Have you ever been in a gift shop and saw a bar of soap that said triple milled or French milled? Or perhaps you’ve purchased one? This post will answer all your questions about this type of soap.
What is triple milled soap and how is it made?
Milling is a process for manufacturing soap that is very different from most commercial soaps. This process originated in France in the 18th century; they're sometimes called French milled. A milled soap is created when a soap base is first made using detergents or common soap making oils such as palm, coconut, and safflower, etc. Generally, the manufacturer will use the hot process method for this step, where oils, fats, water, and sodium hydroxide are combined and then cooked to quickly make the soap base. Note: our soaps are crafted using the cold process method, which does not use external heat.
The glycerin which is naturally occurring in soap is extracted from the base and removed. The soap base is then ground into very small pieces and fed through a series of large stainless steel rollers. The rollers press and squeeze the soap into a paste, a process known as milling. This process removes air, excess water and creates a very smooth product. This generally done three times (hence the name triple-milled.) Fragrance and other chemicals including glycerin are added during this process. The base is then pressed into a cavity mold. And in case you're wondering, the glycerin in the initial soap base can cause the rollers to gum up which is why it is extracted. Generally, the amount that is later added is less than what is naturally occuring.
What are the benefits of triple milled soap?
The primary benefit is an incredibly hard and long lasting soap. Triple milled soaps are also very smooth and consistent in appearance.
Are triple milled soaps natural?
If you’ve read any of my other discussions around soap making, you’ll know that the word “natural” is fairly meaningless because there is no standardized definition or regulated requirements for a "natural" soap. Anyone can call any soap natural and individuals will define natural very differently. For some, it might mean organic-only, for others it could mean vegetarian, and for others still it could mean without added chemicals (though that’s also a minefield of definitions and values.)
Despite the vagueness of the term natural, I believe most soap makers would agree that triple milled soap is an industrial process that may use only common fats and oils (plant-based or animal-derived) or it may also use synthetic detergents. The best advice I can offer is to read the ingredients. If the label says "beauty bar" or "cleansing bar" it is almost certainly a detergent and not a true soap. If it includes ingredients such as sodium laurel sulfate or cocamidopropyl betaine its likely not a true soap. However, I would urge caution in not simply focusing only on "chemical sounding" names; "sodium cocoate" might sound suspicious, but that's just the chemical name for coconut oil soap. When in doubt, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to answer any questions.
So...are triple-milled soaps better?
This is a value-based question so the answer depends on what is important to you. There is no doubt that triple milled soaps will last longer than other varieties. However, as a creator and lover of hand made products, I value cold process soaps for their quality ingredients, simplicity, and the range of colors and designs that are possible.