Image courtesy of All Saints Regional Catholic High School
I tend to have a one-track mind. Because I make soap and have befriended a lot of soap makers and soap buyers, I expect everyone to know what I'm talking about when I use soap making terms like "trace", "superfat", and "seize". But not everyone does-not even some newbie soap makers. We have to remember that when we're communicating to our customers and potential customers, we have to speak in layman's terms, but that doesn't always happen. I can't tell you how many shop announcements or soap descriptions I've read that contain a lot of soap speak. I know what they're talking about, but does the average online shopper looking to buy some handmade soap know what you're talking about if you tell them all your soaps are 5% superfatted and cure for a minimum of 6 weeks? You mean the soap is sick before you sell it? WTF?!
So, I've decided to create a little glossary for you to familiarize yourself with a few terms you may run across when you're buying soap. This in no ways cover it all, but here are a few basics:
The Main Types of Soap Making
- Cold process or CP: A method of making soap without utilizing any external heat source
- Hot process or HP: A method of making soap utilizing an external heat source (such as an oven or a crock pot) to speed up the saponification process
- Cold process/Oven Process or CPOP: A method of making soap by preparing it the cold process way then putting it into a warm oven (generally 175 deg or less) for an hour to accelerate the saponification process
- MP/M&P: A method of making soap utilizing a pre-made soap base by cutting and melting it down then pouring it into a mold
Common Soap Making Terms
- Saponification: The actual process of soap being formed by combining a base (your fats, that is oils and butters) with an alkali (your sodium or potassium hydroxide) to produce soap (your hardened fats and glycerin)
- Superfat: The un-saponified or "leftover" fats that remain in your soap once the saponification process is complete. Many CP or HP soaps are superfatted to retain some of the moisturizing properties of the fats used to make the soap.
- Cure: The period of time between making the soap and the soap actually being ready for use or sale. You will commonly see that many soap makers allow their soaps to cure for 4-6 weeks. This allows for all of the water to finish drying out of the soap thus making the bar harder, and to also increase mildness. Cure times vary depending on the method of soap making used. For HP and CPOP, the cure time is much shorter, often being ready to use in 3 weeks or less. There is no cure time for MP soap because there are no caustics (lyes) or added water involved.
Miscellaneous, But Good To Know
- Surfactant: A detergent-often used in commercial "soap" bars to increase lather (such as sodium lauryth sulfate)
- INCI: The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients-the scientific naming of ingredients other than the English equivalent. All soaps labeled in the US should contain the INCI names.