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“I can’t use lye soap”

“My doctor / dermatologist says I shouldn’t use soap with lye, I should use Dove soap”

“I remember Grandma’s lye soap and it burned!”

I’ve heard all that and more about lye soap.  First of all, it’s impossible to make soap without lye in it.  Handmade soap bars and some Commercial “soap” bars are made with lye even though the words “sodium hydroxide” or “lye” do not appear on the labels. Does your bar of “soap” contain ingredients such as…

saponified oils: oils and butters are mixed with sodium hydroxide and a liquid (usually water).
sodium cocoate: the generic name for the mixture of coconut oil with sodium hydroxide (lye).
sodium palmate: the generic name for the mixture of palm oil with sodium hydroxide (lye).
sodium palm kernelate: the generic name for the mixture of palm kernel oil with sodium hydroxide (lye).
sodium tallowate: the generic name for the mixture of beef fat (tallow) with sodium hydroxide (lye).
sodium olivate: the generic name for the mixture of olive oil with sodium hydroxide (lye).

Let’s look at the ingredient list for Dove Soap


Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Tallowate Or Sodium Palmitate, Lauric Acid, Sodium Isethionate, Water, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoate Or Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium Edta, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Maltol, Titanium Dioxide (Ci 77891)

While the words “lye” or “sodium hydroxide” do not appear on the Dove ingredient label, some of the first ingredients listed are Sodium Tallowate Or Sodium Palmitate, which are saponified Tallow or spaonified Palm Oil, so yes, Dove IS made with lye.

The Simple Truth About Lye

Soap is the result of a chemical reaction called saponification that occurs between lye and a type of molecule called a triglyceride (a fat or oil), where both substances are chemically transformed, creating soap and natural glycerin. Neither of the original ingredients exists anymore. All the lye (either sodium hydroxide for bar soap or potassium hydroxide for liquid soap) is consumed in the reaction.

So, while soap is made with lye, it doesn’t contain lye. Modern methods and measuring scales (as opposed to what was available to Grandma) permit soap makers to use the proper mixture of oils and lye, ensuring that all lye is consumed. In addition, most soap makers, including Momma Wolf’s, add more oil than is required for the chemical reaction, further ensuring the neutralization of lye and adding to the soap’s moisturizing qualities. Including extra fats in the mixture is known as superfatting.

“I made soap without lye, it came in a block, and all I had to do was melt it down and pour it in a mold”

“Melt and Pour soap (commonly referred to as MP Soap)” is soap that has already gone through saponification and contains extra chemicals so that it will melt with heat.  So yes, it contains lye as well.

Interesting Notes About Lye

Lye has many uses in the food industry. The secret to great pretzels is often a lye bath! Lye gives pretzels their characteristic flavor, crispiness, and glossy finish.  Hominy is dried corn kernels reconstituted by soaking them in lye water until the germ is removed. Lye may also be used in the preparation of olives and pickles.



Many of my friends, co-crafters, and customers knew me as “Momma Wolf”, so it just made sense to change the name of the business while developing this website. Still the same great products, just a little different name on them.

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