USDA Guidelines for the word “Organic”


We get a lot of questions from our private label customers about using the word “organic.” How can it be used in marketing if you want to be on the straight and narrow with the USDA?

This is a great question. The USDA’s standards and rules for organics are actually quite straight forward, but they are often misapplied. In this post, we’re going to give you the lowdown on how to use the word “organic” on your private label soap.

The USDA definition of “organic” starts at the ingredient list.  This is important to note, because not all of the ingredients that we use to make soap are in the final product.  Huh, you may say, where did they go?

Botanie Soap is true soap — the old-fashioned handmade kind, also known as cold-process soap.  Our soap is made with organic vegetable oils and pure lye, or sodium hydroxide (NaOH.) When we first blend our organic vegetable oils with the lye, about 10% and 15% of the mix is sodium hydroxide.  Over the next few hours, the lye dissolves and remarries with the fatty acids from the vegetable oils, creating fatty acid salts – soap!

Sodium hydroxide is not an organic ingredient itself, but it is on the allowed list of ingredients that can be used in making organic products. Even though there is no lye left over at the end, that 10-15% we put in at the beginning of the process is still counted against our overall organic percentage.  This means that no true handmade soap can ever be more than 85-90% organic!  (No matter what you’ve seen in the stores…)

So what does that mean for labeling bar soaps?

USDA Organic Definition


The USDA’s National Organic Program provides the global standard for defining organic. Following these standards provides consistency for consumers, and helps foster a relationship of trust between you and your customers. Within the program, there are three levels of certification. Each level describes how the word “organic” can be used for marketing and labels.

  1. “100% Organic”. This means just what the name implies and would not be allowed for bar soap packaging.
  2. “Organic”. This applies to products that contain a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. This also would not apply to bar soap. Usually, these are products that contain a small amount of a natural preservative or processing aid that prevents them from reaching the 100% mark.
  3. “Made with Organic…”. The last level of organic certification, where bar soaps fit in, is for products that contain between 70% and 95% organic ingredients. The “Made with Organic…” category is the most misused category in marketing – look for percentages to see how organic a product really is.

You might be saying to yourself, “But I have seen some bar soaps claiming to be 100% organic!” We have too.  The claims are simply not true, and the company is either confused and misinformed, or actively trying to sneak around the rules to make their product stand out.

Many companies claim to sell organic products but are not officially certified. When searching for a supplier, verify their organic claims by requesting a copy of their USDA certification.  Botanie Soap is always happy to provide a copy of our voluntary certification to our private label customers.

For even more information, check out Botanie Soap’s views on organics and our frequently asked questions page.  And if you’d like to dabble more in USDA organic policy, check out a more detailed explanation here.

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