Soap vs. detergent - what's the difference?

Have you seen bars and body wash products labelled 'soap-free'? How exactly do you make 'soap' soap-free? Soap, by definition, is made by the saponification of fats and oils using sodium hydroxide. However, some soaps are not actually soaps at all.

Soap can be replaced with detergents or 'surfactants' as a cost and labour-saving measure. You may have seen them listed on ingredient labels - common ingredients are sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which are cheap and effective foaming agents. These are found in a huge range of products from dishwashing liquid, shampoos and toothpastes.

Unfortunately, SLSs are relatively strong surfactants, which means they can be irritating and drying to the skin. In some cases, sensitive people will react to these ingredients. These surfactants are petroleum products and there are some concerns about their safety when used in high concentrations over long periods of time.

Due to increasing consumer awareness of SLS and the potential issues linked to these ingredients, you will see some companies using alternative surfactants in their products. In fact, there are dozens of different names for these surfactants, such as 'sodium coco-sulfate', 'sodium dodecyl sulfate', 'ammonium laurel sulphate' and 'sodium cocoyl isethionate'. Some are made from coconut or palm oil as a base, instead of petroleum, but they are no more 'natural' than SLS.

All Eko Savon products are created through the old-fashioned saponification process, which creates a true soap. We believe the use of surfactants has given real soap a bad name - which is ironic considering that 'soap-free' is now often used as a marketing gimmick by companies who use surfactants in their products!

We can avoid the same drying effects of surfactants because all of our soaps are 'super-fatted', meaning free oils are still remaining in the soap even after the necessary chemical reaction has taken place. And you can rest assured that all our products are petroleum and palm oil free.