Vocabulary of a Soap Maker




If you’re a regular follower and customer of Bulk Apothecary, a ‘Bulker’ if you will, I’m sure you’re all too familiar with what we offer (and if you’re new to Bulk Apothecary, welcome!!).

We LOVE DIY projects and provide top quality products to get you started on your journey. A great DIY project or hobby or craft-turned-business (go you!) is Soap Making. It’s SO much fun and allows endless possibilities for creativity. It’s also a wonderful way to customize and monitor the products that you’re using on your skin- Have super dry skin? Choose an oil for your soap that’s ultra moisturizing.

Allergic to fragrance? Opt not to use any. Love the benefits of Coconut Oil? Make a soap that packed full of it! You can pick and choose the way you want your soap to look, feel, lather, and smell, and it can all be done in the comfort of your own home. Pretty cool, right?

Once you make the decision to dive into the soap making world, you’ll quickly discover that there’s A LOT to learn! Not to say that it’s hard (so don’t get scared away- you CAN do it!) there are just so many options and choices that it can be a little overwhelming. At least I know it was for me. Hot-Process? What?? Saponification? Is that even a word?! What in the world is mica used for?

No worries- we’re going to start with the basics today. I’m going to break this down into four main categories: Basic Terminology, Methods of Soap Making, Selecting Bases, and Colors & Additives, so check back for each post!

For today, let’s learn some soap making vocabulary!

Vocabulary of a Soap Maker

Essential Oil (aka: volatile oil, ethereal oil, aethereal oil) – Essential oils are oils extracted from natural elements such as flowers, plant leaves, citrus peels, bark, and herbs. They carry a distinct scent and are used for fragrance, flavoring, medicinal remedies, and cleaning.

Carrier Oil– Base oils used to dilute essential oils and absolutes, as they carry the essential oil to the skin. They are unscented or have a very mild aroma, oily, and do not evaporate. Sweet Almond Oil and Grapeseed Oil are popular carrier oils.

Fragrance Oil– These oils are a synthetic blend of chemical aromas and essential oils. They are created specifically for particular scent profiles and are not considered natural ingredients when used in soaps and lotions.

Fatty Acids– These can be saturated or unsaturated. The fatty acid profile in different oils decides how that oil will perform in a bar of soap. Different levels of fatty acids will change the lather, hardness, stability, and resistance of the bar. We’ll dive deeper into this another time.

Gel Phase– Gel phase is a game-time decision. You can choose to allow your soap to gel, or opt to skip it depending on your preference. Temperature changes occur during gel phase causing a rise in heat which results in a shinier, more translucent appearance.

Lye– A strong caustic alkali, highly water soluble. Commonly known as “sodium hydroxide.” When combined with fatty acids, Lye causes a chemical reaction called saponification to occur resulting in crude soap.

Lye Calculator– Handy little tool that you can find online to help you calculate the amount of lye and water you’ll need in your soap mixture based off of the type of oils that you’ve decided to use.

Superfatting (the Lye Discount)– Refers to either adding an extra amount of oil to your recipe while keeping the lye mixture the same, or using the same amount of oil called for in your recipe but decreasing the lye. Doing this leave ‘free oil’ in your soap that adds extra moisturizing or emollient qualities. Your Lye Calculator will usually help you with superfatting, but it will work like this: If you use 9.5 ounces of lye instead of the called for 10 ounces, you’ll have 5% superfatting or 5 % extra oil in your soap. Got it?

Saponification– The chemical process that occurs when base/fixed oils are mixed with lye.

SAP (saponification) Value– The amount of lye required for base oils to become soap (saponify). This number will vary depending on the oil being used.

Superfat– The feeling we have after consuming Thanksgiving Dinner. Haha! Just kidding! Refer to Superfatting (the Lye Discount) above. Sometimes the term will be shortened to ‘superfat.’

Trace– The point of no return in soap making! When the lye/water mixture has blended with the oils into a mixture that will not separate back. Trace is a thick creamy consistency. You will see it described two ways- Thin or Light Trace, which is the consistency of a melted milkshake, is the point where you will add color and essential or fragrance oils. Thick or Heavy Trace, is a mixture with the consistency of pudding. Once trace starts to occur, it will continue to thicken to a heavier version. Some people like to pour their soap mixture into the mold at light trace while others prefer to wait a little longer.

Water Discount– A way to decrease soap drying time by reducing the amount of water in a soap recipe, which will also accelerate trace.


There you have it. The basic terms to be familiar with when soap making. It’s always helpful to do research before beginning an unfamiliar project for the first time and the internet has many helpful pictures to familiarize yourself with each term and step in the process. Once you do a batch or two, you?ll be comfortable and ready to get creative with your custom soaps!

Did I forget any terms? If you have questions, or need some clarification on steps and techniques, just ask!



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