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April 24, 2014  |  Login
The Basics of Soaps and Oils
By Elizabeth B. Goldsmith PhD, Betsy Sheldon
Soap comes in many forms: bar, liquid, foam, laundry formulas, dish liquid, and hand and body bars. But all contain similar elements, including minerals, which give soap an alkaline nature, and oils that promote lather and add emollient (softening) properties. The time-honored recipe for bar soap has been a concoction of animal fat and lye - an extremely corrosive alkaline substance that can cause severe burns. You want to avoid contact with skin, eyes, and mouth and keep away from children and pets.

The basic liquid soaps on the ingredients list are plant-based, and the alkaline list includes products not nearly as harsh as lye. You also find essential oils in a few of the recipes. Here's what to shop for:

  • Liquid castile soap: This vegetable-based soap, found in grocery or health-food stores, is a mild and versatile cleaning agent.

  • Essential oils: Tea tree, peppermint, grapefruit, and other oils (found in health-food or craft stores) not only smell great, they have disinfecting properties, as well.

  • Glycerin: This common ingredient in hand-wash and dish liquid is an oil that provides lubrication and is often used in milder cleaners.

  • Castor oil: The colorless or sometimes yellowish oil, from the castor plant, is a fine lubricant and a worthy ingredient in wood cleaners or polishes.

  • Liquid hand soap and liquid dishwashing soap: The same ingredients - castile soap, glycerin - are found in both of these mild cleaners.



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