In order to make soap, fatty acids have to be mixed with an alkali and heated in water.
Oils such as fat and butter are made up of fatty acids.
There are a variety of oils that make up these fatty acids, but each has their own molecular makeup so vegetable or animal fat?
Back in the earliest days of soap making, our ancestors used animal fat. The most common was tallow (beef fat) and lard (rendered pork fat). During the fall when farm animals were slaughtered, there was plenty of animal fat for soap making.
The fat would be melted down and mixed with a crude lye (water drained through wood ash)
Tallow and lard make beautiful, hard soap that is long lasting. It also makes a lot of suds.
There are many commercial soap companies that still use tallow as their fat base.
One drawback of using animal fats for soap is that it may have a problem making suds in cold water. These soaps may also be too drying for some people’s skin.
To remedy this problem, moisturizers such as lanolin, glycerin, goat milk, or aloes are added to soften the skin.
Artisan soap makers often mix animal fat with vegetable oil for a complex soap that cleans well and is gentle on the body.
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Those who look for vegan or cruelty-free products will make soaps from plant-based oils. When the fatty acids from plants are used, it makes a moisturizing soap with a little less lather.
However, these soaps lather up well in any water temperature. Some of the most common plant oils used for soap making are canola, sunflower, olive and palm oils. These oils are rich in Omega 3 acids (also called unsaturated fats)
They are considered the good fats that the body requires. When used as a soap ingredient, plant oils are good moisturizers and are gentle on sensitive skin.
If other emollients are added, it creates a richly fatted soap that makes more lather and lasts longer.
When making your own soap there are a lot of choices between animal fats and plant oils.
The best way to choose which one to use is whether you want a harder or softer soap and how much lather is wanted. Extra oils can be added for scent and moisturizing.
Those who object to using any animal products can make wonderful vegan soaps and with the right oils this soap will be just has hard as any soap produced using animal fats.
No matter what oils you use making soap can be a fascinating hobby and can pay tribute to our hard working ancestors.
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