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what is real soap?

the science

The Saponification Process

Saponification is the process in which triglycerides are combined with a strong base to form fatty acid salts during the soap-making process. Real Soap requires three ingredients to become soap: oil (animal or vegetable oil), water and lye. These three ingredients, when mixed together in accurate measurements chemically change into soap - this process is called "saponification". A precise recipe is necessary, in order to ensure that the right amount of lye is used for the specific amount of oils selected. A lye calculator can be used to calculate the right amount of lye, although it can also be calculated based on the type and quantity of oils being used.

The solid lye has to be mixed with water to dissolve it. The amount of water depends on the particular recipe but is usually 1 1/2 to 3 times the amount of lye, based on weight. When the lye is added to the water the solution begins to heat up. When making real soap, it is important to note that lye is extremely caustic and can cause severe burns if it comes in contact with skin for more than a few seconds. Proper protective gear, including at least gloves and goggles, should be used when handling lye or incomplete soap.

Other ingredients such a essential oils, natural or synthetic colorants, synthetic fragrance and clays are sometimes added to provide additional benefits, but these are not part of the process that makes real soap.

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The Cold Process

Method of Making Soap

"Cold process" refers to the fact that no heat is used during the soap making process. The lye provides the heat and the solution is normally cooled to room temperature before it is added to the oils. The oils are then heated as necessary to melt any solid fats or butters and generally cooled to between 80° - 110° F, depending on the recipe.

Once the lye solution and oils are at the proper temperature, they are combined together and mixed. As mixing continues, the mixture will gradually thicken or come to what is known as "trace". It will also get warmer, sometimes quite hot, depending on the starting temperature and the formulation. This is the chemical reaction (saponification) of the oils and lye becoming soap. Once the mixture has reached "trace" (the point at which mixture dribbled from a spoon will leave a brief trace on the surface), any other ingredients such as scent, color, herbs, clays, etc. are added to the soap and thoroughly mixed.


At that point, the soap is ready to be poured into molds. The entire batch can be poured into one mold, to be cut into individual bars after it solidifies, or the soap can be poured into individual molds, depending on the preference of the soap maker and the formulation. Once the soap is in the mold, it is left to cool and finish the saponification process. The process typically takes anywhere from 24 - 48 hours. Often it is insulated in the mold by covering it with a towel or lid.  Insulation will slow the cooling process and increase the saponification time. Once the soap is completely cool and solid, it can be taken out of the mold. If it was poured into one mold, this is the time to cut it into bars. The soap will be solid, but should be soft enough to cut.

Once the soap has been cut, the final stage is to cure the soap for up to 8 weeks to allow the excess water to evaporate out. The length of time will depend on the amount of water used in the soap recipe, as well as the temperature, relative humidity and air circulation where they are located. The longer the water is allowed to evaporate out of the soap, the harder the soap will be and the longer it will last. 

Real Soap

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “True Soap”, must be made from a fat mixed with lye.  That’s why you see many so called soaps labeled as beauty bars or moisturizing bars, or given some cute name that reflects lavender fields or rose gardens. Most of the so called “soap bars” that are purchased at our local grocer or at our neighborhood convenience store are not real soap at all.  The FDA classifies them as detergent. Store bought, mass produced bars are made with a mixture of chemicals, additives, synthetic fragrances and harsh detergents. 

Manufacturers sometimes make the soap, then remove the most important ingredient - glycerin. Real soap naturally produces glycerin. Once the glycerin is removed, manufacturers replace the glycerin with chemicals, synthetic fragrances and harsh detergents that are on the level of dish liquid and laundry detergent. These harsh chemicals can create negative reactions on our skin, as well as in our bodies. 


Earth & Ash uses the Cold Process Method of making soap.  Our soap bars are made with all-natural ingredients such as olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter, castor oil, water, essential oils, botanicals and natural additives.  Our passion is to bring you quality products that are good for your skin and products that you can feel good about purchasing for your entire family. That's the Earth & Ash standard!

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