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!

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

  1. Robin says:

    All my soaps are made with 100% fresh goat’s milk, and I’ve always insulated it and brought it to gel stage. I’d say 99% of the time it turns out beautifully, like your Creamy Castile Soap, with the odd batch that just doesn’t work for whatever reason.

    I make mine in small 2 lbs batches, though… I don’t know if this would make a difference???

  2. Elaine says:

    I make almost exclusively goat milk soap and I almost always prevent gel. For me it is a cosmetic thing. I want my soap the lightest colour possible so that I have more options available to me for design colours. If I am using an FO that I know will go tan or brown then I don’t worry so much about preventing gel how ever I hate a partial gel. The few times that I have insulated to try and prevent a partial gel I have had cracked tops from overheating. I have been experimenting with putting my soap logs in the oven to get an even gel but not with my milk soaps yet. I have always attributed the crumbly bottom pieces to waiting too long to cut them or cutting them too cold. Also since I have tweaked my recipe I am getting less of breakage on the bottom cut line. Interested to hear others observations.

  3. Jackie says:

    I make just 2 types of goats milk soaps, unscented and almond oatmeal. I don’t insulate either but they both gel, my batch sizes are 5kg which is, err, 12 lbs or so? A while ago a batch overheated leaving a burnt, separated, crystallized area underneath, so now I elevate the molds to allow heat to dissipate. The soap comes out a little on the dark side but with no crumbliness. I would love to know how other soapmakers mix milk and NaOH without it curdling? I freeze the milk then partially thaw it before mixing. Over winter I mix it outside with the bowl half buried in snow, works a treat but is maybe a little extreme!!
    Jackie´s last blog post ..

  4. says:

    @Robin – I would say that size might make a bit of a difference. A larger batch is going to heat up more than a smaller one…

    @Elaine – Great insights!

    @Jackie – I freeze the goat’s milk in ice cube trays, then measure it out and add the lye. Once the cubes have melted, I pour the solution into the oils. I’ve never had curdled milk this way.

  5. says:

    Hi Amy, the crumbly problem used to puzzle me too.. The only reason why I don’t gel my goat’s milk soap is to keep that nice ivory white color, but that gives me crumbles. I find that if I pour at a relatively heavy trace, I won’t get those crumbly edges. Interesting, isn’t it?
    Maggie´s last blog post ..

  6. says:

    Amy, I always gel, that way I don’t get crumbly sides or bottoms. The crumbly sides and bottoms are caustic heavy. Taste the middle of the soap and then the crumbly sides, the crumbly sides zap. It’s a personal thing for soapmakers and each does it differently. Want the soap white add some TD. I am restarting to do bulk goatsmilk soap like 18kg batches and it gels no matter what you do. Takes like 20hours to cool down.

  7. says:

    @Maggie – Pouring at a heavier trace is what seemed to work for me too – I’m now wondering if the soap actually did gel then, and that’s why it worked!

    @Sharon – I was pretty sure the crumbly soap was a sign that the soap wasn’t fully saponified. I have actually put the crumbly soap back in the mold, then put it in a warm oven and it set up just fine. It’s a pain the neck though because my mold doesn’t actually fit all the way into my oven, so I had to drape a blanket over it as well! The other option is to cut the log in half and just set it on a cookie sheet, but then as it warms up, the sides start to sag.

  8. Elaine says:

    We must be describing different kinds of crumbly bottom cuts because I have never had a lye heavy soap and never been zapped from a tongue test. I don’t like the feel of TD in soaps so will keep making small batches of milk soap and preventing gel. My molds are small enough to go right in the fridge. I have a 2nd fridge designated for soap making only (or perhaps a few bottles of beer when hubby sneaks them in there). 🙂

    I never let the frozen milk melt before adding the lye. I pre-measure my amounts and freeze them in containers. I use a SS pitcher to mix the milk and lye and “chunk up” the frozen milk before adding the lye. As soon as the lye has melted a bit of milk I start using the stick blender and get it mixing up right away so the milk doesn’t burn. I’ve never had milk curdle on me but I’ve been told it happens when it gets too hot. I also keep my pitcher in a sink of ice water to help keep temps down. This is what works for me but I know everyone has their own system that works for them.

  9. michelle says:

    I let my goat milks soaps gel. I put the goats milk in the freezer until it becomes a slushy consistency (not frozen) and then I mix it with the lye. I wrap the soap as usual in the mold, never had a problem.

    The only time I’ve had crumbly soap was purely in relation to the loss of heat during insulation or when not insulating at all so I’ve stuck with using the gel 99% of the time.

  10. says:

    I am an avid lover of handmade bath products, all aspects of the various soap making methods fascinate
    me. I’m thrilled to have found your site, looking forward to more of your postings!

  11. Michele says:

    I use powdered gm mostly because I don’t really have access to fresh. I always, always gel. If I don’t add any dark oils or colorant to my soap the soap stays a creamy color – it doesn’t go dark.

  12. Karen says:

    I exclusively make goat’s milk soaps, and I always gel my soap. I find color has a lot more to do with whether or not you use frozen milk. If I use frozen milk, the color of my soap is light ivory.

  13. Kerrie Kelly says:

    Hi Amy, so glad i found this site, I am new to soapmaking and have been making soap (mostly goatsmilk) for about 3 months. Until recently I wasnt aware that you had a choice to gel or not. So i had been wrapping my molds in towels from the beginning. My soaps come out lovely, no crumbling or anything but my batches are only small. About 900g i.e 12 bars. The only thing i didnt like was the soaps were darker than i wanted so i use the room temp method now . I mix the lye with water and then add the goats milk after the cooled lye has been added to the oils. this lightens it immediately. I have just done a few batches without insulating, no fans , just sitting on the bench and they are much lighter so i think I’ll stick to this. I find the room temp method good as i use the lye mix to melt the hards oils. My soaps are nearly always at heavy trace when I pour. makes it hard for colouring though.

  14. Eibo says:

    We let our goat milk soaps gel, and we get light color. However, we do something a little different with the milk. We use fresh milk, but we add it AFTER we’ve added the lye concentration @ 2/3 goat milk 1/3 water. We mix the lye with the water and let it cool – no need to use frozen milk, and no caramelizing and discoloration. We don’t think you need to add the milk to the lye and suffer color change.

  15. Marie says:

    Eibo, when you add your goats milk to the oil and lye mixture, is it straight from the refrigerator or is it at room temp?

  16. says:

    I’m so glad I found you guys and dolls. When I make my GM soap, I put it in the freezer. I like the light color and everything has been going well. I make small batches at a time as well.

  17. Beth says:

    Yep, I have always gelled…I even go as so far as to CPOP all of goats milk soaps…*gasp*!! 🙂 Perfect every time.

  18. says:

    This is a great article. I learnt how to make goats milk soap from Anne Watson’s book, Milk Soapmaking, and on my first attempt I covered it with a towel and it cracked on top, which I put down to overheating. From then on I always put it in the freezer for 30 minutes, then in the fridge for a few hours. I did this because I wanted to keep the colour light and prevent cracking. I haven’t made goats milk soap for a while because my moulds don’t fit in our new fridge, but now that I’ve read this article, I’m excited to try goats milk soap again, and to gel it. Maybe I just won’t insulate it because it’s summer here anyway. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  19. Sarah Verke says:

    I just read through is whole post, it’s neat to see that people have been commenting on this post since 2010! It’s a great subject. I make exclusively cold process, goat’s milk soap. For the last 1.5 years I have been using small, individual cavity molds and not gelling. The soap does stay creamier and nicer looking, but I always felt it stayed a little too soft, even though my recipe was for a harder bar, and I had to leave them in the molds for a longer period. I knew if my recipe called for a larger amount of Olive oil, I was going to have trouble unmolding no matter what.

    I recently started using a log mold (2.5 lb) and putting the soap through a full gel and I am way happier with my results. The soap unmolds better, it gets harder faster, and the color isn’t that much different, just a bit darker.


  20. says:

    I make my goat milk soap with partially thawed milk that I freeze in ice cube trays. Initially I covered my soap and it came out okay but darker than I like. Now I just cover with saran wrap to prevent ash and leave out on the counter for 24 hours. It gells but does not darken much at all.

  21. Renee says:

    I used to all the time and loved the color, I have stopped and now I am going back to gelling. #1 first I love the color and the scent
    #2. It’s seems to make the bar more gentle.
    #3. The wait time is shorter.

    I find that when I don’t Gel, it is more prone to ash, and it has to set in the mold longer, and I have to use isopropyl alcohol.

    Yesterday March 31, 2013 I made a small batch of Goat’s milk soap, unscented and placed it in the fridge, so far so good, normally it turns brown after a few days , so if this batch turns brown I am going to keep gelling.

  22. Firuza says:

    I always put unscented milk soaps in the fridge( individual moulds) or freezer( bigger log moulds) and cure for 6-8 weeks.Bear in mind that soap gets hotter in silicon moulds more then in others.If I scent milk soaps , I do gell them.

  23. Raspberry says:

    I am new to soap making but have taken the plunge and am reading like crazy and have made two batches of cold processed, raw GM FO soap now. I am using a five pound log. I add my lye to frozen slushy milk, a tiny bit at a time and stir. So far, no discolor. As soon as the milk has thawed, I add it to my blended melted hard oils with my liquid oils. Stick blend and at the earliest sign of light trace add FO. (so far I’ve tried lemon, bergamont, eucalyptus). Since it is summer and my soap shop is exposed to full sun, (Metal roof gotta work on that!) it gets 110 inside. So I move my freshly poored (light/medium trace) soap to a cooler outside blding and insulate with ice. (I do not have a freezer and fridge for this purpose yet, but am working on it.

    I am learning about gel phase. The first batch of soap took a long time to unmold. I suspect it is because I am using a high % of olive oil. I had to freeze it and then use my soap cutter to help it away from the dividers of my 5 lb silcone mold. It was so soft, I could push the broken parts back on again and hope gel.

    This second batch I am living in the mold longer and then in the freezer longer before attempting to unmold.

    Thanks all for your great stories!

    What does SS (Skin Safe) utinsels mean? I’d like to understand this better.

    What does isopropyl Alcohol have to do with unmolding.

    Corvallis, Oregon
    Bags Dairy Goats

  24. says:

    @Raspberry – sounds like you are off to a great start! SS utensils = stainless steel. Isopropyl alcohol has nothing to do with unmolding that I know of. A fine mist of it over the top of your freshly poured soap helps prevent soda ash. Otherwise, the only other thing I use it for is sanitizing bowls and utensils when I make lotion.

  25. Heidi says:

    This is such a difficult one for me. And I need some serious help. I used powdered goat milk and powdered buttermilk in my last batch. I added them both in powder form at trace and stick blended them in. I also had about 3 teaspoons of sugar in my lye solution for added bubbles. Well, I put it in the oven at 170 for 5 minutes and turned the oven off. Maybe that was a it of overkill in hindsight. Talk about overheating, wow! I’ve never seen so much oil sitting on soap. It completely liquified and separated and had crystallized “teeth”. It also burnt to a crisp, smelled horrible and turned a gross brown/gray green. So, I’m torn because I prefer gelled soap. It’s so much harder, lasts longer, and overall I just like it so much more. I don’t want to quit adding milk to my soap, I honestly don’t know what to do.

  26. says:

    @Heidi – You can do a milk soap and let it gel. It will heat up plenty on its own!! I just made my Pumpkin Spice soap with goat’s milk and let it sit out on my dining room table completely uninsulated and it fully gelled. Use low temps too – 80-90 degree oils & lye works great!

  27. Renee says:

    I have learned through experience,( trial and error)
    I always use the gel method. I have be reading Anne-Marie Faiola book< in which she says some E/O and F/O will cause your batch to accelerate quickly.

  28. Jeni says:

    If you are using fresh goat milk and also geling your soaps, you are contradicting your methods and thus destroying the benefits of using goat milk. Goat milk is high in fat, which is good for soaps. Letting your soap gel is letting the batch heat up, and in turn, is burning off the benefits of goat milk. I use Anne Watson’s method described in her book ‘Milk Soap Making’. I freeze the milk first and then as soon as the batch is traced, pour into molds, put in the freezer for several hours, move to the refrigerator, and then leave out for 24-48 hours before slicing or removing from molds. My soap hardly ever gels and is very light colored.

  29. says:

    @Jeni – Hmmm. Could be. I’d love to do a test batch side by side to see if I could tell a difference in the quality of the soap (other than the color difference, of course!)

  30. Sara says:

    I just made my first batch of milk soap using almond milk. No scent. I am putting it through gel phase. Hopefully it comes out good. When I first started making soap I did it both ways: gel and no gel (in the fridge) and decided I liked gel phase better. It made for a nice even colored soap where as trying to prevent gel phase I had soap where the middle was a darker color because it still heated up and partially went through gel anyhow.

    Has anyone used almond milk before and did you like it?

    This a great blog, I love reading about other soapers experiences. Thanks!

  31. Stephen says:

    Jeni, what you say is very interesting. When honey is heated up, you lose the healthy properties of the honey.

  32. Angela says:

    Hello , I am new to the soap making world and I have been making goats milk soap and avoiding the gel phase by putting it in the freezer . But I end up with a ring in the center of the soap . Can this be avoided ? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! (:

  33. says:

    @Angela – Keeping your temps as low as possible when you mix the oils and lye solution can help. That’s the only thing I can think of that would affect the gel stage other than keeping the temps as cool as possible after the soap is poured.

  34. Maria says:

    Hi Amy. I’m new to making soap and I plan on making a rice milk soap and I guess it would be the same as making goat milk soap. So I’m glad I came to this blog because I’m trying to find a way to preventing getting a partial gel without putting the soap in the fridge (no room).

    I saw a video and in the video the goat milk was frozen before adding the lie. And then the oil and the lye mixture is around the same temperature. But then she used the fridge method afterward.

    Does pouring a heavy traced batch to your mold help prevent getting a partial gel soap?

  35. says:

    @Maria – Preventing gel requires keeping the soap cool. Even if you bring it to a heavy trace, the soap will still want to heat up for the next few hours. If you can’t get it in the fridge, you might try propping your soap up on blocks and put fans on it. I’ve had some success with this method since my molds are too long to fit in the fridge.

  36. Maria says:

    @Amy: I’ve noticed one of your reply to a comment. You stated that you left your soap out completely uninsulated. Does that help with the soap gelling. I want to make a soap that gels. With the fans being on, was the mold insulated. I’m really new to making soap so I want to learn everything I can first prior to making them. xD Please let me know! Thank you!!

  37. says:

    @Maria – I just now saw this comment!! If you want the soap to gel, it needs to be insulated and kept warm. Leaving the soap uninsulated with a fan on it will help keep it cool and prevent gel.

  38. katie says:

    When I gel my soaps – they appear to have little fine lines running through the top of each bar. I’ve heard that gelling does this? Love to hear your feedback.
    It happens on every different recipe I’m trialling. Many thanks

  39. Trissi Callahan says:

    I make GM soap using powdered milk because it’s my only source. Since nobody uses it but me, I make a couple of small batches a year – during the winter. I add the powder at light trace and pour immediately into a silicone muffin mold on a cookie sheet. As soon as I pour it, I immediately take it out to the carport and cover it with a very light dishtowel and leave it for a couple of days. They are always very light (not quite white), although they do get a pale ivory color after a few months. I did the same thing in a small loaf mold and it still gelled in the center. Great soap, just a little odd looking with the darker circle in the middle I’ve always removed them from the muffin mold as soon as I bring them in and put them on the rack to cure.

  40. Jennifer says:

    To the author:

    Thank you very much for this post!

    Did you insulate your batch, or just set it aside? What kind of mold are you using?

    I’ve been having the same problem with the partial gel circle. I use 5lb. wooden molds, pour at medium trace and put them in the freezer – circle every time. :-/ I just bought a silicone basket mold that I’ll be trying this week. I think it will prevent overheating, but I might actually need to insulate to get the outside edges and surfaces to gel. Time for experimentation!

  41. Too Blessed To Be Stressed says:

    New to soapmaking. Love the blog. Got a lot of questions answered, and got a lot of helpful info.


  42. Too Blessed To Be Stressed says:

    I bought some silicone molds from Amazon 6-cavity type. I will be using the frozen goat milk to mix the lye. Is the outcome different with goat milk using silicone vs wooden mold? I find the wooden molds very expensive for a beginner.. Any answers?

  43. Too Blessed To Be Stressed says:

    If I freeze the molds before I pour the batch will that help to prevent overheating and gelling? Thanks

  44. says:

    @Too Blessed – A cavity mold is going to help with overheating, as it will release more heat. I don’t know that freezing the mold before pouring the batch will help much, but you can try it! If you want to prevent gel, I would just put the cavity mold in the refrigerator right after pouring. Wooden molds will retain more heat. They are pretty inexpensive to make your own…

  45. Rosie says:

    Thank you for all the views and information. My question is about using GM (100%) but not using palm oil in the recipe. I have tried both, would like to go palm free but it doesn’t work out as good. Any ideas?

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