The other day, I attempted to follow the recipe for one of the decadent-looking melt-and-pour exfoliating sugar scrub bars I found in a Facebook video. The anonymous hands in the video made it look easy. The project is a simple one – one that even looks good for kids with a little adult supervision. So, why did mine come out looking nothing like the one in the video?
This story is about how, in the world of DIY, things don’t always turn out the way you expect, but sometimes it’s okay, and you learn something. It’s also a cautionary tale about using DIY recipes that don’t include the necessary details and trying them before understanding some of the basic facts about soap making ingredients.
I chose the lavender scrub bar recipe from the video because I had a batch of lavender buds that I’d dried over the summer (just enough for this recipe, in fact). Plus, lavender is an essential oil I always have on hand. Using what you already have is the homesteading way after all.
So, I gathered the ingredients:
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1/4 cup of coconut oil
- 1/4 cup of lavender buds
- 15 drops of lavender essential oil
- 3/4 cup of melt-and-pour soap base (approximately a 1/2 lb. of soap base)
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I mixed the sugar, coconut oil, lavender buds, and essential oil in a bowl. Then, I cut up my goat milk melt-and-pour soap base and slowly melted it in a glass liquid measuring cup. I heated it in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring it in between each interval. When it was liquified, I added it to the sugar mixture. As the hot liquid soap hit the lavender oil and lavender buds, the scent was divine.
But, here’s where things went wrong for me. The mixture immediately solidified. There was no time to pour it into the silicone mold like they do in the video. It became a solid clump in a matter of seconds.
Instead of giving up, I decided to take a chance and reheat the entire mixture in 10-second intervals in the microwave until I had a consistency I could work with – something I could at least spoon into the mold. I knew I would be melting some, if not all, of the sugar along with the soap and coconut oil, potentially ruining the entire project. Thoughts of burnt sugar and a gunky mess filled my head, but I had nothing to lose – and a bunch of raw ingredients to salvage – at that point.
Luckily, melting it all together, very slowly, did not ruin it, per se. Instead, I was able to spoon the mixture into the silicone mold to accomplish the task of making them into bars.
They didn’t come out looking like the exfoliating scrub bars in the video. A lot of the sugar melted (which I suspect it does anyway, even if you get the recipe right), so the end product doesn’t feel like an exfoliating bar. The lavender didn’t float to the top to make it pretty. I didn’t use the 1/4 teaspoon of mica dye that they say is optional for coloring, so they aren’t purple either. They’re rustic. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.
The “Frankenstein” bars lather a little bit, but not really enough to use in the shower as a body scrub soap. This may be due to the recipe itself, though. There are a lot of additives compared to the amount of soap base. It’s typically recommended that you only add up to 1 tablespoon of additive, such as hard oil (e.g. coconut oil), to 1 lb. of melt-and-pour soap base.
How I Botched This Recipe for Lavender Sugar Scrub Bars
So, what went wrong? Details. The video isn’t specific about the kind of coconut oil to use. If I had used coconut oil off the shelf from a grocery store, things would have likely worked out just like they do in the video. However, for my soap-making projects, I bought a tub of specialized coconut oil that has a melting point of 92 degrees F, rather than the typical 76-degree F melting point. The high-melting-point coconut oil was clearly not ideal for this recipe.
To prove this hypothesis, I tried again. Since I was out of lavender buds, I tried making the green tea and honey bars in the video that follow the same basic recipe. Only this time, I used virgin coconut oil off the shelf that’s sold as a cooking oil. For this batch, I had just enough time to pour the whole hot mixture into the silicone mold. It’s not a lot of time. You have to move quickly, but it’s enough time to get that smoothly poured look. By the way, if you don’t want a strong coconut smell to the finished product, you should look for refined vs. virgin coconut oil. The takeaway for me is that details matter, especially when following DIY soap recipes.
There are all sorts of things that can go wrong with melt-and-pour soap making, but that doesn’t mean the failures are always a total loss. Even though my lavender bars aren’t exfoliating bars, and I wouldn’t try to recreate them, they turned out to be useable, nice-smelling bars of hand soap. Plus, I learned a lot about melt-and-pour soap making along the way. I think, anytime you take on a project, learn something through a failure, and don’t have to dump the results in the garbage, that’s a win.
Have you ever had a DIY project go a little off course yet turn out “okay” in the end? The failures can be disappointing at first, but I find them to be great motivators for figuring out how to take on the next project.
Here are a few sources of inspiration for melt-and-pour soap projects from some of the experts: