super light blue, but enough for me to be concerned since this batch was made to give away as gifts.
    Did it lather slightly bluish because it wasn’t yet cured and the soap was still newly soft? Or should I count it as a loss because curing won’t set the color any more than it is?

  30. @Tracy – It might set a little more with the cure. I haven’t actually tested a soap for color run over time. A slight bluish lather is nothing to be concerned about. It’s not going to stain the skin, and probably wouldn’t stain a white washcloth either, although you could test it to find out!

  31. Thank you Amy for the tip on rebatching soap to dilute the color on soaps where I used to much colorants. I have one question regarding fragrance oils. I have left over fragrance oils that I stopped using because of trace acceleration. Is it possible to use this fragrance oil when rebatching soap without having the accelation issue?
    Thank you so much for your help.

  32. @Claire – YES, absolutely!! Rebatched soap will behave like hot process in that fragrances won’t accelerate trace since trace has already happened. 🙂

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