This is my Mom and my Grandma----two people who are/were very influential in my soap making endeavor. I make soap the very similar to the way my Grandma did years ago.
There are 3 basic types of handmade soap, and many many MANY opinions on which is the best way in which to make it. The following is my description of a culmination of a lot of resources and reading all of them.
Melt & Pour---Basically you buy a block of soap that was made by a company and you melt it down and add scents and color to it and pour it into a mold. It can be used as SOON as it hardens. This particular way of doing it is fine, however, the companies that make these types of glycerin based soaps have to add many other ingredients to it to maintain shelf life and stability. Most of these can be drying to the skin and some of the ingredients are not nourishing to your skin---in fact may be quite the opposite.
Hot Process---Hard oil and liquid fats along with sodium hydroxide or lye melted together in a crockpot and heated up. It is then poured into a mold after it reaches a certain stage called saponification. This stage is where the hydroxide molecules attach themselves to the ions in the fats and make a thick batter of soap. This particular way of doing it is not bad per say, but to me, it speeds up the process too much and can cause it to lose some of its skin nurturing integrity in my opinion. If the essential oils are added too fast at the higher temp, it also will lose some of the scent load in the process. This soap can be used within less than a week when it hardens.
Cold Process---This is why I have my Grams picture up top. This is the way she used to make it---
Hard Oil Fats (usually rendered fat--I do NOT do that part YIKES) ie: Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, Cocoa Butter, Lard, Vegetable Shortening, Palm Oil, Jojoba Oil..(all examples of great hard oils) Liquid Oil Fats, Olive Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Castor Oil etc....melted to a certain temperature. Sodium hydroxide (Gram used to use Potash) or lye added to purified water and cooled down to a certain temp range that is around the same temp range as the melted oils. They are added together and stirred until they come to Trace---which has the consistency of gravy. The ions connect with each other in the saponification stage. Colorants and clays and micas and scents and dried herbs can be added at this time and returned to the stirring stage. After it becomes slightly thicker it is then poured into a mold and covered with wool blankets for 24 hours. It then gets unwrapped and taken out of the mold to cure for 6 weeks. Where in it is still WORKING to make the best damn bar of totally natural soap and the lye has been dissipated into the fat molecules and is no longer harsh or toxic. This process is sometimes tedious, but the wait is worth it.
I do not want to sound like some kind of soap snob---because I truly am not. The soap that I make, and the price I charge for it, is reflective of this cold process way of making soap. I have been making it this way for almost 30 years--hate to tell ya how many batches I messed up and then actually figured out how to fix it---I just want people to have an understanding of the different types of handmade soap and why some is so vastly different from others in price and I hope this little 'read' helps. Always, Renee :-)