My son loves jelly soap and I used to buy the (very expensive) Lush jelly soaps, before discovering that you can buy the jelly soap base and make your own jellies. Naturally, thanks to my son, jelly soaps ended up on my monthly to-do list. Thankfully, Pure Nature stocks jelly soap base here in New Zealand and I don’t have to get it from the US anymore.
If you don’t want to read the whole article, here is what I learned during the testing:
Tips and tricks for using jelly soap base
- don’t cut the soap into cubes (cut soap creates more air bubbles)
- add the colour to the soap before melting (less stirring)
- if using the microwave (faster, but slightly more bubbles)
- use in a low setting (I used 250W setting)
- use a high, narrow jug rather than a flat bowl with a wide surface
- if using the double boiler method (slower, but less bubbles)
- make sure you cover the bowl
- add one teaspoon of 99% isopropyl alcohol to each cup of melted jelly soap base just before pouring and give a quick stir to get rid of air bubbles
- spritz the soap immediately after pouring with 99% isopropyl alcohol to get rid of the air bubbles on the surface
Jelly soap is very easy to work with. According to the manufacturer’s instructions (Stephenson is still the only one who makes this soap base as far as I know), you cut, melt and pour. Just like any other melt and pour soap base. The problem I have in general with the jelly soap base is that the melted soap is so viscous that air bubbles can’t escape before the liquid cools down and traps them. Some people aren’t bothered by this, and in some projects the air bubbles would even add a nice effect to the soap, but I would really like to know how to create some very clear jelly soaps without any bubbles.
Stephenson recommends using a double-boiler method to melt your soap, but I know many soap makers like using the microwave instead. So I wanted to test which method would work best and create the clearest jelly with the least amount of bubbles.
For each method, I cut up roughly 2 cups of soap into small cubes and melted it according to the method I was testing, before pouring it into a little jelly mold. I tried without colour first, but realised that the bubbles and clarity are more visible in tinted jellies, so I re-did all the tests with coloured jellies using soap pigments in a little alcohol to colour them.
I tested three methods:
- Double boiler
- Microwave on high setting
- Microwave on low setting
A note of warning: Jelly soap is very viscous and sticky, and melted jelly soap is also very hot. The stickiness makes it hard to get it off your skin and makes it more likely to get burned. Be careful when working with this soap base!
1 Double Boiler
This is the recommended method by the manufacturer of the jelly soap base. Using a bain-marie bowl, I placed it in a pot of water on the stove and brought it to a gentle boil. Despite covering it, the soap took more than half an hour to melt the soap and because of it’s viscosity, it wouldn’t melt evenly, the surface and the middle would never become as liquid as the sides. It did say not to stir, but I had to stir a couple of times to mix the unmelted soap to the sides. Note the soap is a lot more viscous and sticky to work with than for example melted chocolate, so there is a lot less movement of the liquid and also the heat won’t distribute as easily throughout the liquid. Also because of the long time it took to melt, you may have to top up the water in the pot.
2 Microwave on high setting
Usually when melting a pre-made soap base, I melt it on high setting in short bursts of 10-20 seconds until the soap has just melted but before boiling. This works fine for normal melt and pour bases, which are a lot less viscous than the jelly soap base, and air bubbles readily escape to the surface. However, while heating, a lot of air bubbles would develop in the jelly soap base. I also found that it was difficult to keep the soap from boiling and you would have to keep a very close eye on it! As you can see in the picture above, I did manage to let it boil over in one of my tests! Oops!
3 Microwave on low setting
I figured that one reason air bubbles would form in the jelly soap base in the previous method, is that the soap would be heated unevenly and too quickly, causing it to come to a partial boil in some areas causing the air bubbles to form. A more controlled and slower heating might prevent this, similar to a double boiler method. I set the microwave on the second lowest setting (250W on my microwave), just above the defrost setting, and placed the soap in the microwave for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, I’d give a quick stir and then placed it back in the microwave for a further 1-2 minutes. This seemed to work well and took only 7 minutes to melt, but keep an eye on your soap to avoid boiling. It was definitely a lot faster than the double boiler method.
The first thing I learned is that taking pictures to show the bubbles is hard, so I’ll describe the results instead. FYI yellow is the double boiler method, orange the microwave on low setting, and red the microwave on high setting.
The double boiler method (yellow jelly) does work best and produced the soap with the least amount of air bubbles. However, it took ages to melt, particularly because the soap melts unevenly. Using the microwave is faster, but if you use it on a high setting, you will end up with a jelly soap with lots of bubbles (red jelly). On a low setting (orange jelly), it’s a different story, not only is a lot faster than the double boiler method, it also creates only slightly more bubbles. So in the end, it will come down to how much time you have and do a couple of air bubbles matter. I guess if you’re making soap for your kids, the bubbles won’t be an issue, but if you want to sell your soap, I’d recommend to take the extra time and go the bain marie/double boiler method.
PS I also found out a nifty trick: adding a teaspoon of 99% isopropyl alcohol to your melted soap at the end and giving it a quick stir gets rid of bubbles! Not all of them, but quite a few that it’s worth doing it. The alcohol pops the air bubbles and the heat of the soap will evaporate the alcohol. This trick works particularly well for soap that I accidentally let reach boiling point!