Adventures with Lye

It started with handmade soaps.

I received amazing samples from my friend, Linda.

Just out of curiosity, I looked for information about how they are made. I found a video that showed the process that turns the very basic ingredients into soap.


Vintage Photo. (Not Linda)

It is called Saponification, a new word to me.

And there it was. The key ingredient…lye.

Oh, snap.

I have a scary history with lye.

Flashback to my first and only industrial accident.

It was my first week on a new job with IBM. I addressed it before in “The Madeline Intervention”.

Being that traditional morning person, I always arrived early.

On this particular day, I was also the first to use the ladies’ room.

This was the late 1970’s, and IBM was noted for the classic blue suit as standard attire. I had the equivalent in a suit dress, and wore it proudly with heels and nylon stockings.

I didn’t feel the burn until I returned to my desk. The stockings went quickly, splitting down the middle, followed by the skirt, which became very irritating against the now burning skin on the back of my legs.

The night janitorial staff had treated the toilet seat with lye, and left without rinsing it properly.

I was whisked off to a medical clinic in the building, there was a formal incident report.

I was sent home with some ointment, a voucher for dry cleaning that dress suit, a bit of embarrassment, but not enough to thwart my enthusiasm for the new job.

Since that day, I’ve been very cautious about lye. You won’t find a Lysol product among my cleaning supplies.

And now, I’ve come to a certain peace with it all…thanks to Linda and those beautiful soaps.

Homemade Soap



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52 Responses to Adventures with Lye

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    I think it would put me off too! But Linda’s soaps look gorgeous.

  2. I can’t believe I share a scary history with lye! I was about 6 years old and sick in bed with what was then called Scarlet Fever. My mom was upstairs in my room with me when I told her I thought the shadows on the hallway wall were pretty. Shadows? She was confused and turned to see what I was talking about. Turned out the kitchen was on fire and the shadows on the hall wall were reflections of the flames! My sister, then in about 8th grade was doing a science experiment making soap. Main ingredient? Lye, which, apparently is highly flammable especially when your sister leaves the room with boiling lye bubbling on the gas stove. No one was hurt but it was one scary moment. I remember my mother screaming me, grabbing me and running down the steps holding me. The neighbors didn’t want to let us in with the specter of Scarlet Fever hanging over their heads.

  3. Val Boyko says:

    Love how memories pop up in expected place these days! Thanks for sharing yours Van 💛

    • I too love when that happens. It creates spontaneous thoughts that turn into some favorite posts, the ones that almost write themselves. I just get out of the way. ☺ Thanks, Val.

  4. lbeth1950 says:

    Thanks Van. I am still scared of lye. You should see me mixing it. I have an extension on a power drill, mix it in a deep crock outside and make sure the cat and dog are shut up. I only mix what I need and use it immediately, then was the crock immediately. How can something so caustic make something so nice? Mother said she hated making soap when she was a kid. Will have to do a post about that.

    • I understand that kind of respect. And I had to laugh a bit at your description…deep outdoor crock, extensions…it really isn’t too far from that vintage picture after all ??? ☺ I’m sure your mom has a story or two about it. 💕 You are most welcome, I’m so enjoying the soaps.

  5. lbeth1950 says:

    Reblogged this on Nutsrok and commented:
    Reblogged from Vanbytheriver.

  6. I would have run and never looked back. Did they give you a cover up before taking your to medical services? I’ve always been afraid of the word lye, but never knew why. Hmm. So that’s what it does and on a toilet seat. Double hmm.

  7. YIKES!! that’s scary stuff! Glad you survived it Van. ❤
    Diana xo

  8. I’ve learned a lot here today. I did not know that about Lysol products. It was just a name to me. No experience with lye whatsoever and will probably never have any. Setting the kitchen on fire is a scary experience. I had no idea that lye was still used in soap making. 😦

  9. Wow! That could have been a lot worse.

  10. Judy Martin says:

    That is a pretty nasty encounter you had with lye the first time you encountered it, I am glad Linda’s soaps have given you a much more pleasureable experience with it 😉

  11. olganm says:

    Scary stories although I guess it still happens (the children of a friend of mine had the same problem at a restaurant). Linda’s soaps look fabulous though.

    • Ouch. That would be so hard on a child’s skin. It seems the stuff of lawsuits, doesn’t it ? Negligence.

      Her soaps are special, highly recommended. Thanks, Olga.💖

  12. That stuff is so caustic! Ouch. Amazing that it can also be made into lovely soaps 🙂

  13. Ouch! Poor you. What an awful start to your job. I remember my Grandad having lye in his kitchen cupboard. I was always terrified of it, knowing it could be used to dispose of dead bodies. I thankfully have never had an encounter with it.

  14. ouch that had to be so painful!

  15. Sadie's Nest says:

    Yikes! I’d be leery of lye too!

  16. Erika Kind says:

    Oh gosh! You poor one! That is really embarrassing aside from the pain.
    Linda’s soaps are wonderful and I completely understand that she inspired you to start your own productions. Enjoy …. with gloves 😉

    • No worries.I think I’ll stick to buying her soaps, Erika, I’m not convinced I should ever work with lye. ☺

      • Erika Kind says:

        But there are other possibilities too. I made glycerin soaps some years back. It is not the same but you can add colors and flavors (essential oils) and even ornaments because they are transparent. Just an alternative.

  17. George says:

    Oh no… I was in pain just reading this. I can’t imagine what it felt like. But you survived..:) I wonder if the cleaning service did..:)

  18. joey says:

    I’m absolutely certain I am the kind of person who should not handle lye.
    Which is why I order soap from people on Etsy, beekeepers, and local soapmakers, instead 😉

  19. Thumbup says:

    Lysol is made with lye?

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