Wednesday, August 8, 2012

4 Soapy Projects and Some Science

There are always so many things I want to do in a day or week that it can seem overwhelming. I end up being a crazy-multitasker and still feeling behind. But I also love to do cool fun stuff with Max and watching how much he loves it.

Well, one of my favorite strategies is to find activities that all go together in some way. Today is all about soap! In one afternoon you get to play with homemade boats, do a microwave experiment, make homemade laundry soap, and make slime to play with over and over! These projects draw from the same ingredients so they flow together very well. Here's what you'll need:

borax glue washing soda ivory soap food coloring
Everything you need!

4-pack of Ivory soap bars (it MUST be Ivory!)
Broax (I use 20 Mule Team)
Washing Soda (I use Arm & Hammer)
8 oz. white glue (I use Elmer's)

Food coloring
wax paper

mixing bowl measuring cup spoon teaspoon tub
Should be a pretty easy list of stuff.

Microwave (not pictured)
large bowl(s)
measuring cup
mixing spoon
clean glass or plastic tubs or resealable bags

Project 1 - Soap Boats
Soap boats are a lot of fun. You can put as much or as little work into them as you like. Since you are using Ivory soap, it floats on its own; you can do nothing and call them barges. If you're feeling a bit more ambitious, insert a toothpick in the top and add a little wax paper sail, or carve a rough boat shape, or both! If you carve any soap off be sure to save the scraps. If your little one is big enough let him or her crave a boat! This can generally be done with a regular spoon or butter knife.

Now set the kiddos up with either a big tub of water, a kiddie pool, or stick 'em in the bathtub! Show how the boats move through the water, talk about floating vs. sinking, or just let them crash around. Bonus: they'll get clean!

In case you're wondering why Ivory soap floats, it's because it's whipped full of air bubbles, which decreases the soap bar's density and makes it more buoyant. (You could even give the kids some regular soap bars to compare, or be submarines). It's actually quite interesting. Here's the Wikipedia page about Ivory. And here's a definition of buoyancy in case you're rusty.

Ok, once they're losing interest in soap boats, collect the boats and put them out to dry a bit. Dry the kiddos out a bit too. In our house, this is a good time to break for a snack.

ivory soap ship with sails
3 soap boats: a square rig, a sailboat, and a barge
ivory soap ship with spoon
Scooping out his own ship
ivory soap ship sail water table
Set sail at the water table!
 Project 2 - Soap Clouds
I did not make this up; putting Ivory soap in the microwave is a very well-known trick, but it's still lots of fun.
Remove the sails and anything else added to your boats. Place a paper towel on the microwave plate, put a boat on the towel, and close the microwave. Make sure the kiddos are gathered to see! Turn the microwave on 'high' for a few minutes and watch what happens. Your soap will puff up into a cloud!

It generally takes just a minute or two for the cloud to grow to full size, but leaving it in longer won't hurt anything. In fact, longer is often better since it lessens potential hotspots in the cloud. Once it's stopped expanding pull the towel out of the microwave. It generally doesn't get too hot, but check before letting the kids grab it. This big, puffy cloud looks squishy and delicate, but in fact it's light and crumbly! Once they're done marveling over it, have them crumble the cloud into a big bowl. Repeat until you're out of boats. If you carved off any soap scraps in making your boats, puff and crumble those too.

So what happened? Well, the microwave heats the soap which makes it soft, and heats the air bubbles inside it, which expand and push the soap out. It's the air bubbles that make the cloud form, so don't try this with any other soap! Here's an awesome article that explains it better.

soap cloud preparation
I usually do half a bar at a time or it fills the microwave!
Ivory soap microwave puff cloud
A lovely puffy soap cloud!
Project 3 - Homemade laundry soap
Ok, this one's for you, not them. Maybe you can get them to help stir gently, but if not this is a good time to send them off to play with their Tansy Dolls for a few minutes. ; D
(Don't have one? Go enter the Giveaway!)

Why do this, you ask? Well, I could absolutely say something about environmental effects, or knowing what chemicals are in your home, and those would be true, but for me it's about the cost difference. When I do the math between what these ingredients cost and what I would buy otherwise, I'm saving about $0.20 per load. That comes about $5 a month. Not huge, but every little bit helps, and you'll see how fast this is when you're doing all these projects together.

Since you crumbled all that soap into flakes after making soap clouds you've already done all the hard work for making your own laundry soap, so you might as well finish up. This is a big batch, so use a big bowl! To your soap flakes, add 4 cups of Broax and 4 cups of Washing Soda. (If this is too much for your bowl or more that you want to make, remove half the soap flakes and add 2 cups of each other ingredient instead.) Mix thoroughly but gently. Stirring too vigorously will kick up soap and detergent powder, which you don't want to breath, so stir very gently. More like folding egg whites. This will probably take a few minutes; you're going for a very uniform look. Portion it out into your tubs or bags and you're done! I use 1-3 Tablespoons per load and it works great, even on my son's clothes (the mud-roller), my clothes (the coffee-spiller), and my husband's clothes (the mechanic). We also have skin sensitivities in our house, and this doesn't bother anyone.

This really is a huge batch, so I sent some over to the other lovely ladies of Tansy Dolls, as well as my mom. This is not my recipe, and can be found many places on the web. Here's another good explanation of it.

homemade laundry detergent
All three ingredients, waiting to be mixed.
homemade laundry detergent with borax soap washing soda
That's a lot of loads of laundry.

Project 4 - Slime!
Okay, this one doesn't actually have soap in it, but since you've got the Borax out, you should make this one too. In my house growing up we called this gak, but it's also known as slime, flubber, and a bunch of other names. Whatever you call it, it's super fun. Call the kids back in to watch or help.

Grab a clean bowl and empty the 8 oz of white glue into it, add 1 cup of water and mix well. (This will work best with a fresh bottle of glue.) Add whatever color of food coloring you like.
In a small bowl or glass, add 1/2 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of Borax. Stir well.
Now slowly stir the glue and add the Borax solution a bit at a time. It will start to get stringy pretty quickly; just keep mixing. Keep adding the Borax solution a little at a time until it all comes together and you have the consistency you like. You'll have to switch to hand-mixing at some point. We like ours pretty bouncy, so we usually add most of the Borax.

Now play with your slime! It's bouncy, stringing, gloppy fun! What's really happening is that you're mixing chemicals that are forming into polymers. Yay science! You can find a lot of details about it on the web, but here's a nice overview of the recipe and science.

colored gak flubber slime
Max picked blue slime.
mixing slime gak flubber from borax white glue
Those polymer strands develop fast!
rubbery slime gak flubber from borax white glue
Finished rubbery slime!

Warning: This gak is glue-based so don't let the kids play with it anywhere you wouldn't allow glue! It will bounce off things briefly, but left unattended it will gladly adhere itself to fabric, soft surfaces, wood, the remote, etc. I also once witnessed a disaster when a little girl decided to make a crown of it and put it on her head. You can imagine the effects on her hair! This is also decidedly not a food item, so keep it away from any kiddos who might stick it in their mouths. In fact, now that you're done with it, don't forget to put the Borax and your new laundry soap where the kids can't get them either.

borax white glue slime
"Whoa! It feels weird!"
strtchy bouncy rubbery slime gak flubbermany states of polymer slime

Ok, so you've played with boats, cleaned the kids, watched a cool trick, made your own laundry soap, made slime, and learned some science. That's a pretty good afternoon in my book. How did it go for you?



  1. Oh my goodness, you've been busy with soap! We've tried two of these -- the exploding microwave soap and slime, and they're both AWESOME! I remember making soap boats when I was a kid and I be my kids would love to try that themselves.

    1. I do love all these projects independently as well as all together. Soap boats, or soap carving in general, is so great because the soap (especially Ivory) is soft enough to carve with a spoon. Max isn't really up to sharp carving tools yet. Plus, it's self-cleaning. :D Ivory's floating abilities make boats a natural!

  2. When i make slime with borax i used 1 cup of water with i teaspoon of borax & one 4 oz bottle of glue with 1/2 cup of water but it isnt stretchy like i want it to be & it doesnt stick togather as well as the one i used with liquid laundry detergent how did you get your slime so stretchy & fun?

    1. Double the glue! I use a whole 8 oz bottle for that amount of Borax and water. It also seems to make a difference to use fresh glue, not a bottle that's been sitting around a long time. You also want the classic White Glue, not gel glue, or some other kind. Generic is fine, but the classic white stuff is what you want. Have fun!