Lye is a caustic product that can burn holes in clothes and skin. Sounds pretty scary! So, you may be wondering if lye is truly natural for organic soaps and whether this is a product you would want to use in making homemade soap. The truth is that lye has been used for centuries in natural soap making, and when used correctly it can help create a safe, all-natural product. Learn about how lye is used in soap making and why it is part of an all-natural soap.
What Is Lye?
The chemical name for lye is sodium hydroxide, and it is made from common table salt. The salt is dissolved in water and electrodes introduce electricity into the mix, creating chloride, hydrogen, and lye. At least that’s how it’s made today. The ancient Egyptians used to create a very weak lye solution by percolating vegetable ashes in water to accomplish the same process.
How is Lye Used in Making Soap?
Saponification is the name for the process of making soap. There are a couple of major soap-making methods, but both come down to creating a mixture of lye and oils in water. As the process progresses, the lye consumes oils, leaving soap behind. All soap is made using this process, though of course much more can be added and removed along the way.
The ancients who discovered how to make soap could not carefully measure the ingredients and so could not accurately guarantee that all lye was converted into soap. Now, however, it is a simple matter to ensure that there is just enough oil so that all the lye is converted to soap in the process.
If Lye Is Caustic, Isn’t It Dangerous?
Lye itself is a very dangerous ingredient to work with and should be treated with care. There are some detergents that do contain lye, but these would not be used for everyday body or dish cleansers. As the lye is completely consumed in soap making, no lye is left in any soap that you would use today. So, while lye is a dangerous ingredient, there is no lye in the soap derived from this process.
Isn’t There Some Other Ingredient You Could Use Other Than Lye?
All soap uses some form of lye. Some soaps may claim to have no lye, but that is deceptive. First, unless you are using a harsh chemical cleanser that specifically says it contains lye, no soap has lye in it. Second, the soaps claiming to be made from glycerin instead of lye are not being totally transparent. Glycerin is a naturally occurring part of the soap making process. Commercial soaps often remove the glycerin because it has so much value on its own. Nevertheless, the glycerin those soaps are made from was itself derived from a process originating with lye. Lye is simply a necessary ingredient in all soaps.
While lye may sound like a chemical you would not associate with healthy, all-natural products, in fact, all soap is made from this amazing ingredient. When used properly and with other all-natural ingredients in homemade soaps, lye helps produce a natural product that is good for your skin and body.