Why Soap Smells So Good?

Jul. 07, 2022

When customers tell us they have a favorite soap, it's usually its scent that sets it apart from other soaps. This is not surprising, as the smell is one of the most closely linked to the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotions, memory, and behavior. If you smell a perfume that reminds you of your long-lost grandmother, then you have experienced that intimacy.


Odors or scents are simply mixtures of compounds that are released into the air and interact with the odor receptors in our noses. They bind to receptors in the lining of the nose, causing the associated nerve cells to send messages to a part of the brain called the olfactory bulb. There, the information is sorted out and the brain is able to detect "lemon" or "buttercream frosting" or "toast".


While the smell of regular soap is pleasant enough, adding a scent to soap can really turn the actual task of cleaning into a pleasant experience. The scents we use to scent soap are the same chemicals that give fruits, flowers, and plants their unique scent. Whether extracted from plants or mixed in a lab, scents are scented chemicals!



Scents from nature

Essential oils are concentrated liquids that contain volatile chemicals that produce odors. Liquids are extracted from their sources by distillation (using heat to separate out the essential oils), solvent extraction (using water and solvents to separate the compounds) or squeezing (squeezing the source to remove the oil from it). Sources of essential oils include the peels of citrus fruits, the leaves of plants such as mint, and the petals of flowers such as jasmine.


Some scent molecules are so fragile that they are destroyed during the extraction process and no longer smell like the fresh versions. This is why there is no such thing as watermelon or cucumber essential oil. For this, we must turn to chemical engineering and the so-called fragrance oils.


Scents from your friendly neighborhood chemist

A fragrance oil is a mixture of chemicals that have been synthesized and mixed to mimic the chemical composition of a certain smell. For example, a chemist can analyze the individual chemicals that make up the "watermelon" smell we smell, and then put those chemicals in a lab, essentially replicating what nature itself can do. This is how soap makers can make soap smell like cotton candy or banana pudding.


Another reason some soap makers choose to use essential oils is as a substitute for an overly expensive or rare essential oil. For example, the over-harvesting of Indian sandalwood for its highly prized essential oil has led to the species being threatened. Synthetic fragrance oils are a good option to help save the Indian sandalwood tree.


Benzaldehyde has an almond smell. Used in soap and as an edible flavoring agent for almonds, berries, cream, cherries, coconuts, apricots, peaches, pecans, plums, vanilla beans, spices and other spices. Rum, brandy, and other types of alcohol flavors are also used.

Let the soap shine!

Sometimes the ingredients in handmade soap can bring a mild scent to the finished soap without adding any fragrance. Goat's milk and honey added to soap not only make a mild soap, but also provide a delicate, creamy scent. Adding beer to cold process soap can also create a mildly nutty scented soap.


No matter which handmade soap scent you prefer, I hope it brings you nothing but good feelings and fond memories!


Do you have a favorite soap? What is it and how does the scent make you feel?

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