Goat’s Milk Soap: To Gel or Not to Gel

That is the question! Whether tis nobler to insulate such soap and allow it to gel, or to take arms against the heat of saponification and use fans to prevent gelling – that is what I am trying to discover. (Pardon me for writing another post that will only make sense to other soapmakers.)

Do you ever find yourself wondering why you use certain methods when you make soap? I can remember learning early on from other seasoned goat’s milk soapmakers that you should prevent gel – either by putting the raw soap in the refrigerator or even the freezer right after pouring, or by using a fan. I’ve been forced to use a fan since my log molds are too long to fit in a refrigerator or freezer. The reasoning was two-fold: 1. The milk heats up the soap and can cause it to volcano out of the mold, and 2. Ungelled soaps are lighter in color. You can see my tutorial on making Oatmeal, Milk and Honey soap here.

Suddenly, after years and years of making my Creamy Castile soap, I find myself questioning this reasoning because sometimes it comes out crumbly around the bottom edge. It only happens with the castile soap – not with any of my other goat’s milk soaps.

I thought I found the solution to the problem after the last batch when I decided to wait on pouring the soap until it finally reached a medium trace. This took a LONG time! I had to blend, wait 15-30 minutes, blend again, wait 15-30 minutes. I don’t even remember how long it finally took! I used to pour as soon as it reached a light trace, thinking it would heat up and start to gel if I didn’t.

Last week I tried using the same method again – waiting until medium trace – and ended up with 50 bars of partially gelled and crumbly soap. It’s either going to have to be re-batched, or sent to Clean the World. I have a feeling it will be the latter.

Creamy Castile Soap - Crumbly and Partially Gelled

This made me think – could I possibly make Creamy Castile soap and actually allow it to gel? It went against everything I thought I knew!! Lo and behold – it worked. The soap I made yesterday turned out smooth throughout. There was no volcano, and the color is just slightly darker. Amazing!

Creamy Castile Soap - Fully Gelled and Perfect!

So now I’m wondering. Those of you who make goat’s milk soap: do you let your soaps gel, or not? Any other words of wisdom you care to share are much appreciated!

71 thoughts on “Goat’s Milk Soap: To Gel or Not to Gel

  1. I would love some help on this subject! I’ve always gelled my soap, but this is the first time I’m using full goats milk. My sole purpose in putting my loaves in the freezer is to prevent the uncolored natural part of the soap to stay as light as possible. But from looking at your pics above, the color difference isnt enough to bother me. I just dont want it to turn brown. I also do not want a partial gel. So… how long do i leave in the freezer? do i move to fridge? or just leave out in the open? They’ve been in the freezer for about 30mins, as of right now. Help!

  2. @Alli – There’s no right or wrong answer here. I would leave the soap in the freezer for at least few hours, then put it in the refrigerator overnight. It may take some trial & error to find the right times for your recipe. Depends on the size of the recipe, how cool the temps were when you mixed it, etc.

  3. I tend to soap in the evenings and I just stick them in the freezer and leave them there all night. Doesn’t seem to do them any harm.

  4. Hi, my very first batch of soap I made gelled in the middle. Would it be okay to use it to make powdered laundry detergent or should I rebatch? Thanks for the resource, very informative.

  5. @Heidi – Partial gel is a cosmetic issue, nothing that will affect the performance of your soap. It looks better if it’s one or the other (gelled or non-gelled) but it’s still perfectly usable! Congrats on your first batch! I’m sure it won’t be your last. :)

  6. I have been making soap for about a year now and really exploring gelling and whether I should do it or not. I also just started making goat milk soap and was wondering if it was possible. I did a google search and saw this post. Great to see you found success. I have been looking through Kevin Dunn’s Scientific Soapmaking book and it looks like the successful combination to making goat milk, having it gel, and not volcano is to huge a lot of goat milk and mix your lye and oils a little warmer than normal. the book suggests around 60 C, but that is for water, not goat milk, so Im not sure what would work best for goat milk, yet. Looking to experiment. Could you share any other details before I try, so I can formulate the best attempt?

  7. I keep my goats milk frozen until ready to use. I add lye to my partially frozen milk. Works great, and stays a lovely color because it does not get too hot.

  8. @Michelle – Sometimes. For example, citrus essential oils will burn off quite a bit during gel phase. I always use folded citrus essential oils to prevent this from happening. Most quality fragrance oils can withstand the gel phase quite well. If you have consistent issues, you may not be using enough fragrance or you need to find a better quality supplier.

  9. I have been making cold process soap with raw goat milk for about six months. I place my molds in the refrigerator for seven days before removing from the mold and cutting to cure. After reading this post I am wondering if this is necessary. This morning I pulled a batch out, unmolded, and sliced. I could see a very thin line around the perimeter of the soaps…ugh partial gel? In addition, to the refrigeration I try to keep my goat milk/lye mix at no more than 80 degrees and add my oils when they are roughly 100 degrees. I know this breaks the 10 degree variance but I haven’t had any issues yet! Does anyone else follow a similar method?

  10. @Kathleen – Depends if you want your soaps to stay a really light color or not. I quit messing with preventing gel just for sanity’s sake. I’m also using a strong water-lye solution (1:1) and adding the remaining liquid in fresh goat’s milk to the oils (well blended) before adding the lye solution. It means less goat’s milk in the finished product, but I no longer worry about getting the lye incorporated in the milk. Another thing that has helped my sanity!!

  11. I’m new to goat’s milk and appreciated this discussion, which I read just before soaping with goat’s milk for the very first time on Saturday. I have wood molds so decided to try the freezer method (did 24 hours in freezer then 24 in fridge) and thought everything as great until I went to cut. Bars were creamy white, solid and smooth, but did crumble a bit at the bottom just on the very edge. So my question is will they still cure up fine and be good to go in 6-8 weeks or am I going to have to start over? I have at least 5 more batches of goat’s milk in the freezer but I want to troubleshoot this first before I try again. Thanks in advance for any guidance you can provide.

  12. @Dalene – They should cure up fine if it’s just a little bit on the edge. You may want to try mixing your soap just a bit longer to make sure it’s really pulling together before putting it in the freezer.

  13. Here’s a funny thing… I was making goat milk soaps left and right never knowing you were supposed to either completely insulate or stick in freezer or fridge… So all I was doing was just leaving my mold out on the table uncovered… Only once out of all the gm batches I made did it partially gel and at the time I didnt know what that was and thought my soap was “bad.” All the other times my soap did not gel. Maybe insulating I might run into risk of the volcano thing? I’m going to try it and find out because I happen to love taking risks and science projects 😉 – some batches I’ve even put in Pringles jars as they have the “metallic” like liners inside that actually help the soap warm up a lot more than in my plastic mold and even those milk batches never gelled… So even then my milk soaps never volcanoed. But maybe it has something to do with how you mix your ingredients (temp) and what oils you use? The batch I made that partially gelled was the “same” recipe I had used before that didn’t gel. It was slightly altered the second time. I replaced 7% of other oils with Shea butter (rechecking lye of course) and that was the batch that slightly gelled on me even though I did it exactly the same as the other batch. As far as temperature goes…. I do cp soap and I’m always reading about “make sure oils are same temp as lye solution…” But I’m gonna be honest I’ve NEVER checked my temp even though I do own a candy therm. I heat my oils enough to melt them together and set it aside while doing my lye mixture. When the lye mix is totally blended (not cooled down) I slowly add my oils into the mix stirring the whole time. By slowly I literally mean a slow trickle and it can take several minutes for me to pour all the oil into the lye mix. For the first time the other day I gelled a batch but it was water not milk… It gelled in less than 24 hours. Now I want to try that with milk so wish me luck haha!

  14. @Kathleen – Shred it up and re-melt it in a crockpot, or a stainless steel pot in the oven at 250 or so. You’ll need to stir it every 30-60 mins until it’s melted down. It should be the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. It’s ok if you end up with some pieces that don’t melt down as long as most of it is melted. If it’s a fresh batch (within 1-2 days), you shouldn’t need to add any more liquid. If it’s cured, you can add more liquid – a little at a time. Depends on how big your batch is as to how much liquid you end up adding, but the end texture should still be thick mashed potatoes.

  15. Thank you for the response. When you say add more liquid are you referring to water, goat milk (which would burn), or oil. Do I add sparingly to pot until I reach the right consistency?

  16. @Kathleen – It’s up to you which liquid you want to use. I’ve definitely heard of soapmakers who successfully use milk for rebatching, but if you’d rather play it safe, use water. Definitely not oil unless you made a mistake in your measuring the first time around and need to add it to the recipe. Just a little at a time until the soap gets good and hot and you can see how the texture is going to be.

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