Soap Making : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

Hello, I have a confusing question: I have a magazine on Organic Soap Making and it calls for "Lye". It goes on to say that Lye is highly poison. I am confused. How can something organic be so poison, and caustic. It doesn't seem right. What are some thoughts on this. Karole

-- Karole (, January 30, 2001


I was wondering the same thing. I just made some this week and thought maybe it was because it is such a base instead of an acid? Or did I get that switched? I know that it can cause bad burns and if ingested it can be fatal. A high or low ph can cause bad burns! But chemically it is harmful because of its ph. You can get it from ashes so it is a natural product. When you put it with the lard or oils it makes it harmless. I wouldn't eat my soap though:~)

-- Nan (, January 30, 2001.

The chemical composition changes when mixed . Do a web search on soap making and I'm sure some where there is a more detailed explaination .

-- Patty {NY State} (, January 30, 2001.

when every you combine a BASE and an ACID,, (fat and lye) you get a reaction, a chemical change,, in this case, its sponification, turning to soap. After you make the soap,, you have to let it "rest" for a few weeks,, to make sure all the lye and fat has changed.

-- Stan (, January 30, 2001.

The lye sold in stores and purchased for soap making is sodium hydroxide and is manufactured, not made from wood ashes. The old time method of making lye by pouring water into a barrel of wood ashes made a solution of potassium hydroxide, of unpredictable strength.

The lye portion of the soap making is not 'organic', meaning it does not come from living things. The water used is not 'organic' either - it's hydrogen and oxygen, chemically combined, not a living thing. The (organic) oils and fats combine chemically with the sodium hydroxide-water solution, to make molecules of soap and molecules of glycerin. With careful measuring and using commercial sodium hydroxide which is a known and predictable strength, the finished soap contains no lye, it has all combined chemically with the fats and oils. All that's left is the soap, glycerine, some extra oil or fat depending on the recipe, and any added organic ingredients, like oats or lavender or whatever you add to make the soap nice.

This is why homemade soap is nicer than store bought. It contains the natural glycerine which is typically removed from commercial soaps. The lye to fat ratio can be tightly controlled with commercial sodium hydroxide, so that no extra lye remains to be caustic or drying to the skin.

Sodium hydroxide is VERY strong alkaline which is why it is poison and caustic. Plenty of organic things are poisonous - deadly nightshade, poisonous mushrooms, arsenic, etc.

By the way, did you know that lye is used in the making of pretzels? They are soaked in a very weak lye solution before being cooked in fat. Olives too, are cured using lye. Lye is to be treated with care and respect, but not fear.

There are plenty of web sites on soap making, and books in the library and bookstores. They have plenty of info on how to handle the lye safely while making the soap. Soap making is lots of fun, and the finished soap is so much nicer than store-bought.

-- Candy (, January 30, 2001.

Thanks Cindy I didn't know any of that !!!!

-- Nan (, January 30, 2001.

Here's my favorite site for basic soapmaking info:

You can buy lye in ghe grocery store, the most common brand is "Red Devil". When you mix the lye into the water it gets very hot and gives off some nasty fumes. I usually do this step outside in a safe spot where I know the critters can't get to it. Sherri in IN

-- Sherri C (, January 30, 2001.

It sure does get hot. I have a rubber mat in my sink to protect my glasses and it melted it a little when I put the bowl in there and poured in the lye. Don't breath it in!!!!! I pour it in the bowl with water and leave the room for about an hour!!!

-- Nan (, January 30, 2001.

I have just copied Candy's reply to your lye question. I am asked about lye all the time, I made soap, but it really as she explained can't be "organic", first of all to buy organic essential oils would be extremely expensive, I do use organic leaves ie. pepermint, basil, ground citrus (I buy organic oranges), also organic oatmeal and the honey I use is from my own bees and I have used sheep milk (I own sheep), trade for organic goatmilk. It is my understanding that certain oils have to be grown with pesticides. I believe peanut oil is one. I use olive, coconut, palm, castor oil and sometimes cocoa butter. I cure for six weeks to make sure the ph is low. Candy, thanks for your description of lye, everyone looks at me horrified when I mention without lye there is no soap.

-- Debbie (, January 30, 2001.

What's the definition of organic? Are berries growing in the wild organic? Some are poisinous! I thought organic meant free from chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, not necessarily safe.

-- Skip Walton (, January 30, 2001.

organic soap,, to me , means no perfumes,, no additive,,just the basics. Is organic, only from nature?? then soap isnt one of them. The lye from leached from wood ash is still lye,, the same from RED DEVIL,, just in a different form. I personnallt dont like Glercyrn soap,,, so I dont add any to it, does that mean its more organic?? Deep thoughts

-- Stan (, January 31, 2001.

The fumes given off are hydrogen gas. Very nasty and very explosive. The heat produced is 214 degrees F. (2 degrees more than boiling!!). Please be careful as everyone else has pointed out. Homemade soap is a lovely thing. I have taught several to make it. It's not difficult, just cautiously scary to work with in it's raw (lye) state. I reckon "organic" in the magazine doesn't really apply to our electrically produced lye. Make sure you use lye crystals instead of Drano or liquid solution. Did I see someone here from Indiana too? I am in Indiana and know several soapers here. One lady uses all vegetable oils and makes gorgeous soaps. Good luck on your soapmaking! Nice homemade soap is very nice for washing quilts too...

-- Gailann Schrader (, February 01, 2001.

Karole, A basic meaning of organic-- if it was once alive, it is organic-- not to argue chemistry, lye comes from ashes, ashes come from wood, wood from live trees, it does occur in nature, lighting starts fires, trees burn, rain leaches lye from ashes, in small amounts. Even in organic gardening many products are very toxic, nicotine sulfate is organic and can be fatal if injested or even aborbed thru the skin because it is so concentrated. Each state passes it's own laws as to what is "organic" where food is concerned, not all agree. There are chemicals extracted from plants which way or may not be organic depending on how it was done, and what current rules are.

-- Thumper (, February 02, 2001.

Soap is the result of saponifying oils. You need lye for this. Anyone ever run into the folks who are always looking for soap made without lye? I always explain the process to them including the fact that soap without lye is oil! Any soap you make at home is almost guarenteed to be better quality than store bought, and you control the other special additives you may want to add. Keep stirring the soap pot!

-- Anne (, February 02, 2001.

My mum made bars of laundry soap which we always did outdoors. We had a copper laundry boiler, a few gallons I guess, which was filled with mutton fat and heated with a fire. I can't remember what happened next except caustic soda was used, maybe what you call 'lye', it certainly sounds the same. Caustic soda was also used for cleaning the dairy equipment, dangerous though it is I think it dissolves completely in boiling water.

I worked on an island were we used caustic soda to extract hydrogen for meteorlogical ballons, we emptied a 12.5 gallon (which I guess would be about 15 US gallons) of caustic soda and sacks of aluminium turnings into stainless steel equipmet, connected up the balloon then retired to a safe distance and turned on the water. The reaction was quite violent and everything got very hot. The balloon was quite big, maybe 20 feet or more in diameter, sorry not really making soap!!!

-- john hill (, February 06, 2001.

Let's set the record strait once and for all, in a clear and concise fashion. "Organic," is referring to the lack of all chemically altered substances used on a living thing. For example, water cannot be organic; although, technically lye could. We, in America, certify our organic matter. Private organizations or 3rd party organizations moniter the farming or care of products for up to 10 years. Once convinced that no fertilizer, hormones (in the case of animals), cemicals, pesticides, etc... have been used, the company will be certified to label their products/produce "certified organic." There are, however, non-certified organic sustances. If a forest of trees somewhere in Canada were never poisoned by our "industry" it could in theory by 100% organic. Then if a fire came, burnt the forest down, and lye was made (like it was when it was discovered), it could be considered to be organic. Despite its harmful properties. There are lots of things that are not really good for you that are organic. Most of the other ingredients in soap could be organic, depending on how one makes it. Don't let anyone confuse you. Organic does not mean healthy, homegrown, or living, when the word is being used for consumer purchases. It only means organically certified by a third party company. I hope that this

-- barry g walton (, December 06, 2001.

so - is any kind of soap ok to dump straight into the ground? we have a very expensive composting toilet in order to avoid a septic field which we feel would polute our spring

-- polka dot (, March 20, 2002.

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