Tonawanda News

April 1, 2013

PINSPIRED: Soap cloud is kitchen science, craft and good, clean fun combined

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — One of my favorite things about Pinterest — besides craft projects I probably don’t have time for and food I probably shouldn’t be eating — is the multitude of fun science-related activities to do with kids.

Or heck with the kids. I love that sort of thing. I’ll admit it — sometimes the kids are just the justification. I was the kind of child who desperately wanted a chemistry set (my parents didn’t fall for that) and in the absence of one, concocted strange potions out of toothpaste, powder and other things from the bathroom cabinets. (I once managed a credible imitation of Nickelodeon’s famous slime. I think I’m still grounded for that one.)

Pinterest is full of this kind of thing — crafty, science-y things to keep kids (and adults) occupied, from glow-in-the dark paints to homemade spray chalk to do-it-yourself bubble mix. Does it all work? I doubt it, but it sure looks like fun to try.

As this column approached, I spent some time browsing my “kid stuff” board, trying to pick out a nice, simple one to start with. So much of this sort of thing is best done outside, and with our so-called “spring” weather being what it was, that narrowed things down considerably.

It didn’t take long to settle on one, though: Soap clouds.

It’s the simplest of experiments: Put a bar (or a piece) of Ivory (it absolutely must be Ivory) soap on a piece of waxed or parchment paper in the microwave, set the timer for one to two minutes and cook.

I’m not a scientist, but as I understand it, the air (and water) that’s whipped into Ivory acts sort of like the air (and water) that’s trapped in a popcorn kernel: When heated in the microwave, it vaporizes and expands.

Keep watching that bar of soap in the microwave. Within a few seconds, fwoosh! (It’s utterly impossible to write or speak about this sight without sound effects). The bar starts to turn into something that looks like a can of shaving cream exploded in there. (I do not recommend trying that.) And it keeps growing. And growing ...

I have a small microwave. I could have kept things going for longer, but the cloud was starting to press up against the sides of the appliance and I had a frightening (and probably false) mental image of what could happen if it ran out of room. I stopped things at about 80 seconds and opened the door.

Give it a minute or so to cool, because it will be warm. (I later found that not all the soap had time to expand, so there was a slightly gooey — and very warm — center to the cloud. I removed that and rolled it into a soap ball to be used in our upstairs bathroom, which was also a hit with the kids.) Then whisk that paper out of there, complete with soap.

It looks like a giant, puffy cloud. It’s not soft, it’s actually rigid, and you can smash it into a bowl and turn it into a large pile of fluffy soap flakes. (But more on that later.) The boys were not as enthralled by the spectacle of the incredible growing soap as I was, but when I told them they could take it into the bathtub, they got much more enthused.

That was a hit.

They pulled it apart. They made it snow in the tub. They squished it and they smooshed it and they got cleaner then they’ve probably ever been in their grubby-little-boy lives.

“Mom, this is really cool,” my 4-year-old enthused. Praise, indeed.

It didn’t last long, but when they were clean and soap-free and in their pajamas, we turned to part two of the experiment, returning to a second bar of soap and the craft portion of the evening.

Once the microwave had worked its magic and things had cooled down, I let the boys shatter the soap cloud into a bowl, rendering it into the aforementioned soap flakes. Then, with just a tiny bit of water, we worked it together until it was a thick paste, added some food coloring until it was (mostly) a uniform color and turned it out onto wax paper. We patted it into a disc and cut out soap shapes with a cookie cutter, putting them aside to dry for a while before they’re given to teachers, grandparents or friends as gifts, or simply used to play in the tub some more.

If you can’t stand the smell of Ivory soap, I don’t recommend trying this one. Our house smelled like soap for a day or two afterward. There was some soap residue on the tub that needed a few extra rinses. And I impressed upon the boys with particular parental fervor that they are not to put anything in the microwave without Mommy or Daddy’s permission.

But it was an inexpensive way to do something a little different and they think it’s awesome to use soap they “made themselves.” I don’t know that they really registered the science aspect, but it’s always something we can revisit down the road.

In other words, good, clean fun.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. Find us on Pinterest.com by searching “Tonawanda News.”

• WHAT: Soap clouds • DIFFICULTY: Easy • TIME: One to two minutes in the microwave; more time for playing or making colored soaps. • RESULT: Pin it.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. Find us on Pinterest.com by searching "Tonawanda News."