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What does 'saponification' mean in natural shampoo bar making?

It’s one of those words that you probably know what it means without having ever heard the word before. 

In short, saponification is defined by Merriam-Webster as the act, process, or result of making soap: conversion into soap’. In order to achieve a solid bar of soap, you will need to mix fats and oils with a sodium or potassium hydroxide. 
Sodium hydroxide is more commonly referred to as caustic soda/lye. A fairly common ingredient that you will find in most Australian households. And by this we mean even in food. By itself, it can be a fairly corrosive alkali. However, when combined with triglycerides (fats and oils) it will solidify the oils and your result will be a soap. 
The important thing to consider here is that although we list caustic soda as an ingredient in our Solibars, it is not actually evident in the final product. The caustic soda is used up entirely by the process of saponification and therefore is not harmful. (In short, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do if it was). 
The other incredibly important thing to consider is that shampoo/soap bars that do not contain sodium hydroxide/caustic soda/lye are not natural. These are what are referred to as syndet bars, we’ve written extensively about the difference between natural and syndet bars here. Moreover, the word syndet is derived from the words synthetic and detergent. 
Natural soap will always need sodium hydroxide in order to solidify and without it, you’d just end up with an oily lumpy mess. And nothing like soap to clean. 
Although we make it sound easy, it is not a simple process. Various things like temperature, ingredients and process must be considered before you can get the mixture to turn into a solid. 
For those who need a little more information on the saponification process, grab your lab coat, a beaker and check out these links below: 

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