Some of the earliest recorded uses of soap tell us that Ancient Babylonians produced cleansers using animal fats, oils, wood ash, and fragrant extracts.

Many nations followed suit producing their own versions of soapy products, however the basic recipe remained the same:


FAT/OIL + dissolved WOOD ASH = SOAP


Adding a strong base to a fat or oil jumpstarts a chemical reaction called SAPONIFICATION - the making of soap! Wouldn't it would be interesting to know the story behind that ancient discovery?

Wood ash is alkali or basic (meaning higher than 7 on the pH scale) and has a pH range of 9-11.

Why a range?

The concentration of alkali depends on your starting material (wood) and how hot your fire was to make the ash ... a factor that's a little difficult to control. Making a base from wood ash is not an exact science - and as a result, soap making in those days could be an unpleasant surprise.

If your wood ash wasn't basic enough your soap would be a goopy mess, and if your ash was too strong, burning skin for everyone! 


So, yeah. Soap had a bad rep.


Fortunately, we isolated the active agent in wood ash and determined that it was sodium hydroxide - better known as LYE.

We can now very accurately determine how much lye we need to convert our oils into soap. 

So why then is not all soap, SOAP?

  1. 1.
    a substance used with water for washing and cleaning, made of a compound of natural oils or fats with sodium hydroxide or another strong alkali, and typically having perfume and colouring added.
    "a bar of soap"
Oil/Fat + LYE solution = SOAP 
Therefore, No LYE? No soap!


Typically, we call anything we use to wash "soap", however, many commercially available products are not soap at all, and are therefore prohibited from using the protected "SOAP" descriptor on the label.

In these products, detergents and surfactants duplicate the cleansing and sudsing effect naturally produced in a real soap while petroleum derivatives and fillers are often used in bars rather than natural butters and oils. For some, this may result in chronic dry skin or other allergic reactions.


These "soaps" are in fact, detergents.


Take a look!

The next time you're in the supermarket, skip past all the fancy marketing claims on that beauty bar and locate the list of ingredients.

What you find may surprise you.






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