The problem: You want to layer your soap, but you’re using melt and pour. And everyone says layering can’t be done in melt and pour. Surely, everyone is right?
Everyone is wrong.
I call this the Double Melt Method (patent pending… haha not really). This is how to get beautiful layers in melt and pour soap that actually stay together. And the method is easy to learn (but depends on your skill as a melt and pour soaper as to how well it will come out, so you can really challenge yourself to create beautiful designs).
What is a layer?
A layer is usually an area of soap which has different properties to the other areas around it. They can be different thicknesses and widths. The most common layers are coloured layers, but with melt and pour, transparent and opaque soap can be layered, and you could even layer scents, too, although you would probably want to choose scents that blend well because you would still be able to smell all of them at the same time.
Layers can produce some visually striking effects. They are most often used in loaf moulds, but can also be used in individual soap moulds.
You can layer by drizzling different colours in a pattern, or you could tilt your mould to create striking geometric layers. You can use a colour scheme or stick with varying shades of the same colour. You can even make a shape in one type of soap then put it into a shape made of another type of soap. This is called an embed but the archaeologist in me points out it’s just another type of layer. This double melt method works to get embeds to stick properly in your soap as well as making other layers hold together.
How do you layer in cold process?
In cold process soap, to get layers, you mix the soap to a medium or thick trace, add your colours, then pour it into your soap mould. With cold process soap, you don’t need to wait for the previous layer to dry before you can pour in the next layer. The advantage of this is the layers can be merged together by spinning them. This is called a swirl and I’ve talked about it more in another article.
Why doesn’t that work in melt and pour?
Melt and pour soap is different to cold process soap, because it has already undergone the process of saponification, turning the emulsion (trace) into a compound, and changing the properties of the oils in the soap. Cold process soap is in the process of saponifying at the point when you work with it, so it behaves differently.
When you make layers in melt and pour, if all the soap is liquid, it will merge together. You can produce some nice effects if you do this at the right temperature (which I’ve talked about more in my article on how to swirl in melt and pour), but if it’s all too hot, it will just mix into one uniform colour.
To make layers in melt and pour, you need to wait for the poured layer to harden, then you can add the next one. The big problem with doing this is that it causes the soap’s layers to separate, especially when you are cutting soaps from a loaf mould.
This is why people say you can’t make big artistic layer effects in melt and pour.
The traditional way around this is to spray each layer with alcohol then add the next layer. I tried this, and two things happened. First, my soap smelled really strongly of alcohol, despite the internet saying this would not happen. Secondly, when I cut into my loaf, the layers fell apart, despite the fact I followed the advice to turn the loaf sideways to cut it if there are layers. Great. Now I have thin crumbly strips of stinkly alcoholic soap that are about as solid as a Cadbury’s Flake.
Annoyed that I’d spent hours pouring these layers and also wasted 1.5kg of soap in my loaf mould, I started experimenting to see how I could fix my soap. Which is how I came up with the double melt method.
The Double melt method
Pour your layers, let each layer cool until it has formed a skin strong enough to touch, it should sort of look like a trampoline when you press the top of the layer with your fingers. Thinner layers will harden completely.
Once you have your layered creation, stop! Don’t cut it! Don’t unmould it! Put it straight into the microwave.
Turn the power down on your microwave. It needs to be on “defrost”. This is crucially important to make the double melt method work.
Set the timer for the following: Soaps in individual soap moulds need about 20 seconds at the most. Loaf mould soap needs 40-60 seconds, depending on the size of the loaf mould and the power of your microwave. Check your loaf mould fits in the microwave before starting a layered recipe.
If your loaf mould doesn’t fit in the microwave, unmould your soap, cut it in half straight down the middle. Wrap it in cling film and put it on a plate (so if it melts too much you don’t have to try and scrape soap off the microwave). This will need about 30-45 seconds in a 700 watt microwave.
It will take some experimenting to find the exact time for your microwave. If your soap is already cut and falling apart, wrap it in cling film and carefully heat it on the defrost setting.
Once you’ve done this, try to avoid agitating the soap. Move it as little as possible. Leave it to harden again. It may look solid on the outside but inside, it’s melting in places.
Once your soap has hardened, you can turn it on its side and cut it like cold process layered soap.
Why you can’t do this in the oven (with photos of a total soaping disaster)
The first time I tried this, because my soap mould didn’t fit in the microwave, I put the whole thing in the oven. This was a soapy disaster. The soap formed a crust on the top which burned and had to be chipped off from the mould. The wooden part of the mould gave off an odd smell. The soap had to be thrown away. The underside had a really nice pattern to it, however, and if I’d had a sealable, heatproof container the exact shape and size of my soap, it might have come out really well.
It may possibly work in the oven if you have a heatproof way of covering up the top of the soap, but the thickness of the wood in my mould stopped the heat penetrating very well except through the top of the container, which caused problems.
Never put plastic in the oven or metal in the microwave!