What is Soap?

Before you learn how to make soap, it’s good to know the basics and understand the fundamentals.  Soap is something each of us use on a daily basis (if we’re so blessed), but it’s something that most of us don’t give much thought to.  Soap is generally a mystery to most people, but for some it is a fulfilling part of their everyday lives that provides an enjoyable creative outlet and even income to live on.  Making soap from scratch is a trade that has been around throughout history and is gaining a lot of interest world-wide today.  So what exactly is soap and how is it made?

Soap is the result of a chemical reaction between fats or oils (animal fats or vegetable oils) and a strong alkaline base.  Lye (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) is a strong chemical alkaline base that is commonly combined with fats or oils to make soap.  It comes in little beads or crystals and is dissolved in water or milk before mixing with the fats or oils.  Lye has to be handled with care because it can cause burns and irritation to the skin, eyes, and nose/throat.  Lye can be intimidating to most people, but if you are interested in making soap and you use the proper safety precautions, you will find soap making a lot of fun and probably a lot easier than you imagined.

When the lye combines with oil or fat, the chemical process of “saponification” takes place and creates soap, which is chemically considered a type of salt.  As the soap goes through this saponification process and has time to dry out and harden, it becomes mild and natural soaps can be used on anyone’s skin, even delicate baby skin with a good recipe.  Even though you begin the process with a strong and potentially dangerous chemical, those chemicals are transformed into a gentle bar of beautiful soap that can be moisturizing and cleansing, and even rejuvenating or relaxing.

Vegetable oils or animal fats can be combined with lye to make soap.  Traditionally, animal fats like tallow from beef and lard from pork have been used, and vegetable oils like olive oil and coconut oil are popular and have stood the test of time.  Each fat/oil has different properties and benefits that affect how the finished bar of soap looks, feels, and cleans.  The important characteristics that are a direct result of the oils used to make a bar of soap include how hard or soft the bar is, how bubbly or creamy the lather is, and how moisturizing or drying it is to the skin.  Recipes usually include a combination of oils and should be crafted and created with respect to what each ingredient brings to the bar, so to speak.

Depending on the ingredients and recipe, you can make soap in bars (using sodium hydroxide as the lye), liquid (using potassium hydroxide as the lye), and even cream (using a combination of both sodium and potassium hydroxide).  The world of soap making is filled with ingredients and techniques that can create an endless number of variations of this precious and necessary commodity.  With knowledge at your side and creativity as your guide, the sky is the limit!  If you’ve been tempted to delve deeper and explore the creative world of handmade soap, sign up now for your own completely free guide on How to Make Soap.   Ready, Set, Start Making Soap!

Peace, Love, and SOAP! :)