Types of Soap

People have been making soap for almost 5,000 years. Surprisingly, in nearly 3,000 B.C., Babylonians had already mastered the art of soapmaking. If you know the story of how soap reportedly got its name—from the legendary Mount Sapo in Rome—you already know that that the Romans also used soap.

Soapmaking as a business in North America began in 1608 in the American colonies. Advances came as the science of chemistry developed, and more was understood about the ingredients. In the mid-nineteenth century, soap for bathing became differentiated from laundry soap, with milder soaps, usually formed in bars, being available for personal use.

It wasn’t until World War I created a shortage of fat—one of the main ingredients in soap—that an alternative was developed, and that was the occasion for the first synthetic detergent. Detergent sales overtook sales of soap in 1953. The invention of liquid hand soaps in the 1970s helped keep soaps in the public view, but for many types of cleaning, soaps are a lesser used product these days, as alternatives to soap are the main choice.

So, although there was a time when soap was the way to clean, there are now alternatives, and when people use the term soap as a catch-all generic term for cleaning products, they may not really mean soap in the traditional sense.

What Is Soap?

home institute 1 The first step in understanding soap requires that we be clear about just what soap is. Soap is a cleaning product made from natural ingredients.

These ingredients may include both plant and animal products, including such items as:

    • animal fat, such as tallow or vegetable oil, such as castor, olive, or coconut oil.
    • plants such as soapwort or Western soapberry (aptly named!).
    • rainwater.
    • fragrances such as cinnamon, rose water, oil of bergamot or cloves.

Detergent, on the other hand, is a synthetic product. It often has petroleum-based ingredients, although there are plant-based detergents available as well.

Some Types of Soap

One way of looking at types of soap is by origin. There are handmade and commercially made soaps. Another way to look at soap is by its use. Soap is available for personal use, laundry use, and dishwashing, and pet cleaning products that are soaps can also be found.

• Novelty soaps include the soap in the shape of a rubber ducky and the soap-on-a-rope, made not only to clean, but for enjoyment as well. Soaps may be made novel by their shape and/or coloring. There are novelty soaps for children, for example, a bar of soap can have a toy inside or be formed like a crayon and used to draw on the tub. As with other types of soap, you can purchase novelty soaps or make your own. Many specialty soap molds are available in a vast array of ethnic, holiday, and other shapes.

• Beauty soaps are likely to feature attractive fragrances, and ingredients to address a variety of skin types. Beauty soaps may feature glycerin, or special oil blends, for example, combining Shea butter, with coconut palm oil and other oils.

• Guest soaps are usually miniature soaps, molded into attractive shapes and designed for use by guests in the main bathroom, or in a separate guest bathroom. Popular shapes are flowers, sea shells, and rounds.

• Laundry soap is specially formulated to clean clothes. Be sure to follow package directions for best results.

• Dish soap is the counterpart of dish detergent and comes in a variety of scents. As with laundry soap, be sure to follow package directions, and do not use dish soap in a dishwasher.

Written by Mary Elizabeth