Before attempting to decide what are and what are not legitimate constituents of toilet and domestic soaps, it is necessary first to touch upon another question to which in some way it is more difficult to give a definite and satisfactory reply—namely, to what is the cleansing power of soap due? The answer to this depends a good deal upon the standpoint from which the matter is viewed. To the chemist the exact explanation is hardly yet entirely forthcoming, and he can at present only answer in a general way by saying that the chief value of a soap is owing to its power of dissolving or emulsifying fats; but why it does so is still more or less under discussion. It has been shown that a solution of a neutral soap when largely diluted with water is decomposed into free alkali, and a fatty acid which is precipitated.
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