Making Soap 

Basic soap is made from lye, oils or fats (animal or vegetable) and water.

When these three are mixed together a chemical process called saponification takes place. The end result is soap

In the olden days soap makers used lye obtained from wood ashes. Find out how, here.

Modern day soap makers use Sodium hydroxide (NaOH), also known as lye and caustic soda. This is made from salt and is very caustic See how that is made here.


In the olden days making soap was a labour intensive process. There were plenty of animal fats but making lye took forever. And it wasn’t very reliable. Then in 1791 French chemist Le Blanc discovered how to make Soda Ash from salt. Soap got much easier and cheaper to make and the great unwashed could finally afford a bar in every home.

How does it work

Alkaline & Organic Soils

Soap is alkaline which means it will work well  with organic soils ( dirt). Alkaline emulsify grease.  Fatty acids are normally insoluble which is why they cannot be cleaned using water alone. The alkaline breaks down fat making them dispersable in water. Read more here

Soap & Germs

But folk were not just cleaner but safer too. Soap does actually kills germs but it does a good job of physically removing them. 

Whats in YOUR soap
Here are some of the things you might find in your soap.

Sodium tallowate  is from animal fat usually from cows.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (commonly known as SLS)  and Sodium laureth sulphate and sodium laurel sulphate also attract dirt so work in the same way as soap but they create more lather. This is the main reason they are added – to create lots of lovely lather.  They are a known skin irritant. Internet claims that they cause cancer are unproven.

Synthetic fragrance  – which may contain DEO a phthalate used as a solvent and fixative. Despite the general bad press about phthalates this one is considered safe.

Palm Oil and Palm Kernel Oil (PKO) are used in soap making  because they make the soap more bubbly and result in a harder bar. Palm oil –  comes from Malaysia and Indonesia. They have cut down hundreds of acres of rainforest to make way for huge plantations of palm oil. This has impacted adversely on the habitat of the orangutang  a now endangered species. You can find out more about it and why we minimise our use of palm oil, here .

Other considerations when buying soap might include does the company still do animal testing.

Is it a British company.

Soap Formats

Soap comes in various forms which in my experience are often interchangeable.

Bar Soap – hard. Everything from luxury cosmetic soaps to the increasingly rare dish wash bar.
Soap Flakes – thin slivers of soap that dissolve more easily
Liquid soap such as body wash, shampoo or washing up liquid.
Soap powders mostly for dishwashers and washing machines.


You can make your own. Read this from Jen of Make Do And Mend Life

Here are some recipes for making Castille Soap

Why This Post Is ….

A little bit rubbish. You are reading a work in progress. Here’s how the blog is written and why we post half cocked.

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One thought on “Soap

  1. Wish more people would realise the benefits of buying loose soap for both them as customers and the environment, these are some vegan cruelty free soap suggestions, can be purchased loose or in paper bags: ; ; ; and

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