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Lye in Soap?? WHAT?

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Did you know when Hand Crafted Soap is properly made and cured, the soap no longer contains lye?  The chemical reaction has converted the alkali (lye), water and oils and fats into saponified oils and fats and glycerin, resulting in a mild, pure Hand Crafted Soap.

All soap is made with lye, or more correctly Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH). Sodium Hydroxide is a very strong alkali, about pH 14. Although we don’t normally think of it, Olive Oil, and other vegetable and animal oils, are technically considered acids.  Well, to be precise, they are triglycerides.  That is 1 glyceride and 3 fatty acids, hence tri-glyceride.  Here are the details of soap making and the process called Saponification.  When you take a strong alkali, Sodium Hydroxide and mix it with the fatty acids, you end up with a Sodium Salt of that fatty acid, what we all call soap.  As long as the amount of lye is balanced to the fatty acid, no extra lye will exist once all of the chemical reactions complete!

Can you make soap without using lye?  No, sorry about that.  Its a chemical reaction and that is the way it works.  Often a label might list Sodium Olivate, which means the saponified olive oil, which is from mixing lye and olive oil. They are listing the result of the reaction, not the ingredients that went into the reaction.  So, yes, all soap is made with lye.

By the way, you do need to use water in the reaction.  Water caused the NaOH, lye, Sodium Hydroxide, to dissociate, sort of break apart.  The Na, Sodium, floats around in the water and the OH floats around in the water.  With out the water, that wouldn’t happen.  Its in that state that the chemical reaction occurs, converting the triglyceride, into soap.  The end result is glycerin and sodium salts of fatty acids.  Isn’t that cool?  Its chemistry!