Lye – Cold Process soapmaking requires the use of lye. There’s absolutely no getting around it. One of the most difficult (and necessary) soapmaking ingredients to purchase online is lye, specifically Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) for cold-process soapmaking (bars) and Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) for making liquid soaps and shampoos. Many soapmaking sites actually sell Lye, but require that customers pick it up personally. There are a few soapmaking supply companies that will ship lye. They include Summer Bee Meadows and Snowdrift Farm. Lye sold by Summer Bee Meadows can be found on their website or on E-Bay.
You can also purchase Red Devil Brand lye from your local grocery store. Read the label and make sure it is 100% sodium hydroxide. We have found that Red Devil Brand lye seems to be a stronger lye reaching a higher temperature than the usual 160F maximum. For this reason, we add the lye to water, tea or goat milk more slowly than we would the lye purchased from online suppliers. Both batches made with this lye have saponified quickly and easily and resulted in very successful bars of soap.
Rules of Lye
Use only lye-friendly equipment and supplies including
Stainless steel, hard plastic, heat resistant glass, and porcelain are the most commonly used.
Pouring and Mixing Lye
Whenever you pour lye into any liquid including water or milk, always pour the lye into the liquid. The immediate and drastic reaction of the lye with the liquid may cause a volcanic type eruption and can be very dangerous.
When you finish crafting soap, don’t forget to remove all traces of lye, except the unused lye that is to be stored in its original air-tight container. It is possible to mistake a solution of lye and water for carbonated water or just plain water and should this happen, there can be disastrous consequences. Store unused lye in a dry, airy space that is free of through-traffic and difficult, if not impossible for children or animals to reach. As a soapmaker, it is not unusual to become fairly relaxed and comfortable working with lye. However, that “ease of mind” attitude is most likely a direct result of practicing strict safety rules from the beginning. These should never be relaxed.
Use Safety Gear
Rubber gloves to reduce the risk of contact between skin and lye, goggles and face mask to protect eyes and lungs from fumes, and adequate clothing to cover exposed skin – including an apron.
Proactive Spill Control
A handy apple cider vinegar spritzer should be kept nearby to neutralize any lye spills or splashes that might occur despite following all necessary safety precautions.
Protect your Surfaces
Cover all at-risk surfaces in your work area with Newspaper, Plastic, or Freezer Wrap.
Again, remove any traces of lye or lye mixture from your work area – always. Clean up using Vinegar as a neutralizing agent and wash equipment thoroughly.
Lye, however dangerous, isn’t so bad if you take a proactive approach to safety at all times. No matter how comfortable you become working with this substance, you must never forget how dangerous it really is.