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 soap making lye water, safely and without any concerns.
Make lye water by simply pouring lye into room temperature water. However, as lye is a corrosive and strong substance, and may cause chemical burning in your skin. Safety measures are required to make lye water safely.
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Soap making is a really fun and rewarding hobby. However, it may become a very bad experience if you don’t take the proper safety precautions. Because you are directly contacting with lye or potash, which causes chemical burning to your skin, this operation is the most dangerous in soap making.
On the other hand, if you follow these precautions, you will have nothing to fear. It’s like attending to fire in a fireplace: fire is very dangerous, but if you know what you’re doing, and you take precautions, it’s heartwarming to have it at home. Making lye at home will allow you to make handmade soap of very good quality.
Please, read Soap Making Safety Precautions first or watch the video:
- Do not start making the lye water without your safety equipment on: goggles, gloves and mask
- Wear clothes that cover you completely
- Make lye water in a very well ventilated area, near a window or ideally outdoors
How To Make Soap Making Lye Water?
To make lye water for soap, the simplest way is to pour lye into water and mix it well. There are some aspects to have in mind, however.
- Don’t use aluminium or metal of any sort except stainless steel. Lye dissolves metal and will contaminate your soap and damage your equipment.
- Always have your safety equipment on.
- Make lye water outdoors, or near an open window.
- 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
- Start by weighting the lye and the water separately with a digital scale. This is important as errors bigger than 1 gram might make your soap lye heavy, and therefore irritant
- Beware that the jug of water will heat a lot, up to 90ºC – 100ºC (194ºF – 212ºF). Keep it over a heat resistant surface.
- Always pour the lye into the jug with water. NEVER pour the water into the lye.
- 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.
Soap Making Lye Water Variants
Many soap makers use the lye water to color soap, as the color is more intense this way than if mixing the colorant after trace. Especially if the colorant is a natural one, like spices, herbs, vegetables or clays. You can also use: cinammon, turmeric, paprika, cocoa powder, green/pink/red/yellow clay, spirulina, calendula, etc.
It is possible to use alternatives to distilled water: herbal infusions, milks, beer, juices, vegetable pureés, brime! 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 special soap addictives like 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.
- Wear goggles, gloves and a mask! Be fully clothed! See Safety Precautions in Soap Making
How To Make Lye Water
- Make your lye water prefferably outdoors, or at least, near an open window.
- Weight the lye/potash and water according to each recipe. Don't make errors above 1 gram.
- Pour the lye/potash in the water. NEVER pour the water into the lye/potash, you may get a "volcano" effect or lye spilling.
- Mix well with a silicone spatula or spoon. Don't breathe the vapours, they are very irritating.
- When using potash, the reaction potash-water is even stronger than lye-water. Be ready for cracklings and a very slight volcano.
- Be careful as the jug will get a really high temperature (near 90ºC – 100ºC or 194ºF – 212 ºF).
- For cold process, it is important to check temperature, in order to mix it with oils at a good temperature.
- Basic lye water only uses lye/potash and distilled water. But you can make lye water replacing the water with any water-based liquid: herbal infusions, vegetable pureés, fruit juice, milk, coffee, even beer.
- Some addictives to improve soap properties are also added to the lye water, especially ones that will react with lye or potash: sodium lactate, fine salt, citric acid, vinegar.
- You can also add the ingredients we will be using as natural colorants: clays, spices, dried herbs in powder form.