Being a basic household item, soap is often taken for granted, and until I started making it I never asked myself where it actually came from. While I didn’t exactly think that it grew on trees, I used to be somewhat vague on how soap is made and what goes into it.

Despite a huge surge of interest in handmade soap in recent years, many people  are still none the wiser about the actual process of soap making. So what exactly is it and how is it created? The answer might surprise you: soap is a salt. Not the kind that you find in your salt shaker, but still a salt – well, at least chemically speaking. Soap is made when fats react with alcali and undergo a radical transformation from grease to something you can clean things with. This reaction is called saponification, and the process has been around for thousands of years, helping people be cleaner and smell better one bar of soap at a time.

how soap is made

Taking the soap out of its form

While the reaction itself is very simple – fatty acids reacting with alcali – the actual qualities of the end product will vary wildly depending on what kind of fats and oils were used, as well as what kind of base. The traditional hard bar soap is made with sodium hydroxide, also known as lye; and liquid soap is made with potassium hydroxide. Many people think that lye is a dangerous chemical – and it is!!! – and I’ve been asked on several occasions to make a special, super mild, bar of soap without lye. That, of course, would be impossible to achieve! Some form of alcali is absolutely necessary, simply because without it there would be no saponification taking place. I would like to reassure anyone who is concerned about the use of lye in soap making: there is absolutely no lye that will burn your skin in the finished product. Once the oils and lye are mixed, the mixture starts heating up and eventually hardening. Using the traditional cold process, no additional heat is used to speed up the process of converting this mixture into soap, making it as eco friendly as possible. I usually wait for about 24 hours before taking the soap out of its forms and cutting it into individual bars, which then sit and cure out excess water for about four weeks before hitting the virtual shelves.

how soap is made

Cutting freshly made soap into individual bars

If you pick up a bar of Ravenscourt Apothecary soap, you’ll notice that it is made with real skin-loving ingredients like shea butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil. It will never contain any palm oil, synthetics and animal products.If you’ve ever tried handmade soap – by us or another artisan – did you notice any difference to your skin? How was your experience?

soap packaging

Every bar of Ravenscourt Apothecary soap is decorated with a classic red wax seal