Is it true or is it lye?

As a soap maker, a question I hear often is "Do you make your soap with Lye?".  There is often confusion surrounding this question and people are concerned when they hear Lye and Soap together.  Let's clear up the confusion and concern and address this! This can actually be broken down into two different questions but before we look at those questions, let's look at Lye!

What is Lye?

Lye, also known as Sodium Hydroxide, is an opaque crystal structure that contains Sodium and Hydroxide ions.  It is used to manufacture a large number of products including Paper, Aluminum, Cleaners and of course Soap! For some great information on Sodium Hydroxide, check out this fact sheet from Chemicalsafetyfacts.org. Lye is highly corrosive in its natural form which is where people tend to be concerned.  Read on to find out why you don't need to be!

Question 1: Do you make your Soap with Lye?

I absolutely do because without Lye there is no soap! All real soap, whether it is hot process, cold process, melt and pour or other methods, is made with lye.  But there is a HUGE difference between if a soap is made with Lye, and if it contains Lye!

Question 2: Does the Soap you sell contain Lye?

This question is a little more confusing but the ultimate answer is NO!  When creating soap from scratch, the chemical reaction created when combining the Lye and the oils and butters causes the oil and lye molecules to combine and chemically change resulting in soap and glycerin. This process is call Saponification (I will be posting about this in the future!) When this is done correctly, there is no lye remaining in the finished product.

Those of us who are in the Soap Making industry are very familiar with these questions and the implications they can have for our customers.  Lye has been cast in the role of the bad guy in many peoples perception.  It can cause people to shy away from your soaps because it can be scary.  Educate yourself, educate your customers when they have concerns.  Know you chemistry when creating your products.  Soap that is made by those who understand the chemistry behind the process will result in a great quality product that is gentle and will nourish your skin much better than commercially created products.