Vanilla, the Problem Child of the Soap World

I’ve made a couple of soaps for the summer season.  One is a creamsicle scent and the other smells like cotton candy.  Yum!  They almost smell good enough to eat, and if it weren’t for the fact that vanilla discolors, they would be lovely.  When I first made them, the colors were just what I’d hoped for–the creamsicle was a soft orange and the cotton candy, a bright pink.  I don’t suppose I have to tell you what they look like now, do I?  Yes, the Dreaded Vanilla Brown, scourge of soapmakers everywhere.


 I’m sure that many of you can empathize with my situation and that you have your own “brown” stories to tell.


This is crazy.  We’re landing a rover on Mars, but we can’t have a vanilla scent that doesn’t discolor at all?  Is that really so hard?  Apparently, it is.




It’s true that some clever soapers have found ways around that discoloring, whether it be whipped soap or adding scent to only a portion of the batch so that just part of it turns brown.  Half brown, they feel,  can certainly be more appealing than all brown!


Other wise soapers have learned to embrace the brown and are satisfied with it.  The “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” theory is at play here.  It’s certainly better than stressing over an inevitable result.



What about you?  Do you care if vanilla fragrance turns brown in soap?  Have you found ways to deal with it?  Perhaps you have ideas to share.  We’re all ears!


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne for the Saponifier


7 Responses to “Vanilla, the Problem Child of the Soap World”
  1. Robbin says:

    I don’t use many colorants so I embrace the warmth of the brown color along with the warm scent of vanilla! They seem to go well together!

  2. Marilyn says:

    Depending on the name of the fragrance, such as warm vanilla the soap would be find on its own without adding color.

    You could add deeper colors to the batch so the vanilla color would not come through , such as black raspberry.

  3. Amber says:

    YES it’s a pain!! Well, sometimes. It’s no big deal for my natural looking warm vanilla sugar bar, but I’m trying to do an orange sherbet-colored bar with a creamsicle scent myself, and want to do a white swirl…not happening. Woe is me.

  4. Tim says:

    I came across this website as my wife has decided to get into soap making. I find this interesting as I am the chemist in the family. I haven’t dealt with vanilla specifically, but from the description of the color change over time I suspect that the oxidative process is the root of the problem. I would consider adding 1-2% sodium citrate and see if it slows the discoloration. Sodium citrate is the sodium salt of citric acid (lye + citric acid = sodium citrate and water). Sodium citrate is a pH buffering agent, sequestrator and an antioxidant. As a buffering agent it helps regulate minor pH variances from lye or residual acid via saponification. As a sequestrator, it helps hold things in solution and prevent separation. It’s great in Mac & Cheese to keep the cheese creamy. As an antioxidant, it will help keep the oxaditive process in control and limit “browning”. This is why cooks will squeeze a limon or lime on apples or bananas to keep them from discoloring. Vanilla is a combination of extracts; largely vanillin. Vanillin’s structure contains a 6 carbon aromatic ring that is highly suseptable to oxidation (free radical attach). Added sodium citrate will help protect this structure as well as any other sites of unstauration in your oils.

  5. SavonTalk says:

    That would be an interesting solution to try, Tim. Thank you for suggesting it. I’ll have to hunt down sodium citrate, but in the meantime, if any of our other soaping friends try it, please report back your results!

  6. Amy says:

    So if I understand Tim correctly, wouldn’t you just add citric acid to your lye solution? What would be the ratio then?

  7. SavonTalk says:

    John mentioned sodium citrate, which is a different ingredient from citric acid. Since sodium citrate is a high pH product, the result would be much different than that from using citric acid.

Leave Your Comments Below