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Factory Soap Production

Selling your handcrafted soaps to the public at a craft show can be a rewarding experience , both financially and artistically. You get to show off your creativity and see others admire the beauty of what you have created.

But what about when your customers not only admire your product but want to know more about it? What about when they like your handcrafted soap but question why they should spend $5 or more for a bar of handcrafted soap when "the soap in the supermarket sells for way less than that!" What are the benefits of handcrafted soap over mass produced, factory-made soap, and how can you convey those benefits to your more skeptical customers?

A big part of the answer lies in understanding how "factory soap" is made, and what is removed from it that remains behind in your fine, handcrafted soaps. Handcrafted soaps are traditionally made using fats and oils which are saponified in batches. The most widely used soapmaking process is the saponification of fats and oils by heating them and having them react with a liquid alkali to produce soap and water (neat soap), plus naturally-occurring glycerine. When the alkali used is sodium hydroxide, the end result is a hard "bar" soap. When the alkali is potassium hydroxide, a softer soap like liquid hand soap or shaving cream is generally formed.

Factory-produced soaps can also be produced either in batches or as one continuous process. Both methods produce a soap in liquid form, called neat soap, and naturally-occurring glycerine. This glycerine is a clear, moisturizing ingredient, which can also be used in foods, cosmetics, drugs and many other products. Because it is more valuable to use it in other products than to allow it to remain in the soap, it is generally recovered from the soap through chemical means and added to the other products.

After the glycerine is removed and the saponification is over, the soap is then dried by vacuum soap drying, which converts the soap into dry pellets. The dry pellets are passed through a bar soap finishing line. First they go through a mixer (the amalgamator) which blends them together with fragrance, colorants and other ingredients.

Then the resulting mixture is refined through rolling mills and refining plodders until it is thoroughly blended and has a uniform texture and color. After this, it is continuously extruded from the plodder, which then cuts it into bar-size units and stamps its final shape with a soap press.

Some of these resulting bar soaps are called "combo bars" because they take their cleansing action from a combination of actual soap (saponified fats and oils) and synthetic surfactants. Other bars, called "syndet bars", feature entirely synthetic detergents as their primary cleansing ingredients.

The processing that commercial soap , beauty bars, cleansing bars and the like undergo is very different from traditional soapmaking methods. The end result is also different, not in small part due to the fact that commercial soaps, combo bars, syndet bars and other cleansing bars have had their glycerine (a primary moisturizing ingredient) removed for use in other products. All natural homemade soap like many crafters make at home and sell at craft fairs retain all of their ingredients, including the moisturizing naturally-occurring glycerine, and they undergo less processing than commercially produced products. This is an important advantage of homemade soap which it helps to explain to customers who express confusion and/or skepticism about how and why your soap differs from the product in the grocery store .

Source: SDA, The Soap and Detergent Association, Washington DC, 2015.

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