Frequently Asked Questions - Glycerin Soap


Up until 1889, people didn't know how to recover glycerine from the soapmaking process, so commercially produced glycerin mostly came from the candlemaking industry (remember, back then candles were made from animal fats).

In 1889, a viable way to separate the glycerin out of the soap was finally implemented. Since the number one use of glycerin was to make nitroglycerin, which was used to make dynamite, making soap suddenly became a lot more profitable! I have an untested theory that you could trace the roots of most big soapmakers (and the "fall" of the small, local soapmaker) to about this time in history.

The process of removing the glycerin from the soap is fairly complicated (and of course, there are a lot of variations on the theme). In the most simplest terms: you make soap out of fats and lye. The fats already contain glycerin as part of their chemical makeup (both animal and vegetable fats contain from 7% - 13% glycerine). When the fats and lye interact, soap is formed, and the glycerin is left out as a "byproduct". But, while it's chemically separate, it's still blended into the soap mix.

While a cold process soapmaker would simply pour into the molds at this stage, a commercial soapmaker will add salt. The salt causes the soap to curdle and float to the top. After skimming off the soap, they are left with glycerin (and lots of "impurities" like partially dissolved soap, extra salt, etc.). They then separate the glycerin out by distilling it. Finally, they de-colorize the glycerin by filtering it through charcoal, or by using some other bleaching method.

Glycerin has lots of uses besides being used to make nitroglycerin (note: glycerin is not an explosive substance by itself. It has to be turned into nitroglycerin before it becomes explosive, so it's safe to work with in your kitchen). Some uses for glycerin include: conserving preserved fruit, as a base for lotions, to prevent freezing in hydraulic jacks, to lubricate molds, in some printing inks, in cake and candy making, and (because it has an antiseptic quality) sometimes to preserve scientific specimens in jars in your high school biology lab.

Glycerin is also used to make clear soaps. Highly glycerinated clear soaps contain about 15% - 20% pure glycerin. Known as "Melt and Pour" soaps, these soaps are very easy for the hobbyist to work with. They melt at about 160 degrees fahrenheit, and solidify fairly rapidly. Because of their high glycerin content, the soaps are very moisturizing to the skin. Unfortunately, this high glycerin content also means that the soaps will dissolve more rapidly in water than soaps with less glycerin, and that if the bar of soap is left exposed to air, it will attract moisture and "glisten" with beads of ambient moisture.

These downsides, however are more than compensated by the emollient, skin loving and gentle nature of this soap which is especially good for tender skin and children.

(1) The pure chemical product is called Glycerol (which shows that it is an alcohol), while the impure commercial product is called Glycerin. This is a technical complexity, so for this article, I'm sticking to the more familiar term, Glycerin.

Not many people even know what soap really is. Several of the cleansing bars that you buy at the store, for example, are detergents, and not soaps at all. They are called syndet bars, or synthetic detergent bars. They are made from synthesized chemicals and are usually much harsher than soap. Detergents contain petroleum distillates rather than oil. On the other hand, true soap is made from natural oils (such as olive, coconut and palm) and is a gentle cleansing product more appropriate for use on skin than detergent and much more mild than detergents.

Soap is made by adding water, oil and butters together, along with something to form them into soap (an alkali). That ingredient is Sodium Hydroxide which is lye. For liquid soaps, it is Potassium Hydroxide. The chemical reaction is called saponification. The soap maker must calculate the correct amount of lye for the specific oils used in each recipe. If too much lye is used, the bar may be hard and crumbly. If too little, the bar becomes soft and will become rancid faster, due to the natural oils & butters that are used in handmade soap.

Saponification is a chemical reaction that takes place when oil is mixed with an alkali solution, such as sodium hydroxide (lye), water & oils or butters. In other words, the oil and lye combine to make soap. When the proper amounts are used at the proper temperatures, all of the lye and oil are consumed by the reaction and only the soap remains. Generally, slightly more oil is used resulting in a soap that is more moisturizing for the skin and ensuring that all of the lye is used up in the curing process.

Handmade soap contains the natural forming glycerin that is normally removed from other store bought soaps. In order to make the extremely hard french milled soaps, the glycerin must be removed or the soap would be too soft. Companies may extract the glycerin through a variety of methods and then add a percentage back to say it contains glycerin. We believe that ALL handmade cold process soap is "glycerin soap". Not simply the clear transparent soap with added glycerin. Transparency does not make a glycerin soap. On average - and it changes with the recipe, made from scratch, handmade soap contains around 10% naturally retained glycerin. Glycerin soap is especially good for sensitive and delicate skin, and for children. Because it is a high quality by-product in the soap making process, many mass commercial soap manufacturers often extract the glycerin and sell it as a by-product to be used in higher priced products like lotions and skin creams. Sometimes at a higher price than the soap itself.

What makes soap clear most of the time? Alcohol! Obtained from corn grain alcohol to petroleum rubbing alcohols. Even though most consumers think of clear soap as "glycerin soap", they are made with a variety of foaming agents, wetting formulas (makes the water wet to lift dirt and oil) and alcohol along with the standard mix of oils, water and lye. The "feel" that many people get from this clear soap is from synthetic ingredients, detergents & foaming agents.

All of our soaps are made in small batches by hand from start to finish. Making them all unique. We hand cut each and every batch and individual bar, and this is where they will vary a little in size. The average weight on all our bars is 4.0 oz.

  • Homemade soap is produced in small, manageable batches under close supervision to ensure a quality process.
  • Commercial soaps are produced in mass quantities, which are less expensive to produce.
  • Ingredients used in homemade soap are generally of a higher quality than those used in commercial soaps. The results speak for themselves. Homemade soap is more kind to your skin because of the quality ingredients.

They sure can! Our soaps are gentle enough for all skin types, both young and old. Do remember that some people are allergic to all natural ingredients and fragrance oils, and this goes for children too. My Nephew is 2 1/2 and he loves to take a bath with the soap and it does not affect him.

Test the soap on the inside of the arm before using all over the body. If a reaction occurs, discontinue use immediately!

This is one of the unique characteristics of handcrafted soap. The glycerin bath bars are made using individual molds - meaning that we make each bath bar one at a time. We try to make each bar look as close to the one in the picture as we can, but each bar will be a unique, one-of-a-kind bar made just for the customer!

Because of the handmade nature of our products and the fact that they are made to order, there may be slight differences in color and fragrance intensity.

On warm and humid days or in places where a lot of moisture is present sometimes you might see a crystal "dew" or "sweating" on your glycerin soaps. The more humid the environment and the more humectants in the soap, the more likely you'll experience this phenomenon. Other humectants in soap such as honey and castor oil may make your soap sweat even more. This is normal and is a natural reaction of high glycerin soap in a humid environment. The glycerin in the soap actually pulls moisture out of the air, making for a soap that is not drying to the skin and does not affect the quality of the soap in any way. There is nothing wrong with your soap! Washing with the soap removes the surface dew. Keeping them tightly wrapped also helps to prevent the dew from forming.

Our soaps are made with a glycerin soap. We do not make these from scratch. However, there are so many fun things that can be done with glycerin soap and we decided to create a few for your enjoyment.

A few facts about glycerin soap:

Glycerin soap IS NOT all natural. I know a lot of web sites make that claim, but it isn't true. Confusing the issue is the fact that there are numerous glycerin soap bases out there. Most of them are mainly synthetic ingredients with some pretty harsh additives.

We have found a glycerin base that has only one synthetic ingredient, and it is not too bad. Listed below are the ingredients of our base for you to see. The synthetic ingredient is in red. We believe in being truthful and letting you know what you are getting.

Glycerin Soap Base Ingredients:

Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Castor Oil, Safflower Oil, Glycerin (kosher, of vegetable origin), Purified Water, Sodium Hydroxide (saponifying agent), Sorbitol (from berries, moisturizer), Sorbitan oleate (emulsifier) , Soybean protein (conditioner)

Also note that if you choose a fragrance-scented soap, the fragrance is synthetic. Essential oil scents are natural.  See our Fragrance List.

Essential Oils are natural products distilled from plants to capture the fragrance in oil.

Fragrance Oils are synthetically made and come in a wide variety of scents.

We use Fragrance Oils in our products because many fragrances are not available as Essential Oils, including most vegetable and fruit scents.

Essential Oils do have a couple of other drawbacks.

  • They are more volatile and the scent dissipates faster.
  • They are usually quite a bit more expensive than fragrance oils (affecting the price of the ultimate product)
  • Essential oils are great for aromatherapy, but at the concentration levels found in typical soap products, any aromatherapy claims would be rather dubious

We use FD& C approved, skin safe cosmetic soap dyes, mineral micas(skin safe mineral colors that are present in all sorts of cosmetics for pearlizing and frosting) and oxides to put color in our soaps.

If you want no color or no fragrance, make sure you select those options in the appropriate drop down menus.

In general, soap has a very long shelf life (years) although we recommend using within 6 months to fully enjoy the fragrance.

Depending on your bathing habits, you can expect your bar to last two to three weeks. Please remember to place your soap in a dish that drains to extend the longevity.

Most of our customers say a bar of our soap lasts them between 3-4 weeks. This is based on normal use. If you're lathering up six different times because you're enjoying the scent and experience, obviously a bar isn't going to last that long! As the saying goes - your mileage may vary.

Soaps should stay wrapped up until you are ready to use them to retain their fragrance and quality.

We suggest you use your soap within 6 months for the best fragrance.  Should your bar seem to lose it's fragrance while in storage just use it once and the fragrance will come back.

All of our soaps are shrink wrapped which is the ideal way to keep your soaps fresh. 

If you purchase soap bars that are wrapped in plastic wrap be sure to replace the wrapping periodically, either place in a plastic bag, push out the air and seal tightly or use heavy cling film(plastic wrap) to protect your soaps.

Most of the "soap" made by commercial manufacturers isn't really soap at all. Have you noticed that most of them are labeled "cleansing bar" or "beauty bar?" This is because they use detergents and remove the glycerin. Find out more about the chemicals in your soap read the article: What's in a Bar of Commercial Soap

Visually pleasing and pleasantly fragranced decorative bath bars are good for your skin.

Evidence abounds of the healing properties of a handmade bar of soap. Those who suffer from skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, as well as people that have sensitive skin or are hypoallergenic often find immediate relief by switching to handmade soap. Compared to store bought soap, handmade soap is very mild. They are often made from vegetable-based oils, such as olive, coconut, and palm and do not contain the potentially harmful chemicals found in conventional bar soap. 

  • Handmade soap has no harmful, or potentially harmful chemicals.
  • Homemade soap retains all of the glycerin, which is produced as a byproduct of the soap making process.

  • Most of the homemade (or handcrafted) soap makers use natural vegetable oils in their recipes. These oils are more expensive than those used by the large commercial manufacturers; but, the resulting soap is superior in texture, moisturizing properties and cleaning ability.
  •  Chemicals, detergents ('petroleum products'), degreasers and the like are absent from homemade soaps. While these compounds will clean your skin, they also remove the natural oils and dry the skin.