Cold processed soap making is a fabulously simple and satisfying thing to do, BUT you do need to follow a few safety guidelines.
Making soap involves adding lye (caustic soda) to oils and fat, to make soap by the process of saponification.
As the name suggests, caustic soda (lye) is caustic. It burns if it comes into contact with your skin.
Sooo, you need to be careful to stay safe.
Here are some guidelines for happy and safe soap making.
- Ensure children and pets are out of the way, and do not let allow children to handle lye at all.
- Wear protective clothing: an apron, long sleeves, gloves, and eye protection (safety specs).
- Have your water and everything else ready before weighing out the lye.
- Use separate utensils for weighing out and stirring the lye.
- Use a well ventilated area-I always do this part outside. When the lye is added to the water it creates fumes-use an extractor fan, or stand up wind of the fumes. Do not breathe in the fumes-they are also caustic.
- ALWAYS add lye to water, and not the other way around. If you add the water to the lye, it can go a bit crazy and bubble up everywhere.
- The water gets HOT when the lye is added-the thermometer will shoot up to 90C+
- Once your oils and lye solution are at the correct temperature, add the lye solution carefully to your oils. At this point, the combination of the two is now also caustic and will burn if it contacts your skin.
- Keep a bottle of spray vinegar at hand, and if you inadvertently spill any, or feel a tingle somewhere and think you might have got a drop on your skin, spray it with vinegar and this will neutralise it.
- Take care pouring your soap into your moulds.
- Spray your pans and utensils liberally with vinegar once you are finished with them, and then clean in lots of hot soap water. Keep your rubber gloves on for this.
- The soap may still be caustic when you unmould it after 24hrs. Take care when handling it.
- The 4-6 week ‘curing process’ allows any residual lye to fully saponify, and should see the pH of the soap fall towards a neutral pH of 7. Once it has cured, all the lye has been converted to soap, and it is safe to use!
I was so put off by all the dire warnings around lye use, but please don’t be. It all sounds a bit scary, but with some really simple precautions, you can safely make your own soap, and open up a whole wonderful world.