Soap making can be one of the most satisfying crafts that a person can learn, but it can also be a dangerous one. Safely handling lye will be one the most important lessons you will learn and a step that will ensure that the pleasure you get from making your own soap will not be short lived.
Apply What You Learn
Of course knowing what to do to stay safe is important but using what you learn is the part the will keep you, your family and pets safe.
In its dry powder or flake form lye; sodium and potassium hydroxide is white, odorless, highly reactive to water, incompatible with many common chemicals, and can create a violent eruption if not mixed with water correctly. It is extremely corrosive, can cause severe skin burns and eye damage.
Possible Health Effects Of Lye
- Breathing: If powdered lye or a mist of lye becomes airborne, it can cause severe irritation of nose, throat and lungs if inhaled.
- Skin Contact: Pain, Redness, Burns, and Blistering. Severe exposure can cause death.
- Eye Contact: Severe burns, Redness, Swelling, Pain, Blurred Vision, and permanent Blindness.
- Ingestion: Burn; Lips, Tongue, Throat, Stomach, can cause Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea and Death.
Personal Protection Gear
When making soap and handling a corrosive such as lye, cover yourself. Wearing clothing such as; long sleeve shirt, long pants, shoes and socks, goggles, rubber gloves and vapor mask, may save you a lot of pain and suffering.
- Eye Protection: Wear eye protection when handling lye, and raw soap. You only have one pair of eyes.
- Vapor Mask: Use your Vapor face mask, when mixing lye, and raw soap. Lye fumes can burn you if you breathe them.
- Rubber Gloves: Use your kitchen gloves when you mix lye or handle essential oils, fragrance oils, and raw soap.
- Long Sleeve Shirt: Protect your arms by wearing a long sleeve shirt when making soap.
- Long Pants: Protect your legs by wearing long pants.
- Shoes & Socks: Keep your feet safe by covering them with shoes and socks.
Clothing will keep small drips and splatters from burning your skin, if your clothes get wet enough to notice from a lye or soap batter spill, remove them as soon as possible, do not keep wet clothing next to your skin. Then rinse with water and splash vinegar on any skin that was in contact with wet clothing. If burning continues seek medical attention asap.
A Couple Of Stories
When thinking of writing this post, two soap making disaster stories come to mind, I hope that sharing them, will be of benefit to you.
One soap maker regularly mixed her lye water in a glass jar, one day when she mixed it the jar broke and exploded in her face, not only did she get hot corrosive lye in her face, but also the glass from the jar.
The second story is about a soap maker who mixed lye water in a pitcher that would normally hold lemonade for her family. Her husband was outside working and came in for a drink and mistook the pitcher of lye water for lemonade.
Both of these stories are examples of dangers we need to consider when making soap, the equipment we use and our families. The biggest lesson I hope you take away from these stories, is never mix lye in anything that can break, and never use anything that can be mistaken for a drink container, always label all containers that you use to make soap in, and do it in a way that even the smallest ones will understand.
Family & Pets
When working with lye, having family members or pets around can be dangerous. Because we can never be sure of what they are going to do, small children can get under our feet so fast that we may not realize that they have gotten in our way, until it is to late. Pets and spouses also need to be considered when handling lye, like children we never know what they are going to do. It has been recommended that soap makers only make soap when family members are out of the house for the day.
Having a gallon of vinegar handy when making soap is a vital part of being safe. Vinegar is an acid and it neutralizes lye. If you get lye on your skin, vinegar will stop the burning. Never make soap without vinegar, and it does not matter what kind, the cheaper the better.
Heaven forbid that you would ever need to use Milk, but some soap making sites suggest using milk in case you get lye water or soap batter in the eyes. The first thing you should do if you get lye water or soap batter in your eyes is to flush them with water, after flushing them with water flush them with full-fat milk, then seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Lye & The Soap Bucket
When making soap I recommend that you mix everything in a heavy duty plastic bucket, lye does not react to plastic, and will not chemically affect it. The biggest concern when using a plastic bucket is that the lye water will become extremely hot, the bucket you choose has to be sturdy enough that it does not melt or bend from the heat of the lye water…
I regularly use a 3-gallon white plastic bucket that held one of the oils I use to make soap, and I have never had any trouble from it… To test the bucket you plan to use, fill it with boiling water, how does it behave, does it bend or get soft, if so find a heavier bucket. Make sure the bucket you use has a lid, you will be using it to prevent the fumes and steam from escaping into the air.
When mixing lye with water or another liquid, always add the liquid to the soap bucket first, then slowly add the lye. If you add the liquid to the lye you could have a violent eruption. A way to remember is to memorize this saying, “Snow Falls On The Lake”.
When preparing lye for making soap you mix powdered lye with a liquid, when lye is mixed with a liquid it becomes activate and creates toxic fumes, you do not want to breathe these fumes or have them linger inside you house. One way to prevent the fumes from getting inside your house is to mix them outside. If you have pets or children make sure that they are not going to be in the area outside where you mix the lye water.
When I am not able to mix my lye outside, I will turn on all the ventilation fans in the kitchen, and open a window. It is not perfect, but it does seem to work.
Do Not Breathe Fumes
Even though you are ventilating the fumes, you still need to wear a breathing mask handling activated lye, the fumes are damaging to the nose, throat and lungs. Make sure to choose a breath mask for vapors. Then for an extra measure of safety always turn your head away from the draft of the fumes when you breath so that you do not accidently take in the fumes, I have gotten a breath of fumes even wearing a mask.
The lye that most soap makers have access to comes in powder or flake form. When storing lye it needs to be kept in a cool dry location, in a well labeled tight sealing container. Never store lye that has been mixed with water or other liquids, doing so makes the lye active and can become a hazard.
Lye is hygroscopic which means that it attracts moisture from the surrounding air, for this reason, you should never leave lye open and exposed to the environment. Some soap makers find that during long storage times that lye can degrade, making a weaker lye solution when finally used.
To prevent lye from degrading, you have to keep it from being exposed to moisture. I found one site that mentioned storing dry lye in a heavy-duty plastic bag, removing all surrounding air and sealing the bag, then place the sealed bag in an air tight plastic bucket and seal tightly. Doing this should keep the lye from being exposed to air in storage.
Making Handmade Soap Post Series
If you would like to learn to make handmade soap, follow me for the next few months as I show you step by step how to make natural non-toxic soaps from scratch. This tutorial will cover everything you need to know to make your own handmade cold process bar soap, hot process bar soap (have not done this one), and liquid soap.
Posts In The Series
- Making Handmade Soap – Soap What Is It?
- Making Handmade Soap – How To Make Toxic Soap
- Making Handmade Soap – Terms & Definitions
- Making Handmade Soap – Safety
- Making Handmade Soap – Equipment
- Making Handmade Soap – Supplies
- Making Handmade Soap – Recipes
- Making Handmade Soap – Cold Process
- Making Handmade Soap – Liquid Soap
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