Soapmaking Lye – Cold Process Soap Making Safeguards

My first adventures in soap making were a tremendous amount of fun. I will advise you, however, that it is very important to learn and understand all of the materials and ingredients you will work with in cold process soap making before you jump headfirst into a batch of soap.

Many crafters shy away from cold process soap making because of the things they have heard about soapmaking lye. There are important precautions and safeguards involved when handling lye, but you should not let it stop you from enjoying the wonderful craft of making your own soap.

Lye is not as readily available as it once was. At one time, lye could be picked up in your local grocery or hardware store. Sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda, is the technical name for lye, and was once available on the shelf as a product known as Red Devil Lye.

When you purchase your lye for soap making, you want to be sure to get lye that is specifically for use in making soap. Lye can be made with wood ashes and water, but it is rare that anyone wants to go to that amount of trouble anymore in their soapmaking craft.

I am very cautious when I work with lye, there is no doubt about it. Sometimes, though, you can be so afraid or nervous about something that it ends up making the situation worse. Know the safeguards, understand the entire soap making process, and remember always to be cautious and careful.

Most accidents caused by lye are because of haphazard handling of it in the soap making process. As with any craft or hobby, you should set aside the space and time for it, avoid distractions that are potentially dangerous, and use practical common sense.

  • Lye is caustic and it will burn. Do not leave a pitcher or cup of lye sitting close to a countertop or table edge where it can be easily knocked off or pulled off the counter by young hands.
  • Use a soap making thermometer, and always check the temperature of the lye before adding to your soap mixture.
  • Don’t take chances. Wear rubber gloves and eye protection to avoid being burned or blinded. I wear comfortable gloves that I can easily work in, not thick gloves that make me clumsy. Chemical resistant gloves are available that are easy to work in.
  • Measure your soap ingredients carefully. Don’t guess at recipe ingredients. The amount of lye you need to use is very carefully calculated based on several things, so know your facts before making soap.
  • Always add lye to water, not water to lye.
  • Allow all cold processed soaps to cure properly. Lye is still caustic until the soap has had time to cure.
  • Avoid tin, zinc, and aluminum containers for handling lye. Plastic or stainless steel containers are recommended.
  • When mixing your lye, avoid inhaling the fumes. Make your soap in a well ventilated area.
  • Keep apple cider vinegar on hand, and if you do get some lye on your skin, rinse with vinegar and then cold water. Some say milk is also something to use for neutralizing lye.
  • I usually wear long sleeves and long pants when soapmaking.
  • Store lye in a safe place at all times, even when not in use, in an airtight container, away from heat and moisture. Kids and pets are curious.
  • Mark you lye so it is evident that it is a dangerous chemical. Unmarked chemical containers are very dangerous.
  • Clean all utensils and containers after making a batch of soap.
  • Have a plan in case something does go wrong. Keep important phone numbers nearby and use them if necessary.
  • If lye is swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Call for emergency assistance immediately.
  • If you get lye in your eyes, flush with water for 25 minutes; remove contacts first if you wear them. Seek medical assistance.
  • If lye gets on your clothes, douse the area with vinegar and wash them immediately.

If you want to make soap but just aren’t ready to use lye, you can always try melt and pour soaps first. I have made make and pour soaps, but I prefer the quality of the cold processed soaps.

We’ll be posting some recipes for soaps along with some other helpful soapmaking tips and resources. Be sure and check back with us here at handcraftmarket.com, we look forward to your visits.

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