What is Soap?

What is Soap?

Apr 25th 2015

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Chemically, soap is a salt. Like the stuff on your table. That you eat.

Where do salts come from?

Table salt is sodium chloride, which, you guessed it, comes from the combination of sodium and chlorine. Why is that important? Next time you pick up the salt shaker, think about that fact that salt comes from some very dangerous chemicals.

  • sodium that explodes when exposed to any water (like humidity in the air)
  • chlorine, a yellow-green gas that can kill you

Pretty fascinating. One of those oxymorons of nature, something essential like salt that we MUST have to live, is created from things that can kill us. Here are some details on the chemical reaction that makes salt.

Where do we find salt?

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Today, free sodium metal cannot be found in nature on the earth's surface, it is too volatile. But in the way back, when things like rocks were liquid in a lot of places, sodium was hanging around the earth, flying free.

Sodium has a natural positive charge so strong that it is just waiting to pounce on other chemicals that are negative. Like chlorine. Apparently they found each other and hung out a lot, the result of their union is everywhere. Everyone knows the ocean is salty, but that is the result of water washing the salt out of the land - which has WAY more salt than the ocean.

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Conveniently, one of the compounds that is used to make modern bar soap, sodium hydroxide or lye, is a by-product when salt (sodium chloride) is created in water. Today this happens in underwater volcanoes and chemical laboratories.

Chemistry Lesson

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According to Wikipedia, you have a salt when two ions with opposite electrical charges come together to form a new compound. The result is an electrically stable substance - rocks, crystals, (or, um, bars of soap... jus sayin) - some pretty solid stuff.

Put salts in water, though, and watch out. You have electrical conductivity just waiting to happen. In fact, salt in water is called an "electrolyte" - sound familiar? Gatorade anyone?

What this means to your skin

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All of this is important because small differences in the "electrolyte" you use can have a BIG impact on your skin cells. We have so many uses for salt. It makes fireworks pretty, and it makes corn on the cob taste good.

And it cleans your skin.

It is important to choose the right salt for the job you want to do. Do you have the right salt in your shower?