Why is lye used in soap making?
Many people get nervous when they find out that my soap is made with lye. All soap is! No soap is soap if it is not made with lye! Melt and pour kits are a lye based soap that is melted down and “fixed up”. Even liquid soaps are made with lye using potassium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide.
Actually lye is pretty cool. I know, not a very technical description, but I am not too technical! My reason for saying this is because of what it does. When it gets with a liquid it gets very hot, very fast! Then when it mixes with the oils a chemical reaction called “saponification” takes place. During this process the lye can be dangerous, so it is important to take care and respect it.
The saponification turns oils/fats and the milk (or water), lye mixture into a beautiful, luxurious bar of soap! It is really fun to see this take place. Again, I am not a technical person or a chemist, so I do not have an explanation as to how this works, but it does and it is wonderful!
Some people have had experiences with “lye” soap being harsh. This could be because it was used too soon, or maybe too much lye was used. Before commercial lye was available the lye was made from water leached through ashes and maybe this process could cause the soap to be a bit harsher. I do know that if the soap ages long enough it will not be harsh. It will get harder but when used, it will be very rich and lathery!
Pure homemade soap is a wonderful product. It is great for people with allergies or other skin problems. The essential oils that I use add to the gentleness of the soap. Fragrance oils can be irritating to some people. The end product of homemade soap (especially goat milk soap) is much gentler than commercial cleaners that contain detergents, foaming agents and artificial coloring and fragrances. Not to mention the glycerin has been removed making the commercial “soaps” much harsher!
So I guess a quick answer to “Why Lye?” is because you have a gentle, rich, moisturizing, hypoallergenic bar of soap!
Here is a link to a video with more information if you are interested.