What is Lye? Is it Natural?

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Soap Lab Malaysia is one of the company in Malaysia that encourages our clients to make their very own cold process or hot process soap rather than using Ready made soap bases. When one makes their own soap you get to control whatever you wanted to add into the soaps. This is especially beneficial to those who has sensitive skin where you may be allergic to some ingredients available in commercial soaps so when you make your own cold process soap; you get to choose wether or not you want to add these ingredients in. (you can read about sensitive skin here and how soaps affects the sensitive skin here). Cold process soap is also beneficial to those who have their own soap business. You can click here to read more about how to save your soap from having competitions here.

So anyways; the important ingredient in cold process soap is lye. Lye is a 'street name' for Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide. It 'sounds' chemically and scary so many are quite sceptical on using it in their soap. Many also asked if they could look for an alternative to it but unfortunately NO! If you want the process of saponification to happen (production of soap) you must use lye in your soap making. This is the component needed to mix your water and oil. Its a strong alkaline that will break down the bonds connected between fatty acids in oils to make it more 'weaker' and its able to mix with water to create soap. If you dont have lye; this wont happen and the water and oil wont mix. What you will get is just a solution with oil floating on top! Definately not soap!

So What is Lye

As mentioned; lye is a street name for sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) or Potassium Hydroxide (KOH). Whats the difference? Click here to find out more.

How is Lye Made?

Ash from Hardwood

Lye is actually made using hard wood. Traditionally that is. In olden days; when there was no lye flakes available like now; they actually made lye using ashes from hardwood. So basically after using these hardwood to 'cook' or heat the house up; they would add these hardwood into rainwater that is boiled; and left for 1-2 days. After 2 days; the ash would have mixed with the water and the water mixture with ash will be used as lye water in soap making.
Very simple right?

The only problem was with that method one could not determine wether the lye was 'concentrated' enough or not to make the soap since different hardwood would give different lye water concentration. Due to that; sometimes you will get a very soft soap that didnt form; or a lye heavy soap (too much lye).

Over years scientiests tried to come up with alternative and they have finally come up with a more concentrated; purified lye which is what we are using today; a 99.5% pure Sodium Hydroxide flakes.

Now this flakes are very concentrated and because of that; the pH of this flakes can go up to pH 14. What it means to us as a consumer is that when we are handling it; we have to be extremely cautious. We need to make sure we are handling the lye flakes using safety gears that i will be talking about in tomorrow's post.

Electrolysis: How Sodium Hydroxide is made using Regular Salt

Is the Lye today Natural?

The tropical Rain Forest we are saving

The lye flakes you are using today is made using regular table salt (sodium chloride) that is charged by electrodes in labs to produce sodium hydroxide. Sodium Hydroxide is no longer made using the ashes because you need a lot of wood to create the same amount of Sodium Hydroxide, and its not eco friendly since hardwood takes a long time (100's of years to grow). So no we cant call the current sodium hydroxide as natural but it is biodegradable, 'food grade' since it comes from our regular eating salt, and you can also think of it as 'eco friendly' and sustainable because you are no longer 'killing trees' to get it.

in Tomorrow's post i will be talking about the safety handling for lye. So do tune in:-)

Thank you for reading;

p/s: if you prefer to listen and watch a video about this; click here


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