Tag Archives: ingredients


Lye is the key ingredient in turning fat and oils into soap.

Lye is actually a common name for two different chemicals, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and potassium hydroxide (KOH). Both of these forms of lye can be used in making soap, however they are not the same chemical, and are not interchangeable in soap recipes. This means they are required in different amounts in a recipe and will produce a different type of soap. While sodium hydroxide will produce a hard bar-type soap, potassium hydroxide is more often used in making a liquid or soft soap. Sodium hydroxide has a PH of 14 while potassium hydroxide is reported to have a PH between 12 and 14.

Sodium hydroxide was once readily available in grocery stores and hardware stores, most commonly packaged as Red Devil Lye, it was used mostly as a drain cleaner. Because of it’s illegal use in the production of methamphetamines, it has become harder to find. While I’ve read that it is illegal to sell in retail stores in the U.S., I have been able to purchase it in a few stores. The easiest way to purchase it is online through soap making suppliers.

Potassium hydroxide is made from wood ash and water. I have not yet made soap using potassium hydroxide, but this is on my to-do list.

Because of it’s high PH lye is a dangerous chemical and must be use with caution. If it comes in contact with bare skin it can cause severe burns. It will erode some metals, but it is safe to use in glass, plastic or stainless steal containers. If mixed improperly or with certain substances it can create dangerous gases.

Once lye has been properly mixed with the liquid and oils and the chemical changes occur lye becomes safe to use on the skin. Soap should have a PH between 7 and 10.

You don’t see lye, sodium hydroxide, or potassium hydroxide listed as ingredients on commercial soap products. Instead you will see thing like sodium cocoate, which would be the combination of coconut oil and sodium hydroxide after the chemical change, known as soaponification, has occurred. Other examples would be or sodium palmate or potassium tallowate.  I, like many handcrafters, list the ingredients as the raw materials put into the soap even though the chemical change does occur before the product is finished.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is another ingredient I use when making soap and skin care products. Like coconut oil it is readily available at the grocery store and in my kitchen.

The definition of “castile soap” used to be soap that was made with 100% olive oil. Apparently through the years the definition has evolved, first to mean any soap that contained olive oil as an ingredient, and now apparently to mean any soap that contains only vegetable oils. I have seen soap that is made from 100% coconut oil labeled as “castile soap”. So in my opinion the term “castile soap” has absolutely no meaning, and the only way to know what you are getting is to read the ingredients on the label (if you can see them).

In soap making olive oil makes a creamy, conditioning and moisturizing bar.  I have found that olive oil in the right combination with coconut oil makes the perfect soap. The proper ratios of these two oils can make a bar of soap with just the right degree of hardness, it is a cleansing soap that is creamy and lathers like crazy.

In skin care products olive oil offers vitamins A and E and has great moisturizing properties. Olive oil is also a great oil to infuse with herbs that can be beneficial to skin care.