How is soap made?

What is Soap?

A person that is holding a bar of soap that has been made

Before concerning how soap is created, let’s first define what soap is.

The FDA states that for a product to be regulated as ‘soap,’ the product must meet the following requirements (Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 2022):

  1. Composed mainly of the ‘alkali salts of fatty acids;
  2. The ‘alkali salts of fatty acids must be the only cleansing product in the soap. (If the product has detergents, it is a cosmetic and not a soap);
  3. The product must be labeled and marketed as soap. If the purpose is to moisturize, deodorize, and perfume the body – this would not be a soap; it would be a cosmetic by regulation. If the product cures disease, kills germs, treats eczema or acne, and repels mosquitos – it would fall under the drug category for the FDA.

Soap made at Little Dragon Soaps is marketed, labeled, and sold as a wash-off product that cleans. While some soap products may have ingredients that a consumer may wish to use for any benefits, our intention on our products is for soap to be soap. Little Dragon Soaps does not claim benefits outside of being a wash-off cleaning product.
Any product sold at Little Dragon Soaps that are not soaps, which may be cosmetic, are labeled and sold based on the regulations for cosmetics. No products sold by Little Dragon Soaps are intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

How is soap made?

Soap can be made from scratch using either a hot or cold process or created using a ready-made soap base. In addition – many soap makers use a combination of techniques to make soap.

Soap comes from a process called saponification. Oil getting mixed with lye (also referred to as caustic soda, sodium hydroxide, NaOH, or lye) is what starts the chemical process of saponification. When these ingredients mix, they form a chemical process that chemically changes the mixture into soap – which is what saponification is. Soap makers often add other ingredients to soap, such as clay, pumice, charcoals, colorants, essential oils, and fragrance oils. These ingredients are in addition to but are not required for saponification.

Hot Process

Hot process uses an external source of heat. This heat helps speed up saponification. Hot process is typically fully saponified when poured into its molds. People can use this soap immediately; however, additional time to cure may allow the water to evaporate, and the bars to harden may be preferred.

Cold Process

Unlike the hot process, where external heat during the processing helps speed up saponification, in a cold process , no outside heat source is necessary.

Mixing sodium hydroxide with water causes the lye solution to get very hot. In cold process , the soap maker will wait until the lye solution and the oils are within a short temperature difference, typically between 80 and 110 degrees. Once the lye solution and the oils are within a few degrees temperature difference, the oil and lye mixtures are mixed. Essential oils, clays, and other ingredients can be added to the cold process soap once mixed to ‘trace.’ Once mixed, the soap gets poured into molds.

Once the soap is solid enough to cut, the soap is removed from the molds and then put on racks for curing. Soap curing typically takes 4-6 weeks. However, some types of cold process soap may take up to 6 months to cure. The longer a bar cures, the less water is in the bar, the harder the soap will be, and the longer the bar will last.

Ready-Made Base

Ready-Made soap base has already been through saponification and is ready to use. Often referred to as ‘Melt and Pour’ soap, this is a process that soap makers can use without handling lye. Soap makers can heat this soap to its melting point and then add colors, scents, and various other ingredients to the soap. The soap is then poured into molds and let solidify. This soap can be used immediately after hardening and does not require additional cure time.

Soap Additives

There are many different types of additives that one can add to soap. Common ones are:

  • Flower petals – decorative on top, most turn black or brown in soap and adds texture;
  • Leaves – most turn black or brown and adds texture;
  • Silk Fibers – silkiness feel;
  • Herbs – most turn black or brown and adds texture;
  • Spices – most turn color and adds texture;
  • Coffee grounds – texture, color, and possibly scent;
  • Oatmeal – adds texture;
  • Seeds – adds texture;
  • Coconut – adds texture;
  • Milk Powders – creaminess and lather;
  • Loofah – texture;
  • Charcoal – color;
  • Corn Meal – adds texture;
  • Salt – adds hardness;
  • Cocoa powder – adds color;
  • Clay – adds color; possibly texture depending on the clay;
  • Dried fruit – decorative, adds texture, may turn black or brown;
  • Orange Peel Powder – adds texture and color;
  • Beeswax – adds hardness;
  • Honey – increases lather;
  • Poppy Seeds – texture and appearance;
  • Sodium Lactate – adds hardness;

The above list is not an exhaustive list of additives, just a sample. Before making any soap and using additives, it is vital to research your soap and additives. Not all additives work in all types of soap processes. Some additives may mold/rot depending on the technique used.

Little Dragon Soaps recommends that you research your preferred soap-making process as well as your additives. Not all additives are suitable for all methods of soap making. Using the wrong additives can be not only unsightly but also dangerous.


Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2022, February 25). Frequently asked questions on soap. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from