Savonnerie le Fer a cheval, Marseille

by Nov 1, 2020

A little tour of this historic soap making factory, one of the few still making real Marseille soap. The process of making Marseille soap was defined the late XVIIe century, under Louis XIV as a soap made in Marseille, based solely on vegetal oils, without colouring, preservative, perfume or any additive, and respecting the 5 stage / 7 ingredients recipe called Procédé Marseillais.

Today, the process remains the same, the 5 stages take place in the huge cauldrons still housed in this XIXe century fabric

1/ Empâtage: the vegetal oils (olive oil for the green soaps) are mixed with washing soda and boiled

2/ Relargage: a salt wash is added, and it helps separate the soap and soda

3/ Cuisson (cooking): the saponification takes place and the oils are transformed into soap

4/ Lavage (cleaning): the soap paste is cleaned of impurities, non saponified fat and glycerol

5/ Liquidation: the final wash leaves only the purest soap

Those different steps are watched over by a “master soap maker” and an apprentice. Only they have the secret of the exact length, proportions and temperatures needed to obtain the Marseille soap. I was sad to hear that there is no school to learn this craft and that it might eventually disappear..

Having discovered this factory a few years ago, we have been using their products for a while. The soap is really amazing, it does leave the skin feeling really fresh and clean, a must in those covid time. All bathrooms at la Baye des Anges are kitted either with the liquid version or the solid version of Marseille soap for our guests to discover their magic 😉

I also buy the flaked version to reconstitute my own washing liquid, guaranteed without any suspicious additive. Instead I add my own additives (available at the Biocoop, the local organic shop): washing soda to wash away the unwanted smells (works wonders with sweat), or percarbonate de soude ( Sodium carbonate peroxohydrate, also available at the local organic shop) to brighten up the whites.

The historical factories making Marseille soap following the 5 stage / 7 ingredients process are trying to label their products to protect it from copies, you can check out their page here

If you are interested in visiting a factory or buying their products on-line here are the websites of the 4 remaining factories in existence (there where close to 200 by the late XIXe c):

Le Fer Cheval

Marius Fabre

La Savonnerie du midi – La Corvette

Le Serail (this one doesn’t have an on-line shop)


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