Soaps With No Lye?


By Lisa Chambers

If someone tells you they made a soap without using this, I hate to tell you this- but they lied. All bar soaps are made with sodium hydroxide, also known as “caustic soda”. All soap really is is the outcome of a chemical reaction that occurs when a high alkali (the lye) reacts to an oil, but with a well made soap there is no lye remaining in the finished product.

One wise soaper compared it to baking a cake.When you first mix the batter you have your flour, eggs, sugar, oil, etc. When you beat it all together it is still just batter- not something you would probably want to eat. (Unless it’s chocolate! Hehe..) Anyway, the point is when you put that batter in the oven, the heat creates a chemical reaction and cooks the batter. When that batter comes out of the over it’s no longer your original ingredients just stirred together- it’s something entirely new. Cake! It’s a similar idea with soap, only the process is called saponification.

Even liquid soap or “shower gels” are made with a form of lye called potassium hydroxide, or “caustic potash”. Sometimes instead of using the ingredient “sodium hydroxide” on a label, people or companies may use the terms “saponified olive oil”, “saponified palm oil”, etc. It is the very same thing- just a different way of listing ingredients.





You can visit this author’s website at Chambers’ Essentials- free healthy beauty and household tips & recipes.

23 comments:

  1. I have had searches “land” on this page, with the keywords “soap no lye” or “lye free soaps”, or other similar requests.

    The article above is not mine, but I posted it here because it’s a very true article – and I love the cake analogy!

    I believe when people are searching for lye free soap, they are seeking information on melt and pour soap, or glycerin soap. It’s a fun soap to make, but in many [real] soapers opinions, it’s a decorative soap and not nearly as good for your skin as the more made from scratch soap.

    And just for future knowledge, even melt and pour soap, at one time, contained lye. It wouldn’t be glycerin without having gone through the chemical reaction of saponification by combining oils and sodium hydroxide. As a Melt and Pour crafter, you just don’t have to handle the lye. Which, of course, may be just what you are looking for. :)

  2. If you think that is true you need to do some soap research!! Check out the ingredients on some all natural soaps such as a bar from Kiss My Face. Salt can be substituted for lye.

  3. Hi Bob.

    Check out the Kiss My Face ingredient page, it states:

    “Saponified Olive Oil – olive oil is saponified into soap by the addition of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), which is neutralized in the process.”

    You are correct in that Kiss My Face does include Sodium Chloride (a.k.a. Salt) in their soap. But the soap making process is still done (yep, even them) using sodium hydroxide (a.k.a lye or caustic soda).

    Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Bar Soap (They even link directly to their glossary – obviously, they aren’t trying to hide the fact they use lye!)

    Good luck in your soap making research.. :)

  4. I now understand the importance of lye in soapmaking, as i would like very much to try making myown soap. I wanted to go really organic and safe ya know? can you give me some info on alternative soap ingredients, :ie, soy for example.

  5. how come when i use melt and pour soaps it dont burn in cuts and on skin problems but when i use somone elses soap made the old fashion way with lye it dose burn ?

  6. Hi Judi,

    I have no idea why that would be since melt & pour soap is actually made with lye also – remember, the finished product does not contain any lye anyway..

    But, back to the point, a melt & pour base is originally made with lye (otherwise it wouldn’t be “soap”).. but it’s already processed so by the time the crafter buys it all they have to do is add “goodies” (fragrance, colorant, additives) to it to personalize it.

    Check out the ingredients on the melt & pour base…

  7. maybe its a case of the from scrach soap makers use more lye than the melt and pour …i have no idear i have used the old time cold press soap and it stings in cuts and sores but all i know is alot of the melt and pours dont on me …

  8. If anyone thinks any soap never had lye in it before turning into soap, that is wrong. All soap needs lye to make soap :)

    MP soap is wonderful too! It is real soap, and can be all naturally based just like CP soaps. You just need to do your research and find top quality bases. MP soaps have a science to them just as CP soaps do. Believe me, I make MP soaps that look and work just like CP soaps! It has taken me TONS of research and tossed batches to get to where I am. But it can be done if you put in the research and effort. And is probably a safer option for those who have little children around. Lye is very caustic and dangerous to have around.

    Just be sure that no matter WHAT process you choose to make soap that you know all about percentages, preservatives, safety, sterilization, and what is and is not potentially harmful to add into the soap. And if you are going to sell soap, you need to know the FDA regulations on soap and labelling.

    Good luck to all who want to venture into this amazing and addictive world of soap :)

    Hansen Soap Cos last blog post..Botanical Facial Toner with Argan Oil and Lavender 2 oz

  9. Does anyone have a recipe to make soap that does NOT have any form of caustic soda, titanium dioxide or sodium laurel sulfate? So many so called natural preservative soaps state they are good for your skin and don’t contain any nasties, but read the ingredients and they do!

    I am fed up with being lied to and have decided to try and make soap for me and my children. So I am doing my own research and any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Christine – you have a few options. To go really simple, and depending on your childrens ages get their help, you could try melt and pour soap. It’s not the “best” option, but there are some nice m&p soaps out there. Those you melt (in microwave!) and add your additives. You could add a bit of goat milk, oatmeal, lavender, some extra butters like shea. I’m not familiar with the ratio, so check on that before you end up with a goopy mess that won’t blend.

      Another option would be to purchase already made “real” soap (real as in someone hand made using caustic soda), which you then shred (or buy pre shredded) melt, add your additives and put into a mold. This is a really nice option if you don’t want to handle lye yourself.

      Making your own soap from scratch (yes, using lye) isn’t hard at all.. But requires caution and very close attention.

      Remember, *all* soap was made with caustic soda at some point in the process, so don’t let the idea of lye in your soap scare you away. It’s part of the process – even from the old day when soda ash was used (again caustic soda). In melt & pour, the glycerin is removed from the soap making process and used to make what is called glycerin soap or melt & pour… super easy to use, very easy to get creative with it and you can make it in really small batches – like a bar at a time.

      Whatever you end up doing, have fun. And if you decide making it just isn’t your cup of tea, find a soapmaker – either local to you or online and not only would you be supporting a work at home crafter, but you’d be getting the best soap around… You may even be able to get their “ugly” soap, or scraps for discount. Don’t be afraid to ask.. they might say yes. :)

  10. Christine,
    As everyone else has stated, soap can not be made without an acid (oil) and a base (caustic soda.) The chemical reaction that takes place neutralizes the lye. When soap is made properly, it is completely safe. Once you get the hang of it, making soap is embarrassingly easy. My friends are awestruck that I make my own soap. It’s like making Marmallow Treats and getting credit for making a souflle!

    I don’t recommend the melt and pour soap for anything but a project to do with the kids. It’s just commercial soap and usually isn’t as good as store bought soap. If you are looking for a safe, conditioning soap, then homemade is the way to go. Even though you have to use lye, you have complete control over everything else that goes into it. Read the lables on commercial soap. Anything other than sodium hydroxide, or potassium hydroxide and vegetable oil is just stuff you don’t need. Commercial soap makers have to add artificial color, fragrance, preservatives, and lords know what else. When you make your own soap, you can customize it to have the characteristics that you want. This is because all oils have different properties. Soap made with a high percentage of avocado oil is excellent for people with very sensitive skin. Some offer creamy stable lathers that moisture, others produce hard bars with fluffy lather, but are drying to the skin if used exclusively (palm oil.) I highly recommend the two soapmaking books by Susan Miller Cavitch. The first one is called The Natural Soap Book. I LOVE this book! It’s fun to read and tells you just about everything you want to know about soap and making soap. She also goes into great detail about the characteristics of each oil you might want to use. Since the recipes in this book are for 12 pound batches, I also recommend her second book, The SoapMaker’s Companion which has 5 pound recipes that can be made with a free-standing mixer. I have volumes of books on soapmaking, but Susan’s Cavitch’s book are my “bibles.”

    If you can only purchase one (you can order it from any bookstore,) then I’d recommend The Natural Soap Book and resize the recipes. Majestic Mountain Sage is handy soapmaking website that has a page where you can plug in your original recipe and it will resize it for you instantly. This way you can make a 5 pound recipe from Miller’s 12 pound recipe with ease. Go to http://www.thesage.com and click on “lye calculator.” Good luck and have fun!

  11. Thanks a bunch for the info on the BEST books on soap making. I searched all over for a “lye free” recipe but your info shows me this is just not possible, no matter what, at some point lye must be used.
    Thanks so much too for the web address to calculate smaller batches….in case I am not successful on the 1st try, I won’t have wasted so much stuff….

  12. WOW I have been trying so hard to ‘do the right thing’, facts being facts if I want soap I have to use lye! conscious cleared, THANKS ;)

  13. This information was incredibly enlightening and helpful. Thanks to everyone for your participation and comments – I also was searching for a ‘lye free’ soap recipe. I’ll try the cold press method.

  14. All soap bars are made with lye. But there are some soap alternatives – you can use leaves, flowers or roots of some plants as soap:
    Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)
    Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum)
    Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
    Soap Lily (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)

    And less known:
    Philadelphus lewisii
    Yucca root
    Christmas Rose
    Asparagus fern
    Daisies
    Ivy (Hedera helix )

    If you need more information you can search ‘soap plants’ in google.

    1. Hey Wilson… sure, you could use soap nuts.. but since a lot of my posts are about actually making soap, and the process of making it, soap nuts isn’t really relative. Thanks for the idea though!

  15. I also was searching for soap recipes with/out Lye. The confusion comes easy. All recipes state Lye as an ingredient, and few sites offered a way to make Lye, aside from buying it.
    In a “back to nature” bid, I like to know how the ingredients were made ages ago – not the commercial cousins of modern day – and that answer is often harder to find.
    I will certainly look into aforementioned books and eventually try my hand at Lye making.

    1. I believe it is made from ash, try a search for “lye from ash”… My understanding is it’s much harder to determine how much goes into your soap.. and is the reason why “lye soap” has a bad rep – as it’s more likely to make soap that can cause burning. Getting back to natural though, this is a good thing to know.

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