Mankind has always been able to make soap. We have sometimes been very poor and have lived modestly, but we have had handmade soap. Back in mid- and late 19th century, soap was made in every house. The skill how to make soap at home was completely forgotten when industrially manufactured soaps arrived. Then other detergents replaced soap as a general home cleaner. Only in recent years the production of soap has made a comeback. Soap is also nowadays highly valued. In just 10 years ago, we were told not to wash our face with soap. Now, we also wash our hair with soap.
Everyone loves cleanliness and we all are a soap people.
For almost all of us, cleanliness is incredibly important. We want to take care of our personal hygiene and the purity of our homes too. Soap represents the purity for us. The scent of soap creates a cosy and safe atmosphere at home. Whether it is Christmas or Midsummer, we clean our homes, wash our clothes and ourselves with soap and enjoy the pure scent of soap.
The comeback of soap
Soap was re-recognized some years ago. We have a new generation which never saw a soap bar at home and did not even know what it is. Now, soap is a trendy product carefully selected among many brands. More attention is paid to the properties of handmade soap. Different soaps are also made with more professionalism and ambition than probably ever before.
Buying soap is also an act for the nature, especially soap bar. Many of us have begun to reduce the chemical load by replacing liquid detergents with soap. Of course, soap is also available in liquid form, but most of them contain at least a preservative. A soap bar does not need any preservative and is therefore an incredibly useful product for skin care.
The diverse use of soap has emerged only in recent years
There are many different ways to use soap.
With soap you can
- wash hair,
- shape eyebrows,
- wash face and body,
- •to shave beard,
- shave body hair,
- clean up at home,
- remove the rings from your finger,
- lubricate hinges
- Repair the zippers
What is soap made of?
Soap contains fat / oil, lye and water at its simplest form. Although soap contains all these substances at the manufacturing stage, it is not required to list them on the INCI list. Soap is its own chemical compound. Soap is the sodium salt of fatty acids. During the manufacturing process, lye completely disappears from the soap. Also, the finished soap should not contain any lye.
The pH of the soap varies from 7 to 10. The best soaps for skin cleansing should be closer to pH 7. The strength of pH 10 is only suitable for home cleaning, laundry and dishwashing. The pH value is not stated in the soap packages because the pH value can only be measured from the liquid. Soap bar cannot have a pH value, but a mixture of soap and water can. The pH values I mentioned are measured in the soap solution.
Glycerol in soap
The soap manufactured by the traditional method produces glycerol during the maturation process. Glycerol is a compound found in fats that is particularly moisturizing for the skin. Therefore, natural manufactured soaps do not dry the skin like synthetic soaps.
Soap is a surfactant that reduces water surface tension. Therefore, soap has a dirt-removing effect. Today, so many surfactants have been developed for so many purposes that soap has been almost forgotten. Fortunately, people who avoid synthetic chemicals have rediscovered the good properties of soap. After all, soap is a chemical, but it has a long history. We know from experience how soap is used and how it affects nature and us.
Ingredients for soap
There are other ingredients than the basic ones (mentioned earlier) added to many soaps. Of course, they should be mentioned in the INCI list. Usually manufacturers emphasize the importance of fats and oils used. Marseille soaps mentioned for personal use and Spanish Castilian soaps are always made from olive oil and coconut soaps are made from coconut fats. The fats affect the foaming of the soap and the composition of the foam.
Watch out for synthetic chemicals
Synthetic fragrances, dyes, and other synthetic chemicals are often added to industrial soaps. Therefore, it is a good idea to carefully choose a soap maker that makes its products from safe ingredients. There are many companies nowadays making only natural, artificial chemical-free soaps. We should buy our soap only from them.
Industrial liquid soaps are not real soaps, they are usually made from synthetic surfactants.
Fats and oils
Most soaps are so-called super fatted soaps. The ratio of fat to lye is constant in soap making. A certain amount of fat always needs a certain amount of lye to form soap. If we put too much fat in our soap, we are talking about super fatting. There is always about 5% extra, free non-saponified fat added to skin soaps. This 5 % remains as fat and does not dilute to the lye. This fat makes the soap gentle and cares for the skin.
Super fatting of soap is important
If the soap is superfatted, it cannot be used for the skin at all. Non-fat soap is very strong. Its solution has a pH of about 10, or as strong as a dishwashing liquid. Non-greasy soap suits well for laundry and general cleaning. On the other hand, super fatty soap should not be used at all for cleaning and laundry. It is too greasy and will eventually spoil the laundry and surfaces at home.
Oils used in soaps
The oils used in soaps are usually the most common cosmetic oils. I already mentioned olive oil as one of the most popular one.
Olive oil is the cornerstone of soap making
The composition of olive oil suits excellent for soap making and it will therefore always be a fairly common basic ingredient for soaps. Soap made from olive oil is very gentle and does not damage the skin. Olive oil is here to stay. The production of olive oil soap has continued almost unchanged for thousands of years. Its skin care properties are undeniable. However, olive oil soaps like Marseille soap are not suitable for cleaning or laundry. It is too mild and greasy.
Animal fats in soaps
Once upon a time, soaps were made from animal tallows only such as sheep tallow, wool fat or lanolin. Hard fats are essential for successful saponification. Nowadays, soaps made from animal fats are still used in soaps, also in beauty products. The main ingredient is sodium tallowate that is a mixture of animal tallow and oils, ratio varies between 75 – 85 % of tallow and the rest is oil. Soap manufacturers do not clearly indicate the origin of fat and the amount of tallow. Basic rule is that bigger the manufacturer, more animal tallow is used because it is cheap in mass production. By utilizing animal tallow is cheap and relatively easy option. In real beauty soaps, the story is very different and depends where you live. In some market areas the animal fat is not accepted anymore by the consumers. If you want genuine animal tallow soap, you should make it yourself.
In natural cosmetics, there are plenty of plant-derived soaps available as well.
In natural cosmetics, coconut fat has replaced animal fat almost completely because the soap made of coconut is excellent. The coconut soap foam is rich and soft. The very cheapest coconut fat available can be used for making soap. You don’t have to buy expensive extra Virgin quality. The soap mass is heated in the manufacturing process anyway, so the benefits of quality oil are lost there.
Special Oils in handmade soap
So called soft fats are very suitable to add to hard fats. You probably have noticed that soaps contain some almond oil, jojoba oil or Argan oil. These are expensive oils so the fat used in soap contains only 10-20 % of these oils. Expensive special oils are often waste of money in soap because most of them are converted to the sodium salt of fatty acids (=soap) during the saponification process. Then their fine features are lost. The saponification process generates high heat, which destroys the most sensitive fatty acids of the oils.
Of course, sensitive fats and oils can be added to the soap mass afterwards so they will not be exposed to the highest heat. There are also soap making techniques in where the heating of sensitive ingredients can be avoided.
Basic oils in handmade soap
Basic oils such as sunflower oil or safflower oil are also used to make soap. I find the use of basic oils in soap making good. They are inexpensive and modify the structure of the soap and the foam.
Soaps also contain waxes such as beeswax. Beeswax has many properties that benefit the skin. Some of the properties of beeswax are destroyed during saponification. So, it si good to add beeswax to your soap mass afterwards.
Clays in handmade soap
Clay is often added to shaving soaps as they make the foam more lubricate. Clay also has skin cleansing effects. Clay is able to absorb skin impurities. Clay is also a very drying agent. In addition to impurities, clay also removes moisture and grease from the skin. For oily skin, the clay soaps is the best.
Herbs and other plants in handmade soap
Herbs are rarely found in soaps other than as decoration. I think dried herbs would fit perfectly in the soap. They do not mind the heat. The active ingredients in the herbs would even benefit from heating. Herbs are slowly releasing their power while using soap. They also give a pleasant scent and a delicious look to the soap bar. Herb groats is also an effective peeling agent. All aromatic herbs such as thyme, rosemary and mint blend match perfectly with the handmade soap.
One of my favourite soaps is mandarin soap. It is made with Minced mandarin peels are added to the soap mass. Mandarin peels give the soap a very lovely scent. They are also antibacterial, so mandarin soap is a great kitchen soap for hand washing. You can use other citrus peel in soaps as well.
Honey in handmade soap
Honey soap is old friend to many of us. Honey is antibacterial and it moisturizes the skin. Honey cannot stand high temperatures. Therefore, it should only be added to the finished, slight cooled soap. Even then, some of its valuable nutrients are destroyed.
Milk in handmade soap
Some soaps contain milk. Goat milk soap in particular is very popular. Goat’s milk is very rich vitamins and minerals useful to skin care such as selenium, copper, iron and zinc. Minerals remain in the soap throughout the manufacturing process. They do not mind the heat at all. However, this is not the case with vitamins. Vitamin C is destroyed when heated. It is one of the most perishable vitamins. If someone claims there is vitamin C in the soap, we should be cautious. Vitamin C will be destroyed not only by heating but also by direct contact with air. Another vitamin that is destroyed when heated is vitamin E. Goat’s milk is rich in vitamin E but vitamin E is destroyed in soap making process.
Milk is also used in soaps because of its proteins. Milk proteins are said to disinfect the skin and fight acne. I have not found any research to support this claim, so I cannot back it up. Proteins can be useful in hair care. Sometimes our hair suffers from lack of protein and then the goat milk soap could help.
In addition to goat’s milk, soaps may also contain cow’s milk. Cow’s milk has the same properties as goat’s milk.
One of the most popular soaps in Asia is rice milk soap. Rice brightens the skin. It even has a mild whitening effect if you regularly use rice milk soap. Rice milk also moisturizes the skin and clears up the scars. Rice milk is very popular in Asia in all forms of beauty care. Rice is also used in fermented and powdered form and as an oil in Asian cosmetics. Like the other soap additives, the vitamins contained in rice milk do not survive the heating process. Traditional rice milk soap is always made by heating so there are no more vitamins left in the finished soap.
Black soap is a Ghanaian traditional soap. It is made from coconut fat and ash from the shells of cocoa beans. The black soap can be added to soap mass or used as a regular soap. For many, black soap suits well to many people. It is especially good for oily skin. The structure of black soap is soft mass to which you can add shea butter to soften the soap. Then it is also suitable for drier skin.
Salt is perhaps the most naturally suitable chemical to human skin. Sea and sea water are a very natural element for humans and our skin has often been exposed to sea water and salt over time. These are the most natural ingredients that you should definitely prefer in cosmetics. They are the least harmful to the skin. They also do not cause allergic reactions or hypersensitivity. At least I have never heard of salt allergy.
Salt soap is not a real soap but a soap-shaped piece made of rock salt. How to use salt soap is to rub salt using wet hands and then from hands to the skin. Salt soap can be replaced by sprinkling small amount of sea salt or rose salt to wet hands. Do not use ordinary table salt as it is purified from minerals and contains mainly only sodium. It also contains anti-caking agent and other chemicals.
Salt soap is antimicrobial
Therefore, it is worth trying salt to skin suffering of acne. Salt helps dead skin cells to peel off more easily. That’s why the skin feels and looks incredibly fresh and clean after washing with salt soap.
Salt can also be found among the ingredients of regular soap. Combined with regular soap, salt is a very effective skin cleanser. The combination of salt and soap is best for oily and normal skin. For aging and dry skin, the salt may be too drying.
Salted soap and actual salt soap can also be used as a deodorant. It inhibits the growth of bacteria on the skin.
Making handmade soap is easy and inexpensive
I have made some soaps myself as well. However, I am not a experienced master in soap making. Some make wonderful creations from soap and decorate them to look edible and delicious. I don’t have enough time for that. I just wanted to enlarge my knowledge and understand what soap making is all about. I actually purchased a how-to-make soap book and made few times soap following the instructions. Making soap is easy but please do not stress about the look of the soap. Ingredients are cheap and the process does not require any special equipment. I used empty milk cartons myself as moulds. Making soap is also cheap. As cheap as soap is correct definition.
How to store soap?
Soap bars will not get easily spoiled. One reason for this is its anhydrous nature. The soap does not contain any water, so it does not require any preservatives. When the soap becomes wet, it should be dried on an airy rack. You should never let the soap to stay long time in water. The soap holder must therefore be breathable. Just a grid or sponge are suitable beds for soap.
If you want a handy shower soap, get a soap on a rope. Just let it hung in the shower. You can drop regular soap into a small net bag and let it hang on the hook. This will allow your soap to dry before next use.
Do not store your soap too hot. All surfaces in sauna suffer from soap. 40 degrees is the highest temperature you can keep soap.
Where to buy high quality soap
I am also in favour of purchasing soaps from reliable manufacturers using only natural ingredients. There are nowadays many skilled soap makers everywhere who make their soap from natural ingredients without any unnecessary additives. We all are soap people and love cleanliness. So, we all should buy from reliable shops only. From online stores we can find many good soaps.