Melt and Pour Soap Adventures
My “day job,” though it’s as much about evenings as days, is as a full time church musician. (I work in a church big enough to pay me a living wage at it. (However, if you check out this article on CNNmoney.com, at number 4, that should tell you something…) This time of year is incredibly intense, and everyone is overworked and a little crabby, and there’s generally very little time for pleasant little holiday family rituals. For that matter, there’s very little time for family, period. Every year somewhere in the first week of December, my husband and I give each other a kiss and say, only semi-jokingly, “good night, honey, see you on the 26th or so.”
Today is sort of the last hurrah. It’s a Saturday, I have no morning meetings, I have no weddings to play, I just have to show up at about 4pm and I have nothing on the calendar prior to that. So even though it is nearly 11:00am, the kids and I are still in our jammies. We are watching “The Nutcracker” while the second batch of melt-and-pour soap is melting over the double boiler. This morning is the last shot at regaining any sense of serenity and holiday peace before the insanity hits full force on Monday, when the final shove of choir rehearsals and booklet printing and making sure the cast of thousands knows what it’s supposed to be up to…
I discovered melt-and-pour soaps a couple Christmases ago at teacher gift time; there was a bit of a learning curve, but we’re much better at it now. And both kids have different teachers from last year, so I feel okay about doing it again. Since the early experiments I’ve bought soap molds and experienced a lot of trial and error, and I have something like six pounds of unmelted soap block sitting in the closet. It’s a great project for kids, as long as the adult does the melting, because they can pour and stir and color and blend themselves.
So…off we go.
This is a really good site for basic instructions, and here’s my own experiences:
Melt and pour soap base is available in a lot of places, but if you get it from, say, Michaels, it is a lot more expensive. (I’m still glad I did that for my first pound–it was a good way to ease into the process.) I think I paid about $10 for a pound-size soap block, which makes maybe 4 bars of soap depending on the size you use, which isn’t that much less than buying nice glycerin soap somewhere else.
I honestly can’t remember where I bought the 6 lbs I have in my closet, but any internet search for “melt and pour soap” will give more hits than anyone can possibly need. www.goplanetearth.com/index.html has some good-looking prices and products; I’ll probably try them next.
Just a few hints, after one has read the basic falling-off-a-log instructions:
Color: I bought three little bottles of soap coloring from Michaels, in the three primary colors, and I’ve managed to work within that palette so far. One would think there’s a whole lot of variety to be found from mixing red, blue, and yellow, but somehow in practice…not so much. Probably with better colors I could get better results, but our first few bars of soap looked a bit like radioactive waste…
This batch, for 12 ounces of soap, we used 3 drops of red and 4 drops of yellow, which gave a fairly nice coral-pink. The next batch Bear wants to be green, which unfortunately was the hue we never managed last time and wound up with the radioactive waste look, but we’ll give it a try…
Fragrance: Some websites have suggested about 1.5 tsp of essential oil per pound of soap, but in reality that’s going to depend a lot on what oils you use. Peppermint overpowers almost anything, as does Tea tree…Lavender blends too quickly into the background, as does Clary, but Geranium Rose leaps to the forefront. They seem, to me, to be behaving differently in soaps than they do in ordinary aromatherapy blends, but that could be just my own impression. Also, as nice as the spices and citruses may smell, it’s not a good idea to use them in skin care products, because they are sensitizing. (Sweet Orange in small amounts I admit i do use…but I also want to be clear when I say that that I know I’m going against other advice, and no way would I advise anyone else in that direction.)
For this batch, I went the easy route and am trying to use up some of a much too old bottle of “Peace and Calming” from Young Living Oils. (Note: the Young Living company has been at the center of a lot of controversy in the aromatherapy community, regarding questionable business practices and irresponsible medical advice that flies in the face of the research of the aromatherapy community at large–advice which, incidentally, involves the use of way larger amounts of the oils than is widely deemed safe. Every shopper must make his or her own choice, but I have chosen not to continue purchasing their oils and once what I have is gone I won’t be buying any more.) I don’t know about its theraputic value, but this blend does smell very nice and ought to make a lovely soap.
Molds: Pretty much anywhere you can get soap base, you can probably also get molds. but molds aren’t absolutely necessary, especially if you want to really go for the “natural handmade” look. A loaf pan or square baking dish can work just as well, although you’ll want to test out quantity to make sure you have the right container for whatever amount of soap you’re using. (If you melt your soap in a Pyrex measuring container, you can then use a different cup to measure that same amount of water into the container you want to use and find out exactly how high your soap will come and thus how thick your bars will be.)
I swear by silicone baking dishes, and using silicone for soap molds is just as easy and wonderful. Sometimes in hard containers the soap gets stuck and is hard to unmold (though usually a quick immersion of the mold part into hot water loosens it enough to get it out), but silicone is really easy.
Additives: One word; beware. I had this lovely idea of bars of soap with lavender blossoms scattered through it, or oatmeal, or whatever…but unless one gets the soap base that’s designed to suspend things in it, it all falls to the bottom of the mold. Which, actually, gives a very nice exfoliating thing on one side, but not the effect I was looking for.
My oval mold holds 3 4oz bars, so we made 4 different batches:
1. coral-colored shea butter soap base with “Peace and Calming”
2. green goats-milk soap base (sort of a nice green this time!) with lavender and roman chamomile
3. lavender goats-milk soap base with lavender and just a touch of sweet orange
4. yellow clear glycerin with lemongrass and a teeny bit of lemon and orange (I know, the citrus thing, but I couldn’t resist)
5. orange clear glycerin with bergamot mint and sweet orange
Our final experiment, made in a loaf pan, is single layers of the 6 (okay, yes, I know there are seven, but whatever) colors of the rainbow each with a different scent; you put in one layer, let it harden, then go to the second layer, and so forth. Takes a while, but it should be very cool…
This makes for a really fun kid project–I love giving teachers things that the kids can actually participate in. Plus we always make a couple extra bars for us, and the kids like washing with the soap they helped make. So it’s a win-win all around.