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Is Lye Necessary For Soap Making?

Updated on December 29, 2015

Why "lye" in soaps

Yes! All soaps have this very important ingredient. Lye is the reaction between sodium carbonate and calcium hydroxide. I have had several people over the years come to my booth at local farmers markets asking me if my soaps have Lye in them.

Yes, Lye is needed to make the soap, and actually turns into something completely different once the soap making process is complete. This is called saponification, which is the mixing of water, lye, and fats or oils. When a strong Alkali is mixed with oils or fats it produces soap and glycerin.

Many think that Lye in soap must be unsafe, considering how dangerous Lye by itself can be. Lye can cause serious burns, blindness and permanent scaring. This is why it is extremely important to make sure you follow all safety precautions when handling Lye during the soap making process.

When handling Lye one should wear rubber gloves, long sleeve shirt, and eye protection. You should also be in a well ventilated area; I always perform this task outside. You should also always make sure that the lye you are using to make soaps is 100% Lye or sodium hydroxide, other forms of lye have added ingredients in them that are unwanted in soap making

Back in the olden days Lye was leached from hardwood ashes. Households would have wooden bins they would keep outside to dump the ashes from there wood stoves in. When it came to time for making soap they would pour water through the ashes and siphon off the liquid Lye. This was done with extreme caution, for too much Lye could burn and irritate the skin and too little could prevent the soap from actually hardening.

Today soap makers have perfected the levels of Lye in making handmade soaps producing much milder soaps than that of a century ago. Just remember that the Lye is no longer Lye once the soap making process is complete and it is a needed ingredient to make the soap and is totally safe once the soap making process is complete

© 2010 rpalulis


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