I admit it – I have been misled by many liquid soaps. From the creamy, pearl color to the wonderful claims of moisturizing my hands, I had high expectations. Soap after soap left my hands dry and craving lotion. I had no idea that so many “handmade” liquid soaps are actually repackaged commercially made compounds.
Let’s figure out what a liquid soap actually is and learn out how to read between the lines so that you can know the difference between a true liquid soap and a commercially made look-alike.
Not too long ago, a rather strange idea was widely popularized… it was a way to make a gallon of liquid soap from one bar of soap.
Basically, it involved grating a bar of soap and adding hot water until the soap dissolved. Once cooled, even more water was added until it made a gallon.
Out of curiosity, I decided to see what would happen if I tried it. What I ended up with was the perfect Halloween substitute for snot. It was slimy, slithery, and outright disgusting. It didn’t lather, it wasn’t pourable, and I couldn’t figure out what the craze was all about. In essence it was nothing but a wasted bar of soap.
The reason this doesn’t look anything like liquid soap is because bar soap and liquid soap are two chemically different compounds. Technically, soap is a salt. But not all salts are created equal. For example, you cannot equally substitute table salt and kosher salt.
Liquid soap is made using a compound called potassium hydroxide while bar soap is made using sodium hydroxide. Both hydroxides are very strong bases which react with fats to make a salt that we know as soap. In a properly made soap, the hydroxides are completely used up in the reaction. (Just for the record, advanced techniques can combine both hydroxides and get really fancy – it’s also lots of fun in a very nerdy sort of way- but that’s beyond the scope of this conversation).
In a previous blog post, what is a true soap, we talked about 3 criteria that must be satisfied for a soap to be a true soap. A true liquid soap must follow the same criteria. In summary, a true soap must be a salt like we talked about above, it shouldn’t have synthetic detergents, and it must be intended to clean (not moisturize, heal your skin, or make other claims).
Just like with bar soaps, there are actually very few true liquid soaps available on the market. In fact, it seems to me that there are even fewer true liquid soaps than bar soaps. This is because making liquid soaps and bar soaps require a completely different skill set, since they are two completely different compounds.
Liquid soaps are also a lot more temperamental than bar soaps. They are unforgiving, moody and sometimes outright rebellious. I call them my teenagers. Some days you think you have them figured out and other days, well... there are those days, too. It takes a lot of skill to know exactly what you’re working with and how to make it just right.
One quick and easy way to get around acquiring this skill is to purchase a liquid soap concentrate. This is a method that many soap makers choose to use. As a consumer, you should be aware that this is often labeled “handcrafted” or “handmade.” If you are looking to completely avoid commercially-made products, it will be very important for you to know how to tell the difference.
There are a few ways you can quickly tell if a liquid soap is a true soap or not. They are clearly outlined in a previous blog post, is my soap a fake, so I won’t repeat them here.
But there are a few other things you need to know about. One of them is how long a soap sits on a shelf. Liquid soaps are very different from bar soaps in this aspect. Bar soaps have been prized by their age. It has been reported that at some point in ancient history, well-aged soap was traded and used like currency. Liquid soaps however are not as stable. This is because of their high water content.
Modern methods use preservatives and other chemicals to overcome challenges that come with an increased water content. Well-made, fresh liquid soaps don’t need preservatives, but they should be used within 3 months of purchase. So don’t hoard them in your stash…not that I’m looking or anything.
Soaps from Hyssop Tree are freshly made. They have not been on a storage container across the country for close to a year before they make their way to you. The benefit to you is that you can avoid exposing your skin to another preservative.
Another factor to consider when choosing liquid soaps is thickeners. Most soaps contain chemical thickeners to create a gel-like consistency that we have gotten used to. What I discovered is that using a soap without a thickener doesn’t compromise lather quality, and it has a hidden benefit – I can actually use less soap. This reduces my exposure to yet another chemical, and it’s actually more economical in the long run because I can get more suds with less soap. (This is also one reason why Hyssop Tree liquid soaps come in a disc-top cap instead of a pump, so you can use exactly the amount you need.)
Finally, talk to the person that makes your liquid soap. Ask them if they make their soap in-house and how they source their ingredients. Every detail matters. Here at Hyssop Tree, I use a completely plastic-free process to make the liquid soaps. It makes things a lot more complicated and difficult, but I know that you will be using the soap I make to clean the largest organ in your body – your skin. To me, that’s not only a tall order, it’s sacred. I take that responsibility very seriously. And I’m aware of that with every step of the process.
I hope that you have found a true soap that you’re happy with. I also hope that you are now equipped and able to see through the marketing and fluff and into what’s actually in the bottle. If you’ve found this article helpful, consider sharing it with a friend by using one of the social icons below.
Hyssop Tree will be permanently closed starting March 31, 2021.