New Soapmaker- Terrified of Lye

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Kota

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Hi everyone!

So I’m new to soap making, I’ve done some research but I’ve convinced myself that I don’t know enough. I have a few questions about lye because I feel crazy and feel like everything in my house is now contaminated with lye and I’m a walking lye contaminator! I even freaked out after having touched the plastic wrap covering the raw so after molding then getting a bug out of my eye. I legit almost went to the emergency room! My poor boyfriend was trying to calm me down but I was so paranoid. (I also have OCD so this is clearly the worst hobby I could have possibly chosen). But I love the process and love everything about it thus far! I just need to know everything there is!

So! For questions:
Would I know if I got Lye on myself?
Am I able to cross contaminate if I had Lye on myself?
What vinegar do I use for cleaning?
How long is lye well, “LYE” for?
Basically, I want to know everything there is for Lye and touching and safety!

This probably won’t be my last post! Haha thank you all!
 

Teddy G

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Hi there,
you would most likely know if you got lye on yourself. Typically your sweat would "activate" the lye and you would feel a little burning sensation on your bare skin. I hate to admit, I'm not super careful like I was when I first started soaping. I get a bit of lye on my hands and arms once in a while and I just run them under cold water. I don't even wear safety googles or gloves anymore but I think I'll hit the hardware store and get back to being safer. I think cross contaminating is possible but as long as you are careful when dealing with the lye and making sure to clean up afterwards then there is very little risk. I worry about my dog so I make sure not to get any lye on the floor for her to step on or lick.

That's about all I know, there are way more knowledgeable people here that can provide more information. Lye isn't as bad as I first thought, just treat it with some attention and make sure never to add water to the lye, add the lye to the water slowly while stirring. Keep on soaping!
 

The_Phoenix

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I kept a box of lye hidden in a closet for years before I worked up the courage to use it. My fear was appropriate. I’ve had a few instances where I’ve gotten lye somewhere in my skin and, yes, I felt it immediately.

That does t mean you should refrain from using it forever. Just always be mindful when it is being used under your care. Gloves, long sleeves, eye wear.

Lats week I somehow got soap batter on my elbow and sat down on a chair and rested my elbows on my thighs. Well, not only did get a slight lye burn in my elbow but also the top of my thigh. All because someone didn’t wear long sleeves while cleaning out my soaping container we and my arm rubbed itself along the rim of said container whole cleaning.

So be fearful but mindful and always take care to cover exposed areas.
 
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Welcome to SMF, @Kota!

It isn't clear if you are referring to lye crystals (solid NaOH) or lye solution. Handle either with respect. Don't fear them.
The time of handling the solid lye crystals should be very short. Don't be distracted. Open the lye container, weigh, and add the flakes/beads to the water, all in one step. Alone to protect the solid lye from pulling moisture from air.
That means that the only steps at which you (or someone else around you) might come in contact with NaOH is with the solution. At any case, wear goggles. You can only go blind once, and going blind from lye isn't as painful as you might think in the beginning – until it's too late.
Label your lye container appropriately. Do messy things (stick-blending, stirring) on a smooth surface (ideally close to a sink), collect anything that has got in contact with soap batter and clean/dispose of with the same respect as the soap itself (only take off goggles after you have cleaned up!).
Don't underestimate soap batter, it is a different kind of danger. Less so than lye solution itself, but still you don't want to touch it. It can trick you into thinking that it's “not so bad”, just to start itching some time later! Even after a day or two (with a slow recipe) it can be heavily irritant.
Gain routine. Don't get careless, but convince yourself that it is possible to work with lye. It's not a poison, it's not radioactive. It's your friend, if you treat it with appropriate respect.

BTW, I don't think soapmaking is “the worst hobby [you] could have possibly chosen”. Well, maybe, but for other reasons than you might think of now 🤣. Joke aside, I really love the calm, meditative aspect of soapmaking. You can't force things (well, you can, but soap has a unique way to tell you that this would be a bad idea).

Edit: My enter key has its period, I think.
 
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Cat&Oak

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Welcome Kota! Hey guess what? I was once scared of lye as well. I put off making soap for months till I got the courage to try.

Safety first always wear goggles around lye and fresh soap batter. If you get some on you it will burn. Rinse with fresh water.

I use white vinegar to clean surfaces after soaping.

Also an apron is great to put on while you are soaping to keep your clothes clean.

Once you make your first batch you will feel better and gain confidence
 

CpnDouchette

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I have a toddler and pets so I take no chances. If you follow good practice guidelines you should be fine.

Keep nice, clear work surfaces so if you do have a spill you can easily clean up. Think about how you would deal with a big spill. There is such a thing as spill kits although I doubt that would be necessary. Do have some towels on hand though to mop up.

I have got lye on my skin and it does burn. Smaller flecks of soap can take a while to burn so I am vigilant about washing splashes immediately with cold water.

In the early days I used to wipe down my surfaces with vinegar, not so much now though. I do have vinegar on hand for spills. Dont use vinegar on your skin - rinse under lots of cold water.

Cross contamination is unlikely if you work safely. I do take the draining board rack off the sink and clean the sink after I've finished washing up. I use separate sponges and cloths for soap making.

Watch some safety videos on YouTube so you know what to expect. Always wear goggles. Always. No exceptions.

Lye is dangerous but so are cars and cleaning products. As your confidence grows, so will your understanding of risks and safety measures.

You got this!
 

SPowers

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I took me almost a year to build up to actually using/handling lye. But as everyone has already said, just be respectful of the ingredient. I got a small drop of lye solution on my foot - so small I didn't feel it hit my skin but I felt it and a year later, I actually still have a small red dot on my foot where it landed. I still wear my slippers when I soap! (nothing like an old fool)!
I still wipe everything down with vinegar and water but that's just me - I'm a bit messy when I soap and I do it in my kitchen where I prepare food.
Take the leap! You'll be hooked once you do!

Oh,, and welcome to the forum.
 
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There's no need to "fear" the lye. Give it the proper respect it deserves and you'll be fine.

Always remember to add the lye to the liquid, not the other way 'round. Don't breathe in the fumes. Use your PPE.

If you get lye on you, you WILL feel it but not necessarily right away depending on how much you get on you.. Rinse with cool water, not with vinegar. That bit of internet wisdom is wrong, wrong, wrong. Water, not vinegar.

And the one bit of info I think is the most important.... ask questions. If you're not sure of something, ask. There's almost always someone around to answer your questions. We all want to see you succeed in your soapamaking endeavours and we were all beginners once.
 
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I agree that vinegar is only appropriate for cleaning lye or lye solution off surfaces, not skin. Lye, lye solution, or soap batter on skin should be rinsed with cool, clear water - nothing else.

One thing that helps is to get everything out that you need for soaping, then measure and prep everything except the lye.

Now put on your PPE, measure your lye, add it to the water, and stir until dissolved. While it is cooling, put away all the containers of oils and other things that you no longer need. Your soaping area will now be clean and uncluttered, making it easier to concentrate on making soap.

This routine also has the benefit of limiting the number of items you might touch after you have greasy, zappy soap batter on your hands. In other words, less chance for cross-contamination.
 

Zany_in_CO

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I was so paranoid. (I also have OCD so this is clearly the worst hobby I could have possibly chosen).
There is an alternative to lye based soap. It is called "Melt & Pour". The base is already saponified with lye. All you have to do is melt, add fragrance, color and any additives you like to make lovely soap without the hassle of dealing with lye.

There are many suppliers where you can get all the stuff you need to make M&P soap. I like Elements Bath & Body M&P Bases - many options to choose from and they have everything else you need including recipes.

Bramble Berry is also a good source for learning how to make lye soap as well as lots of recipes for M&P.

My advice: Start with M&P first then switch to making CP or HP soap after you gain confidence in the process of soap making.

Wishing you all the best!
;)
 

Angie Gail

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I was scared too but if you are careful it should be fine. I like to use the thick dishwashing gloves that have long cuffs (go almost to my elbows), a long sleeve shirt, a cotton face mask, and safety googles (not the glasses but full goggles). I've have a little bit of splatter hit my goggles when stick blending occasionally so safety gear is definitely needed. Also remember to always add lye to the liquid and not the other way around. One way I saw this explained to help remember is it's like snow falling on a lake.
 
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There is absolutely no need for me to add to this thread but I will anyway! First, welcome, welcome!

I think of lye as bleach. I respect it, I don't fear it. Be careful but not afraid. I struggle with anxiety, especially when my kids were in the house, but lye is a non-issue for me.

Once, I got a lye crystal on my hand unknowingly. The day after soaping I noticed this tiny burn and it took me awhile to figure out that, huh, this is a lye burn! I know it could have been far worse. I'm compulsive about all PPE -- and really, after COVID, it's just like normal attire. :)

Jump in, keep us posted, it's a great group to join.
 

earlene

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Hi everyone!

So I’m new to soap making, I’ve done some research but I’ve convinced myself that I don’t know enough. I have a few questions about lye because I feel crazy and feel like everything in my house is now contaminated with lye and I’m a walking lye contaminator! I even freaked out after having touched the plastic wrap covering the raw so after molding then getting a bug out of my eye. I legit almost went to the emergency room! My poor boyfriend was trying to calm me down but I was so paranoid. (I also have OCD so this is clearly the worst hobby I could have possibly chosen). But I love the process and love everything about it thus far! I just need to know everything there is!

So! For questions:
Would I know if I got Lye on myself?
Am I able to cross contaminate if I had Lye on myself?
What vinegar do I use for cleaning?
How long is lye well, “LYE” for?
Basically, I want to know everything there is for Lye and touching and safety!

This probably won’t be my last post! Haha thank you all!
Welcome. Training yourself to be lye safety conscious in a reasonable and not overly excessive way might be a challenge, but your OCD may work in your favor (as opposed to folks who may tend to be lackadaisical
about lye.)

Question #1 Would I know if I got Lye on myself? At first when it splashes (from mixing solution or from raw soap from stirring too vigorously), you may not realize it at first, but it will start stinging or tingling or itching or burning. Then you will know. If it is the lye granules or crystals or flakes (in the dry form), you may not notice at first either, but humidity in the air can activate it on your skin, as can any other form of liquid, and you will get the same sensations I already mentioned. If your skin is very sensitive to touch, you may feel it sooner; if not, you will feel it later. IMMEDIATELY rinse with a lot of cool water. I stop what I am doing and go rinse the moment I know there was any splash, even if I am not sure it touched my skin.

I strongly suggest that prior to starting a soap making project, that you cover your work surface with washable or disposable covering (towels, table cloth of some sort, paper, whatever you prefer) to take any spills or splashes. I use both an oilcloth table cloth & old towels on top of that. The towels go into the wash after spills dry up. If I spill dry lye, I stop what I am doing and clean that up immediately; I am fortunate that I almost never spill dry lye, but it has happened. Clean up depends on the spilled surface as well as how much. Towels get rinsed with water. Sweeping up if appropriate, depends of amount of spill & the hand broom gets rinsed with cool water. Vinegar (regular white household vinegar) spray and mop for flooring. DON'T make soap on bare hardwood flooring (use protective covering on floor; spilled lye will eat away at the finish (I know someone which this happened to.)

Question #2 Am I able to cross contaminate if I had Lye on myself? Well, to a degree. IF you spill dry lye on yourself, while in the process of walking to the sink to rinse off, the potential for some of the granules, flakes or crystals to fall off along the way does exist. So you may want to do a quick mop-up to be on the safe side. But if it was a small amount spilled onto you, the amount that may fall onto the floor in that little distance would be minimal, so the mop up would not need to be extensive.

However, AFTER you have rinsed off, no more cross contamination is likely.

Where cross contamination should be a concern is intermingling of equipment. Do not use your lye solution container for food. ALWAYS rinse it well with water prior to storage. ALWAYS label it if you are not going to be using it immediately, and even then, I strongly urge you to have your lye solution vessel labeled at all times, even when empty so no one ever uses it for any other purpose.

Question #3 What vinegar do I use for cleaning? Plain white household vinegar that you can buy in any grocery store or Dollar store or wherever you buy vinegar. (Not the apple cider vinegar, although it would work, too, but it's usually more costly and not necessary. But if that's all you have on hand, it will also work.)

Question #4 How long is lye well, “LYE” for? I hope I understand the question correctly. In the soap making process, lye remains active lye until it completes the saponification process of combining with oils to create salts (which is what soap is). If there is not enough oil, active lye remains in the soap, but later combines with carbon dioxide in the air to change and is no longer lye, but sodium carbonate. That secondary process takes more time and depends on factors such as how much excess and how much carbon dioxide and how much time.

Statement #5 Basically, I want to know everything there is for Lye and touching and safety! Eye protection is a must. Gloves are a must. Easy access to running water is a must. Never open a bottle of lye without first donning your gloves. Never weigh out the lye without gloves. Never mix the lye without gloves. Never handle raw soap without gloves. Never un-mold fresh soap without wearing gloves. In fact, wear gloves until you have done a zap test. Once you get a negative zap test, you can rest assured that the soap is safe to touch.

Read this and learn how to do this: How To Properly/Safely Conduct The Zap/Tongue Test
 
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Having used lye-based creams to relax my hair (and doing it myself on top of that), I can say that lye has and does not scare me a lick. The important thing to remember to follow the safety protocols for handling any kind of lye. Also remember to follow proper first aid (should you get lye on your skin at the least) and rinse the area with WATER NOT VINEGAR. You'd be surprised how many people reach for the vinegar first but the vinegar is acidic and will have a much stronger reaction on your skin when compared to water (neutral substance if distilled).



Katie from Royalty Soaps may be young but she's been doing this for longer than many here (10 years, y'all). There are many tutorials out there for handling lye but I watched this before and found it solid enough.
 
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Also, keep in mind Lye is not a poison, it is caustic. When lye drops are on a surface once the Carbon Dioxide in the air, they will turn to sodium carbonate (soda ash). This is why if you drop a of lye when turn white when it drys. If you eat soft pretzels and bagels you are also eating lye since they are dipped in food grade lye so the outside gets the nice golden color and stays soft inside.
 
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I just dropped in to say what @cmzaha has already said - it is not toxic. So 'contamination' is not really the right word.
Also, I remember when first soaping I was very nervous and in a way this made it worse. Once I learned to relax I became a lot less 'clumsy'. If you have OCD I assume you are a fairly tidy, methodical person, which is actually a good 'type' to make soap. I am fairly methodical and a bit of a perfectionist, so I'm not generally a 'dropsy spilly' sort of person in the kitchen. However, as stated, I was nervous when starting out so I did drop and spill - so make sure you are fully protected and that your counter top is too. I ruined my counter top by wiping off raw soap batter after making soap. I didn't realise it would take the sheen off the formica. Now I use a silicone baking mat. Ironically - i really don't need it now because i hardly ever spill or drip any batter anywhere.
By getting your process sorted you can ease your anxiety. Here's what I do:
Measure my water (chilled with a few ice cubes too) amount into the jug - set aside.
Measure my lye into another vessel.
Take both over to the bench near the stove ( extractor fan) and slowly pour the lye into the water and stir until dissolved. Rest the stirring spoon in the lye vessel next to the jug so i can use it to stir again as needed.
Put my pot onto the scales and weigh up my hard fats. Put that pot onto the stove on lowest heat to melt.
Make a cuppa tea and go outside for a cigarette (e-cigarette these days) while the lye cools and the oils melt.
Come back in, turn the heat off the melted oils, and measure my liquid oils into another jug.
Measure my FO/EO into a small cup.
Pour the liquid oil into the pot with the melted hard oils. Reserve a little of the liquid oil in the jug for mixing up my mica ( usually it's enough just to not scrape all the jug out)
Mix any colours now with the reserved oil.
Get my stick blender set up at the ready.
Pour ALL the oils into one big mixing bowl - hard oils, liquid oils, and fragrance (unless it's a naughty fragrance which I may add later).
Put all used dishes directly in the sink.
Mix and pour the soap.
Cover and put in a warm place.
:)
 
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Statement #5 Basically, I want to know everything there is for Lye and touching and safety! Eye protection is a must. Gloves are a must. Easy access to running water is a must. Never open a bottle of lye without first donning your gloves. Never weigh out the lye without gloves. Never mix the lye without gloves. Never handle raw soap without gloves. Never un-mold fresh soap without wearing gloves. In fact, wear gloves until you have done a zap test. Once you get a negative zap test, you can rest assured that the soap is safe to touch.
I would add, never use vinegar to clean lye, lye solution, or raw soap batter off your skin. Several posts have mentioned this but it can't be said enough. Only use cool running water.

If you eat soft pretzels and bagels you are also eating lye since they are dipped in food grade lye so the outside gets the nice golden color and stays soft inside.
Olives, too.
 

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