Caustic Soda or lye is a necessary ingredient in the soap making process. However, it is this same ingredient that prevents most people from attempting cold process soap making. Most lye solutions consist of lye and distilled water. When making the lye solution there are a few key tips you want to remember. They are:
Wear your safety gear: safety goggles, mask, long sleeve shirts, pants, and gloves.
Always mix your lye solution in a well ventilated area (open windows, outside, garage, turn on the exhaust fan).
NEVER use glass or aluminum items for your soap making mixing containers or utensils. Glass can break, and aluminum does not play nicely with lye. It will cause a toxic, chemical reaction.
Lye is extremely caustic and can do severe damage. When water and lye are mixed together this is known as a lye solution. This mixing will also cause an exothermic reaction, this means that heat is given off as a byproduct of the chemical reaction occurring. Once the lye and water are stirred to make the lye solution, lye solution will become very hot, sometimes reaching 200 degrees.
When you are ready to make the lye solution, ALWAYS pour the lye into the water. One of the best tips that we have found to remember the order is to envision “a light snow falling into a pond.”
When incorporating the two ingredients together you want to do it in a slow manner. You must sprinkle the lye in small doses into the water. In between each sprinkle, you will want to stir, stir, and stir. The lye mixture will become cloudy, and may give off fumes. Do not inhale these fumes. They are extremely hazardous.
NEVER POUR WATER INTO LYE!!! And NEVER ADD TOO MUCH LYE TOO FAST!!! Doing either one of these things will create a violent reaction known as a volcano effect. This happens because the water starts to dissolve the lye, forming a crust. This crust then seals in the chemical reaction occurring beneath it. The reaction can only handle being restrained from its own crust before the build-up of pressure and heat creates a burst or eruption. Hence the term- volcano effect.
If a volcano effect does occur, immediately spray your work area with vinegar. Vinegar will neutralize the caustic lye. Proceed by washing the area down with hot soapy water. Rinse area, and wash again with hot soapy water. Use paper towels to dry area.
So, to sum up this lesson in soap making: NEVER POUR WATER ONTO LYE….YOU WILL CREATE A LYE VOLCANO!!!! Create your lye solution by adding small amounts of lye to water and stir.