The Effect of Starting Temps when Soapmaking
By Kelly Bloom
Why Make Ungelled Soap?
Less heat build up in your soap mold means that the more fragile, or volatile elements of your expensive essential oils, do not get lost to the intense heat that gel stage creates. Did you know the internal temperature of a batch of soap in full gel stage can exceed 240 degrees? This heat can not only burn off the lighter components of essential oil and fragrance oil, but also scorch the proteins in milk. By keeping temps lower, you have lighter colored milk soaps. You don’t have to overcompensate with scent materials, and can save money using less essential oil or fragrance oil. Esthetically, ungelled soap has a very fine, smooth texture. This is because the molecules are moving so S L O W L Y during saponification that they line up ‘dress right dress’ like little soldiers.
Try the following experiment:
Rub your hands together in a hurried fashion. Feel that warmth? Now rub your hands together very slowly. No heat, right? This is the same principle occurring when you start making Cold Process soap with warm lye and warm oil mixtures. The friction of fast moving molecules builds up to a mass in the center of the mold, resulting in the batch going into ‘gel stage’. If your batch gets too hot, it will result in something we refer to as a soap volcano! By using lower starting lye and oil temps, you constrain the speed the molecules are moving at, thereby limiting the build up of excess heat, and avoid gel stage.
This is what Gel does. Heats from Center to Edge. Avoid this in Milk Soaps.
Nag Champa soap in Gel Stage
You are looking at a photo of a batch of my swirled Nag Champa soap, poured about 2 hours before this photo was taken. Right now, this batch is in gel stage, but not quite spread to the outermost edges. The mass of soap is having an exothermic reaction, heat is building up as oil and lye molecules are moving about creating friction and transforming into soap. Gel stage starts in the center of the mold, and moves in an outward manner. Eventually, if full gel stage is reached, the entire batch will change to the slightly darker shade that you see almost to the edges of this batch. Sometimes a batch will stay at this point, not enough heat gets generated to extend the exothermic reaction all the way to the mold edges and corners. If you see your batch stopping in a “partial” gel, you can push it the rest of the way by setting your mold in a 170 degree oven for a few hours. External heat will allow the edges, or ‘rind’ of ungelled soap to move toward the rest of the gelled mass.
Ungelled Tropical Fruit Slices
Next, we have a photo of a batch of yellow & orange swirled Tropical Fruit Slices soap, which was made with lower starting temps. The Tropical Fruit Slices fragrance oil has a high ratio of Grapefruit essential oil in it, which has some very volatile, or fragile top notes. Lower temps and avoiding gel stage allow this fragrance to remain true and strong in the finished soap. I love to use this technique for all my citrus essential oils also. In this second batch using lower temperatures, the base oils were about 75 – 78 degrees, previously mixed, melted, and then cooled. You will need to have at least 40% loose oils to have a cool base oils formula that is still a mixable slurry when 75 – 80 degrees. The lye solution was cooled to 50 – 60 degrees. This batch was mixed very cool, and experienced a temporary “False Trace” where the cold lye solution hits the cool base oils and thickens up initially. The soap mixture quickly loosens up again though as the lye and oils start to react and create friction and heat. Continue mixing as usual, moving right through that false trace. Pour into mold, set into your freezer or refrigerator with no insulation around the mold. (yes, your soap will still saponify, albeit a slower rate, even in the freezer).
Ungelled Moondance & Gelled Moondance
The pink bar of Moondance herbal soap on the Left below shows where only partial gel occurred in the mold. The upper edge and the rounded right upper corner is more opaque than the lower portion of the soap. The pink bar of Moondance herbal soap on the Right below shows the same formula, same essential oils, duplicate batch made in similar mold. Full gel was achieved by soaping with higher oil and lye solution temps. No “rind effect” like seen on the bar to the Left. Notice that ungelled soap is more opaque than fully gelled soap. (the lower corners of our batches were rounded because this photo is from when we still used shower curtains cut to fit the mold as our liner, we did not get the perfect corners that the silicon lined molds in the photos give us now. The rounded corners were the lower portion of the mold where the liner did not get flush into the mold corners).
Ungelled Eucalyptus & Gelled Eucalyptus
This Eucalyptus herbal soap was made in two batches. Batch on the left did not go through gel stage. Batch on the Right went through full gel stage. Notice how you can use gel stage, or lack of gel stage, to obtain different soap effects. I like soaps with herbs in them to go through full gel stage. That way, I can see “deeper” into the bar all the lovely herbs that were added to the batch.
Both of these batches, Unscented Goat Milk on the Left and Unscented Pumpkin Illipe on the Right are both made with the Low Temp or ungelled soap method. We have beautifully white soap in both instances by making a very concentrated.
There is a copy of this training PDF in our Soapalooza Soap Arts Studio Facebook forum. Request membership if you are not already a member, and then navigate HERE to the files tab. Click on the “to-gel-or-not-to-gel PDF link.
Indigo Blue and Australian Red Reef Clay Natural Colorants in CP
Use full Gel when doing CP Overpours
This is because the contrasting older soap that you have cut into shapes or chunks has lost some of its moisture. You need that full gel processing stage to ‘bond’ the old and the new soap masses together in the mold. If it is extremely cured, soap it in water for about 5 to 10 minutes so that it develops a re hydrated surface. Using gel stage in this circumstance allows you to make amazing designs in your Cold Process soap, and at the same time ensure that the bars do not fall apart during usage or even during slicing.
Good Luck, and Safe Soapmaking!
Kelly, Chief Excitement Officer at Soapalooza!
Where soapmaking is an Adventure, an Art, and an Addiction!
PS: We would LOVE to connect with you at our Facebook Soapalooza Fan Page
We also have a Facebook Soapmaking Group called Soapalooza Soap Arts Studio, and we share lots of information there! We would love for you to join us!
© 2001 Kelly Bloom, BloomWorks Holdings, LLC & Soapalooza at
http://www.soapalooza.com. All text, photos, graphics, artwork and other material in this work are copyrighted and may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed