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Making soap with lye

Katelynn Abrams

Village News intern

Soap is something used everyday, but not many people know how to make it or what it is in it. In the beginning, soap was made from cooking and mixing oils, water and ashes. Over heat, the ashes would be soaked in water, then mixed with the oils, which would cool and harden to become soap.

The simplest soap can be made with these ingredients: water, lye and oils. Lye is the common name for sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, which are interchangeable and strong alkalines. Different types of oils, such as coconut, olive, avocado, castor, jojoba and almond, have different variations of lather, hardness, moisture and more. Any type of fat – animal, vegetable and/or plant such as tallow, beeswax or butterfat – can also be used. More advanced and adventurous soap makers experiment by replacing water with milks or juices, and combining oils and fats for unique soaps.

When the ingredients are combined, the reaction between lye and oil makes soap. As soon as the soap cures, when the lye binds to the oil, it is safe to use. Lye is a chemical that can cause damage such as chemical burns and blindness if it makes contact with skin, and it should never be inhaled or consumed.

Natural soap made from lye is safe to make as long as precautions are taken. Here are some tips:

• Wear long gloves, goggles, a mask, protective clothing and tie back long hair.

• Work in a ventilated area and avoid having children and pets nearby.

• Use lye and heat-safe materials, such as glass or stainless steel.

• Add lye to water – never add water to lye – when preparing the solution.

• Allow the soap to saponify for the appropriate amount of time before handling.

Anyone who is not comfortable handling lye or would like to make soap as an activity with children should try melt-and-pour soap bases, which have already gone through the saponification process and are safe to touch. They are available to buy at craft stores and are ready for a variety of customizations, such as scents, colors, shapes and accessories.

Once the soap-making process is completed, it can be cut and cured.

Later, soap can be gifted to family and friends or used at home.


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