Do you have a lab notebook in your soap kitchen or potions lab?

No? Then you are missing one of the most important tools in your business.

Ok, I have to admit I have a love-hate relationship with this pesky notebooks. I love how it makes me able to follow back my line of thoughts while developing a product but keeping it and adding notes and especially observings is a pain sometimes.

My hubby is, even more, worse 🙂 He is a confessed neat freak, keeps pile high notes of everything BUT he forgets always to add his findings and thoughts!!! I am sure he did one and the same trial already a few times because he simply forgot to record his findings.

Why should you have a laboratory notebook?

A lab notebooks purpose is far more important than you think, maybe not everything seems to be important for you right now but you’ll never know 😉

  • A lab notebook is your complete record of what you did, how you did it, which ingredients you used, how it turned out and what you thought about it.
  • Especially if your trial resulted in changes in your starting formulation write down what you observed and why it caused the changes you did, don’t skip this part!
  • Your ideal here is that you could come back in a year or two and be able to totally recall this formulation with your notes as a reminder.
  • You should also add a sentence or two about what idea initiated this experiment, maybe an article you read about a promising ingredient or you tried to replicate a store bought product, …
  • On a much more serious side, your lab notebook is a legal document to prove patents and defend your data against accusations of fraud. Maybe it is not something to think about now but you’ll never know. Just think of this big UK company who loves to throw here patents at every passing hobby maker.
  • It is also a big piece of being in line with GMP regulations and a valuable tool if you should ever give over the formulating part of your business to another person.


How should your lab notebook look like?

First some general things about keeping a lab notebook:

  • Use a hardback cover notebook which is stitch bound or a digital one, spiral bound or binder usually start to lose stuff with the time. The best practice here would be to have a hardcover notebook which you would copy into a digital file at the end of your day. Also on a side note, a stitch bound notebook is the strongest proof legally.
  • Add a sticker or write by hand on the cover the following: Lab Notebook, Started on dd/mm/yyyy. After filling up more than two notebooks this will help with finding the right one if you like also start to number them.
  • Ideally, you would leave the first few pages free and use it for your Table of Content which you would write while adding your projects. I strongly recommend this, it will save you a lot of time.
  • You always want to write with a pen and try to write as clearly as possible.
  • Always start a new project on the right-hand page, date, and number your pages on an outside corner.
  • If you have to correct something just strike it through do not black it out and best you should also add a small note why you corrected it.
  • If you have scribbled some notes on a loose piece of paper or so, glue it into the lab notebook as soon as possible or transcribe it.

Don’t panic, you can download a lab notebook mock-up and checklist in the member’s area. Just click the image below to become a member.

Now let’s create our first entry, we will start at the top of a right-handed page.

  • On an outer corner write the page number (if you like number already the whole thing through) and the date.
  • Also, write the Project Name on the top and ideally you would assign a Project Number. The project number will help to keep track of variations and follow up formulations. A good way to assign a project number is something in the line of 1.0 for your first version, with 1.1 for an improved version and 1.1.1 for variations of 1.1.
  • Next, you should shortly describe (bullet points are fine) the idea and purpose of your formulation. If your project idea is based on an article or book you read, take also a note of the book/article title and page number or if it is from a website write down the detailed web address.
  • Now it is time to write down your formulation, you should include the ingredient name, the weight you should add, the weight you actually added (to be able to track differences caused by adding directly to your container) and the percentage of you ingredient in your final concoction. Sometimes I start with a % based recipe sometimes with a gram-based recipe, to be able to resize it I always convert my gram based recipes into %, this way it is much easier later.
  • Next, add a short description of the process of producing your formulation. Things like phases, water baths, heat & hold, and so on.
  • After finishing your formulation it is time to write down any observations and results, e.g. became grainy after complete cooldown, mixed easily, …
  • Now, check your results and observation against your beginning purpose, did you achieve the results you were after, did the product turn out as you planned, …
  • If yes great, note it down and go celebrating, if no write down what your thoughts and ideas are for the next time and read on.

How to take notes of Reformulations and Versions of Products in your lab notebook

  • Follow all the rules above but add subsequent formulation number and also take note of the name, page, version number and if needed lab notebook number your variation/reformulation is based on. This way you will be always able to trace back your line of thoughts without having to dig through hundreds of pages.

For the Overachiever

  • Note also the time it took to make a product. This is good data to determine your cost of development and also labor time.
  • Transfer all entries into digital files, add tags and labels, like “in Progress”, “failed”, “Masterformula”, “Ingredient Names”, “Product Type”, …
  • Print out the formulation which made it into production and file them separately in a “Master formula” file, which is going to be a part of your GMP.

So, what do you think? Was this article helpful, are you committed to a lab notebook? 🙂 If you like what you read please leave a comment and don’t forget to become a free member, so you can access the checklist and mock-up.

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