Le Comptoir du Bain

All there is to know about Traditional Soap

Origins

Would you like to know more about Traditional Marseille Soap?

Its history can be traced across millennia.

It all started in ancient times, along the shores of the Mediterranean, with Aleppo soap, which is named after a town in Syria.

At its heart, soap is a mixture of tallow, ash and sometimes even goat fat that can be used for anything around the house...

The process was invented in the Middle Ages. Because it is abundant in raw ingredients like olive oil, salt and sodium hydroxide, Provence became the leading soap-making region. It was not until later that copra oil, for example, was added to improve the original recipe.

In the 17th century, Marseille became the only city in France that could produce soap,
which was governed by rules issued by the Sun King. The particular manufacturing method used there is what gave Marseille soap its name.

Over time, the reputation of Marseille soap grew.

In the 19th century, the soap-making industry got bigger and more organised. Marseille is
still the primary place of production with more than ten soap factories.

Marseille soap continues to garner attention today. It is known around the world and is especially admired for its eco-friendly characteristics.

Production

Traditional Marseille soap is made in a cauldron; its production is more the result of a manufacturing process than of a chemical formula.

Let's have a closer look at the different steps...

First change:
The vegetable oils and soda ash are heated and brought to a boil in the cauldron. This is the saponification process that will gradually form a soap paste.

Cooking:
Copious amounts of sodium hydroxide are then added to encourage saponification, cause a more complete reaction of the fats that did not react during the first change stage. This mixture boils at 120° C for several hours.

Salting out or drowning out:
The paste is rinsed several times with salt water to eliminate any remaining sodium hydroxide and to separate the glycerine that will be removed later. This is the soap delipidation phase.

Liquification:
The mixture is left to rest, and then washed with pure water to rid the soap of any impurities or extra salt. To ensure the soap is very liquid, the master soap maker adds water one last time and checks that the paste is perfectly neutral. The soap takes shape...

Casting and drying:
While it is still hot, the liquid paste is cast into moulds – rectangular cement cooling trays – to ensure uniformity. It will harden until it resembles a lead weight and dry for 48 hours.

Cutting out and stamping:
In the beginning, the solidified soap was cut into cubes then "marked" as a guarantee: 72% vegetable oil. This percentage proved the quality of the soap and that it was 100% natural.

These days Marseille soap can be found in many forms: liquid soap, discs or anything else that suits our fancy!

Ultimately, the soap must wait one week to ten days – the time needed for all those steps – before it can pop up in our bathrooms!

Uses and benefits

Traditional Marseille soap is first and foremost a gentle personal cleansing product whose daily use is an age-old practice; it is used most commonly on the hands and body.

It is an eco-friendly, biodegradable product that does not pollute the environment.

But did you know that Marseille soap also has super powers?

It can be used as a household cleaning product and as a laundry detergent. It is notably used to wash fragile fabrics and to eliminate tough stains. As a laundry detergent, it is recommended for babies and people with sensitive skin because it does not contain any allergens.

For minor wounds, Marseille soap can be used as a disinfectant.

It has anti-moth and bactericidal properties and helped lower infant mortality in the 19th century.

Some even say that it can be tucked into the bottom of your bed to prevent cramps and rheumatism.

Unbelievable, right?

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Le Comptoir du Bain is a French brand that combines tradition, pleasure and modernity to provide a broad range of personal care and well-being products of the highest quality that feature bright colours and fragrances.