Soap won't gel

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Does anyone know why soap wouldn't go through gel phase? I've been forcing gel phase on a heating pad and it's worked beautifully for the last 3 or 4 batches, but the last two wouldn't gel. Both problem batches were the same recipe, a slow-moving one I've been using for multi-color swirl soap designs. All my soaps are made with raw goat milk. The first gel-resistant batch was 100% goat milk, the second was 2/3 distilled water, 1/3 fresh milk mixed with the oils. Both batches were mixed with lye and oils around 100 degrees F, give or take 10 degrees. Both were a long time in pouring and swirling. First batch was still too fluid to hold a textured topping, so I let it sit for an hour before I tried gelling it. I thought that was the problem, so I was sure to have today's batch at a thicker trace while working it. I also had my heating pad preheated and popped the soap on it as soon as it was poured & swirled. It got up to about 130 degrees but never went through gel phase. It's been on the heating pad for 5 hours, temp is down 20 degrees and it still doesn't look gelled. Any ideas how I can force gel on a slow moving recipe?

Recipe:
Olive oil - 45%
Coconut oil - 23%
Lard - 28%
Castor oil - 4%
Lye concentration - 36%
Superfat - 5%
Fragrance ratio - 0.5
Fragrance - eucalyptus, peppermint and fir needle essential oils
Colorants - Moroccan red clay, French pink clay, Indigo powder, Activated charcoal

The French pink clay portion thickened faster than the rest but was still workable during my pour. Any input is much appreciated!
 
What are you seeing that makes you sure it hasn’t gelled? Sometimes signs of gel can be subtle, esp in multi-colored soap with textured tops. The peaks of texture don’t retain heat as well as the rest of the soap, because they are surrounded by cooler air.

Also, are you covering the mold and heating pad to create an oven effect? That way, the heat surrounds the entire mold, vs just heating the bottom that is in physical contact with the heating pad. I put an overturned box over mine; many folks use towels or blankets.
 
I check it every half hour or so and haven't seen the transparent change that I see in other soaps. The loaf has a very matte looking finish afterwards. I put it on the heating pad (on low) with a plastic bowl over it, covered by a bath towel for about 4 hours. Then I turn the pad off and leave it covered until it comes to room temperature.

I was hoping to intensify the natural colorants by gelling, but they look kind of chalky when it's done. Maybe they are gelling in a subtle way and the clays I'm using just turn out chalky. SO much to learn!!!
 
You can try adding a little honey or sugar to the recipe. Both will help heat up the soap. You could also try the cold proces/oven process method.
I might try a little honey next time. Thank you! I probably won't try oven processing. I never know when I'll need the oven for feeding my family, and I have teenagers who bake. I could see someone preheating the oven for cookies without looking inside first...😃
 
A heating pad only works to force soap into gel if the soap is warm-ish enough to begin with and is also generating heat internally due to saponification. I can guarantee using the pad after saponification is over won't help at all.

Your choice of lye concentration is working against your goal here. The temperature at which soap transitions into the gel phase goes higher as the water content goes down. So if you absolutely must verify the soap gels, you don't want to be using 36% lye concentration.

Increase the water content -- I'd think 28% to 30% lye concentration will make gel more likely. There are downsides to using more water but it does lower the temp at which the soap will go obviously into gel.

As Ali has explained, my experience suggests soap doesn't have to show it's obviously in gel to gain the benefits of more intense color, physically harder at the time of unmolding, as well as a waxy, firm texture.

But that's the experience I've gained from my soap and how I make it. You say your colors aren't as bright as you want and tend to look chalky, but that might not have anything to do with gelling or not gelling -- it may be an issue with the type and amounts of the colorants you're using.
 
A heating pad only works to force soap into gel if the soap is warm-ish enough to begin with and is also generating heat internally due to saponification. I can guarantee using the pad after saponification is over won't help at all.

Your choice of lye concentration is working against your goal here. The temperature at which soap transitions into the gel phase goes higher as the water content goes down. So if you absolutely must verify the soap gels, you don't want to be using 36% lye concentration.

Increase the water content -- I'd think 28% to 30% lye concentration will make gel more likely. There are downsides to using more water but it does lower the temp at which the soap will go obviously into gel.

As Ali has explained, my experience suggests soap doesn't have to show it's obviously in gel to gain the benefits of more intense color, physically harder at the time of unmolding, as well as a waxy, firm texture.

But that's the experience I've gained from my soap and how I make it. You say your colors aren't as bright as you want and tend to look chalky, but that might not have anything to do with gelling or not gelling -- it may be an issue with the type and amounts of the colorants you're using.
Oh, thank you so much! I appreciate you sharing your experience with me. This is all my INexperience showing through loud and clear. I saw a video of gel phase, I've seen my own soaps going through it, and I figured that every batch must look the same in gel phase. Everything you said ticks the boxes! I borrowed the recipe and lye concentration from a video of the technique I wanted to use. My soaps that showed obvious gel phase were done at 30-32% lye concentration. I only used 36% these last two times because that's what the lady on TV did.😃

One more quick question. If I change the lye concentration to include more liquid, is the speed of the recipe likely to change?
 
..One more quick question. If I change the lye concentration to include more liquid, is the speed of the recipe likely to change?
Not sure exactly what you mean by "speed of the recipe." I'm going to assume it means the "working time" when the soap batter is fluid enough, so you can do things like divide the batter into portions, add colorants, prepare a decorative swirl, etc.

It's hard to say for sure. The common wisdom says more water => longer working time. But there are so many factors that affect the working time, so it's tough to predict. You'll just have to try it and see how things go for your style of soap making.

The time you have before the soap batter gets too thick depends on a lot of factors. Fragrance and colorants used, batch size, soap batter temperature, amount and intensity of mixing, etc. all enter into the equation.
 
Not sure exactly what you mean by "speed of the recipe." I'm going to assume it means the "working time" when the soap batter is fluid enough, so you can do things like divide the batter into portions, add colorants, prepare a decorative swirl, etc.

It's hard to say for sure. The common wisdom says more water => longer working time. But there are so many factors that affect the working time, so it's tough to predict. You'll just have to try it and see how things go for your style of soap making.

The time you have before the soap batter gets too thick depends on a lot of factors. Fragrance and colorants used, batch size, soap batter temperature, amount and intensity of mixing, etc. all enter into the equation.
Yes, that's what I meant. I'll keep experimenting and learning. Thank you so much for your help in making that learning process fun instead of frustrating!
 
I cut the "un-gelled" soap today and it looks beautiful! It turned out much better and brighter than I thought it would. Can't wait to make some more!

One of my personal "rules" I've learned the hard way is to not judge a loaf of soap before it's cut. I'm glad your bars turned out better than expected.

I can't count the number of times when I thought the loaf of soap looked awfully homely but the bars looked decent. Maybe not what I had envisioned in my mind's eye, but still nice.

Although there ~was~ that "bloody meat loaf" batch I made -- I somehow thought a swirl of cocoa powder brown and iron oxide red might look real nice. But the bars looked every bit as bad as the loaf did before it was cut. :rolleyes:
 
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