All Soap is Made With Lye: Cold Process vs Glycerin Soaps – Thumbprint Soap

All Soap is Made With Lye: Cold Process vs Glycerin (Melt & Pour) Soaps

Posted by Katie Adams on

Every once in a great while, a visitor to my event booth will ask if my soaps are made with lye. And when I answer yes, they scoff and walk away. It's hard not laugh, despite the knowledge that not everyone understands the science involved in soap making. The confusion comes from the two very different processes involved when making cold process vs glycerin (melt and pour) soaps. So let's clear things up.

Cold Process Soap

All of Thumbprint Soap's bars are made using the cold process method. Cold process basically means "from scratch." You melt some oils and butters together, add a lye solution and mix until emulsified (meaning the oil and water are no longer separating). At this point, the mixture is poured into a mold (the colors and textures happen here), where the chemical reaction will continue for the next 12-24 hours when it will be firm enough to cut. Obviously this is a super simplified explanation and a lot of testing went into my soap recipe, but you get the gist.

Glycerin (Melt and Pour) Soap

This type of soap comes as a base that has already been made from scratch (with lye) at a factory. The base comes in a loaf which is cut up and melted down by the buyer, who then adds color and fragrance and pours it back into another mold. No lye is handled by and no chemical reaction takes place for the buyer, because that part of the process was completed at the factory.

This type of soap is going to look and feel different than cold process soaps because nearly 50% of the base is made up of alcohol and sugar water. These ingredients are necessary to ensure the soap will melt when heated. Cold process soap doesn't melt. It may sweat a little on a humid day, but it won't melt.

How to Tell the Difference Between Cold Process and Melt Pour Soaps

Most of the time it's easy to tell if a soap is made from a glycerin base just by looking at it - many of them are transparent so light will pass through them. But some of the bases are made opaque by adding titanium dioxide or other ingredients, so it's not as easy to tell. In this case, you just have to read the ingredient list on the back.

Cold Process Soap Ingredients

Here is the ingredient list from my cold process Eucalyptus Spearmint Soap:

Olive oil, Water, Coconut Oil, Sodium Hydroxide (lye), Cocoa Butter, Mango Butter, Aloe Vera, Rice Bran Oil, Castor Oil, Sunflower Oil, Fragrance, Mica

Notice how the bar is opaque with swirled colors and a textured top? These things are hard to achieve with melt and pour soap bases.

Melt and Pour Soap Ingredients

1) Here is the ingredient list from one of the more "natural" goat milk melt and pour soap bases (I've underlined the ingredients that are unusual in from-scratch soaps):

Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Safflower Oil, Glycerin, Goat’s Milk, Water, Sodium Hydroxide (Lye), Sorbitol, Propylene Glycol, Sorbitan Oleate, Oat Protein, Titanium Dioxide 

The soaps pictured here are definitely made with a melt and pour base. It's nearly impossible to have a cold process bar come out of individual cavity molds that smooth (you can't make these shapes with a loaf mold). And the one that looks a Jolly Rancher is too clear to be cold process soap.

2) And here is the ingredient list from one of the less "natural" melt and pour soap bases:

Water, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Stearate, Glycerin, Sucrose, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sorbitol, Sodium Myristate, Sodium Laurate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Fine Oatmeal Powder, Silica, Salt, Stearic Acid, Titanium Dioxide, Myristic Acid, Shea Butter, Lauric Acid, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Pentasodium Pentetate

This last ingredient list is a product I wouldn't buy, no matter how attractive the soap looks. A few of these ingredients I don't recognize, and it has two surfactant ingredients (sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate), which shouldn't be necessary in bar soap. In fact, after reviewing the list again, I see this is not a soap at all, it's a synthetic detergent bar. So buyer beware...just because someone is selling "handmade soap," it might not actually be soap.

While I have dabbled with a few melt and pour soaps in the past (using the more natural base), I haven't made them in a long while. I know there are people out there who will argue for melt and pour, because you can make some incredibly creative soaps with these bases and you don't have to deal with the potential dangers of lye. 

Since you don't get to choose the ingredients that go into melt and pour soap, I'm going to stick with cold process. 

Modern Lye Soaps Don't Burn

Sure, lye is a chemical that requires precautions, but it's worth the trouble because lye soaps are amazing. This isn't your grandma's wood ash lye soap that burns your skin because they couldn't measure the strength of the lye solution back then. Rest assured, I know exactly how much lye is needed to saponify my oils, and I use slightly less than I need so there is no lye remaining in the soap after the chemical reaction has taken place. None. Zero. Zip.

Any questions? Leave them in the comments!


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  • Karen, can I ask you why you would ever endorse such a thing as black magic, even if you won all the money in the world?

    I came on here looking for different high quality soaps, and then I skimmed what you wrote and it instantly made me want to get off this site.

    Listen to me, we all have a Mortality; meaning, we all have to die eventually. And the reality that we need to face in this life is what life is really about and what happens when we go into eternity once we are born into Jesus Christ or die as sinners with noone to save us from hell.

    You can easily dispell everything I’m saying with all the confusing information and scholars that pick a side over facts and evidence, but if you really want to know the Truth, it is always right in front of you in a question that the Honest Scholars never negate; ‘Is the universe a universe of choas or order?’ Ask that question, honestly and seek out facts mathematically. Once you come to the conclusion that there is a God, then more questions will follow.

    To sum up; we all go to Hell without Jesus Christ as our Savior. That’s plain reality and Fact. Not perception. Not a story. Not a fiction. Not a legend. Not Gossip. REALITY and FACT. And I don’t want to go to Hell or anybody to go to Hell, so I came to Jesus Christ as a sinner asking for salvation from HIM and based on HIM alone and HIS shed blood on the Cross for me and all others who Truly come in Repentance toward HIM. The Evidences line up Historically, Medically, and Experientially True among many other mountains of evidence verifying Jesus Christ before, during and after HIS Crucifixion on the Cross.

    Now I know money can make a person hold onto the things in this life even tighter and buy out their time for as long as they can, trying to enjoy as much as they can before they have to die eventually. But, that is exactly what you MAY get if things go as planned. And either way, we all still have to die, and face Judgement by our Holy Creator. If you die in your sins, you will go to Hell the same as if I died in my sins without Jesus Christ as my Savior Atoning for my Sins( Crimes against a Holy God). If you or I sin one time, just once, that crime requires us to die and be eternally seperated from The Heavenly FATHER, And therefore cast out into Hell and Hell into outer Darkness.

    I didn’t come on here for this, but, seeing that somebody is so openly trying to lead people to Hell with ‘lottery numbers’ and ‘black magic’(which I know exists, but is of Satan), I have to be a light in this Darkness that Jesus Christ has Commissioned me to be and do by ‘The Great Commission’ HE gives us in Scripture. Read John 3:16 and 17(KJV or NASB). Read Ephesians 2:8-9. Read John 14:6. Believe on HIM and HIM alone to save us from our sins. JESUS CHRIST was Crucified, Died, was Buried and was ressurected by HIS FATHER in Heaven the third day defeating Death itself. HE gave HIMSELF up as a sacrifice for to save us from our sins, don’t throw that away. HE loved us enough to die for us. Please don’t ignore that and go blindly into HELL, a place of ultimate suffering from which noone returns. I don’t want that for anybody. Please, run to Christ while there is still time. And tell everybody along your path that they need to come to Jesus Christ too. I’ll pray for everybody that reads this, that my FATHER in Heaven draws them to HIM and that they Repent of their own way that leads to HELL and come yo JESUS CHRIST.

    With the way the world is right now, we don’t have much time left before Jesus Christ comes for HIS True Church(True saved believers[Christians filled with the Holy Spirit], also known as the ‘Body’ or ‘Bride’ of Christ). Once HE takes us up into Heaven, everybody left down here on Earth will have to endure the Anti-Christ and Great Tribulation. Imagine Hell on Earth, and you’ll have a tiny idea of what is coming. And if you are still here after Jesus has Raptured True Christians, you will have to endure horrifying hardships that come in the 7 year period known as ‘The Great Tribulation’ or ‘The Time of Jacob’s Trouble’, but you can still choose not to follow SATAN and his false Messiah. Do not take the Mark of the Beast, known as 666(a mark in the forehead or in right hand, that you can’t Buy or Sell without. Revelation 13:16-18 and 14:9-11 KJV or NASB). If you take that Mark and worship the Beast, you will go to Hell. There is no coming back from that line that is crossed.

    I have tried to speak appropriately here, and I hope that people take the Eternal destination of their own soul and others souls seriously.

    Do not listen to people who promote Black Magic or other similar practices; while they may seem amazing and even lucrative, they are tools of the Devil(Who does exist along with the Demons also) to take you with him to HELL. Do not not trade an eternity of suffering for even the potential of a lifetime of happiness. Kids learn the hard way sometimes not to play with matches when they get burned, trust me, this is one lesson you do not want to learn the hard way.

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