Hello, folks! Here is another DIY tutorial, but it is more about reshaping than actual creation – I take plain, boring, rectangular and generic bars of soap, and reshape them into cute and fun bars that you can customize to blow your guests’ minds and/or to give away as gifts to the special people in your life.
I have never made soap from scratch before, and to be honest, I am still a bit intimidated by the process even though I have done quite a bit of reading on the topic. I am rather intrigued by the idea, however – I have spent hours ogling pictures of homemade soaps and they are just gorgeous! I barely use bar soap anymore, but that is not stopping me – these are so unique and beautiful, and I love the idea of having a stash to put out for guests or to give to someone as a special gift.
A good compromise between working with caustic lye to make soap from scratch and giving up the dream forever is melt and pour soap base. However, I am a curious cat, and that too the first-principles kind, so I wanted to find out just what would happen if I started out with a regular, old, store-bought bar of soap. The vast world of the Internet did have some information that pointed me in the right direction (what can you NOT find on the Internet???), mostly about putting together old soap scraps to form a new bar. I figured that the same principles should hold true for my project, although I was not quite sure what to expect because in the course of learning how to make my DIY body wash, I had read accounts of people who could not make it work with any brand of soap other than Dove.
The Experiment: hope lost & found!
At the onset of my experimentation, the process seemed simple enough – grate a store-bought bar of soap, add a minimal amount of water, heat the mixture, pour into cute/fun molds, and voila! cute/fun soap! So I got all my equipment in order, grated a bar of Jergens soap that I had purchased at the dollar store (is it just me, or are soap shavings really beautiful to look at?), added some water to the pot, and set the pot on the stove. Ten minutes later, the water and soap had completely separated, the soap had all clumped together and there seemed to be more water in the pot than I remembered pouring in. Hmm, in-ter-est-ing, said the scientist in me, maybe it falls apart before it pulls together, like swiss meringue buttercream. Five more minutes, and it looked much worse, so I decided to let this one go; I would adjust the amount of water and try another day. I saw no point in wasting good soap, so I skimmed off the clumps of soap from the top and pressed them together into my designated silicon mold, leaving the water in the pot to cool. About five minutes later, I glanced at the pot containing the water (I was still in the kitchen, cooking dinner) and a transparent skin had formed on top of the water in the pot. I skimmed it off – it stuck together like a clump of glycerine soap – and pressed it into the soap mold with the rest of the solids. Five more minutes, and another skin had formed; now I was intrigued! What was this liquid? I started stirring it with a spoon to check the consistency, and what had been a clear, runny liquid was now a thick syrupy concoction! Hopes raised, I added the solids from the mold back into the clear liquid, and started stirring aggressively to see if it might blend together. Lo and behold! A few minutes later, I was left with a beautifully smooth, well-blended, viscous liquid! I proceeded to pour it into the mold and there it was, my homemade variant of melt-and-pour soap base. Success!
From this point onwards, the options are endless and you are limited only by your imagination! You could leave the soap as is – let the nice shapes do all the talking. You could sprinkle some glitter, dried herbs or flowers to the base of the mold before you pour in the soap or sprinkle it on after pouring. You could add to the liquid base chopped herbs for fragrance and colour; oatmeal, coffee grounds or even chopped up pieces of a loofah for exfoliation; diced/chopped up pieces of brightly-coloured soap or other embeds for a mosaic look; or create a layered look by pouring in small amounts of different colours of soap base and letting each layer cool slightly before pouring the next, spraying with rubbing alcohol in between layers to promote adhesion. For those of you with kids, another fun option is to embed a toy into the soap – a nice surprise for those clean kids! As I said, the options are endless. I shall be posting another article about soap add-ins, now that I have the soap base down, in a few days.
As far as I am concerned, this experiment was more about learning than anything else. I was home alone, free for the evening and curious what would happen if I melted down a bar of soap, and it turned out to be fruitful. I am excited that I can now make some of those DIY soap bars I love to see on Pinterest, without handling lye or blowing close to $40 on melt-and-pour soap base. Soap-making is (will possibly be) a casual hobby for me, and I don’t picture myself doing this as a business in the near future. If you are also experimenting, like giving handmade gifts or are looking for a way to spend a weekend afternoon on a fun project, this may be the thing for you. I hope you have as much fun as I did!
You will need:
- Soap – 1 bar (I used Jergens, but any brand will do)
- Water – between 1½-1¾ cups*
- Pot to warm soap in
- Molds of your choice – I used this**
- Soap fragrance or essential oils (optional)
- Soap colourant (optional)***
- Oil of your choice and/or vegetable glycerine (optional) – 1 tablespoon; I used equal amounts of almond oil and vegetable glycerine
**If you don’t own any molds or cannot spare any (I would discourage you from using the ones you intend to use again for food), don’t fret – you can use empty milk cartons, single-serve yogurt cups, ice cube trays for tiny soap bars, plastic water bottles or disposable aluminium ware
***Food colouring does not work very well because it fades as the bars dry. You can read about some natural ways to colour your soap here.
6 steps to easy soap base:
1. Grate the soap as finely as you can manage. The smaller the shavings, the more quickly they will melt. Place the shavings in a pot or pan that you do not use for cooking.
2. Pour in enough water so that it is level with the soap shavings. For the single bar of Jergens soap I used, this was slightly more than 1½ cups.
3. Place the soap-water mixture over medium heat. Stir often, but not continuously, until the mixture just begins to boil (about 15 minutes on medium heat). Do not worry if the soap and water initially seem to separate; this is normal.
4. Take the pan off the heat and stir it with a whisk or spoon until it forms a smooth, and possibly clear, liquid. At this point, it will be very watery. Let the liquid cool, until thick and syrupy (about 1 hour). To check the consistency, you can run a whisk or spoon through the liquid and it will leave track marks for a few seconds; it should look very much like corn syrup at this stage. If you want to get to the fun stuff more quickly, i.e. speed up the cooling process, place the pan inside another pot/pan containing cold water, and stir frequently.
5. If you are adding a colourant, fragrance and/or oils, do so now. Pour the liquid into molds of your choice. I would advise you to work quickly when pouring the liquid into molds – as it cools, the liquid tends to congeal to almost a jelly finish and may clump together as you pour it (see the centre mold in the picture below). If this happens, put it back on the stove for a couple of minutes, and it should become fluid once again.
If you are using any add-ins, such as ground oatmeal, coffee or dried herbs, stir them in before pouring the liquid into molds. Continue stirring until the mixture is thick, so that the add-ins don’t settle at the bottom. Pour into the mold.
If you’re using anything other than silicone molds, spray the molds lightly with oil prior to pouring in the base, to help the bar release easily when dry. As you can see in the picture below, there are a few air bubbles that rise to the top of the soap, making an uneven surface as it dries. A quick spray of rubbing alcohol will take care of that for you right away; I did not happen to have any on hand, but will do so the next time I make a batch.
6. Let the soap set for 5 hours to overnight, until the surface is no longer tacky to the touch. Unmold, and let air dry for 4-7 days. You will notice that the bars shrink as they dry, so you may want to start out with bars slightly larger than the intended size.
If you want to give these bars away as gifts, you can make them look professional by wrapping them in saran wrap and using a heat gun to shrink wrap them perfectly. Here is an easy tutorial that shows you how to do it. I tried using my hair dryer to do this, but it did not work for me – if it does for you, please do let me know in the comments.
Stay tuned for part two of my fun soap bars post, where I shall write detailed accounts of where to go with this base. In the meantime, enjoy yourselves!