Saponification is the base promoted hydroysis of an ester to produce an alcohol and the sodium salt of that acid.
I first learned about soap making back in 3rd grade on an elementary school field trip to Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, MA. I still have vivid memory of a woman in an apron and bonnet stirring a large black pot of oils over an open flame, then showing us rough cut, eggshell hued bars and teaching us the process behind how soap was made.
Soap, at its most basic chemical level, is a salt. The head of a soap molecule is attracted to dirt, and its tail repels dirt. That’s why it cleans!