Can natural soap be made without lye?
Posted on 6th April 2020 at 19:29
Can soap be made without lye?
In this article we will cover a few subjects related to the question including:
What is Lye?
Lye is the name given to the mixture of a metal hydroxide with water. Traditionally the mixture will either contain sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide and water.
The mixture is caustic and highly corrosive which is why it is used in processes such as oven cleaning, as it will break down tough stains and burnt on food remnants.
Lye was originally made by passing water through the ashes of a fire. The resulting water was highly caustic and mixed with animal fats to create the first soaps.
Things have moved on since those times and sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are now created in factories under sterile conditions and comes in flakes, pellets, microbeads or powder.
As well as soap, oven cleaner and clogged drain opener, lye has also been used by criminals to despose of bodies. Italian serial killer Leanarda Ciancuilli used it to turn dead bodies into soap and teacakes, I would hazard a guess that there was no lye in the teacakes. Santiago Meza also known as the ‘Stew Maker’ confessed to dissolving 300 bodies in lye for a Mexican cartel and paid $600 a week to do this job.
Lye is perfectly safe to use in the soap making process as long as you know what you are doing. When adding the sodium hydroxide to the water (never the other way around) you must never breathe in the fumes as these are highly toxic and must only do so in a well ventilated area.
Lye is safe to use in soap because when it is added to the oil, it creates a reaction called saponification and the oil will be turned into fatty acid salts. Zero lye will remain in the bar after 24-48 hours and the bar will need to cure for around 4-6 weeks for cold process soap and 1-3 weeks for hot process soap.
Can soap be made without lye?
In short the answer is no. Soap must be made using lye. Lye is the key ingredient in making soap. All products that are legally allowed to be called soap, must have gone through the process of saponification.
Saponification is the process of turning oil, fats or lipids into soap. This process is achieved with the action of heat in the presence of an alkali, in this case the alkali is sodium hydroxide or lye.
It is also possible to make soap with potassium hydroxide. Soaps made with potassium hydroxide tend to be softer and will dissolve quicker than those made with sodium hydroxide, meaning your soap will run out quicker. Soap is defined as the salt of a fatty acid.
Lye is defined as a strong alkaline solution used for washing or cleansing. This is the key ingredient for soap making as it provides the heat and the alkali to turn fats into soaps.
The good news about most soaps is that they do not contain lye. That is because once the process of saponification has finished and the soap can set and cure, the soap will no longer contain any lye. Curing can take anywhere between 1-6 weeks depending on the recipe.
Lye will naturally evaporate out of the soap during the curing process and once this has finished you will be left with a bar of natural soap.
One key bit of advice is to only buy natural soap from reputable makers that know what they are doing. If the soap was made by somebody who doesn’t know what they are doing or has no experience in making natural soap then they may have their ratios wrong and that can lead to lye being left in the soap as too much was used.
Always buy from a reputable maker and if in doubt ask the maker about their Cosmetic Product Safety Report which they must have to sell soap in the UK.
Is my natural soap superfatted?
If you are buying your soap from us, then yes your soap will be superfatted. That will probably be the case for any natural soap or artisan soaps that you have purchased.
Most natural soap will be superfatted. Now if your wondering what on earth that is then don’t worry, before we started making soap we had never heard of it either.
Superfatting is basically leaving a small amount of the oil present in the soap that has not gone through the saponification process. This small amount of oil left will give its benefits to the skin as an emollient.
Superfatting is very common in natural soaps as the extra oil moisturises the skin. Usually the amount a soap is superfatted is around 5% but can go as high as 20% depending on the type of bar you are making.
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I hope you have enjoyed this article, and we have plenty more on our blog, if you want to read more about why natural soap is so great.
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