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To Gel or Not to Gel? Cold Process Soap Making Explained

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Have you ever heard of the gel phase in cold process soap making? It refers to the point in the soap making process where the soap heats up and goes through a phase change, resulting in a more translucent appearance. Some soap makers choose to force gel in their soap for various reasons, while others prefer to avoid it altogether. In this blog post, we’ll delve into what the gel phase is, how to force gel in cold process soap, and tips for preventing gel in your soap. Whether you’re a seasoned soap maker or just starting out, understanding the gel phase is an essential part of the soap making process.

What is the Gel Phase in Cold Process Soap?

When you’re making soap from scratch using the cold process method, you’ll often hear about something called the “gel phase.” The gel phase refers to the stage during the soap making process when the soap mixture heats up and gels or thickens. This happens due to the heat generated from the saponification reaction, where the oils and lye combine to form soap.

The gel phase is a natural part of the soap making process and it can happen on its own without any intervention. However, you can also control whether or not your soap goes through the gel phase, depending on your desired outcome.

So, why does the gel phase matter? Technically it doesn’t matter aside from visual appearance of the soap. Soap is soap, gelled or not gelled it will all get you clean. But, some recipes are more prone to misbehave in the mold due to heat or lack of heat. Common reasons to control the gel phase of your soap are partial gel (when the soap only gels in the middle leaving a darker ring of color in the center of your soap); over heating and cracking; heat tunnels; or you want to make sure your colors pop!

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Why Would You Want to Force a Gel in Soap?

If you’re a seasoned soap maker, you may have heard about the gel phase and wondered why you would want to force it.

Forcing a gel in cold process soap can lead to several benefits, including brighter colors and a smoother, more translucent finish. The gel phase also helps to reduce the occurrence of soda ash, a white powdery substance that forms on the surface of soap when it comes into contact with air.
Some soap makers also prefer the gel phase because it speeds up the saponification process, allowing them to unmold and cut their soaps faster.

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How to Force a Gel in Cold Process Soap

While forcing a gel phase isn’t necessary for every batch of soap, it can be a useful technique to have in your soap making arsenal. Whether you’re looking for a more even color or faster unmolding times, knowing how to encourage a gel phase can help you achieve your soap making goals.

Want to force your soap to gel? Here’s how to do it:

  1. Insulate your soap. One of the easiest ways to encourage a gel phase is to wrap your soap in a towel or blanket to help hold in the heat. This can be done immediately after pouring the soap into the mold.
  2. CPOP your soap (Cold Process Oven Process). Place your soap in a warm oven (around 170°F). Simple as that… but remember to TURN THE OVEN OFF. The steps are: Preheat the oven, turn oven off, then place soap inside the oven. I also recommend putting a post-it note on the oven to keep others from turning it on and cooking your soap.
  3. Use a heat source (Countertop CPOP). Some soap makers will place their mold on a heating pad or in a warm location (such as a sunny windowsill) to encourage a gel phase. In the video below, I’ll show you how to use some cafeteria trays and heating pads to force a gel on a small batch of soap. It’s my countertop CPOP set up (because I don’t have an oven in the soapy studio).

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How to Prevent Soap from Gelling

If you don’t want your soap to gel, and want to make gosh darn sure it doesn’t gel, then you need to keep your soap cold cold cold!
1: Chill your soap in the refrigerator. If this is your home fridge, I don’t recommend this route. You might bump your soap mold, or even spill milk all over your soap!
2: Freeze your soap. You can pop your soap into a freezer for a few hours. This is especially helpful if your soap has a high sugar content and you’re trying to keep it cold to prevent overheating and cracking. My issue with the freezer option is similar to the refrigerator… other people in the house can bump the soap. Plus, I never had a freezer big enough for a soap mold! When I was living in Denver, I would often use the snow to my advantage though. I simply placed the soap outside in the snow. Talk about a natural soap! hehe.
3: Cold Insulate. My favorite way is to insulate the soap mold with ice packs. I give a demonstration in the video below, but I’m essentially using ice packs instead of heating pads to cold insulate my soap.

4 thoughts on “To Gel or Not to Gel? Cold Process Soap Making Explained”

    1. For CPOP (cold process oven process) you leave the soap in the oven until the soap is ready to unmold. Typically, that means overnight.

      And remember. The oven is warmed up to the lowest setting, and then TURNED OFF once you put the soap in the mold ☺️

  1. Hello, can you advise whether I’ll have to force a Gell phase for 100% Coconut Oil soap? either using individual molds or an 8 inch mold? Thank you

    1. That depends on what you mean by “have to”. 100% coconut oil soap will gel in a slab. In fact, it’s going to be very hard to prevent it from gelling. You’ll need to keep it cool with airflow to prevent it from overheating. in a cavity mold, you probably will not run into overheating issues. that’s just due to the nature of a cavity mold. In an 8 inch loaf mold it could go either way. If you soap hot soap will gel and it may crack on the top. If you soap cool, you might be OK but with 100% coconut oil you always run the risk of overheating if you don’t control the ambient temperature while the soap is setting up.

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