2 In blog/ soap making

The Truth About Soda Ash

Soap with Slight Soda Ash

As an honest merchant, soapmaker, person, etc….I’m constantly irked by the stupid marketing claims made by other makers of beauty products.  In particular, when it comes to anything handmade or natural.  So, I’m starting a series to educate folks here and there on some dubious marketing claims out there.

My intention is not to bash what other folks are doing, in fact – I’m inspired by many of their stories and am impressed with their products.  It’s just when marketing people (and BTW – my career is in marketing) add their little “twists” to the truth it just rubs me the wrong way.   Some twists are clearly lies, others are exaggerated.  So here’s one I came across whilst looking around the internet….

“All Beekman 1802 soap is handmade from the milk of the Beekman goats, who graze freely on the land and drink the waters that once made Sharon Springs one of the most famous spa destinations in the world. Beekman 1802 soap uses the highest percentage of pure goat milk possible in each soap bar which will leave your skin clean and well-moisturized without the use of any synthetic chemicals and can be used for face, body and even hair. You may notice a faint layer of ash on the bottom of the soap, which washes away with first use.  This ash affirms the bar is made from pure goat milk using non-chemical methods.

It all sounds so bucolic and lovely; very charming.   My issues is with the underlined sentence on how the ash “affirms” the natural, non-chemical, etc…. This is total goatsh*t.  (Excuse my French…)

Let’s talk about soda ash on soap for a bit….first – it’s a bit of a mystery to all soapmakers.  I used to get it on my soaps when I let them sit out and go through the full heating and cooling process.  I’ve since changed my formulation and processing and I don’t get any ash.  Personally, I don’t like it although many soapmakers believe it adds a rustic touch.  It does actually, but for my bars – I like them without the ash.  In fact, most soapmakers seem to not like it either and consider it a problem.  Here’s a video which talks about how to remove soda ash:



Here’s how soda ash is explained by the Soap Queen:

“Soda ash forms when unsaponified lye reacts with naturally occurring carbon dioxide in the air.  Soda ash is  harmless, and it’s most common on the surface of your cold process soaps, but sometimes soda ash can form throughout the middle of the bars.”

I point you to the Soap Queen who to me is one of the authorities on all things soapmaking. Here’s an article on soda ash on soap: The Soap Queen: Explaining and Preventing Soda Ash.

From David Fisher – the About.com writer on Soap and Candle Making:

Ash is a white, powdery substance that mysteriously appears on soap as it is curing – usually on the surface of the soap as it is sitting in the mold hardening overnight after it is first poured. It will usually only form on the sides of the soap that are exposed to the air while hardening.

What is it? Soap makers have traditionally believed that it is sodium carbonate formed by the free sodium from the sodium hydroxide (lye) and carbon dioxide in the air. Other soap makers have theorized that it’s actually microcrystalline powdered soap residue.

Soap making guru Kevin Dunn, author of Scientific Soapmaking recently did some extensive tests on ash and has confirmed that it is indeed sodium carbonate. Among the clues he used to test his hypothesis were that it was soluble in water and that it only occurred where the soap came in contact with air.  (Read full article here.)

By Beekman’s explanation and the look of their soaps, it looks like they pour the soap mixture into custom molds, the top is exposed to air which is where the ash forms.  When unmolded of course the top becomes the bottom.  Now, ash is not a bad thing – however it does NOT “affirm the bar is made from pure goat milk” and does NOT “affirm using non-chemical methods.”  You can make a cold-process bar of soap with “unpure” goat milk, no goat milk and/or some synthetic ingredients (like synthetic fragrance oils) and still get lots of good old fashioned soda ash.  It does not prove or affirm anything about their ingredients or process.

This is where the marketing folks spun the truth into a misleading lie.  Yeah, it’s a lie (I don’t believe in gray areas.) I suppose they don’t really like the ash and were looking for a positive spin to explain it.  Or customers expressed concerns or had questions…who knows.  So what does ash on soap truly affirm?   It “affirms” that the cold-process method was used to make the soap and that during the process it was mostly likely exposed to air.  That’s about it.  Beekman soaps are lovely enough and I don’t doubt their ingredients or process.  I’m sure their using goat milk from their farm and using the old-fashioned method of soapmaking (cold-process.)  Ash is just a natural part of the process but does not at all validate ingredients.  So, shame on you marketing folks – you should know better.  And if you know better – you should do better.  And if you don’t know better, than the company should get some new marketing folks who at least know how to do a Google search.

You Might Also Like

  • mammabear 71.
    08/19/2014 at 10:04 am

    I am really dubious of marketing claims when it comes to any beauty product. Especially soap. There is a very well known brand out there that “doesn’t dry your skin like soap can”. This irritated me for a number of reasons

    1) I tried the product and it’s crap
    2) They accuse their competitors of causing dryness to skin. Who are they referring to? Because I’ve used 100 dollar facial washes from cosmetic surgeons that dried my skin almost to ash. They were the wrong type for my skin thats all.
    3) They clearly refer to other soaps on the shelf at the supermarket – which we know is not legally soap because its got so much junk in it.
    4) They cannot even call themselves soap because its doesn’t meet the formula doesn’t (I suspect) meet the regulations. Beauty Bar…sounds amazing and I was sucked into the marketing until I researched the why’s behind it.
    5) 1/4 moisturising cream… exactly what type of moisturising cream because I am allergic to most cheap rubbish and at under 5 bucks for a “beauty bar” I doubt it’s a top notch, quality cream made exclusively for my skin type. Probably an oil and water emulision with a bit of mineral oil and lanolin thrown in for measure.

    I’m a straight talker. If something is crap I say it. I hate being treated like an idiot by mindless bimbos in department stores trying to convince me that I need to spend 500 dollars on all these fancy gloopy creams which I KNOW come from the same base formula.

    I never accept someones claim to being Natural until I see the ingrediants list.

    • Brenda
      08/19/2014 at 12:03 pm

      Love your comment! Before making my own soaps I used to use that “beauty bar” too which always left me dry. Deconstructing the ingredient list on that particular one (and some others) are on my list of future blog posts. Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂