If you read the ingredients of our soaps, you would notice Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) as a common ingredient in all of them.
Why? It is because sodium hydroxide is an essential ingredient for making cold-processed soap—you can’t make this kind of soap without it!
In chemical terms, soap is a product of a chemical reaction between a fatty acid (oil) and a base (Sodium Hydroxide dissolved in water). The book Soapmaker’s Companion, by Susan Miller Cavitch, has an in depth discussion about this chemical reaction. Here’s a brief summary:
Sometimes, people refer to Sodium Hydroxide as “Lye”. In fact, Lye is the solution that you get when you mix Sodium Hydroxide and water. When the Lye is added to oil, a chemical reaction called saponification takes place, and soap is created. Making soap in this way is called cold process soap making because no external heat is used in the process. Instead, the chemical reaction produces its own heat.
Normally, you need to insulate the Lye-oil mixture for at least 24 hours to preserve the heat while the saponification process completes, producing solid soaps. After at least 24 hours, or when the soaps are hard enough, you unmold the soaps and set them aside to cure for four weeks. Curing makes the soaps harder so that they last longer—otherwise they will quickly melt in your shower.
Although the cold process may sound simple, soapmakers must be cautious especially when handling Sodium Hydroxide. It is a highly reactive chemical and can burn your skin or cause serious injuries. If you follow proper soap making guidelines, all of the Sodium Hydroxide is converted into different chemical compounds during the saponification reaction. No traces of Sodium Hydroxide will remain in the soap, and the soap will be safe to use.
The following safety guidelines are important for working with Sodium Hydroxide. These are the precautions I follow, but I strongly suggest that you educate yourself about soap making and how to safely handle Sodium Hydroxide, before you attempt to make your own soaps.
1. Avoid slip ups by being well prepared and organized. Prepare all the ingredients and equipment and set up your work place before starting.
2. Always wear protective googles, gloves, and mask. The gloves should be chemical resistant. For masks, choose a vapor resistant mask, or a respirator. You should also wear long sleeves, pants, and safety boots or closed toes shoes.
3. Work in a well ventilated area. Keep household members (including pets) away from your work area. Open windows when mixing Sodium Hydroxide and water solution.
4. Always mix Sodium Hydroxide and water solution in the sink. Remember, always add SODIUM HYDROXIDE TO WATER and never the other way around (this will cause an explosion).
5. If you accidentally touch Sodium Hydroxide, the Lye solution, or fresh soap, immediately and thoroughly wash with water.
6. If swallowed, drink plenty of water, do not induced vomiting. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Soapmaking is a fun activity, and good way to unleash your hidden creativity. You can experiment with colors and fragrances. Soaps make great gifts, and are especially unique because they are carefully handcrafted. I hope that the information above will not scare you away from soapmaking. Just like any hobby, it is important to be well informed and prepared before starting. There are many soapmaking tools and resources online, so go and explore the world of soapmaking!
Also, watch out for soapmaking recipes in this website. I will be posting soon ;-)