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How to Safely Neutralize Lye and Handle Lye Spills While Making Soap (And It's Not With Vinegar)

How do you deal with a lye spill when making soap? These tips will help you neutralize lye while soap making (and why you should NEVER use vinegar.) By Angela Palmer of Farm Girl Soap Co.

This article is part 3 of the Farm Girl's Soap Making Safely Series. Check out part 1 and part 2.
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.

Here are some tips ALL soap makers, both beginners and seasoned, should know.

Always wear your safety goggles during the entire soap making process through cleanup. No exceptions!

In my younger days I routinely soaped without safety goggles. Yes, I was a wild woman.

Seriously, though, that was just plain dumb.

One tiny splatter of lye water or soap batter and you can kiss your eyesight goodbye. And that's not being dramatic, that's the simple truth.

So keep those gloves and goggles on the entire time you're making soap, including cleanup. They should be the first things you put on before soaping and the last things you take off.

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.
We don't want that reaction happening anywhere on our counter tops, floors, and definitely not the skin.

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How do you deal with a lye spill when making soap? These tips will help you neutralize lye while soap making (and why you should NEVER use vinegar.) By Angela Palmer of Farm Girl Soap Co.

Sweep granulated lye up with a dry broom or cloth.

If you spill lye granules on your floor or counter tops, sweep them up with a dry broom or cloth. I then dump them into my 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, friend!

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 those 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!

Get started making your own all-natural skin care products, in just 15 minutes with simple ingredients you already have in your kitchen. Enroll in the FREE e-course to get started.

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 rare, though. More common are those tiny splashes.

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 on your skin. Yep, that's a bit of lye or raw soap batter.

So, if you notice itching, take a few minutes to rinse that area well with 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, and know what to do if you have a spill.

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:

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.

Get started making your own all-natural skin care products, in just 15 minutes with simple ingredients you already have in your kitchen. Enroll in the FREE e-course to get started.
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  1. You really should use vinegar to help neutralize and clean up lye spills after removing/diluting the majority of the spill. Have you mixed lye and vinegar before? It doesn't foam at all.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! Sounds like you are an experienced soap maker.

      Many of my beginning soap makers are unsure about lye and think vinegar is the go-to clean up for all spills which, as an experienced soap maker you know, isn't the best option.

      When lye and vinegar are mixed it creates an exothermic reaction. So while it may not generate much foaming, it does generate heat. This could cause thermal burns as well as chemical burns if the spill occurs on the skin.

      Also, lye crystals should always be swept up dry and not poured over with vinegar.

      Of course, you are correct that when all is cleaned up it's OK for a wipe down with vinegar if desired. But, when in doubt, plain water followed by a mild soap is always the right option.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to read this post and comment! :)


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