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From Soaps to Shower Gels: Your Comprehensive Comparison Guide

Comparative options between soaps and detergents
Comparative options between soaps and detergents

Shower gels, liquid soaps, syndets, bars of soap... what are the differences? Let's review together the main families of chemicals that can enter any washing formulation. We have compared 4 kinds of products :

  1. Naturals soaps created ethically

  2. Traditional soaps recipes, as they were made since the second century

  3. Standardized and widely available, typical bar of soap

  4. Standardized and widely available, typical liquid soap

1. The base ingredients to make (real) soap : Fats + alkali

Without fats and alkali, soap there can't be.

Simple as it may be, the reaction between the two substances is the cause of the formation of the soap molecules.

comparison table soaps
click to expand

You may find that shower gel or shampoo do not usually have these chemicals on the list. And if they do, the reason you probably buy the product is because you see, for example, a sweet coconut on the packaging. That's why coconut oil is mentioned somewhere at the end of the ingredient list (i.e., in small or very small amounts). The choice of alkali depends only on what final product you want to get. To make a hard soap, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) must be used. For liquid soaps it is caustic potash (KOH). It is possible to use both at the same time and you will get a creamier result.

More detailed information available here for the most curious.

When soaps were first made, pure alkali was not as available as it is today, and the alkali water was obtained by mixing ash with water, then the solution was filtered and mixed with animal or vegetable fats.

2. A touch of creativity : colour and odour

comparison table soaps

The old French-fries smell of natural soaps must indeed be masked for you to have a wonderful experience in the shower. Tropical flowers, exotic woods, the smell of freshly cut grass are far more attractive than the memories of the last fast food.

In addition, the soap maker has a wide range of materials and equipment to give the beautiful smell a suitable design. This is generally the point that distinguishes soap makers from each other.

3. Soaps and industrial detergents are two different worlds

Here the clearest differences between the products become apparent. On one side are the "soaps", which are the result of a saponification reaction (fats + alkali). On the other hand, the "detergents" produced by heavy industrial means directly from petroleum (oil industry) or derivatives for converted oils (usually coconut or palm oil).

comparison table soaps


You can find on the market :

1) natural soaps made out of fats and alkalis and it can be :

  • solid bars of soaps

  • liquid soaps

There is a wide range available in this bucket :

- from the cheap soap using animal fats + standard palm oil and adding controversial chemicals

- until the artisanal soaps where ingredients have been selected with ethical and environmental criteria.

2) Detergents made out with artificial washing agents (also called syndets for synthetic detergents)

  • solid bar of detergents

  • liquid detergents (shower gels, shampoos...)

To make the difference between all these options, a quick look on the ingredient list is necessary. We provide you some guidance on the ones you should avoid (here) or the recommended ones (here).


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