What ingredients are used to make soap?

It occurred to me recently that most people probably have no idea what ingredients are used to make soap. Or how readily available they are.

Perfect blog material so here goes.

Soap is made by mixing natural butters and/or oils. (Vegetable or animal based can be used). Water and Sodium Hydroxide also known as lye.

When these are all mixed together a chemical reaction called saponification occurs and when that reaction is complete you will have soap.

What kind of soap you have however depends, to a degree on what butters and oils you use and this is where the variables come in. 

So, the simple answer is, for a very basic soap you need oils, water and sodium hydroxide. You can add essential or fragrance oils for scent and other ingredients for colours if you fancy being creative but these are all optional.

So what butters and oils should you use. I am firmly of the opinion that keeping it simple, especially in the early days, is key. For that reason the recipe I use in my soap making workshops uses just 3 , olive oil for mildness, cocoa butter for skin care and to add hardness to the bar, and coconut oil for big bubbles and deep cleaning. These are all readily available, not too expensive and I like to remain palm free in my soap making. I use this recipe for all my teaching whether in person, in the EBook or for the on line video courses.

The options however are endless and the internet is littered with recipes ranging from basic to exotic so the sky really is the limit. If you needed a very mild gentle bar of soap for example, you would use a recipe that is high in olive oil. A deep cleaning gardeners or mechanics soap would ideally be higher in coconut oil which is great for lifting the dirt but could be too cleansing for a baby's delicate skin.

The Soap Coach

I am UK based and buy the bulk of my ingredients from The Soap Kitchen however there is nothing at all to prevent you using oils purchased from supermarkets or online providing they are pure and not mixed with other oils - this would pose a problem as your recipe would not work properly and may end up lye heavy which would mean your soap is caustic and could burn you. 

Lye is readily available from many hardware stores but you do need to endure it is good quality 100% sodium hydroxide and not blended with anything else.

So in a nutshell.

Soap = water + oils + sodium hydroxide. Simples!

Comments (2 Responses)

27 April, 2021

The Soap Coach

Hi Julie, The Soap Kitchen are a UK based company but their postage is not the cheapest I agree and has infact gone up a lot this past year. Re fragrances – you need to make sure it is suitable for cold process soap making as not all are. I have a couple of blogs you may find interesting, one covers where to buy ingredients in the UK and the other is about selling soap. If you do a quick search they should come up. There are a lot of hoops you need to jump through before selling unfortunately.

27 April, 2021

Julie Reed

Hi and thanks for all the valuable information that you share. I am nee to soap making and want to make it to give as gifts with a view to developing it into a small personal busy. I’m 54 an ex nurse and keen to get creative now I have a little more time to myself. I have bought a few things from Amazon, but I’m keen to sores natural products to buy in the uk. With that in mind I bought some banana fragrance, which I thought was banana ‘flavour’ from The Soap Kitchen. So first I was disappointed I’d ordered the wrong product 🙃 and secondly when I was placing the order the final amount came to about £7 then after I had processed the payment a further £7 was added for shipping, as if it was coming from the US. But it arrived the next day. Could you shed any light on this, as I’m keen to get going and would like to use them for my base products.
Many thanks Julie 🙂

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