Candle & Soap Company

Soap Is Made Of…

Lipids & Oils.

Water, Heat, & Lye.

Soap is made of three basic ingredients.  There is water, generally, but it is not totally necessary. The other two ingredients are essential.  Those are a lipid (fat) and an alkali (lye.)  

“Saponification” is a form of magic that transforms yucky animal or vegetable fat into refreshing soap.  That’s not entirely accurate. Lye is also needed.  There is a really nerdy explanation that seems more scientific than magic.  If you want the actual chemistry, please go here.

So what is “lye.”  If you want to be technical, lye is an alkali.  I’m not sure what that means, but I do know how to produce it.  If I take the ashes from my wood stove, and pour water through them, what leaks out the bottom is water and potassium hydroxide.  This is a form of lye.

Obviously, modern commercial soaps are not made using that type of lye.  The whole wood ash and water thing is more of a primitive pioneer thing.  Commercially produced soaps are generally made using sodium hydroxide, which is way more nerdy, and has to do with chemistry and stuff.  Also, lye is dangerous. Never mess with it, unless you know how.

The reason that water is not totally necessary, is because most lipids (fats) contain enough water to implement the chemical reaction that produces soap from the fat and lye. That chemical reaction is referred to as “saponification.”

Now that we know everything there is to know about lye, let’s move on to the less dangerous/more icky part of soap: lipids.  

Lipids are more commonly known as fats, or oils.  Vegetable oils & shortenings, and also animal fats are lipids.  All of these substances can be made into soap.

One can imagine that the first soaps were probably made of animal fats.  Early humans would have come across this phenomenon, most likely, by accident.  Animal fats are still the most commonly used raw material for commercially made soaps.

Any kind of animal fat can be used, but the primary contributors are cows and pigs. This is because we tend to eat a lot of those guys, and they are really fat.

Soap can also be made using vegetable fat. Some folks think that these are called oils, and they would be right.  Fats and oils are basically two different states of the same thing.  They are all lipids.

Olive oil is a popular ingredient for soap, as are coconut and palm oils.  Crisco, vegetable oil, corn oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and any other type of vegetable fat can also be used to make soap.

There are no other ingredients needed to make soap.  Fat & lye is all it takes.  There is a little subtlety to the process, but that is another story.