If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me if I’ve seen Fight Club, I’d have a pretty hefty wallet! Lye (Sodium Hydroxide) is feared by many and is one of the main reasons I hear as to why people would never attempt to make their own soap. Sure, Lye is dangerous if not handled correctly. When lye touches your skin or is combined with water it becomes extremely hot and will burn what it touches. Lets explore why Lye is even needed in soap making.
So why is Lye needed to make soap?
The process of making soap is called Saponification. Saponification happens when an acid and a base is combined to form a salt called “soap”. When making soap, you combine fatty acids that make up the triglycerides present in the oils and butters of choice and combine those with lye which is the base. When you add the acids and the base, the molecules combine, a chemical reaction occurs and soap is created!
Saponification generally takes about 24 to 48 hours to complete once the lye and oils have been mixed and the “raw” soap has been poured into a prepared mold.
What happens to the Lye?!
Superfatting is when extra fats (oils or butters) are added when formulating a soap recipe. When you add Superfatting into a recipe, there is more fat than the lye can react with. Using extra fats ensure a extra moisturizing bar of soap and that every bit of oil has found every bit of lye so that you do not end up with a caustic bar of soap.
We use a lot of extra fats, usually around 6% when formulating our recipes. This allows for the extra oils to be applied to your skin. Because of the exact measurements of materials and the superfatting, there is no lye present after the chemical reaction has taken placed and the soap has sat for 24-48 house and has cured for a few weeks.
How should lye be handled if its a necessary ingredient?
Like with any chemical, lye should be handled with cure. It should be stored in a cool dry place out of reach from children, pets and those who are not aware of the dangers. When handling lye, you should always wear protective gear. It is best to wear eye protection as well as gloves and long sleeves. When mixing lye, you ALWAYS pour the lye into the water. When creating your lye mixture it should always be made in a well ventilated area. If the proper precautions are taken, Lye will become just another ingredient that will no longer be feared.