B – The ‘truth’ about ‘lye.’

Do you use lye (sodium hydroxide) in your soaps and if so, why?

The next two sentences are fascinating.

One must use lye (aka sodium hydroxide) in order to make soap. No ifs, ands or buts.

There is no lye in soap.

How is this possible you ask?

Once again, science proves itself to be a magician. You see, once sodium hydroxide (lye) is combined with water, and subsequently mixed with oils/butters etc., it goes through a process known as saponification.

In cold process soap making, once the ‘batter’ has been saponified and has had a month to cure, what is left is pure soap and the sodium hydroxide has chemically transformed into an inert ingredient and is literally no longer in the product. 
I like to say, ‘transformation in the form of chemical reaction.’

Sodium hydroxide on its own is not to be trifled with and one must be exceedingly careful with it, avoiding contact with skin, eyes, surrounding work spaces, etc. Animals and small children should not be in the vicinity of it either. Goggles, gloves, long sleeves and covered legs are a must.  When working with sodium hydroxide, there is no wiggle room for error, therefore one should be well versed in the handling of it. Vinegar should also be on hand, for if, by some chance a drop does touch the skin, the vinegar will calm the area by neutralizing the lye.

So, do I use lye in soap making?  Yes

Is there lye in my finished soap bars? No.

Amazing facts in relation to lye and its ability to chemically transform from a caustic to a neutral, and its uses in food, some of which you have surely eaten.

What gives pretzels and some bagels that zingy top flavour and glossy finish? A lye bath. Of course lye is extremely caustic,so typically the pretzels/bagels are given a brief bath in boiling water after a quick dip in a lye solution. The subsequent boil or bake neutralizes the alkali, making it safe to eat.

Did you know that Norway, Sweden and Finland have a traditional Christmas white fish dish that uses lye in the recipe? The fish is soaked in cold water for several days,then in a cold lye water solution for several more, then back to cold water baths for another few days, and then steamed or baked.

Chemical reactions are completely intriguing when one begins to research. I will leave you with one particular chemical reaction of an every day product that most everyone uses (not lye related – but equally fascinating.)

It is the combining of sodium (Na),which explodes when it touches water combined with chlorine (Cl), which is a toxic gas.

When combined however, the chemical reaction creates table salt, which is perfectly safe to ingest.

Talk about a transformation in the form of chemical reaction!

My point here is that science, and in these cases, chemistry, is astounding.

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