Handmade Soap Facts –
- Most “soaps” sold in grocery stores are usually not soap at all—they are detergents! Detergents are cheaply produced petroleum-derived surfactants used in common household cleaning products like laundry liquid, car wash and dishwashing liquids. Yes, the same ingredient used to wash grime off your car is also in skincare products known as “beauty bars”, “facial cleansers” or “shower gels”.
- Real soap is made from animal or vegetable fats (we only use vegetable ingredients), mixed with an alkali (lye, or sodium hydroxide). The fatty acid molecules of the oils link up with the base, creating a new molecule consisting of soap and glycerin. There is no lye left in finished soap, because it is irreversibly, molecularly transformed. This process of making soap is called saponification.
- Handmade soap is fashioned in a time-honored tradition called the “cold kettle method”. The soap isn’t really cold when it’s made, but the term refers to the absence of externally applied heat to drive the soapmaking process…except for the heat used to melt any butters or saturated fats, there is no other “cooking” involved. Saponification actually generates its own heat (exothermic reaction), which is just enough to drive the process to completion. This method of low-temperature soapmaking helps to preserve the nutrients imparted by the base oils and herbs, so they are still available to your skin within the finished soap. In contrast, commercial soap is cooked in huge vats, within a vacuum, which speeds saponification for faster product turnover.
- It takes a full month to make a bar of good handmade soap! Once the soap is removed from the mould and cut into logs or bars, it is placed on racks to “cure” for at least four weeks. Like fine wine or cheese, the aging process allows the soap to mellow and cure, so that it will last longer and lather better.
- Glycerin is a natural byproduct of the soapmaking process; handmade soaps retain the natural glycerin, which makes a gentle, creamy, moisturizing lather. Commercial soap companies remove the glycerin from their soap, then bottle and sell it for use in cosmetic and industrial products—for more than they make from selling soap! Removing the glycerin is why most commercial soaps leave skin feeling dry and itchy.
- “Glycerine soap” is generally not soap at all—just like other commercial “soaps”, it is usually made from detergents. Even in the rare occasion it is from a true soap base, it must be processed at very high temperatures with special chemicals in order to achieve the characteristic transparency.
- To “superfat” a handmade soap means that there is a calculated excess percentage of a particular emollient oil (such as Shea Butter or Avocado Oil) which, instead of being linked up with lye and turning into soap, will remain in its original state within the finished soap and will be made readily available to the skin. The practice of superfatting is the ultimate luxury in a moisturizing soap.
- “Castile Soap” is the common name for a soap made entirely from olive oil, and named for the region of Spain from which this type of soapmaking originated—the province of Castile. Today, the term is sometimes used to describe any soap made with olive oil, regardless of its actual content. But for soap connoisseurs, a true castile is the gentlest of all soaps and can be made only from 100% pure olive oil.
- Until the mid-19th century, soap was usually made by women in the home from leached woodash and leftover tallow (boiled animal fat). Soap was made once a year and was generally used not for bathing, but for household cleaning and laundry. It was not until regular bathing came into vogue that soap was elevated to its modern use as a luxury “toiletry” item, and so the trend to perfume, color and otherwise decorate soap began.