Soap is the result of a chemical action (saponification) between a fatty acid (lard, vegetable and other oils) and a caustic alkali (lye). The method of accomplishing saponification varies. While there are some similarities between making soap by hand, in small batches, and making soap in a manufacturing plant in very large batches, there are also substantial differences.
Commercially made soap is produced in very large batches, mechanically, in an industrial process that maximizes efficiency which returns maximum profits to the manufacturer. While there is certainly nothing wrong with making a profit for their efforts, these industrial processes include the extraction of glycerin, one of the beneficial substances produced during the saponification process. The glycerin is removed for other products. The resulting soap (minus the glycerin) is then mixed with various chemicals and compounds, colorants and fragrances to produce the bar of soap you buy in the grocery store.
Handmade soapmaking certainly starts out the same way by mixing oils and lye to trigger the saponification process. It is, however, made in smaller batches than commercially made soap. Handmade soap also retains the naturally occurring glycerin within the soap. Most handmade soap, like the soap made here at HandCraft Soaps, are made without added detergents and harsh chemicals. This results in our customers getting soap that is made the old fashioned way, and without potentially dangerous compounds. Our soap is made here at home in our own kitchen doing our own scenting, curing, cutting, trimming and packaging.
There is also another type of soapmaking, popularly called “melt and pour”. Often available in hobby and crafting stores and websites, It is a commercially produced soap “base” that is chemically formulated, through the use of various additives, that enables it to be melted and poured into molds. Hobby soapmakers purchase this soap base, melt it down, add fragrances and colors, pour it into molds and, when it hardens, packages it for final sale. While there is nothing wrong with this method, much of the quality of ingredients and processes and what happens to the base during production is lost. The resulting product is usually considered to be “handmade” if more than 50% of the entire process from recipe formulation through to packaging is done by hand.