Friday, February 12, 2010

Soap How-To: The Tilted Layer Effect

I was playing around with a new technique a couple of days ago and was really pleased with the results. It's a two-toned, tilted-layer design:
Cool, huh? Wanna know how to do it?

Okay, here's what you need:
  • White melt-and-pour soap base
  • Non-bleeding yellow soap-safe colorant
  • Non-bleeding green soap-safe colorant
  • Skin-safe fragrance oil (approved for use in soap)
  • Soap mold of your choice
  • Spritzer of rubbing alcohol
  • Microwave oven, measuring glasses, measuring spoons, spoons for stirring, thermometer, plastic wrap, scale, cutting board, knife or other cutting implement
Feel free to mix things up and try different soap bases, colorants, and fragrance oils. Just be sure your colorants are non-bleeding so your colors don't eventually migrate and run together (unless that's what you're going for!). I chose a white base so I would end up with pretty pastel shades.

Clear out a space to work. You may want to put waxed paper over your countertops to protect them from spills.

Set up your molds. For the first layer, you will want to tilt your molds so you can pour at about a 45 degree angle. Here, I have balanced my molds on some handy-dandy soap blocks and placed a big book at the bottom to keep them from slipping:

Determine how many ounces of soap you will need based on your mold's capacity. My square mold holds about 4.5 ounces per cavity, so I multiply that by how many bars I want to make (4.5 oz. x 6 bars = 27 oz.). I want half to be yellow, and half to be green, so I will need approximately 14 ounces for each (allowing for some extra -- it's always best to have too much than too little). If you have any leftover soap after your pours, just pour the excess into another mold. You can always remelt it for another project!

Cut up your base into chunks so they'll melt faster and more evenly in the microwave. (Obviously, be careful while cutting and do not allow children to handle knives.) Measure your cut-up base on a scale and place in a microwave-safe measuring glass.
Cover the glass with plastic wrap (to keep the moisture from evaporating from the soap) and microwave in 30-second bursts until fully melted.

Color and fragrance the soap for your first layer. Add your colorant, stirring, until you reach the desired effect.
Add your fragrance. Stir well. Fragrance is a personal thing -- some people like more, some like less. Recommendations range from .25 oz. to .5 oz. per pound of soap base. I shoot down the middle and use about .35 oz. per pound, which works out to about 2 teaspoons.

Pour your soap into your tilted molds.

Spritz with rubbing alcohol to burst any surface bubbles. (Don't worry, the alcohol evaporates very quickly and will not affect your soap.)

Allow this layer to harden until a skin forms that is sturdy enough to support another layer. How do you know when it's ready for the next layer? Gently blow on it to see if you see any ripples. If you do, the soap needs more time to set up. If you don't, it's time to pour again. You want to pour your next layer when the first layer is still warm or else you'll have adhesion problems.

In the meantime, repeat Steps 2 and 3 to prepare the soap for the second layer. I colored the second layer green.

Once your first layer has set up, carefully set your molds FLAT on your counter or tabletop.

Allow the soap for the second layer to cool to about 115 degrees (this is where the thermometer is handy). If you pour too hot, you risk melting the first layer. The soap you are about to pour should be cool enough that you can comfortably stick your finger in it without it burning (be very careful if you decide to test this!).

Generously spritz the first layer with rubbing alcohol right before pouring. This is a very important step, as the rubbing alcohol helps the layers to adhere. Gently pour the second layer until your molds are full. Spritz one more time with rubbing alcohol to pop any surface bubbles.
If you're clumsy like me and overpour like I did in the lower left corner, don't worry -- you can trim the excess away with an Exacto knife after unmolding.

Here's the soap in the mold. See the tilted-layer effect?

Let your soaps set up in their molds. Ideally, let them sit overnight to fully harden. I personally don't recommend putting the soaps in the freezer to speed things along.

Unmold your soaps after they are set. Unmolding can be tricky, so here are a few tips. Try to pull the sides of the mold away from the soap to break the air seal. Then turn the mold over and press gently on the back. You should see an air bubble, and you can chase it around until the soap pops out.

Melt-and-pour soaps contain glycerin, which attracts moisture. It's best to wrap your soaps in some sort of plastic wrap after unmolding to keep them from "sweating."

Enjoy your soaps!

Psst ... you can get your very own Fresh Zucchini Flower soap like this one at Wonder Turtle Soaps on Etsy!