Updated: Feb 16, 2022
Most people know that lye can be a very dangerous material if used incorrectly. Don’t let this stop you from following your soap making goals, though. As long as you follow these following safety rules, your soap making journey will not end with dramatic emergency.
Always Wear Proper Safety Gear
Soap making requires proper set up. You will want to put down card board or plastic to protect surfaces in case there is any spillage. You will also want to protect yourself. Protective eyewear is always recommended. I wear these I bought from amazon. Also, wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin. Most importantly, always handle caustic soap with gloves. These cleaning gloves are great because they cover the arms and are reusable. Soap remains caustic for at least six weeks after hardening so you will want to wear gloves while handling it for that entire time.
Never Ever Ever Ever Pour Water On Lye
Lye is not a dangerous chemical if proper precautions are taken, but if they are not, you will have a messy caustic explosion on your hands. If you add water to a container of measured lye, the mixture will explode. If this happens, it can leave you with serious chemical burns if you are not careful. Always add lye to water, never ever do it the other way around. Very carefully stir in your lye to your water. After this, the water mixture will heat up exponentially. You will wait for the water mixture to cool before continuing to make soap.
Never Use Materials That React with Lye
Certain materials react with lye and can ruin your soap or cause dangerous reactions. The most common items lye reacts with are metals such as aluminum and cast iron. Always mix your lye in a glass, heat resistant plastic, or stoneware container. Personally, I chose heat resistant plastic because after some time, the lye water mixture leaves residue on the containers. I like something I can easily discard with minimal cost in its replacement. Always use caution if you are using glass because as the lye heats up after being added to water, it can cause the glass to crack if the glass. Be sure to select glass materials that are meant to tolerate high heat situations.
Always Take Your Time
I know it sounds like common sense but sometimes when doing projects, I personally just want “to do something real quick”. Soap is not something that is done real quick. The more rushed you are, the more likely you are to make mistakes. Always take you time, plan your recipes beforehand, and concentrate for the best success for your finished product.
Follow Tried and Trusted Recipes or Use a Lye Calculator
As you start out, you will quickly learn about how simple it is to substitute oils to get different results or change your lye amount to create a new texture but as you become more confident, remember to relay on tried and true recipes or put your oils into an online lye calculator to find the exact ratio you need to make the right soap. This isn’t necessarily about safety, but about waste and time. Oils can be pricey and add up and having an entire batch of soap be lye heavy because of a bad guess is extremely disappointing. It is okay to experiment and despite it all, you will likely have some bad batches, however, using tried and true methods will give you the best success rate.
Always Wait to Use Newly Made Soap
Soap takes at least six weeks to cure. I can usually tell when my soap is ready. There are also lye testers out there where you can test your soap to see if it is still caustic. I usually just wait two months before I use it. It is totally your preference. Using soap before it is ready can give you chemical burns so it very important you wait until you know the soap is totally safe to use.
Follow Soap making Steps in Order
When I post my first soap recipe to the blog, I will have a very specific order in which I do things. This is important as a way to save time as well as to keep you safe. Soap making should be a really fun and interesting hobby but when dealing with chemicals that can cause you harm, it always best to follow all directions.
Understand that Lye is Caustic but Okay if Handled Correctly
Lastly, I think it is so important to know that being hesitant to handle lye is natural and okay but do not let it stand in your way if it is something you want to do. Just plan ahead, wear proper protective gear and follow instructions and nothing should stand in your way of you and created your very own soap.
In the next few weeks, I will detail every step in the soap making process and go over a tried and true recipe that I love and how I make it.