Waltke Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, developed Lava soap in 1893, and the company registered the trademark in 1896. Although the ownership of the trademark and product has changed hands, the nontoxic biodegradable ingredients have remained virtually unchanged for more than 100 years.
According to the Centennial History of Missouri, William Waltke became a sole proprietor in 1860 when he left Becker & Brand, a soap manufacturing company in St. Louis, to establish his own soap making plants. Proctor & Gamble secured the Lava soap rights and subsequently sold them to Block Drug Company in 1996. WD-40 Company acquired the product in 1999 and now holds the rights to the trademark name and formula for Lava soap.
According to a 1995 Procter and Gamble Fact Sheet required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the formula for lava soap comes from ingredients derived from "coconut oil, pumice, water, glycerine and minor ingredients." Lava soap is a nontoxic biodegradable product.
Pumice is the ingredient in lava soap that prompted the trademark name. Pumice is volcanic ash and is chemically similar to glass but is much softer and more fragile. It is not harsh or toxic. Pumice in various grades is used in soaps, body scrubs, dental products and other products that require a fine abrasive quality that is nontoxic and biodegradable.
WD-40 responded to consumer requests for information about glycerine in the Lava product by saying that Lava contained sodium tallowate with a very small amount of animal fat. Sodium tallowate is sodium hydroxide or lye, one of the three key ingredients for soap. The other necessary ingredients to make soap are water and oil.
The coconut oil listed as one of the ingredients for Lava soap is probably in the form of sodium cocoate, which is a combination of the fatty acid salts of coconut oil and sodium hydroxide. Coconut oil is a common ingredient in many quality soaps.
The pH rating of Lava Soap is 9.4, which means it is alkaline. The pH balance of the hands differs from that of the face, which is why facial products have a lower pH balance closer to a neutral rating of 7. Lava soap is a hand cleaner and advertised as such.