If you make your own cold-processed soap, you already know that lye is essential. You also know it can be dangerous to work with. But, if you take the right precautions, you can be one of thousands to use it without incident.
These Aren’t Suggestions
The precautions listed below are exactly that, precautions, not suggestions. It’s also not a comprehensive list. Do them every time. Do your own checking as well.
Before you get started, make sure you buy the right product. Always buy pure lye, rather than a product containing lye. You have no use for the extra chemicals in a lye-containing product. They can undermine your soap, as well as damage the skin you’re using it on.
Precautions From General to Specific
- Make sure you have plenty of room to work in. Being crowded can lead to mistakes and accidents that wouldn’t otherwise happen.
- Depending on where your workplace is, you’ll want to protect surfaces from corrosive spills.
- Don’t get careless and leave any containers you’re using on the edges of counters.
- Don’t walk away from what you’re doing, and make sure you clean up thoroughly afterward – everything.
- Don’t ever use bowls, pots, or utensils that you use for working with lye for anything else.
- Always work with lye in a well-ventilated area. No exceptions.
- Inhalation of dust and fumes is a risk, so wear a breathing mask or put yourself in a position to avoid breathing in fumes.
- Clean up spills immediately. Some soapmakers use water, others use vinegar. In one case, you’re diluting the spill, in the other using an acid to neutralize it.
- Always wear goggles, rubber or plastic kitchen gloves, and protective clothing when handling lye. The idea is to protect your eyes, your skin, and your ability to breathe.
- Don’t leave skin exposed. No short sleeved shirts, short pants, or sandals.(Some soapmakers choose not to wear long-sleeved shirts, opting instead for extra-long gloves that cover as much of the arm as possible.)
- Remove contaminated clothing immediately. (For those of you wearing long-sleeved shirts, this is your option for a spill on the sleeve.)
- Pouring Lye – Always pour lye into water, never water in lye. And when you’re pouring the lye, pour a little at a time. By the same principle, once the lye has been mixed with water, pour that mixture into your oils, never your oils into the lye-water.
If Something Happens
Eye Contact – Flush thoroughly with lukewarm, gently running water while holding the eyelid(s) open. And go to the emergency room.
Skin Contact— Flush thoroughly with lukewarm, gently running water. As a precaution, visit a doctor in case treatment is required. (Some soapmakers feel strongly that vinegar should be used instead of water, neutralizing the lye rather than merely diluting it.)
Ingestion – Don’t induce vomiting. Call 911 and dilute as much as you can with water, or milk, unless told otherwise by emergency personnel.
Inhalation — Get yourself or the afflicted person to fresh air and call 911, or visit the emergency room.
For more information on lye safety, see these two sites: