A lye is a metal hydroxide traditionally obtained by leaching wood ashes; it is also a strong alkali which is highly soluble in water producing caustic basic solutions. Lye most commonly refers to sodium hydroxide (NaOH), but historically has been used for potassium hydroxide (KOH).
Lye is commercially manufactured using a membrane cell chlorination process. It comes in various forms such as flakes, pellets, micro beads, coarse powder or a solution. Lye has been used as the main ingredient in soap making.
The first step when making cold process soap, is making the lye-water mixture that is needed. Don’t do this until you are ready to proceed with making soap from scratch.
Lye is a caustic, dangerous chemical that can cause serious burns, but you can work with it safely if you take a few precautions and understand basic soap making safety procedures.
Making lye-water is the first step in the soap making process; you need to be ready to proceed with the process after the lye-water is made.
Chose a soap recipe and assemble all its ingredients and tools.
- Lye flakes
- Distilled water
- Sugar or salt (optional if your recipe calls for it)
- Weigh the amount of distilled water called for in your soap recipe.
- Weigh the Lye for the Lye Solution.
- If your recipe calls for adding sugar or salt to the lye water solution, add it to the water before you add the lye. Stir the water well to make sure the sugar or salt is completely dissolved and then move on to adding the lye to the water.
- Add the Lye to the Water. Slowly add the lye to the pitcher of water. Be careful not to splash.
Caution: Always add the lye to the water, not the other way around. Adding the water to the lye can cause a volcano-like reaction in the pitcher. Do not breathe the fumes given off by the mixture. Open windows or turn on fans while working.
- Stir the Lye and Water Mixture. Gently stir the mixture until the lye is completely dissolved. The mixture will start to heat up and may even steam or make bubbling or boiling sounds. This is fine. Continue to stir until the solution is thoroughly mixed.
- Set the Lye in a Safe Place.
- Now that the lye-water is made, the hard part is done. It is time to proceed with making your soap.