Cold process soap making is an enjoyable hobby, but it does require you to use lye. This can be intimidating for those who are just starting out with soap making, and understandably so! But fear not, because, with the right safety precautions and knowledge, you can make your own handmade soaps safely and confidently.
What is Lye?
Lye is also known as sodium hydroxide (NaOH). It's a strong alkali that reacts with fats or oils to create soap. It's important to note that lye is caustic—it will burn if it comes into contact with your skin or eyes, so it's important to take all the necessary safety precautions when using it.
Safety Equipment Needed
When working with lye, it's important to wear protective gear including gloves, eye protection, a face mask, clothing that covers your arms and legs, and closed-toed shoes.
Mixing Lye Safely
To mix your lye solution for cold process soap making, always add the lye crystals to the water—never add water to lye! Adding water to lye can cause a violent reaction which could lead to burns or even worse. To avoid this situation altogether, add the lye crystals slowly while stirring continuously until all the lye has dissolved into the water (I only use distilled water). Once mixed, allow your lye solution to cool down before using it in your soap recipe.
To reduce fumes and soap prep time, generally, my water content is made up of two-thirds ice (made from distilled water) and one-third distilled water. This ensures that my lye solution won’t get too hot, reducing the cooling time. Here is the ice tray that I use.
Additionally, make sure that you work in a well-ventilated area when working with lye since its fumes can be dangerous if too much is inhaled over time. Also, do not mix your lye around pets, children, or those that need supervision.
Containers for Lye
When mixing lye, you’ll want to be sure to use the proper container to prevent injury and damage. Containers with the #5 polypropylene or the #2 HDPE symbols on the bottom are the safest for mixing lye. In addition, I like to use containers that come with lids because I don’t always make my soap the same day that I mix my lye.
I no longer use heat-resistant glass to mix my lye because over time the glass can chip or shatter. I also no longer mix in stainless steel containers because they tend to heat up with the lye solution.
For mixing utensils, you can use stainless steel or silicone spoons/spatulas but do not use wooden spoons.
What happens if Lye gets on me?
If your skin comes in contact with lye, run the area under water for 15 minutes. If skin irritation occurs, please seek medical attention.
If you ingest lye, drink water, and do not induce vomiting. Also, seek medical attention.
If lye gets in your eye, flush your eyes with water for 20 minutes and seek medical attention.
If lye gets on your clothing, remove contaminated clothing.
Before working with lye, please review the MSDS sheet provided on the website where you purchased your lye. The MSDS sheet will provide more information on safe usage, first aid, storage, and disposal.
Making cold process soap at home can be fun and rewarding; however, safety must always come first when dealing with something as powerful as sodium hydroxide (lye). For beginners in soap making, following these tips on how to use and mix lye will help ensure a safe and successful experience every time you make a batch of handmade soaps! With proper precautionary measures taken each time you use it, you can create beautiful soaps without worry, knowing that everyone involved is safe from harm.