Time: 1 hr
Yields: 1250 g soap
I’d like to introduce you to the CPOP (cold process oven process) technique. This is making your soap using the normal cold process method, but then we place the soap in the oven to induce the gel phase. There are many other ways to force gel in soap making, like insulating it with towels or putting it in a cardboard box, but since a good friend of mine, Skye from Shaddix & Co, introduced me to this technique, the quality of my soaps has improved so much.
What is the gel phase?
The gel phase during soap making is when the chemical reaction reaches its optimum. The saponification process, turning the oils and lye into soap, is an exothermic reaction, which means it produces heat. The faster the reaction, the more heat it produces. If it produces too much heat, your soap can start to expand and literally ‘erupt’ out of the mould, the so called soap volcano.
If the reaction is slow, your oil/lye mixture will still turn into soap, but it will go at a much slower pace and can can take up to 2-4 weeks to fully complete. The gel stage is when your the soap goes through the chemical reaction and, technically, the saponification is completed. Similar to hot process soap making. You can easily recognise the gel phase: the soap will go a dark translucent colour and appear gel-like before cooling down and turning solid and opaque again.
Why force gel?
Some soaps go through the gel phase, some don’t, and some only go through partial gel phase. Soaps that have gone through the gel phase appear brighter and more vibrant in colour, have this sheen to it, a bit like porcelain, and are usually firmer and harder and more resistant to going mushy in the soap tray. However, some soaps only manage the gel phase in the centre of the soap before they cool down too much and the reaction slows down. And some soaps never reach the gel phase at all. Those are usually the ones with swirling and colouring techniques, when I adjust the recipe to slow down the reaction to give me more time to work with the soap and swirl. Or castile soaps. Soaps with a high percentage of olive oil and little to no saturated fats (hard oils) struggle to reach the optimal reaction speed aka gel phase. But we can help it along by either insulating the soap or by placing the soap in a heated environment. Insulating the soap will contain the heat the soap produces from the reaction. This is more an uncontrolled method and can be a hit and miss. A far better method, and one in which you control the heat, is by placing the soap in the oven. By forcing gel, you ensure that all the soap goes through the gel phase and you are not left with this annoying ring of colour in your soap.
Please note, some ingredients, like sugar, milk, and even some fragrances, will add heat to the chemical reaction (like fuel). You don’t want to put those soaps in the oven, but rather you have to watch out that they don’t over-heat.
How to force gel in the oven
Place the soap in the oven at 50 degrees Celsius or 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 1-2 hours. Ideally you can keep an eye on it and check for the gel phase to begin. Once you see it starting, turn off the oven, but don’t open the door. Leave the soap in the oven overnight, or for at least 2-3 hours until the gel phase has completed.
Basil Lime Soap
My favourite kind of soaps are actually the very plain, simple soaps. This one is my current summer soap. I love the combination of the basil and lime essential oils: fresh and slightly herb – a radical change from the sweet and fruity soaps I’ve been using all winter. The recipe makes a nice hard bar of soap, and after force gelling, you end up with this gorgeous white bar of soap with a beautiful porcelain sheen to it.
If you have never made cold-process soap before, I strongly suggest you check out the basic cold process soap tutorial first.
Before starting, please read the safety and precautions post, especially since this tutorial requires the handling of caustic soda!
ONE: First, prepare your lye. Weigh out the caustic soda in a small container. Measure the water in a small pyrex or other heat proof glass jug or if you are using plastic, make sure it is polypropylene (PP) plastic. Then carefully add the caustic soda to the water and gently stir until all the caustic soda has dissolved. Stir in two teaspoon of sodium lactate. Sodium lactate is a natural liquid salt and will make your soap harder. Set the lye solution aside to cool down.
TWO: Weigh out the coconut oil in a microwaveable bowl or container, and heat it in microwave on high for 2-3 minutes or until it has completely melted. Alternatively, you can melt the coconut oil on the stove.
THREE: Weigh and add the olive oil, sunflower oil and castor oil to the now melted coconut oil.
FOUR: Add the essential oils to the oils and give it a good stir with a whisk. I’m using 25 ml of lime essential oil and 10 ml of basil essential oil here.
FIVE: Check if the lye has cooled down to approximately room temperature, by placing a hand on the outside of the jug, and if it feels cool or only slightly warm, it is time to add it to the oils.
SIX: Making sure you are still in protective gear (goggles and gloves), carefully pour the lye to the oils, avoiding any splashes. Using your stick blender, mix (on low-medium if it has settings) for about 5-10 seconds until the soap mixture starts to thicken. For those of you who work with trace, you want it at medium trace – thickened but still fluid enough to pour.
SEVEN: Pour the soap into the mould. Tap the mould gently on the bench a few times to get rid of any air bubbles and to even out the surface.
EIGHT: Now it’s time to force the gel phase. Place the soap in the oven and set the oven to 50 degrees Celsius or 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
NINE: After one hour, turn off the oven, but leave the soap in the oven and especially: DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR! You don’t want any of the heat to escape. Leave the soap in the oven overnight.
TEN: The next morning, cut your soap into bars and cure the bars for another 6-8 weeks. (Yes, you still need to cure the soap – this is to remove the extra moisture in the soap, and to create a better and harder bar of soap!)
Basil Lime Soap
- 350 g coconut oil (35%)
- 450 g olive oil (45%)
- 150 g rice bran oil (15%)
- 50 g castor oil (5%)
- 138 g caustic soda (8% SF)
- 280 g water (2:1 water to lye ratio)
- 2 teaspoon sodium lactate
- 25 ml lime essential oil
- 10 ml basil essential oil
- Weigh out your water in a lye-safe jug and weigh out your caustic soda (NaOH) in a separate small container or paper cup.
- Carefully add the caustic soda to the water, avoiding any splashes, and stir gently until all the caustic soda has dissolved.
- Add the sodium lactate. Set aside to cool.
- Weigh out the coconut oil in a pyrex jug and heat in the microwave on high for 2 minutes or until melted. Alternatively, melt on the stove.
- Add the other oils to the now melted coconut oil.
- Add the essential oils and give the oils a good stir with the whisk.
- When the lye has cooled down to room temperature, add the lye to the oils and, using your stick blender, mix for about 5-10 seconds until you have a medium trace (the soap has started to thicken, but you can still pour it).
- Pour the soap into the mould and tap the mould on the bench a few times to disperse of any bubbles and to even out the surface.
- Place the mould in the oven and set it to approximately 50 degrees Celsius or 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Let it warm up it for 1 hour and then turn off the oven, but leave the soap in the oven and keep the doors of the oven closed.
- Leave the soap in the oven overnight.
- The following day, unmould and cut the soap into bars.
- The bars will need to cure for another 6-8 weeks before they are ready to be used.