CAUTION Keep wax, soap ingredients,
colors and scents away from children, do not take internally.
Adult supervision recommended. Read directions and safety precautions
carefully before making soaps, candles and garden mols. Never
pour molten soap mixtures or waxes into sink or other drains.
Soap Making Precautions (courtesy
of Marina Tadiello of AquaSapone)
You might have heard that lye (Caustic Soda) is a very dangerous
chemical, and that soap is only good for your skin if it doesn't
contain any lye... or, even better, if it has never been in
contact with this dangerous substance.
First of all, let's clarify what lye is. Here's the entry
from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
Lye - noun
1 : a strong alkaline liquor rich in potassium carbonate leached
from wood ashes and used especially in making soap and washing;
broadly : a strong alkaline solution (as of sodium hydroxide
or potassium hydroxide)
2 : a solid caustic (as sodium hydroxide)
In soap making, lye is a generic term used to describe both
the solid caustic substances, and the alkaline solutions made
by dissolving sodium hydroxide (chemical formula: NaOH) or
potassium hydroxide (chemical formula: KOH) in water. The
terms "(strong) alkaline solution", "lye"
or "lye water", "caustic soda", "alkali",
"potash", "NaOH" and "KOH",
all refer to this basic soap making ingredient.
While it is absolutely true that lye (as defined above) is
a very dangerous substance, there is no way to make soap without
using it. Making soap with no lye is very much like trying
to drive a car with no petrol (or gasoline, as some call it)
- and just like with petrol (gasoline), we accept the danger
to obtain some benefit. Mind you... in many ways, lye is a
lot less dangerous than petrol, and it's definitely nowhere
near as polluting as petrochemicals are! But still, a lot
of people drive cars without worrying, and choose to worry
about lye (one of the many mysteries of the universe.... :-)
Back to the unavoidable relationship between soap and lye,
please don't take my word for it, and do your own research
about what soap really is!
Some useful (and unbiased) sources to understand what soap
is about include:
Any good dictionary (you might be surprised to discover how
useful a plain old dictionary can be :-)
· a description of the chemistry of soap making written
by the Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the Department
of Environmental & Health Sciences, Johnson State College
(VT - USA)
· a brief note about soap making from the University
of Oxford, UK
So.... if soap always involves using some sort of "lye",
what are these "lye-less" soaps some people go on
and on about?? Well, I have reason to believe that "lye-less
soaps" are either made by remilling an industrial soap
base (in which case, the person who's "remilling"
the soap doesn't come in contact with the raw materials, and
therefore might believe they are working with a "lye-less"
base), or they are a purely synthetic detergent.
If you want to make soap, you have the choice to either come
to terms with lye - or you can choose the easy road, and purchase
a natural soap base for hand milling, also known as rebatching
or, less appropriately, as remilling.
Working with lye (Caustic Soda)
If you choose to make your soap from scratch, you'll have
to learn how to use and respect the alkali (sodium or potassium
hydroxide) and the alkaline solution you'll be adding to the
fats and oils. Here are some general recommendations about
dangerous chemicals, and our suggested procedure:
· Always store NaOH and KOH in air tight, sturdy plastic
containers, clearly and VISIBLY labelled "DANGER! - Potassium
Hydroxide", or "DANGER! - Sodium Hydroxide"
(adding skull and crossbones won't hurt :-)
· Keep your NaOH and KOH containers in a safe place,
where they cannot be reached by kids, pets or people who can't
read (or won't take any notice of the label)
· If you are buying dry lye (NaOH flakes or pellets,
KOH flakes) in large amounts, chances are they will be delivered
in thick plastic bags. Once you open the bag, it is highly
recommended to transfer all its contents to sturdy, air tight
plastic storage containers, which you can open and close without
risk of spilling the contents (which happens very easily with
the bags...). Hardware stores sell large plastic buckets with
air tight lids that can be used for this purpose. Also, you
can talk a local deli/restaurant/hamburger or fish & chips
store, and ask them if they happen to throw away plastic drums
that could be washed and reused. Don't forget to label your
storage containers, as explained above!
· Whenever you are working with the dry alkali, you'll
need to wear safety equipment. In particular, you'll always
wear the following:
1. safety goggles
2. rubber gloves
3. long sleeved shirt
4. sock, shoes and long pants
· When I repack my alkali, and every time I make liquid
soap (which requires using KOH), I also wear a "bandit
mask" to protect my mouth and nose, made by folding in
half diagonally an old tea towel, or some other thick cotton
· It is however prudent to always wear a mask every
time you work with lye, and while you are preparing the caustic
· To make soap from scratch, you will need to "prepare
the caustic solution", which means dissolve the chosen
alkali (NaOH for bar soap, KOH for liquid soap) in water or
some other liquid. Remember to always add the alkali to the
water, and not vice versa. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
· Choose the "right" containers for both
the dry alkali, and the liquid you will dissolve it in. Both
containers will have a nicely fitting lid that you can remove
easily, without spilling the contents. I find plastic is best:
the plastic container for the dry alkali can be a clean "take-away
type" tub, while the container for the liquid must be
made of sturdy plastic, and must have a capacity of at least
twice the amount of liquid you are using.
· The caustic solution is best prepared in an area
that is well ventilated, and yet protected from drafts. The
kitchen sink is OK is you have plenty of air circulating in
the kitchen. I prefer to mix the caustic solution outside,
next to the garden faucet - and I make sure there are no winds
or drafts that could blow the dry alkali around.
· Beginner soap makers will find it less traumatic
to approach soap making using simple recipes, where the caustic
solution is made with water. As you get more experienced,
you can substitute part or all of the water with other liquids,
such as herbal teas, milks etc.
· The water for the caustic solution must be cool (<20ºC
/ 68ºF). Never use warm water to dissolve the alkali!
· When you add the alkali to the water, a chemical
reaction occurs, which generates heat... and quite a lot of
heat, for that matter! The temperature of a standard strength
caustic solution for bar soap (27% sodium hydroxide, 73% water)
will easily reach 80ºC / 176ºF or more.
· KOH (potassium hydroxide), which is used to make
liquid soap, heats the liquid up even hotter and quicker than
NaOH, and has an amazing tendency to "boil over".
When diluting KOH, it is recommended to always keep the container
with the liquid inside a larger container filled with cold
water, and add the KOH a little bit at a time, stirring without
interruption. Also remember that diluting KOH usually requires
more liquid than diluting NaOH.
· The dry alkali is best added to the water in a slow
continuous flow, while stirring with the other hand. If the
solution gets too hot too quickly, stop pouring the dry alkali
and let the solution cool down slightly before adding the
rest. While waiting for the temperature to go down, cover
both containers with their lids.
· While preparing the caustic solution, avoid breathing
in the vapours. If you can't get the alkali to pour in a slow
continuous flow, prepare the solution by mixing in a little
bit of alkali at a time, stirring well to dissolve it completely
and covering the containers until the next "go".
· If, in spite of all precautions, you get some caustic
solution or fresh soap mix on your skin, wash with plenty
of cold water and apply some vinegar to the skin. Vinegar
is acidic, and will help balance out the alkalinity. You can
use lemon juice if you don't have vinegar on hand - but it
is always recommended to keep a bottle of vinegar handy when
· The soap mix is highly alkaline and will burn your
skin if you touch it before the saponification reaction has
completed (this usually happens when the soap is set). Avoid
touching freshly made soap with bare hands.
For further information on soap making, you might like to
check Marina’s site at www.soapnaturally.org
Waxes used in making candles are very similar to cooking
oils, they are flammable and they are poured at a high temperature.
By taking certain precautions, accidents will be avoided.
1. For safety, wax should be melted over boiling water in
a double boiler. Wax should NEVER be heated directly over
an open flame or burner. Direct heat can cause was to explode,
resulting in serious injury.
2. Use of an accurate thermometer is advised to ensure proper
wax pouring temperature.
3. Never leave hot wax unattended. Keep young children away
from the area where wax is being melted and poured. Remove
container of molten wax from the heat if you plan to leave
the room for any reason.
4. Never pour water on a wax fire. Water will cause the fire
to spread. To extinguish a fire, cover the pan with its lid.
Use a dry chemical fire extinguisher if available.