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One of the more serious things we have to deal with while making hot or cold process soap is the handling of lye. Yes, friend, if you want to make soap from scratch you must use lye (unless you make melt and pour soap, in which case the lye step has already been handled for you.)
I’ve made soap for years and years, and I’ve never had any scary experiences with lye. That’s not to say I haven’t had my share of spills, splatters, and bloops. Soap making can be messy!
I do treat those spills with respect—lye is a strong caustic and can cause serious burns and eye injury. But if you handle those spills quickly and correctly, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
That’s why every soaper must know how to neutralize lye spills when making soap, and how to do it safely.
Want more info about making your own soap from scratch? Check out the Ultimate Guide to Cold Process Soap Making for Beginners post.
Here are some tips ALL soap makers, both beginners and seasoned, should know.
NEVER use vinegar to clean up a lye spill… ever.
Years ago, soap makers would soap with a bottle of white vinegar nearby. Conventional wisdom was vinegar, as an acid, would neutralize lye, an alkali.
And we seasoned soap makers loved to dole out this bit of wisdom to new soapers, feeling all helpful and knowledgeable. Now, I shudder every time I see this suggested on soaping blogs and social media.
Remember those baking soda/vinegar volcanoes we made in 4th grade science class? Image that, just on a larger and infinitely more dangerous scale.
Vinegar does neutralize lye, but in doing so it generates heat as a by-product.
We don’t want that reaction happening anywhere on our counter tops, floors, and definitely not the skin. There are safer ways to neutralize lye spills when making soap, my friend, so read on.
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Sweep up granulated lye with a dry broom.
If you spill lye granules on your floor or counter tops, sweep them up with a dry broom or cloth. Then, dump them into your drain and rinse down with plain, cold water.
Once all the granules are cleaned, use a cloth or mop dampened with plain cold water to go over the entire area several times to make sure you get every last dust-speck of lye cleaned up.
Wear your eye goggles and gloves while doing this.
Soak up spilled lye water (AKA lye solution) with paper towels and discard.
If you accidentally spill lye water onto your counter tops or floor, soak up as much as possible with paper towels or rags you don’t mind throwing away.
Put the lye soaked rags or paper towels into your sink and rinse them well with plain, cold water to dilute the lye solution. Next, toss them into a bag, tie off, and throw away in an outdoor trashcan (preferably with a lid).
Wipe down the spill site several times with plain cold water. Afterward, I’d also wash the entire area with a mild soap, then rinse again with copious amounts of plain water.
Soapy tip: Mix your lye water solution in a container that is set in the sink, and keep it there the entire time you’re soaping. That way, if the container accidentally gets knocked over, the mixture goes right down the drain and a rinse of the sink is all that’s needed.
It’s OK for lye to be rinsed down your kitchen drain since it’s also used as a drain cleaner. You’ll have the sparkliest drains around, darling!
For raw soap batter splatters on countertops and tables, wipe up with a paper towel.
Remember, raw soap batter is caustic too! So, drips, bloops, and splatters should be cleaned up immediately. Wipe up as much as possible with a paper towel, and throw it away.
Again, toss into a bag, tie off, and place in an outdoor trashcan with a lid. You don’t want children, pets, or wildlife coming into contact with it.
Rinse the entire area well with plain, cold water. Then, because soap batter also leaves behind an oily residue, follow up with a thorough cleaning with a mild soap (dish soap is perfect). Don’t use household cleaners like 409 or Clorox.
If you spill lye or raw soap batter on yourself, immediately rinse with PLAIN, COLD WATER
For lye granules, lye water, or raw soap batter on your skin, rinse, rinse, rinse with copious amounts of plain, cold water. After you’ve rinsed thoroughly, wash the area well with a mild soap and rinse some more.
If you’ve had a major mishap and lye solution or soap batter is soaking your clothes, remove them immediately (Strip, girl! Now’s not the time for modesty!) and follow the suggestions above.
Call the paramedics or visit the emergency room if the spill covers large areas of your skin and/or has seriously burned you.
Major spills like this are extremely rare, though. More common are those tiny splashes and drips.
If you notice a drip or splatter of raw soap batter or lye solution on your skin, stop soaping and clean the area. Yes, I want you to stop soaping and take care of those splatters right away, even if you’re in the middle of an oh-so-intricate-and-perfect butterfly swirl.
There will be another batch of perfect soap, friend, so take care of your skin first.
Sometimes you won’t notice a splash, but will feel a slight itching or stinging. Yep, that’s a tiny bit of lye on your skin.
So, if you notice stinging or itching, take a few minutes to rinse that area well with a mild soap and lots of plain cold water and you’ll be on your soapy way without any issues.
Lye mishaps are rare, so don’t let this scare you from soap making!
Don’t let this scare you off from soaping. If you’re careful, you most likely will go your entire soapy life without experiencing a major lye spill. But as with anything it pays to be aware, so knowing how to neutralize lye spills when making soap (safely!) is a must.
If you have any questions about the process, drop a note in the comment section below, or pop on over to the Farm Girl Soap Co. Facebook page and leave a post.
You’ll also want to check out these articles in the Farm Girl’s Soap Making Safely Series:
- 8 Common Questions About Soap Making With Lye
- The DOs and DON’Ts for Handling Lye
- How To Make Cold Process Soap
Ready to get soaping? Sign up and download the Farm Girl’s Cold Process Soap Making Cheat Sheet + Lye Safety Checklist
It’s the perfect printable step-by-step guide to walk you through the cold process soap making procedure, plus the lye handling checklist to remind you of those key safety steps and keep you safe.
Get the cheat sheet and lye safety checklist by entering your name and email below; I’ll send it to your inbox!
Not ready to take the lye soap making plunge?
Making soap from scratch can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never worked with lye before. If you feel like, after reading through this info, that you’re not quite ready to take the plunge and make soap with lye (yet!) I get it.
But you don’t have to completely give up on your soap making dreams. You can make soap without lye, using a glycerin soap base. This post The Beginner’s Guide to Making Soap Without Lye with give you all the info you need to get started.
Don’t forget to post your questions in the comments below. Happy Soaping!