How is Soap Made?

May 10, 2022

lady making natural soap by hand in kitchen

Soap is made through a process called saponification. Saponification is the blending of oils or fats with an alkali (such as sodium hydroxide aka lye) and water to produce a salt of a fatty acid.

Once soap has been made, it is a completely different chemical structure than the sum of its individual ingredients. But have you ever wondered how it's made?

Looking for old-fashioned, made the way your great-grandma used to, soap? Check out these 100% natural, handmade soaps.

How is Soap Made?

Oils and fats are melted and heated to around 100-120°F

The sodium hydroxide (lye) is carefully mixed into water and allowed to cool until about 80-100°F.

The lye/water is then poured into the bowl with the warmed oils and blended until the now-combined liquid begins the first stage of saponification phase called trace.

In this semi-liquid state, the soap maker can choose to add scents, colorants, herbs or clays.

lady trimming natural bar soap in kitchen

The soap is then poured into a mold and remains undisturbed for 24-48 hours to saponify. During this saponification process, the soap liquid heats up to extreme temperatures, typically going through what is called “gel-phase”.

Once this phase is complete, the soap slowly starts to dissipate heat until totally cooled. The saponification process is then considered complete.

Finally, the soap, now firm, is removed from the mold, cut into bar shapes, and allowed to air dry or “cure” for 4-8 weeks.

The longer the soap cures, the more water evaporates from the bar making the soap firmer, longer-lasting, and extra bubbly!

After the full cure time, the soap is then ready to use.

woman cutting natural soap bars

Can you make soap without lye?

Nope! Not solid bar soap. Sodium hydroxide (lye) is a required component of the soap making process and is absolutely mandatory.

Even the pre-made soap base used by "glycerin" soap makers who do not use lye, has been pre-processed using lye.

Is Soap Made the Same as Back in the Day?

Traditional soap making differed a bit from today's modern soap making, mostly because soap makers also had to produce their own lye, which was notoriously unreliable in strength.

This form of lye (known as potash) was produced by leaching water through layers of wood ash to produce a caustic liquid.

This liquid was then blended with the rendered fat from kitchen trimmings and the suet from butchering the household cow, pig or sheep. This "old school" soap was usually semi-soft and very drying to the skin.

The problem with this method was inconsistency. At times, the lye was too harsh and made soap that could burn the skin. At other times, the lye wasn't strong enough which made soap that was oily and semi-liquid.

The good news is that in today’s market, lye is extremely reliable and produces a consistent solid bar soap every time.

Some soap makers, like us, use food-grade lye to ensure the highest quality, consistent, bar of soap on the market.

woman stamping natural bar of soap

Typical Ingredients Used to Make Soap

The following list highlights just a few of the main ingredients found in a typical, natural bar of soap:

  • beef tallow
  • lard
  • palm oil
  • olive oil
  • corn oil
  • coconut oil
  • castor oil
  • shea butter
  • essential oil
  • vitamin e oil
  • clay
  • herbs
  • glycerin

Not All Soaps Are Created Equal

Read ingredients! Many store-bought soaps are made with ingredients that can irritate the skin or worse. Avoid parabens, synthetic colorants, artificial fragrances, and preservative to avoid skin irritation.

Nefertem Handmade Soaps

Made with 100% natural ingredients and good vibes, Nefertem soaps treat your skin with love and intention.

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