What is Commercial Soap?

When I first heard about making soap, I started to hear the bad talking about commercial soap.

Not wanting to look as if I was silly I didn’t fully understand what was meant by commercial soap but I also never asked what it was.

At any soap making class or forum you find out sooner or later what is meant by this term.

Although you think you may have an idea of what it is, its not until you start making your own handmade soaps that you will appreciate why its called Commercial Soap.

The term commercial soap refers mainly to soap made as cheaply as possible and as easily as possible as to minimize cost and maximize profits.

To do this most of the good stuff of traditional soap making is taken out and used for other products and then replaced with cheaper chemicals that simulate what those good ingredients do.

For example an byproduct of soap making is the production of glycerin, and glycerin is used in many other products including lipstick and lotions.

Unfortunately glycerin is an expensive product so taking from the soap making process and replacing it will decrease the cost to produce the soap and increase the profits by using the natural glycerin in other products.

From one product you get many.

Why is it called commercial Soap?

Commercial soap is soaps made for commercial use. Sounds simple enough but you have to understand the word commercial use. 

Lets look at a legal answer Commercial Use/Purpose is “the carriage of persons or property for any fare, fee, rate, charge or other consideration, or directly or indirectly in connection with any business, or other undertaking intended for profit”

Well that’s clear as mud, because isn’t it true that handmade soap makers also want to make a profit? Well now you see why I say its not so simple.

Although both company and person are out to make money, one is able to produce a product that simulates the other at a fraction of the cost.

This difference in production is where the name comes from, and why handmade soap can be considered Traditional Soap Making.

What is Soap?

To go even deeper lets look at what soap actually is.  The Dictionary explains what soap is as;

  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 different article on Soap give this explanation “Ordinary soap is made by combining fats or oils and an alkali, such as lye.

The fats and oils, which may be from animal, vegetable, or mineral sources, are degraded into free fatty acids, which then combine with the alkali to form crude soap. The lye reacts with the oils, turning what starts out as liquid into blocks of soap.

When made properly, no lye remains in the finished product. In the past, people commonly made their own soap using animal fats and lye that had been extracted from wood ashes.

Today there are very few true soaps on the market. Most body cleansers, both liquid and solid, are actually synthetic detergent products.

Detergent cleansers are popular because they make suds easily in water and don’t form gummy deposits. Some of these detergent products are actually marketed as “soap” but are not true soap according to the regulatory definition of the word.” read more here


So soap is not soap?

Technically NO. Not all soaps are actually soap but detergents. YIKES!!!!

“To meet the definition of soap in FDA’s regulations, a product has to meet three conditions:

  1. What it’s made of: To be regulated as “soap,” the product must be composed mainly of the “alkali salts of fatty acids,” that is, the material you get when you combine fats or oils with an alkali, such as lye.
  2. What ingredients cause its cleaning action: To be regulated as “soap,” those “alkali salts of fatty acids” must be the only material that results in the product’s cleaning action. If the product contains synthetic detergents, it’s a cosmetic, not a soap. You still can use the word “soap” on the label.
  3. How it’s intended to be used: To be regulated as soap, it must be labeled and marketed only for use as soap. If it is intended for purposes such as moisturizing the skin, making the user smell nice, or deodorizing the user’s body, it’s a cosmetic. Or, if the product is intended to treat or prevent disease, such as by killing germs, or treating skin conditions, such as acne or eczema, it’s a drug. You still can use the word “soap” on the label.” read more here

You can read more from the FDA here

When you take a look at the ingredients of your soap at home you will find out that the ingredients listed in your so called ‘soap’ are ingredients that actually fall under detergents.

  1. 1.
    a water-soluble cleansing agent which combines with impurities and dirt to make them more soluble, and differs from soap in not forming a scum with the salts in hard water.

When you look at both the definitions of Soap and Detergent you  will notice they are quite similar but at the same time very different. To wrap it up in a nut shell most of the bars you find in your grocery store with a price tag between 0.50 to 2.00 are all technically detergents much like the detergent you use to clean your clothing.

Bahamas Soap Maker

Rashad has been making soaps since the inception of Bahamas Candle and Soap in 2008. Since this time he has taught a number of students how make homemade soap using the melt and pour process or the cold process of soap making. His preference is cold process soap making because of the versatility you have in designing not only the ingredients but the aesthetics of the soap. Soap making became more than a hobby for Rashad and he loves trying new techniques and teaching others how they too can make their own soap at home.

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