This is the last week of school, and I'm suddenly realizing I have no idea what to have the kids give their teachers as an end-of-year little gift. (There's actually a "class gift" that everyone contributes to, which is nice--they're building a butterfly garden outside the school, and each child paints a stone that becomes part of the environment--very cool.)
I discovered melt-and-pour soaps last Christmas at teacher gift time; there was a bit of a learning curve, but we're much better at it now, so I feel okay about doing it again. (Actually, only three out of the six got soap at Christmas, and they were tiny little bars.) Since then 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.
Below is a really good site for basic instructions; if I'd had this in December, I probably would have screwed up a little less:
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.
So...we'll see how it goes!
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. (to be made tomorrow) orange clear glycerin with bergamot mint and sweet orange
The kids have 7 teachers, and we'll give 2 bars to each teacher. These ones came out really nicely. And we have one additional funny little bar made in tupperware that contains dregs from several of the different batches, that'll be ours. The kids will get a kick out of it.