Unless you are a chemist or someone interested in soap-making, knowing how to craft a bar of soap is something that would not cross your mind. Like most household items that have been around ever since we were born, we take soap for granted.
Yet, soap keeps our bodies, living spaces, and workplaces clean. Without it, we would probably be ill!
So, what is soap made of? Though it is typical to find long lists of oils, fruit extracts, and chemicals on soap product labels, the three main ingredients are water, lye, and oil or fat.
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What Is Soap?
We know that soaps can wash away germs and grimes on our bodies and different surfaces. In turn, this helps us prevent diseases. Plus, it also makes everything smell more pleasant.
As shared on this Wikipedia page, soap is an indispensable product in various settings. Even industrial environments can benefit from soaps. Besides using them as a thickening agent, they can serve as lubricants and precursors to catalysts.
Understanding the different types of soap is a great way to start your soap-making journey. In this way, you can determine the kind of soap you want to make.
With that, let me share the different types of soaps according to Chemistry School:
1. Toilet soap
Toilet soaps refer to personal and household cleaning products that are categorized further as skincare, laundry, dish, and medicated soaps.
Some examples include laundry detergent, hand soap, facial wash, and dish soap.
Toilet soaps are also classified according to their Total Fatty Matter (TFM) content. Higher TFM equates to higher efficiency in cleaning.
If you are curious about the TFM rating of a typical product you see in soap commercials, I recommend checking this long list on Home Expert.
2. Non-toilet soap
Also known as “lithium soaps,” non-toilet soaps contain the lithium salt of a fatty acid. They are reliable for tough grease and stains.
As explained in the Styles at Life article, lithium soaps can also be used as lubricants in greases and thickeners.
3. Glycerin soap
Referring to this definition on Healthline, glycerin or “glycerol” is a natural compound that comes from vegetable oil or animal fat.
If you are wondering what are soaps made of today, this would be it. What’s more, it is a key ingredient in many commercial lotions and moisturizers.
Different Varieties of Soap
1. Soap bar
Bar soaps often come in various shapes and sizes. Some of them are quite literally a bar, while many are square or oval.
2. Liquid soap
Liquid soap has more or less the same formula and purpose, except it is in a liquid form. This article on Insider says that liquid and bar soaps are equally effective in getting rid of dirt and microorganisms.
This comes in handy since cleaning products like dishwashing and laundry detergents can simply be poured into detergent drawers.
In terms of personal hygiene, liquid hand soaps ensure that germs do not spread from one person to another. As such, it is most useful In public toilets or in homes where many family members share bathrooms.
3. Soap powder
Among all types of soaps, it seems like only laundry detergents are available in powder form. Reader’s Digest explains that powder lasts longer and is cheaper. Plus, it cleans heavily soiled clothes a lot better.
Fortunately, you don’t always need to go to a chemistry supplies shop to get the ingredients to craft your homemade soap.
For that, let’s take a look at each key ingredient in most bar soap:
1. Oil or fat
By now, you already know the answer to the question, “Is soap made from fat?”
This article on Our Everyday Life specifically says that a bar soap made of solid fats tends to be harder. Meanwhile, soap made from oil is softer.
On that note, a bar of plant-based soap does not contain animal fats like lanolin, tallow, or lard. Instead, soapmakers use olive oil, almond oil, or coconut oil. You can find these ingredients in groceries or online shops.
Lye is a strong alkaline that can turn fats or oils into soap through a process called saponification. This article on The Spruce Crafts explains that the process is about 24 to 48 hours long.
However, you can speed things up by adding heat. Alternatively, you can slow it down by keeping it cool.
Just a heads up, lye can be harmful to your skin, eyes, and respiratory system. Thankfully, once the soap is formed, it will no longer contain lye.
If you are wondering how much lye you need, you can check this lye calculator on Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild’s website.
In figuring out the best soap ingredients, the water you use can make or break your concoction.
To start the saponification, you need water to dissolve the lye so that it can react with the oils. As it cures, the water evaporates, leaving a hard long-lasting soap bar.
Still, not all kinds of water are suitable for soapmaking. Most soapmaking experts recommend distilled water. When you’re making your first batch of soap, procuring distilled water can cost extra money, or time if you decide to do it on your own.
Although tap water can be used for soap making, keep in mind that the quality varies depending on where you live. Some locations have hard water.
As this article on Soap Authority points out, the contaminants and minerals in some of the tap water can lower the quality of your soap. To be fair, it will still be safe to use.
4. Natural vs. synthetic ingredients
It is not uncommon to see a body or facial wash packaging with a label saying “natural soap.” In the beauty industry, all-organic ingredients have been the craze while synthetic ones are demonized.
However, this article from Glamour Magazine argues that just because the brand claims to be organic does not mean that it is 100% good for you. Likewise, not all synthetic products are bad.
What matters, in the end, is that the product works for you!
At the start of the pandemic, many of us spent more time at home, which got us to explore new hobbies. It is no surprise that some began soapmaking and asked what is soap made of. After all, this can be quite a good business opportunity!
Besides answering the question, I also discussed the different types of soap and their different forms. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of what kind of soap you can tackle in your next project.