Lye Safety in Soap Making

Lye Safety in Soap Making

Lye Safety Precautions

Fear of lye is the biggest reason that people avoid making lye soap.   It's understandable.  Lye can cause burns and even death if mishandled.  For this reason, it's important to make lye a top priority and use common sense and appropriate safety precautions when handling lye.

1.       Understand lye's behavior in soap making: 

  • When making soap, lye is dissolved in a liquid such as water.  Mixing water and lye creates an exothermic reaction that causes a dramatic temperature increase to over 200 degrees and creates noxious fumes.
  • After lye solution is added to oil and begins to emulsify (saponification), it becomes less caustic but will still irritate skin or cause redness and burning sensations.
  • Soap will remain caustic for the first 48 hours.

2.       Wear proper safety gear including eye goggles, gloves, long sleeves, long pants and closed toe shoes to protect skin from spills.  A mask is also recommended especially when mixing solutions indoors.

3.       Mix lye in appropriate place.  It needs to be well-ventilated, kids-free, pet-free, and a tripping hazard-free work area.  Use exhaust fans when available.

4.       Use appropriate mixing containers.  Containers must not react with the lye and must be able to withstand temperatures over 200 degrees.  Do NOT use aluminum or tin containers.  Do use heat resistant plastic such as polypropylene (#5 recycling code).

5.       Follow the correct process. 

  • Measure the water and the lye into separate containers.
  • Slowly pour and stir the lye into the water.  Never pour the water into the lye.
  • The saying "The snow (lye) falls on the lake (water)" helps you remember to always pour lye into water.
  • Label your lye solution "Lye, Poison, or Do Not Touch."
  • Likewise, when mixing the lye solution with your oils, always pour the lye solution into the oils.  Never pour into the lye.

6.       Store the lye solution appropriately.  While waiting for the lye solution to cool, keep it in a place that won't be accessed by children or pets.  The jars of beads or flakes of lye should always be kept out of reach of children.

7.       Cleanup.   Wear gloves while washing any soaping dishes.

Emergency Procedures:

1.       Lye on the Skin:  If you get lye on your skin, remove any contaminated clothing and flush area with water for 15 minutes.  Get medical attention as needed.

2.       Lye in the Eye:  If you splash lye in your eye, immediately flush with water for 15 minutes and get medical attention.

3.       If inhaled:  Move to fresh air.  Get medical attention as needed.