There is a common myth that handmade bar soap can be made without lye. Just look up all the other blog posts and pinterest images about this very topic. This myth is not true. Lye, also known as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, is a necessary ingredient in the soap-making process. Without it, you cannot make soap.
Saponification is the Reaction of Lye and Oils
Lye is a caustic chemical that is often feared by many DIY soap makers that are just beginning. However, the myth that soap can be made without lye is a lie. I have my masters in chemistry and love chemical reactions. Let me explain the process of saponification, or chemical reaction of soap making.
To make solid bar soap, you need fats and/or oils as well as lye, also known as sodium hydroxide. To make liquid soap, potassium hydroxide is used. Triglycerides, main component of fats, are tri-esters consisting of a glycerol backbone with three fatty acid molecules as shown in this image below.
During saponification, the hydroxide ions replace the esters of the triglycerides, leaving us with the final products of glycerol and fatty acid salts. These long chained fatty acid salts are a significant component of soap.
Melt and Pour Soap Bases are Still Made with Lye
Some people believe they can make soap without using lye by using melt and pour soap bases or pre-made soap bases. However, these soap bases still contain lye.
The lye has already been mixed with the fats and oils during the manufacturing process, so you do not need to handle it directly. But, lye is still an essential ingredient in the soap-making process, even if you are using a pre-made soap base. Therefore, soap made without lye is a lie and is in fact, not soap at all.
Cold Process and Hot Process Soap Making
The most common types of small batch handmade soaps are made using the cold process or hot process methods. Both of these methods use lye.
With proper safety equipment, such as gloves and eye protection, you can make your own handmade soap in your own home. Lye is not an ingredient to be feared. It is a powerful chemical that is necessary to make an enjoyable luxurious self-care product, known as handmade soap. Shop some handmade soaps on my website soapsbyachemist.com.