Soap Glossary: Understanding Common Soapmaking Terms
Updated: Nov 7
If you're new to the world of soapmaking or just looking to expand your soap-related knowledge, this glossary will help you navigate the terminology used in this craft.
1. Saponification: The chemical reaction that occurs when lye (sodium hydroxide) is mixed with fats or oils to create soap. During saponification, the lye and fats combine to form soap and glycerin.
2. Cold Process (CP) Soap: Cold process soap is a method of making soap from scratch by mixing oils and fats with lye, which undergoes a chemical reaction called saponification. The process does not involve external heat sources.
3. Hot Process (HP) Soap: A method of soapmaking where the lye and oils are heated and cooked, accelerating the saponification process. HP soap can be used more quickly than CP soap.
4. Melt and Pour (MP) Soap: A method of soapmaking where pre-made soap bases are melted and then customized with color, fragrance, and additives. MP soap does not require lye and is ready to use once cooled and set.
5. Lye (Sodium Hydroxide): A caustic alkaline substance used in soapmaking to saponify fats and oils. It must be handled with care and used in a well-ventilated area.
6. Glycerin: A natural byproduct of the saponification process, glycerin is a humectant that attracts moisture to the skin, keeping it hydrated.
7. Trace: The point during soapmaking when the lye and oils have emulsified, creating a thickened mixture that resembles pudding. At this stage, additives like fragrance and color are often added.
8. Superfatting: The process of intentionally adding extra fats or oils to a soap recipe to ensure that there is some leftover in the final product. This can make the soap more moisturizing.
9. Essential Oils: Natural, concentrated oils extracted from plants, flowers, and herbs. Essential oils are used to scent soap and can offer therapeutic benefits.
10. Fragrance Oils: Synthetic or natural fragrance blends that are used to scent soap. Fragrance oils are often more potent than essential oils.
11. Additives: Ingredients added to soap for various purposes, such as exfoliation, coloring, fragrance, or skin benefits. Common additives include herbs, clays, and exfoliants like oatmeal or coffee grounds.
12. Curing: The process of allowing soap to sit and dry for a specific period (usually 4-6 weeks) after it's made. Curing allows excess moisture to evaporate, resulting in a harder, milder, and longer-lasting bar of soap.
13. Lather: The foamy and bubbly result of rubbing soap with water, creating a cleansing and emulsifying effect on the skin.
14. Batch: A specific quantity of soap produced in a single soapmaking session. The size of a batch can vary depending on the soapmaker's equipment and goals.
15. Soap Cutter: A tool used to cut soap into individual bars or shapes once it has hardened and cured.
16. Molds: Containers or shapes in which soap is poured and allowed to harden, taking on the desired shape and size.
17. MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet): A document that provides information on the properties of chemical products, including safety information and handling precautions, often used by soapmakers for the safe handling of lye and other ingredients.
18. Ricing: A soapmaking term describing the phenomenon when fragrance oils cause the soap mixture to seize or form small, rice-like lumps, making it difficult to work with.
19. Acceleration: Refers to the speeding up of the soap's trace or saponification process, often caused by certain fragrances or additives.
20. Gel Phase: A stage in the soapmaking process where the soap reaches a higher temperature, becoming translucent or slightly transparent, which can lead to more vibrant colors in the finished soap.
Understanding these soapmaking terms will not only help you follow soap recipes and tutorials but also enable you to communicate effectively within the soapmaking community. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced soapmaker, this glossary is a valuable resource for your soapmaking journey.