Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Making Soap The Easy Way

There are many ways of making soap, but two of the most popular methods are the cold process and the melt and pour method. The cold process involves mixing fats with a solution of water and lye and takes anywhere from half an hour to over two hours depending on the level of difficulty of your recipe. However, the undisputed easiest method of making soap is the melt and pour method. I suppose it is the easiest because you are not really and truly making the soap. The crafter simply needs to melt the soap and add his or her desired fragrances, colours and botanicals. This is the best method for anyone who has a tight schedule or who is making the soap as a children's craft. However, there are some tricks to using melt and pour soap.

The materials you need to make melt and pour soap are:

- a chunk of good quality melt and pour soap
- soap mold
- fragrance (fragrance oil or essential oil)
- colour (make sure your colour is compatible with soap making and NOT food colouring)
- botanicals or finely ground nuts (optional to make an exfoliating bar)
- rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle

Make sure that you have the correct amount of soap to fit in your mold. For instance, if your mold is a two pound tray mold, use two pounds of melt and pour soap. If you are making a single four ounce bar, than use four ounces of soap. If you use a mold designed for soap, it will usually state the capacity right on the mold. If you are not entirely sure of the capacity of your mold, just estimate the amount. Always estimate more rather than less, because you can always let the leftover harden and remelt it for another use.

Be creative as you wish in terms of mold choice! Use cake pans, bread pans, those little mini silicone cupcake pans you find at the dollar store. You can use anything for melt and pour soap, but if you ever venture into making cold process soap, never use a metal mold as the lye in the soap will eat right through the metal. Trust me, I found this out the hard way...

First, cut up your melt and pour soap into small chunks so that it melts easily. Next, make sure you have all of your ingredients (fragrance, colour, etc.) measured and ready to go. The amount of fragrance, colour and botanicals you use are your choice. I try to stay away from using too much liquid, as it will eventually change the consistency of the soap. Also, I've heard that many soap makers use tea leaves to add as a botanical-type substitute. Please be aware that most brands of tea bleed their colour into the soap after a few days. A fellow soaper told me to try Celestial Seasonings brand because in her experience, the tea did not bleed.

Then, using the double boiler method, melt your soap. Always use a double boiler. While the soap is melting, stir it very very gently or just push the chunks of soap around the pot. Do not stir vigorously, as this creates air bubbles in your final product. After the soap is melted, let it sit and cool until it forms a skin on top. If you ignore this step, your final product may be slightly sticky and not a 'hard bar'. In soap making, the harder the bar is, the better because it lasts longer. After you have let the soap cool, stir the skin back into to soap.

This is the time to add any fragrance, colour or other additives. Stir them in gently. Slowly pour your soap into you molds and spray the back of the soap generously with rubbing alcohol to get rid of air bubbles. Let your soap set and harden undisturbed for about six or seven hours and then unmold. Some crafters report having stubborn soap that refuses to budge from rigid molds. If this happens, place you soap in the fridge (not the freezer) for about thirty minutes and try to unmold it again.  Always wrap your melt and pour soap in air tight packaging, such as plastic wrap.

On Making Layered Melt and Pour Soap:

If you should decide to be adventurous and try making a layered bar of soap (and you should because it's great fun), here are a few tips:

First, make one layer at a time and let the first layer set pretty completely before adding the next layer. If you do not wait, you will end up with a marble looking mix of colour in your final product.

Second, and most importantly, many crafters (including myself) report having difficulty getting the layers of soap to adhere to each other. I had this problem with my first batch of layered melt and pour soap. At first the layers looked like they were going to stick together, but after the soap sat for a few days, they came apart. To avoid this problem, after the first layer is partially set, use a fork to scrape the back of the soap to create ridges for the next layer to seep into. Also, just when you are about to pour the second layer onto the first, spray the back of the first layer with a good amount of rubbing alcohol. I've also heard that if you use a rubbing alcohol that has a higher alcohol content (not as diluted), the layers will stick together much more easily.

Lastly, try to stay away from liquid soap colour. Liquid dyes have a tendency to bleed into each other after the layers of soap are assembled. There are powdered colours and micas you can buy for soap making.

I hope you enjoy my tips for making melt and pour soap. Happy soaping!


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