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  • Writer's picturePauline Susman

How is Soap Made? … One Word – Saponification

Hmmm…have you ever wondered how soap is made?  I mean, have you ever wondered what soap actually consists of? How is one of our most basic commodities actually created? We have been using soap since infancy, yet most of us have never considered this question.

“So, how is soap made and where do we get this important salt from?”


Soap is a Salt from a Complex Chemical Reaction

(Pretty interesting…who would have thought that soap is a SALT!)

Soap is created using a chemical process called saponification. In simple terms, saponification is the name for a chemical reaction between an acid and a base to form a salt.  When soap is crafted oil or or fat (acid) is mixed with lye (base) to form soap (salt). When this happens glycerine is released – the moisturizing component of the soap.

DID YOU KNOW... In most conventional soaps, glycerine is removed and sold separately causing the soap to become drying rather than moisturizing.

Soapmaking in Days Gone By

Soap making was part of the daily household routine at the beginning of the 20th century. Grandma would mix beef or pork fat and ashes from her cooking fires to make kettle soap. Though grandma could cook, her weighing and measuring techniques were probably by taste. Her knowledge of soap chemistry was developed by trial and error. Because of this, soap got a bad name because it was often created with an excessive amount of caustic lye.

Over time the measuring techniques were refined and modernized allowing less chance of a lye heavy soap. Two distinct soap making methods emerged; cold process and hot process. In both methods, oil and fat is mixed with lye and water to create the soap.  Despite this they use different ways to get there.  In Cold Process the natural heat from the chemical reaction between the lye and oils is used.  Hot Process involves adding an external heat source to speed up the saponification.

So then tell me... how is soap made?

making soap in a mould