Soap clouds and bathtub paint AKA another trick to avert the pre-dinner meltdown

This weekend was a whirlwind of activity with regular family events, a book signing event, and house preparation for the impending “Frankenstorm” (AKA Hurricane Sandy.) I usually try to keep our weekends less chaotic so that we can enjoy our time together as a family, but sometimes that’s just not possible. Needless to say, by the time Sunday evening rolled around my 3 year old was a mess. So at 5 PM I needed to come up with something that would keep him interested and occupied enough to divert the meltdown until dinner was ready. Thank goodness for Pinterest!

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an idea for a kitchen science experiment that could easily morph into a play/art activity and realized that this was the perfect opportunity to try it out. So while my husband cooked dinner (Thank You to his command for giving him an extra half day at home to help prep for the storm!) I pulled out the bar of Ivory Soap I had been saving for just this moment and gathered both kids.

Activity/Lesson – Make a soap cloud.

I asked my 10 year old to put the Ivory Soap bar on a microwave safe plate and place it in the microwave. Then I had the 3 year old press the buttons for 2 minutes. Next we watched as the soap bar expanded into a puffy cloud. That’s cool! After letting the soap cloud cool for a minute I took it out and let the kids touch it and mess with it. The texture is flaky, not foamy. Neat!

Ivory Soap Cloud

Activity for the 3 year old – crumble the cloud into a big bowl.

Science lesson for the 10 year old – Why does the soap expand in the microwave?(Answer: according to  “This is actually very similar to what happens when popcorn pops or when you try to microwave a marshmallow. Those air bubbles in the soap (or the popcorn kernels or the marshmallow) contain water. Water is also caught up in the matrix of the soap itself. The expanding effect is caused when the water is heated by the microwave. The water vaporizes, forming bubbles, and the heat causes trapped air to expand. Likewise, the heat causes the soap itself to soften and become pliable.

This effect is actually a demonstration of Charles’ Law. Charles’ Law states that as the temperature of a gas increases, so does its volume. When the [Ivory] soap is heated, the molecules of air in the soap move quickly, causing them to move far away from each other. This causes the soap to puff up and expand to an enormous size. Other brands of soap without whipped air tend to heat up and melt in the microwave.”

Activity/Lesson – make bathtub paint from the soap cloud

After crumbling the cloud into a bowl, I had the 3 year old dump the flakes into a blender, and I added a little bit of hot water. He put the lid on the blender and pushed the button – presto – gooey soap. I divided the blend into separate bowls and my son picked out the colors he wanted then added food coloring to the bowls. (Bonus lesson in color combinations!)  Then he mixed it all together and – voila – cheap, easy bathtub paint. (I found this idea on

Homemade bathtub paint

Whose to say that bath time needs to be after dinner? A quick trip to the tub for some coloring fun kept the distraction going and by the time dinner was ready we had made it through the witching hour. We had a great conversation about the activity during dinner, an off shoot idea for the school science fair, and the cherry on top was early bedtime since the kids were already clean and in PJs!

Using homemade bathtub paint

Alia Reese is the spouse of a US Marine and mother of 2 young children. She holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology and used her experience raising children through her husband’s multiple combat deployments to create the award winning American Hero Books® series. For more information please visit or contact Alia at

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