Time to lather up and find out all about the different types of soap that are classified according to usage, form, ingredients, and the method of manufacturing them.
Soaps are a mandatory item for every household. The lather-producing product is one of the most essential elements of personal hygiene. While the word “soap” generally conjures up images of regular bath soaps that we use for bathing, that’s not all that soap is used for.
Soaps are salts of fatty acids. They are not just cleaning agents that you use for personal hygiene; they can be used to clean almost any surface. This is an important thing to note, as soaps are classified based on the surfaces that they are used to clean.
Table of Contents
History of Soap
Soapmaking dates back to 2800 B.C. It is backed by the fact that clay cylinders were found during the excavation of ancient Babylon. These cylinders contained a soap-like material that lined their inner walls. Moreover, certain inscriptions on these cylinders indicated that ashes and fats were boiled together to make soap.
As per the Ancient Roman legend, the word soap is derived from Mount Sapo, which was an ancient site where animals were sacrificed. The animal fat and ashes were washed away by rain and accumulated at the banks of the Tibet River. Women who washed clothes there noticed that if they washed clothes at a certain point, their clothes ended up being cleaner. This is where the use of soap first emerged.
The concept of bathing to stay clean became popular in Europe, but with the fall of Rome in 467 A.D., bathing habits saw a downfall too. With the serious lack of cleanliness, a number of diseases became common during the middle ages.
It was in the seventh century that soapmaking started to see the light in Italy and Spain, where goat fat and Beech tree ashes were used for soap preparation. With time, the use of soap in washing became widespread. The English began soapmaking in the 12th century. The use of soap in England was at its highest during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Later, when the concept of bathing and hygiene became common, the use of beauty soaps was welcomed warmly.
Today, we can’t imagine any cleaning procedure, be it personal cleanliness or the cleaning of our houses, where some form of soap isn’t used.
Types of Soaps
Would you wash your face with the same soap that you use to wash your clothes? No, right? Why is that so? It’s because you know that different kinds of soaps are used depending on what needs to be cleaned. But have you ever wondered how many types of soaps are there and what makes them different?
There are numerous types of soaps based on the method employed to make them, and the purpose for which they are used.
Types of Soaps Based on Usage
- Toilet Soaps
- Non-Toilet Soaps
- Glycerin Soaps
- Transparent Soaps
1. Toilet Soaps and Bathing Soaps
Toilet soaps and bathing soaps are the ones that have a cosmetic use. The terms toilet soap and bathing soap are generally used interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing and have significant differences between them.
Although they are both used in personal hygiene, they vary in their composition. Toilet soaps contain a higher quantity of Total Fatty Material (TFM). The higher the TFM, the better the cleaning properties of the soap. A higher TFM also means that the soap will deliver a greater moisturizing effect.
Bathing soaps, on the other hand, have lower TFM. This makes them inferior to toilet soaps in terms of cleaning. Bathing bars can be considered as entry-level soaps as their TFM value is fairly low as compared to toilet soaps.
Toilet soaps are divided into three grades, based on their TFM value, and subsequently, their cleaning efficiency.
The TFM content in grade 1 toilet soaps is about 76%. It can be either homogenized or high-grade milled soap, and can even be a combination of the two. Soaps with this level of TFM content make an excellent lather. Grade 1 toilet soaps come in various colors and are scented.
Grade 2 toilet soaps contain approximately 70% TFM. They are plodded and have a firm and smooth texture. They can be white or colored. The lathing property of grade 2 toilet soaps is fairly good but not as great as grade 1 toilet soaps. Most soaps that are available in the market are usually graded 2 toilet soaps.
The TFM content of grade 3 toilet soaps is quite low – about 60%. They have a firm and smooth texture, but their lathing properties are the poorest among all the three grades of toilet soaps. They are often red in color due to cresyclic acid. These soaps have a high quantity of fillers and additives, and their cleaning power is fairly less.
Toilet soaps can be further classified based on their usage. They fall into the following categories.
Laundry soaps are available in liquid, powder, and gel forms. Back in the day, soaps were made from all-natural ingredients, including goat fat and wood ash. But with the increase in demand and scarcity of natural ingredients, the use of synthetic materials became common. Therefore, what you have available today are actually detergents and not soaps.
Detergents contain surface-active agents, or surfactants, which are present in all laundry soaps. The properties of the surfactants vary from brand to brand.
Surfactants are responsible for pulling out the dirt from your laundry. The molecules of these surfactants have two ends; one end is attracted to water (hydrophilic end), and the other part is attracted to dirt (hydrophobic end). The hydrophobic end of a surfactant molecule attaches itself to the dirt, and with a swish of water, the dirt is washed away from the fabric.
Beauty Soaps/ Bars
As the name indicates, beauty bars are cleaning products that are meant to be used on your face. They are available for different skin types and skin conditions, so you may want to choose a beauty bar that suits your skin type. Beauty bars are available for acne and dark spot reduction, fairness enhancement, etc., and they also serve to bring about a moisturizing and hydrating effect to your skin.
According to the FDA’s (Food and Drug Authority) regulations, a product has to be a soap to be labeled as soap. As mentioned earlier, soap is a product that is made from natural ingredients. Therefore, most of the cleaning products available today are actually detergents. Hence, most companies call their beauty detergents “beauty bars” rather than “beauty soaps.”
Beauty soaps are available in the form of bars, liquid washes, and gels. They come in different colors, have different compositions, and are mostly scented. One thing that is common among all beauty bars is that they cleanse your skin and remove bacteria.
Novelty soaps serve as more than just cleaning agents. They are visually appealing and serve as a source of amusement, especially for kids. They come in numerous colors, shapes, and designs, like a duck, bird, car, etc. They can be used as a decoration in bathrooms or as a source of motivation for kids who are not fond of taking baths. They have a pleasant fragrance and are mostly handmade. Due to the variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, they are often given as gifts.
Guest soaps are simply soaps for guests. They are visually more pleasing as compared to the usual soaps and are smaller in size. These are the soaps you find in hotel rooms. A lot of people prefer keeping guests soaps in their bathrooms when they have guests visiting. There is no special purpose behind these soaps, other than giving the guests a nice impression. Guest soaps are usually round-shaped, shell-shaped, or flower-shaped.
Dish soap, dish detergent, or dishwashing liquid is a special type of soap that is meant to clean dishes. Most dish soaps have strong chemicals, which means that they shouldn’t be used on the skin. What separates dish soaps from regular, skin-friendly soaps is the high quantity of surfactants that dish soaps possess. This is why dishwashing soaps can clean not only the stains on dishes but also cut the oil and grease away.
Dish soaps produce a lot of foam. Some come as concentrates that need to be diluted in water, while some come in diluted forms. Most dish soaps contain ingredients like lemon and mint that leave behind a refreshing aroma after the dishes have been washed. Moreover, these refreshing agents also help in the efficient removal of oil and dirt from the dishes when washed with warm water.
Medicated soaps are specialty soaps that contain ingredients intended to treat one or more skin problems. The skin conditions that can be treated using medicated soaps include acne, blackheads, pimple, rashes, clogged pores, and fungal and bacterial infections. The ingredients of medicated soaps differ depending on what condition a particular soap is being used to treat.
There are many types of medicated soaps that are quite helpful in curing skin problems. They have been listed below:
Antibacterial soaps are so named because they contain antibacterial agents like triclosan, triclocarban, PCMX, tetrasodium EDTA, etc. These soaps are intended to be used on skin that has been affected by bacterial infections.
Antifungal soaps contain antifungal agents to combat fungal infections of the skin. They contain extracts from organic medicinal plants, essential oils, vitamin E, sulfur, natural glycerin, tea tree oil, zinc oxide, etc.
Medicated Soaps for Skin Problems
Apart from bacterial and fungal infections, the skin is prone to a number of skin problems. These include clogged pores, excess cellulite, or even excessively dry skin. One of the most common skin conditions is acne, and there are numerous medicated soaps which are meant to cure acne. These soaps have extracts of Neem and other plants that can soothe the skin.
If you are suffering from a particular skin condition, it is recommended that you opt for a medicated soap that targets the condition you are suffering from for the best results.
2. Non-Toilet Soaps
Non-toilet soaps are soaps that are used for cleaning heavy dirt. These soaps are used to get rid of tough stains and grease. They are more commonly known as lithium soaps. They consist of the lithium salt of a fatty acid.
While toilet soaps are used in domestic cleaning, lithium soaps are components of lithium grease. Lithium grease is formed by mixing lithium soap and oil. It is used as a lubricating agent and thickener.
3. Glycerin Soaps
Glycerin soaps are one of the most moisturizing types of soap. They are gentle to the skin. This type of soap not only moisturizes the skin but is also equally effective for all skin types. Glycerin soaps can make your skin appear moisturized and healthy.
These soaps are 100% natural, which makes them suitable for sensitive skin. People who have sensitive skin often complain that bar soaps make their skin look rough or worsen their skin problems. This worsening of skin conditions is due to the presence of synthetic chemicals in regular beauty bars. However, glycerin soaps are suitable for even the most sensitive skin. Even if you have serious skin problems like psoriasis or eczema, glycerin soaps will work wonders for you.
Glycerin is a humectant, which means it attracts moisture. As a result, when you use glycerin soap, your skin is not only moisturized, but the moisture is locked in as well. Your skin stays hydrated for several hours, making it look fresh and feel soft. If you use glycerin soap regularly, your skin will not only become soft, but it will feel suppler as well.
4. Transparent Soaps
Unlike regular soaps, transparent soaps are clear and see-through. Instead of mixing soap material in water, it is mixed in a hot alcohol solution. The particles that remain undissolved in alcohol are filtered out, and hence, a transparent soap is formed.
The filtration of undissolved particles has to be done with extreme care when forming transparent soaps because, unlike regular bar soaps, these particles cannot be hidden in an opaque mass. The alcohol content is then separated from the mixture through the process of distillation until the residue left behind is capable of forming a solid mass. Transparent soaps are very hard, and they lather with great difficulty.
Transparent soaps are not as moisturizing as opaque soap bars, but they are very effective for oily skin and acne. This is because the alcohol neutralizes the soap during the process. Moreover, they are quite slippery and can be shaved into several shapes.
Types of Soaps Based on Form
Soaps aren’t just classified based on their usage; they can also be categorized on the basis of their form. Below, we look at the different types of soap based on their form.
1. Handmade Soaps
Handmade soaps are costlier as compared to commercially produced soaps. They are made in small batches from all-natural ingredients. Handmade soaps are real soaps as they contain natural ingredients only.
They are made from base oils like palm oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and/or butter like Shea butter. These ingredients are rich in antioxidants, nutrients, and vitamins that are essential for the skin’s health.
Handmade soaps are not only gentle on your skin but are also safer. Since they do not contain any strong, synthetic chemicals, they can be used by people with sensitive skin.
2. Bar Soaps
“Bar soap” is an umbrella term that encompasses all types of soaps that are available in the form of bars. These include beauty soaps, bathing soaps, and laundry soaps.
3. Liquid Soaps
As the name indicates, liquid soaps are available in the form of liquid. They are manufactured to be used on the body (body wash), hands (hand wash), or dishes (dishwashing liquid). Liquid soaps may also be used to clean floors (surface cleaners).
Types of Soaps Based in Ingredients
Soaps can also be classified into various types based on the main ingredient used in their preparation. The types of soaps based on ingredients include:
1. Milk Soaps
Milk soaps are one of the softest and gentlest types of soaps. The major ingredient in these soaps is milk that not only nourishes but also pampers the skin. They have a smooth and slippery texture. Milk soaps leave the skin feeling soft and smooth after usage.
Goat milk soaps are the most common type of milk soap. They are so tender and gentle to the skin that they are actually recommended for use on infant skin. The skin of babies is very sensitive, and the harsh chemicals that are present in regular bar soaps can irritate their skin or even make it rough. A good goat milk soap cleanses a baby’s skin gently and leaves it feeling smooth.
2. Flavored Soaps
Flavored soaps are made from extracts of herbs and plants. They come in a variety of flavors, such as peppermint, vanilla, seaweed, lemongrass, tea tree, etc. They have a pleasant fragrance and impart a refreshing feel on the skin. Moreover, most of these soaps are meant for specific skin conditions.
3. Animal Soaps
Just like flavored soaps are made from ingredients that come from plants, animal soaps are made from fat that has been extracted from animals. Animal fat is heated to produce oil. The main ingredient of these soaps is sodium tallowate. Therefore, animal soaps are a mixture of animal tallow and oils.
4. Luxury Soaps
Luxury soaps are made from premium ingredients like sandalwood, almonds, and chocolate. Each ingredient comes with its own set of benefits for the skin. As these soaps are made from premium, luxurious ingredients, they are expensive. However, because of their herbal and natural nature, they are beneficial for the skin.
5. Perfumed Soaps
Perfumed soaps have fancy fragrances, unlike the mild fragrances of regular soaps. They are commonly used in spas and salons and in places where aromatherapy is practiced. Moreover, people often use them on a daily basis if they are fond of the fresh-smelling scents that these soaps give off.
Types of Soaps Based on the Method of Manufacture
There are various methods that can be employed to manufacture soaps. Each method is different from the other, and the soap produced from each technique has a unique set of characteristics.
1. Melt and Pour Method
The melt and pour method is a simple, lye-free method, that you can use to make soap at home. All you need to make soap with the melt and pour method is a premade soap base.
- Simply melt the soap base till it completely liquefies.
- Add the dye of your choice, and other ingredients, including herbs, essential oils, and nutrients.
- Mix all the ingredients in the melted soap base.
- Pour the mixture into a mold of your choice.
- Allow it to dry and harden.
2. Hot Press Method and Cold Press Method
Both hot and cold press methods use basic ingredients to make soap from scratch. Therefore, these soapmaking methods produce the purest soaps. Lye and water are used in the process of saponification.
Hot Press Method
In the hot process method, the ratio of lye to oil does not have to be as precise as in the cold press method, which makes the hot press method a lot easier and less time-consuming.
However, the downside to this quick setting time is that the soaps produced from this method are not as visually pleasing as they are with the cold press method. Moreover, soaps usually end up being lumpy. Laundry soaps are often made with the hot press method.
Cold Press Method
The cold press method of making soap produces the best looking soaps. The saponification process is slow, and hence, the soap makers have enough time to create beautiful designs and patterns. Most of the visually pleasing soaps that you can buy are produced using the cold press soap making technique.
3. Rebatching/ Milling Method
The Re-batching or milling soap method is a method of soapmaking that involves reworking soaps that have already been made. It involves shredding previously made soaps (either by the hot press method or cold press method) and then melting them and remaking them into fresh soaps.
Each method of making soap has its own merits and demerits. Therefore, the soaps produced from each method vary in quality and aesthetics as well.
Basic Soap Ingredients
The basic ingredients that a regular soap bar is made up of are:
- Lye: It is the reaction between lye and oils that produces the soap through a process called saponification. The two types of lye that are used in soap making are sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide. The process of saponification is said to be complete when all the lye has been consumed.
- Water: Water makes up an important part of a soap recipe. The lye is mixed into a solution with water before it is mixed with oils.
- Scent: Most of the soaps available today are scented. Therefore, a scented ingredient makes for an important ingredient of soaps. Either fragrant oils or plant-based essential oils are used to add scent to soap.
- Color: Dyes are an essential component of all soaps. Colored soaps are visually more attractive, and that is why FDA approved dyes and pigments are usually added to soaps.
- Preservatives: True soaps that are made of oil, lye, and water do not need preservatives, but preservatives are often added to liquid soaps.
- Ready-Made Soap Bases: Soap bases may be completely natural or synthetic. Their composition varies. Soap bases consist of ingredients that are required to make the soap meltdown before it is poured into a mold.
Soaps are a mandatory part of our lives today. They are the basic element of all cleanliness procedures, whether it is self-cleanliness or the cleaning of our homes, or the washing of our laundry or dishes. Whenever there is something that needs to be cleaned, soaps and detergents are the cleaning agents that we use.
Now that you know all about the types of soaps out there, you will be better able to understand why some types of soaps are meant for use on the skin, and some are not. You can now better decide which type of soap will be suitable for the purpose you have in your mind.