Making your soap has been a cool experience. The actual process, saponification, is the second oldest chemical reaction known to man. In the saponification reaction, oils react with a strong base to produce glycerin and soap. What makes this soap different and more moisturizing from soap bought at the store is the presence of glycerin. Glycerin is a natural emollient and is extracted from commercially produced soap because it can be sold alone for a higher price.
A few intriguing historical facts about soap:
- According to Roman legend, soap got its name from Mt. Sapo, at site of animal sacrifice. When the women washed their clothes in the stream at the bottom of this mountain, they found that the lard and ashes from the sacrifices made their clothes cleaner.
- Soap making and candle making were related professions because both used animal fat. William Proctor, a soap-maker, and James Gamble, a candle-maker, joined forces to sell their products door to door. In 1875, one of their employees left a soap mixer running when he went to lunch. He returned to find the soap so full of air it would float in water and so pure that it was white. Harley Procter, William’s son, remembered a verse from the 45th Psalm, and named this new formulation, Ivory soap.
- Soap makers have always competed by using different formulations. One soap, made of palm oil and olive oil, was so successful that the names of the ingredients were used in the company name- Palmolive.
- Glycerin is a valuable industrial chemical. It is added to hand cream as an emollient but it is also used in the manufacture of dynamite.