What is soap made of?


Quick Answer

The three basic ingredients of a typical soap are water, oil and an alkaline solution commonly referred to as lye. Oils that are used can be derived from vegetable or non-vegetable sources. Vegetable sources include rice, coconuts, ground nuts and castor oil plants. Non-vegetable sources include tallow and lard. Soaps also contain ingredients that add color or scent, but they aren't part of the chemical process of soap creation.

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What is soap made of?
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Full Answer

Two types of oil are used in soaps: base and specialty. Base oils include those derived from vegetable and non-vegetable sources, but not petroleum-based ones, which can’t be used during the soap-making process. Modern soaps normally use an oil blend of soy, olive and palm kernel oils. Specialty oils are used in addition to the base type; these include oils created from apricot, avocado, almond and jojoba seeds. Specialty oils also include butters such as mango, cocoa and shea butters.

Lye is a crucial ingredient because soaps are created through its interaction with oils. Lye comes in two types: sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide. The former is used in the creation of solid soaps, whereas the latter is used to make liquid ones. A combination of both leads to cream soaps.

A typical soap derives its scent from fragrance and plant-based essential oils. Fragrance oils are the result of combining aromatic chemical compounds. Pigments and mica are used to add color to a soap. Cinnamon, paprika and French green clay are examples of specialty ingredients that lend the soaps brown, orange and green color, respectively.

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