Why is soap made with toxic lye?

Chemist manipulating toxic chemical model

Soap needs to be made with toxic lye because, by definition, that is what soap must be. But first, let’s clarify something. Lye is not toxic, in the strictest of senses. Toxins are poisons, but lye is very CORROSIVE. This means it can cause severe burns in all tissues that it comes in contact with. It also is corrosive to metals, plastics, and some glass. Direct skin contact with lye can cause pain, redness, burns, and blistering.

Soap is by definition: a salt of a fatty acid (from Wikipedia). Salt in this sense is not table salt, but something that created by the combination of a fatty acid (components of common fats) and a base (lye – or more technically a sodium hydroxide solution). Not all of the products we all refer to as soap are actually soap. In order to call a product soap, it must conform to this definition. That is why soap made with corrosive lye is the only possible way. Without lye there is no soap.

How toxic lye create such fabulous soap?

Lye, when combined with enough fat undergoes a chemical reaction called saponification. This chemical reaction produces a molecule of soap plus a molecule of glycerin. If the balance between the amount of fat and the amount of lye is perfect then 100% of the lye will have reacted with all of the available oils to create lots of soap molecules. The remaining components will be all soap and glycerine, with no free lye remaining. Just because we make soap with toxic lye doesn’t mean that it shares any of the corrosive properties of lye. If there were free lye remaining the soap could have corrosive qualities and could actually cause burns to your skin, or most likely due to the concentrations present would just feel harsh and irritate your skin.

A well-crafted bar soap is a true pleasure to use. It actually can be a little bit addicting! If you haven’t tried a bar soap you can recommend to your friends and family, we suggest you take a look at one of ours at Bay Berry Bliss. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


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