Many aspiring soapmakers are afraid to work with lye, but all that’s needed to do so successfully is a healthy respect for the potential dangers that are involved. Proper safety procedures are required, and they must be followed every time a batch is made. Lye is very caustic and corrosive, and it can cause chemical burns if it comes into contact with skin. Ingestion will result in catastrophic injuries that are almost always fatal.
Here are some simple tips to help you work safely to use this caustic substance to make wonderful soap.
- Do wear goggles or safety glasses every time you make soap. One splash of lye solution can result in loss of vision.
- Do wear a long-sleeved shirt, smock or lab coat when soapmaking, to protect your arms from splashes.
- Do protect your hands by wearing gloves. Some soapmakers swear by disposable latex or plastic gloves, while others believe that heavy-duty rubber gloves provide more protection.
- Do make sure to boldly label containers used to hold lye solution, and never use those containers for anything else, no matter how well you wash them afterwards. In addition to the text, labels should show a skull and crossbones, which is the universal symbol for poison.
- Do dissolve lye by adding it to cold water. Some soapmakers use ice for a portion of the water in their recipe, which will help to prevent the solution from overheating.
- Do always make soap near a source of running water, so splashes of lye solution or raw soap can be rinsed off immediately.
- Do use a baby gate or carrier to keep pets safely out of the room.
- Don’t ever add water to lye. The resulting reaction could cause the lye solution to boil up and overflow the container. The proper procedure is to add the lye to the container of water.
- Don’t make soap when children are present. Sleepovers or play dates are a great time to work uninterrupted, with no need to fear that they will accidentally be injured. Children cannot read the warnings marked on your containers, and may attempt to pour lye solution out of the container or even try to drink it.
- Don’t use aluminum utensils or containers. They corrode badly when exposed to lye. Choose containers and utensils made of glass, heat-resistant plastic, melamine, silicone or stainless steel.
- Don’t store lye in plastic bags or other containers that can easily be opened by children or chewed by pets. Store it in a glass jar or other tightly sealed container, and always keep it on a high shelf or in a locked cabinet or closet.
- Don’t inhale the fumes that are produced when mixing lye and water, because they can be irritating to your lungs. Purchase a respirator mask from a hardware store, work under an exhaust hood, or mix your solution outside.