Jazzed about Gel Phase

One of the many great aspects of soaping is the freedom to customize nearly every part of the recipe. From the colors to the design to the fragrance, there are endless variations! If you give 100 soapers the exact same 13 ingredients, you’ll end up with 100 completely different batches. It’s amazing how much artistry goes into soapmaking. Even after you’ve designed your recipe, chosen your colors and poured your soap into the mold, you’ve got another choice to make: to gel or not to gel?

‘Gelling’ and ‘gel phasing’ in cold process soap refers to a part of the saponification (soapmaking) process where the soap gets warm and gelatinous – up to 180 degrees. Gelling is extremely common in soapmaking, and chances are you’ve already encountered it. Gelled soap is more hard in the first weeks after pouring because it evaporates its water a bit faster than non-gelled soap. Gelled soap also has a more translucent, shiny look than non-gelled soap. None of these things affect the final outcome of the soap after a full cure, just how the soap looks. There is no final difference between gelled and non-gelled soap once the soap is fully cured — it’s purely an aesthetic quality of the soap.

Opinions about gel phase are as numerous as the colors of the rainbow, and some soapers actively choose to gel their soaps while others do not. Wondering what’s best for your soap? Read on!

The dark spots in the middle of the Moisturizing Avocado Bars indicate that partial gel phase occurred. Although these bars are fine to use, it just goes to show there is no half in/half out when it comes to gel phase. The bars may have looked better if they had gelled all the way or not at all.

Before we get into the ‘when’ of gel phase, let’s talk about the ‘how.’ The tips below are helpful if you have a strong preference on whether or not you want to achieve gel phase. If you don’t have a preference, your soap will be just fine if you let it sit, uncovered, after pouring.

If you want to gel your soap, after the soap is poured, place it on a heating pad on a low to medium heat for no more than 20 – 30 minutes. During that time, keep a close eye on the soap, checking it every 10 minutes or so. This is because if soap gets too hot all kinds of crazy things can happen, from volcanoing to heat tunneling to alien brains. Turn off the heating pad after 20 – 30 minutes but keep your soap on it. Keep it covered for at least 24 hours.

If you don’t want to gel your soap, soap colder (with your temperatures between 90 – 100 degrees F) and then place the soap in the freezer immediately after making it. You can also keep it uncovered and run a small fan over it.

When you might prefer gel phase

  • When coloring with Lab Colors: If you color soap with Lab Colors or any FD&C based colorant, you might prefer gel phase because it results in a more vibrant color. Take a look at the photo below:

The Soft Orange and Peach colored soaps in the middle gelled completely, while the soaps on the outer edge of the mold only gelled partially. Notice the difference in the colors — the portion of the soap that gelled is much brighter. For more on Lab Colors and gel phase, check out this blog post.

  • For more vibrant colors in general: Gel phase can brighten soaps made with other colors too, not just lab colors. The Psychedelic Spring soap was colored with micas, oxides and pigments, and much to our delighted surprise, gelled all the way through. Notice how the soap looks more translucent and ‘gel’-like:

When you might want to avoid gel phase

  • If you’re making goats milk soap: gel phase and milk soap are not friends. Milk soaps are best soaped cold (very cold), or else you risk scorching the milk proteins and sugars. That results in a brownish soap that doesn’t smell great! It can also result in a huge soapy mess, especially because milk soaps are already prone to getting too hot. For this reason, we do not recommend trying to achieve gel phase in goats milk soap — or any milk soap for that matter! Gelled milk soap is absolutely fine to use and there is nothing wrong with it but, it might not have the color you want.
  • Soap with fruit additives: Soap with fruit purees and additives, such as this Strawberries & Cream Soap, are generally best non gelled. It follows the same logic at milk soap: the sugars in fruit make the soap more prone to overheating to begin with, so adding extra heat to force the soap to gel isn’t the best idea! That being said, if you’re an experienced soapmaker you might want to try gelling fruit soaps, but in general we advise against it.

More examples of gel phase

Below is a soap we made for a fragrance test. It was freshly poured, but notice how you can already see the gel look forming in the center! This is also a good example of fragrances causing gel phase. Despite your best efforts, some fragrance will heat soap and cause gel phase.

This is the same soap 24 hours later. Notice the translucent color in the middle. It isn’t as opaque as non-gelled soaps.

So there you have it! Hopefully now you have a better understanding of gel phase, from what causes it, to what it looks like, to when you might want to achieve it. Do you have a preference when it comes to gelling your soap?

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  1. Rachael says

    Hi, you said to leave the soap on a hot pad 20-30 min in order to reach the gelled phase, but I come from a tropical country with temperature above 30C all year round so it’s hard to get a hot pad here. Can i just cover my soap with a few layer of towels, will it reach the be completely gelled? TQ

    • Kelsey says

      Hi Rachael!

      That’s a great question! If you’re living in a hot climate, you may not need a hot pad. In fact, you may not even need towels! Soaping at higher temperatures and letting the soap sit in a hot room uncovered may be enough to force the soap through gel phase.

      I would recommend doing a little bit of testing. After your soap is in the mold, you can cover it with towels. Then, check the soap after an hour or so. If you notice it seems to be seeping or is very hot to the touch, you may want to take the towels off. It may take a bit of experimenting to find the perfect storage method for you. :)

      Read more about that in the When to Insulate Handmade Soap post: http://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/when-to-insulate-handmade-soap/

      -Kelsey with Bramble Berry

  2. Denise says

    I am a newbie to cold process soap making. My specialty was melt and pour due to the lye and a curious elderly parent who picks up things and drink without knowing its contents.
    Thanks for this information. I will surely try this process asap.

  3. Gabriela says

    I just made a batch of soap and it completely gelled, which is fine, but how long will it take to harden, it is right now 24 hours later and very soft, I do not think I can unmold it as it is. It much too soft. Also, should I keep it covered?

  4. Carrie B says

    Great article, BB friends. With the exception of milk or sugar soaps, I always gel my soaps. I think soap looks great gelled or ungelled however, it ruins my day to find a beautiful loaf has partially gelled. For me, it ruins the aesthetic appeal of the product and I won’t sell it. That is the main reason I force gel every loaf, if possible. Going for a non-gelled soap is way more stressful for me because I’ve had loaves partially gel even in the freezer before they had a chance to cool down. Another interesting thing is that I always soap below 100 degrees and yet, after insulation, I always get a good, complete gel. I don’t understand it but for some reason, it works!
    Thanks again for the great articles, you guys!

    • Kelsey says

      Hi Carrie!

      So glad you like the article! :)

      We typically gel all our soaps as well. I just love the bright colors and slightly shiny look! Also, I agree with you – I like it completely gelled.

      -Kelsey with Bramble Berry

    • JoAnne James says

      I started out soaping hot process, but now, I am cold processing. I’m still a little confused about the gel phase. I don’t have a heating pad, so is there something else I can use as a substitute? Also, my first batch I made, I gelled, and it gelled all the way through, but the loaf had a crack down the middle of the top. I was told it was because I soaped too hot. I soaped at about 110 degrees. I guess my question is: since I want the gel phase to be complete; but not have that crack at the top, should I leave the soap covered for 24 hours, and soap at a little lower temp? Thank you.

      • Kelsey says

        Hi JoAnne!

        If you don’t have a heating pad, you can pop a lid on the soap (cardboard or a cutting board works well). Then, cover it with a blanket or towel. That will keep the soap nice and warm. :)

        Also, that is correct – if the soap gets too hot, it can crack. This is especially the case if your soap has a higher content of butters. Butters can cause the soap to crack and feel brittle if they are used at more than 15%. Read more about that in the Free Beginner’s Guide to Soapmaking: Common Soapmaking Oils: http://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/free-beginners-guide-to-soapmaking-common-soapmaking-oils/

        Whether or not you insulate your soap depends on a number of factors. For instance, if your house is very warm during the summer months, it may not need to be insulated at all! It will take a bit of practice to find out exactly which method works for you.

        To prevent cracking, I would recommend decreasing the amount of butter in your soap if you use any. Then, if your house is cooler, you can cover the soap with a towel. If it’s warmer, you can just leave the soap at room temperature. The warm room will help promote gel phase.

        Read more about when to insulate your soap in this post: http://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/when-to-insulate-handmade-soap/

        Hope that helps! If you have any questions let me know. :)

        -Kelsey with Bramble Berry

  5. Jes says

    Thanks for the terrific article! Although I’ve read most of the books recommended by Anne Marie, info over load has afforded me to forget or gloss over a bunch of stuff. Case and point: gel phase. I knew about it, read it in the book, watched it on YouTube and had no idea what it meant. Until now. Espesh, since it happened to me on my second rodeo with soap.
    My first batch didn’t gel at all (or I didn’t notice) in the 12 rectangle mold. But today’s batch was hot as heck and gelled super quick in the loaf mold. I did use two different recipes, first one tried, true, from the book… Second, an experimentation I came up with (fingers crossed it’ll go as anticipated). I didn’t use any color since I’m still wobbly on how soaping works, but I did use fragrance. I imagine that the two different FO could be the reason as to one gelling and one not. Also, do some oils cause gelling more than others? I used more variety of oils in batch 2, maybe got a little too fancy for my newbie skills, but I feel like I soaped higher temps with batch 1 that didn’t gel than batch 2. Any insight on this for my soap notebook?

    • Kelsey says

      Hi Jes!

      So glad you like the article!

      Whether or not your soap goes through gel phase depends on a number of factors, including the temperature you soap at and the mold you use. For instance, it can be a little more tricky to get your soap to gel in the 12 Cavity Rectangle Silicone Mold. This is because the soap is poured into individual cavities, which causes it to cool more quickly than if it was in a big wood mold.

      If you want that soap to go through gel phase, it helps to soap warmer (around 120-130F). Then, once your soap is in the mold, you can put it on a heating pad or cover it with a towel. That helps the soap stay insulated, which will warm it up and make it go through gel phase. :)

      -Kelsey with Bramble Berry

      12 Cavity Rectangle Silicone Mold: http://www.brambleberry.com/12-Cavity-Rectangle-Silicone-Mold-P5536.aspx

  6. Tammy says

    I’m confused…all of the other soaps have gelled when I put them in their box wrapped up in blankets…I made a soap tonight, boxed and insulated it, and it is not going through gel phase…does this sometimes happen? My other soap began getting hot before they were even insulated…I’m wondering if it;s going to be ok…I calculated my recipe correctly.

    • Kelsey says

      Hi Tammy!

      Whether or not your soap goes through gel phase can depend on a number of factors, including how warm it is in your house and the temperatures that you’re soaping at. If you want a nice hot gel phase, it helps to soap higher, around 130F. That way the soap is hotter going into your mold and will be more likely to go through gel phase.

      Also, putting your mold on a heating pad set at low to medium heat for about 20-30 minutes helps as well. :)

      The good news is your soap will be just fine! Gel phase is purely aesthetic. It gives the soap a slightly shiny look and helps the colors pop, but won’t affect the final bar of soap.

      -Kelsey with Bramble Berry

  7. D.J. Binczik says

    I use small’ish individual shaped molds. 1/3 cup by volume. Would the same gel / not gel rules apply as they do when using a loaf mold? Or because of the size is gelling not possible? Or is it still possible with a heating pad? If using a heating pad would you still leave it on for 20-30 minutes?

    Sorry for the run-on question.

    Your assistance is appreciated.

    • D.J. Binczik says

      I want my soap to Gel

      How can I be guaranteed to get my soap into gel phase without heating pads?

      Every where I read says soap warmer- warmer is not a very specific temperature.

      • Kelsey says

        Hi D.J.!

        Gel phase can happen in any size mold as long as the soap gets hot enough. :)

        To help your soap go through gel phase, you can soap around 130 degrees F. Keep in mind your soap will start to set up a little faster.

        Also, if you don’t want to use heating pads, you can put a piece of cardboard over your mold and wrap it with a towel.

        -Kelsey with Bramble Berry

  8. Gen says

    Thanks for this great post. I am new to soap making & have read different things regarding what to do with your CP soap right after pouring it into the mold. This is the first time I see you can pop it in the freezer to totally avoid the gel phase. But I thought you had to keep it warm to further the saponification process.
    Thanks so much for your insight!

      • says

        Hi there guys, can anyone help me pleeeease with this gelling, business??
        i tried soaping at room temperatures and that was fine as i wanted to avoid gel phase, placed my soap in the freezer overnight then removed in the morning. The soap came out looking frozen but great! Left it on the table to thaw out, only to come home and find my soap heated up and mushy and crumbly.. It didn’t work, where did i go wrong? I am now going to attempt to save this batch by hp process..,first time avoiding gel phase failure

        • Kelsey says

          Hi Katherine!

          I’d love to help you troubleshoot! Would you mind telling me a bit more about your recipe? The reason I ask is certain oils and additives can cause the soap to heat up or crumble. Thanks so much. :)

          -Kelsey with Bramble Berry

  9. Amber Bennett says

    I was told that gelling will affect your fragrances and keeping the soap cooler and not allowing it to gel will keep your fragrance stronger smelling and longer lasting in your bar. Reasoning being that since many fragrances have a lower flashpoint when your soap is heating up to gel it is actually burning off some of that fragrance.
    Has anyone else found that to be true? I don’t know because I never gel..I only make milk soaps.

    • says

      Hi Amber!

      I have heard this as well, but I have never actually noticed a huge difference in my soap that has been gelled, vs. soap that has not. If you want to be on the safe side, I would recommend adding a little more fragrance oil to the soap you plan on gelling :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  10. Shelley says

    Hello! Thanks for this information. I’ve been making goat milk soap for a while now, and I’ve achieved gel in some batches and soaped even colder and avoided gel in others. I actually like soaping at a pretty cool temp even when I plan for gel (90 degrees for oils and 75 degrees for lye/soap mixture), which I think avoids scorching the milk. I always use frozen milk and keep it in an ice bath when I add lye.(I’ve only scorched the milk once, at a higher temp, and I could really tell the difference.) But, then, after I combine the oils and pour the soap, I insulate the molds when I’m trying to gel, and I actually really like the way this turns out. It doesn’t smell bad at all (smells great while curing, even in first 24 hours). And the bars are harder and I like the appearance. Is this OK? Is it possible the milk is scorching after the soap is in the molds? I think if it were, it would smell funky. The cured soap still feels incredibly moisturizing and milky. Thanks for any advice!

    • Patricia says

      I put my goat’s milk soap in the freezer for at least 24 hours before unmolding. And use very cold milk (almost frozen) to mix with the lye while making it. Lye will thaw the milk and it won’t get too hot to scorch it.

          • says

            Thank you, Amanda. I do freeze my goat milk before adding the lye. My question relates to my understanding of what Anne-Marie said, that “…Milk soaps are best soaped cold (very cold), or else you risk scorching the milk proteins and sugars…” Unless I’m mistaken, I believe she was referencing the temperatures of the lye/milk mixture and oil mixture when they are combined. So my question is, how cold, and is it possible to be too cold? Thanks!

          • says

            Hi Susan,
            For the oils, you can go as low as 75 – 80 degrees. If you’re using a coconut oil recipe it will probably start to set up at these temps, but thats okay! If you’re using olive oil, you can go even colder. The lye water should be around room temperature, so anywhere between 65 – 70 :)

  11. Ewelina says

    Thank you for this post. I have a question to gel or not to gel :) soap made with no milk, no purees, just water for lye solution but with sugar added for extra bubbles? What is the best approach here?

    • says

      Hi Ewelina!

      Good question! When you add sugar to the lye water, your soap will have the tendency to want to gel because of the extra sugars. If this is something you want to avoid, I would recommend soaping cold, and placing your soap in the fridge or freezer to avoid gelling. If you’d prefer your soap to gel, I would recommend insulating for just a few minutes, and once you can feel some heat coming from the soap, remove the insulation :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  12. Elizabeth says

    Great article! It’s really helpful to gather this info into one place, and it’s a great explanation of why or why not to encourage gel phase.

    I frequently use Lab Colors, so I usually encourage gel phase. But the first time I made goat milk soap, I didn’t realize that you have to be careful to avoid gel phase – I carefully controlled the temperature at the beginning, but I allowed my loaf to get too warm after pouring, and I ended up with a near volcano! I won’t make that mistake again!

    Another thing that can happen when you encourage gel phase is the presence of glycerin rivers, which I got when I encouraged gel phase with the Avocado Moisturizing bars. As y’all wrote a couple of weeks ago, the rivers don’t ruin your soap, but they add an interesting “leathery” appearance.

    • says

      Hi Elizabeth!

      Oh no! It usually only takes one soap volcano to avoid those exact methods again, haha :). Oh good point about the glycerin rivers! Thanks for bringing that up :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  13. Jaime says

    I have a question about your rebatch soap available for purchase. I know that you can’t really gel milk soaps successfully, so how does that work when using Brambleberry goat milk rebatch soap? Doesn’t that have to be heated (melted) to use it? How does that work with the goat milk? Just wondering.

    • says

      Hi Jaimie!

      Good question. That soap has already gone through the saponification process. When you make it for rebatch, you are melting it down with additional liquids. So while it does get hot, and you need to avoid burning the soap, it will not go through gel phase again. I hope this helps :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

    • says

      Hi Dale!

      When making rebatch soap, your soap will not go through gel phase because it has already gone through the saponification process. With rebatching, you are just remelting the soap down. While doing this, it will get hot again, but won’t go through gel phase because it will immediately begin to cool once it is removed from the heat source :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

      • Jerry Brown says

        Very nice explanation of gel phase. I thought however that a soap could still go thru a gell phase after saponification if the temperature & moisture content were above the Kraft tempt. Above this temperature at a specific moisture a liquid exists (gel) and below a mixture of liquid crystals, solid crystals,&/or water. Great explanation of this on this reference; Raut, Janhavi S.; Naik, Vijay M.; Siddhant, Singhal; Juvekar, Vinay A. Soap: The Polymorphic Genie of Hierarchically Structured Soft condensed-Matter Products; Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2008, 47, 6347

      • Jerry Brown says

        Very nice explanation of gel phase. I thought however that a soap could still go thru a gell phase after saponification if the temperature & moisture content were above the Kraft tempt. Above this temperature & at a specific moisture a liquid crystal exists (gel) and below a mixture of liquid crystals, solid crystals,&/or water. Great explanation of this on this reference; Raut, Janhavi S.; Naik, Vijay M.; Siddhant, Singhal; Juvekar, Vinay A. Soap: The Polymorphic Genie of Hierarchically Structured Soft condensed-Matter Products; Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2008, 47, 6347

  14. Sarah Balowski says

    I am a newbie when it comes to soaping but this knowledge will definitely be used for the next batch of soap that I make. :) I wish I would have know this before my last batch of soap as I would have preferred it to be gelled.


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