To Gel Or Not To Gel? That is the question...

Discussion in 'Beginners Soap Making Forum' started by hungryhawaiian, Feb 15, 2019.

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  1. Feb 15, 2019 #1

    hungryhawaiian

    hungryhawaiian

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    I’m having a hard time understanding gelling. I know how to identify it when it happens, and it has something to do with water amounts, but what I don’t understand is what exactly is happening to it, is it a bad thing, why or why not?!?

    I read Auntie Clara’s blog about it and apparently you can prevent it or you can force it. So I guess my real question is why would you want or not want gelling to occur (ghost swirls aside)?
     
  2. Feb 15, 2019 #2

    shunt2011

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    I gel all my soaps. For one, it allows me to un-mold sooner as it’s harder after it gets. Also, it makes my colors brighter. Some choose not to gel but it takes longer to get out of the mold. To try to avoid gel you need to soap with less liquid. Most shoot fro a 33% lye concentration and put it in the fridge or freezer. To gel I insulate my molds with a wood lid and wrap in towels. Some put into a warmed oven and shut it off when they put the mold in. Trying not to gel sometimes ends up with partial gel depending on the type of mold. If using individual molds it’s easier to prevent.
     
  3. Feb 15, 2019 #3

    hungryhawaiian

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    So you can still gel at 33% as long as you insulate your soap? Or is that 33% for fridge and freezer, and if so, what % do you use to induce gel with insulation?
     
  4. Feb 15, 2019 #4

    shunt2011

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    @hungryhawaiian - yes, I gel at 33%. I use a wood lid on my loaf molds and then cover with a few towels. If the rooms a bit cooler like it is now in winter, I sometimes put a heating pad underneath it.
     
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  5. Feb 15, 2019 #5

    SaltedFig

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    Gelling can give a more translucent look to the soap (see soaps by @dibbles - some of her soaps are almost ethereal in the way they look!), and are easier to get a shine on the finished soap, with a smoother, sometimes waxier, look to the final soap.

    Ungelled soaps are more opaque and pastel hued, with a creamy look to them.

    If you want to watch gel in action, pour a small quantity of batter into a ziploc plastic bag and steam it gently ... you can see the change in the batter from creamy looking, to a darker, clear liquid ... it's that dark liquid phase that is the gelling soap. In a slab or log mold, you can sometimes see that dark gel, all the way to the surface of the soap. If the soap gets hot (you can feel it's hot just by holding your hand over the top or to the side), but you aren't seeing the dark all the way to the edge, just a little more insulation is needed next time, to avoid partical gel. Partial gel is a ring in the middle, of gelled soap, where the gel phase hasn't reached all the way to the edges of the soap).

    I don't refrigerate my soap, so if I want an ungelled soap in my slab mold, I don't modify the recipe, I modify how I control the temperature in the final soap - if I want it kept cooler, I put it on a cooling rack and get some airflow around it. If the weather is hot, then I sometimes put the soap on ice (literally!) and run a fan over it.

    Gelling is easier - if you use a lot of water, the soap will go into gel at a lower temperature. If you use less water, then insulating can retain enough heat to push the soap into gel. If that's not enough, then starting with warmer ingredients and insulating can help.

    Gelling after the soap is in the mold can be done in the oven (that is CPOP), by heating the oven to just warm, then turning it off before the soap goes in. The residual heat acts like an electric blanket for soap - it keeps it warm enough to kick the soap over into gelling (and because the heat is both internally generated from the soap's exothermic reaction, and externally applied from the warmth of the oven, the gel can be quite even and complete. Overdoing the oven temperature can lead to rubbery soap ;)

    It is easier to stop soap from gelling if it is in smaller molds, and easier to help it gel as the mold gets larger (thermal mass plays a part).

    Trivia: The amount of time the soap spends cooling (after gelling) can impact on crackle (or "glycerin rivers") in the soap - a slow cool allows more crackle to develop, and a fast cool "sets" the soap and minimizes crackle (so a CPOP soap left in the oven overnight is far more likely to have crackle than a gelled soap that has had it's insulation removed and been placed, still in the mold, on a cooling rack in front of a fan :)
     
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  6. Feb 15, 2019 #6

    The Efficacious Gentleman

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    I also tend to have less of an issue with soda ash on gelled soaps, for the reasons above that it is saponified before cutting. It's ideal to see it on a partial gel, where the ungelled part develops ash, while the gelled part doesn't
     
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  7. Feb 15, 2019 #7

    Marilyn Norgart

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    when I first started I had a yellow soap that didn't gel and I fell in love with it--I have not been able to duplicate it since :( and I have tried. maybe if I used single bar molds I could but I wanted a loaf of ungelled. I wound up with so much soap that had partial gel that I just gave up and started gelling--I will still try again but I am having fun with gelling for now :)
     
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  8. Feb 15, 2019 #8

    Misschief

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    @SaltedFig, that is one of the most concise and informative posts I've read about gel. Thank you! I may just copy and paste your response into my notes so I can find it again.
     
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  9. Feb 15, 2019 #9

    Clarice

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    @Misschief - I have started to do the same thing!

    And @SaltedFig you are a treasure!

    @hungryhawaiian I recently learned that whether or not your mixture gels - it is still soap! (maybe you knew that already!) Soap is FASCINATING - i feel sort of like I am playing with a giant equalizer, and there are a million dials at my fingertips - and there are a million combinations of dial settings that will yield soap

    Blows my MIND!
     
  10. Feb 15, 2019 #10

    Dean

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    I find gel (and HP) makes softer soap. Im using a gelled batch now. It bends twice as fast as my ungelled soap.

    When I use to get partial gel, the gel part was noticeably softer and would wear faster resulting in crescent shape bars. I always freeze one hr to prevent partial gel.
     
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  11. Feb 15, 2019 #11

    Marilyn Norgart

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    interesting.....I always thought it was the other way around
     
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  12. Feb 15, 2019 #12

    Clarice

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    What do you mean by bending?
    Thank you
     
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  13. Feb 15, 2019 #13

    Dean

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    The bar bends with wear. My ungelled bars can wear very thin before bending. My gelled and HP bars will bend when still relatively thick...at least twice as thick as ungelled. My reported results are wo using non-oil hardeners such as salts.
     
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  14. Feb 15, 2019 #14

    Clarice

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    And for you bending is a bad thing - or maybe I should say you prefer a bar that does not bed? Do you see it as a measure of longevity? Thank you so much!
     
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  15. Feb 15, 2019 #15

    cmzaha

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    In the beginning I did not gel and found I would get some serious ash, gelling helped cut the ash. Recently I had a bar partially get and the ash was very thick on the ungelled portion, not where the soap gelled.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2019
  16. Feb 15, 2019 #16

    shunt2011

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    @Dean It's got to be your recipe. Mine I can get down to a very thin sliver and they don't bend. I gel all my soaps. The only soap I've ever had break is a salt bar.

    I also find that gelling helps with ash or not getting ash that is.
     
  17. Feb 15, 2019 #17

    dixiedragon

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    Gelling is all personal preference.

    In some situations, you may want to to discourage gel. For example, if you are making a dairy milk soap, or a honey soap, or a milk and honey soap, that's a lot of extra sugar and it can be temperamental . Soaps with those extra sugars are more prone to overheating, which can lead to a soap volcano, alien brains, or separation. Here are some good pictures.

    https://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/soap-behaving-badly/

    I personally prefer to hot process my honey soap, because I like to use beeswax so soaping cool isn't an option. So I HP my soap and when it's done, I add my honey, stick blend and put it in the mold.
     
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  18. Feb 15, 2019 #18

    Dean

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    Are u using additives such as salt or SL?
     
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  19. Feb 15, 2019 #19

    shunt2011

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    Sometimes but not always. Still don't notice a difference in use between them. The only thing I notice is it's easier to unmold if I do use SL. I don't use salt at all.
     
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  20. Feb 15, 2019 #20

    IrishLass

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    SaltedFig, your post was most excellent! :) I just wanted to beam in on your last paragraph, because I never seem to experience that which you wrote about the crackle. It's an extremely rare thing that my soap ever comes down with crackle/glycerin rivers. I soap at 33% lye concentration, place in a warm (turned off) oven to encourage gel and leave it there overnight for 18 to 24 hours before unmolding (a slow cool). I believe I've been able to track down the culprit that causes it, though....at least with my own formulas at any rate: the only times I ever seemed to get the crackle is when my soap experiences a hotter than normal gel, because of the particular FO with which I've soaped (I'm looking at you Kentish Rain from BB!). Whenever I've soap with that particular FO, I got a hotter than normal gel.....and a resulting crackle.

    If there are ever times that you'd like to CP your honey/beeswax soap, add your honey to your cooled-off lye water. It prevents all the temperamental drama that can ensue. My beeswax honey soap (5% honey and 3% beeswax) CP's great for me every time without any drama whatsoever. Believe it or not, there's so little drama that I actually have to encourage gel with mine the same as I do with my regular soaps or I get a partial gel. My method of attack that I used the first time I ever added beeswax to my honey soap, which I still employ.


    IrishLass :)
     
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