Chemically speaking, soap is a salt of fatty acids. Mainly used as a surfactant to break the bond between dirt and a surface, soap is created through a process called saponification. This is a chemical reaction between fats and a strong alkaline solution, typically sodium hydroxide for bar soap & potassium hydroxide for liquid soap.
There is evidence that soap making has been around since approximately 2800 BC in Ancient Babylon using boiled fats and ash. This technique has been perfected throughout the centuries until we reached our modern soap making techniques of cold processed soap in the 1800’s. Since then, there have been no major technological advances with the exception of the patent for liquid soap in the late 1800’s.
While every bar of soap is different in texture and longevity, the process of soap making does not change for a true soap. The vegetable oils that are used in the soap making process determine how the bar is going to feel on skin, due to its fatty acid composition as well as if the bar remains firm or becomes mushy. Most commercially made soaps use tallow or rendered beef fat as the triglyceride which would be labeled as ‘Sodium Tallowate’ in the ingredient panel of the product. While tallow is a great fat, it might not be an acceptable ingredient for those looking to steer clear of animal by-products in products.
In both liquid & bar soap making, it is essential to know that the alkaline solvent, sodium or potassium hydroxide, does not remain in the soap after saponification takes place. When the oils and alkaline solution combine and trace is reached, all the lye is spent and escapes while the soap remains intact. As the soap continues to “cook,” glycerin is formed as a by-product, giving the bar the ability to draw moisture into skin since it is a humectant.
While there are many choices of soap and body wash on the market these days, not all bar soap or washes are created equal. We prefer to use bar soaps that contain only cold-pressed oils and steam distilled essential oils. This way, we do not have the waste of the plastic bottle to further clog our waterways & landfills. We encourage all who want to try their hand at soap making, as it is a dying art that needs to be passed down generation to generation. It can be intimidating as first, but once you get a system, it is a fun way to know exactly what you are putting on your skin!