How to Make Lye Water

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As one of the most important – and dangerous – steps in soap making, and because it’s common to all soapmaking processes, I’ve decided to make a single post just to let you know how to make lye water without any concerns.

Please, also check How To Make Soap By Cold Process to learn how and when to use lye water.

Safety First!!

Please, watch the following video about safety instructions. Most of them are actually regarding this operation.

Video in portuguese
Video in english

You can also read How To Make Soap From Scratch on Safety Recommendation

Getting Started

  • Do not start making the lye water without your safety equipment on: goggles, gloves and mask
  • Wear clothes that are covering you completely
  • Use a very well ventilated area, near a window or ideally outdoors

Making Simple Lye Water

  • Start by measuring the lye and the water separately. 
  • You should have a cup with lye and a 1 lt heat-resistant jug with the water, a kitchen or digital thermometer and a silicone spatula or spoon.
  • Your water should be at room temperature. Might sound strange with distilled water, but if you are using an infusion instead of water, this is very important: allow the infusion to cool before making the lye water. Hot water with lye will make a frightening volcano effect
  • Beware that the jug of water will heat a lot, up to 90ºC – 100ºC (194ºF – 212ºF). Keep it over a heat resistant surface. 
  • Go to your ventilated area, and pour the lye into the jug with water. NEVER pour the water into the lye.
  • Mix the lye water with the spatula/spoon until all lye crystals are dissolved. Beware now of vapours, they are toxic.
  • Measure the temperature, if you are going to do cold process soap, to control the target temperature at which you should mix the lye water with oils and wait till it reaches the right temperature
  • You should strain the lye water when using it for soapmaking, to prevent lye crystals from going into your soap batter. To be honest, I don’t follow this step very often and I never had problems, but I always make sure there are no “sandy” material (lye grains) at the bottom of the jug and all is dissolved.

The next video will show how simple it is to make the lye water, but, please, always keep the safety instructions in mind!

Lye Water Variants

Many soap makers use the lye water to color soap, as the color is more intense this way than if mixing it after trace. Especially if the colorant is a natural one, like spices, herbs, vegetables or clays. For example, if you are using a carrot purée to make soap, you add it to the lye water. You can also use: cinammon, turmeric, paprika, cocoa powder, green/pink/red/yellow clay, spirulina, pumpkin purée, tomato, purée, calendula, etc.

It is possible to use alternatives to distilled water: herbal infusions, milks, beer, even juices! Have in mind that using other liquids other than plain water is for experienced soap makers, as not all herbal infusions work and other drinks contain sugars that change the way the liquid and lye react – sugar accelerates the process, and also turns the water brown.

Also, this is the right time to add sodium lactate, a salt solution that help with soap hardening (solidifying). This is especially important for castile soaps, or any soap with a lot of liquid oil.

Watch this video about how to add other ingredients to make lye water:

Watch tihs video of how to make lye water with other liquids:

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