What is soap?
Soap is the byproduct of a chemical reaction that occurs when you mix an alkaline like sodium hydroxide (lye) with vegetable or animal fat. This reaction is called saponification and the result is soap, excess fat or alkaline (depending on the recipe), water and glycerin.
How do you make soap?
You follow a recipe! I kid you not.
A set weight of lye at a certain concentration is added to a set weight of oils and butters. To determine how much lye to use, there is a saponification number for each vegetable and animal fat. This number is basically the amount of lye needed to completely neutralise them into soap with no lye left over – which is very important!
Once the lye is mixed into the oils, it is stirred until it emulsifies and thickens (“trace” is the term soapers use to describe this effect). At this point, any additional ingredients such as clays, herbs and essential oils are added in and given a stir to bring everything together. This batter is poured into a mould and left to set.
Now, saponification is an exothermic reaction, meaning it gives off heat so depending on preference, the mold is either insulated or cooled off. In general, saponification takes about 24-48 hours to complete; faster if more heat is added and slower if it is cooled.
When ready, the soap is removed from its mold, sliced and allowed to “cure” for 6 weeks before it is ready to use. Curing allows the soap to complete saponification as well as for the soap to harden (through loss of water). Less water in soap equals longer lasting bars!
Isn’t sodium hydroxide is a chemical? So how can your soap still be 100% natural?
Just like how a baker uses baking powder and baking soda in a cake, soap needs sodium hydroxide to become what it is. If the recipe used is well-formulated, there are no traces of sodium hydroxide left and what you get is saponified vegetable and animal fats. It is just like how you do not eat baking powder in a finished baked product like cakes and cookies. What comes out of the oven is not cake and baking powder but just cake.
But wait, your soap bubbles up well so you must use a chemical, right?
In commercial soaps, bubbles are obtained from using a variety of ingredients like sodium isethionate, sodium laureth/lauryl suflate and ammonium lauryl sulfate. These are called surfactants and are inexpensive.
In cold process soaps, we rely solely on a group of fatty acids to give two types of bubbles – big, loose bubbles and creamy, compact bubbles. These fatty acids – lauric, myristic, palmitic, stearic and ricinoleic – can be found individual or together in certain oils. Coconut oil, babassu oil and palm kernel oil have high “bubbly” bubble properties whereas palm oil, mango butter and cocoa butter have “creamy” bubble properties. Castor oil is a popular choice as a bubble & foam booster because of its unique fatty acid make-up.
A good combination of these oils and one very important factor which is time will result in awesome bubbles without the use of chemicals or foaming agents!
Hm, why are your soaps more expensive than commercial soaps?
Small scale production such as handmade cold process soaps are artisanal quality. We bring in quality ingredients in small quantities and make everything by hand unlike a large scale commercial factory where cheap chemicals are used, oils bought by the drums and large machinery is on hand to do everything from weighing to mixing and packing.
Also, the ingredients used is an important factor; to compare, here is a look at the ingredients of a typical commercial bar of soap:
Aqua, Etidronic Acid, Glycerin, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Tallowate, Tetrasodium EDTA
(Water, a chelating agent which removes soap scum and mineral deposits from hard water, glycerin, salt (to help bind and harden soap), coconut oil, palm kernel oil, tallow (beef fat), another chelating agent and alleged a preservative – note that sodium hydroxide is missing because what is listed above are saponified fats/oils)
Here’s a look at the ingredients of our popular Calendula & Chamomile 75% Olive Oil Soap:
Sodium Olivate (Olive Oil), Water, Sodium Cocoate (Coconut Oil), Sodium Mango Butterate (Mango Butter), Ground Calendula & Chamomile Petals, Rosemary Oleoresin, Vitamin E.
Both rosemary oleoresin and Vitamin E (which are natural extracts) are antioxidants to help prolong the shelf life of the soap. They are NOT preservatives.
We also use expensive ingredients such as avocado oil, shea butter, cocoa butter and apricot kernel oil in our soaps. One major thing to remember is that certain oils have a shorter shelf-life, making them expensive in the long run to store and use in soaps.
You can find out more about commercial soaps and the purpose of each ingredient here : http://www.hknaturalsoap.com/Pages/CommercialSoaps.aspx
So how come you don’t use a preservative for your soap?
Soap is an alkaline and this is enough to keep organisms from making a nice home in our soaps. If a soap has a pH value that is low enough to encourage bacterial and mold growth, then preservatives are necessary. This means that the soap will have two additional items – pH lowering agent and a preservative which can cause irritant for some people. We prefer to keep our soaps as they are – soap, glycerin and water.
What is the lifespan of your soaps?
Our soaps have a best before date which is one year from the time it finishes curing. This means that the soap is at its optimum condition for the first year. After which, you can still use the bar but the colour could be different, or the scent wouldn’t be as strong as before. I have used soaps that are two years old and more – the smell isn’t quite there but it still lathers and cleans wonderfully.
To prolong the shelf life of your soaps, when you receive them, remove all plastic packaging (for soaps that are completely sealed) or from its box/bag/paper packaging and keep them in an airy, well-ventilated room away from heat and sunlight. Because of our tropical weather, high humidity may result in sweaty soaps. This is normal – the beads of “sweat” are actually glycerin in the soap and it is a good sign that the soap is a moisturising one!
For soaps that are currently in use, place these soaps after each use in a well-draining dish and use a bubble/soap bag to help with lather formation and use. A single full bar of soap can last about 3-6 weeks for my family; about 4 weeks for the shaped kids’ soap.
Will I get an allergic reaction if I use your soap?
Allergies are a funny thing – some people may be allergic to one thing while others are okay with it. Even though I use all natural ingredients, it doesn’t mean it’s allergen-safe (I don’t think there is any product in this world that is 100% allergen-safe). People who are allergic to nuts (in general) should avoid ingredients made from nuts such as sweet almond oil, macadamia nut oil and so forth.
All soaps have a complete ingredients list and should you experience discomfort of any sort (rash, itchies, etc) at any time of usage, please discontinue use and seek your doctor’s attention as soon as possible!
And if I have more questions?
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’ll be happy to help you in any way that I can!