The Perils of Lye

There's a reason that many first time crafters make soap without lye. Lye is a toxic chemical that can cause serious injury and death. Here's a primer on lye's dangers and how to use this chemical safely.

Humans have been working with lye for millennia, so it obviously doesn't kill everybody who touches it. Lye is a base that is just as corrosive as an acid. Also known by its chemical name sodium hydroxide, lye can eat through surfaces-and flesh.

If you come into contact with lye, you must act quickly to neutralize it. As a base, lye can be neutralized by a strong acid. Vinegar should do the trick. Milk has also been known to neutralize lye.

But chemical burns are only part of the danger. When lye interacts with water, it produces massive temperatures and toxic fumes. Never combine lye and water in a glass bowl-the reaction is likely to break the dish. Never use metal spoons or other utensils to stir a lye and water mixture. Metal conducts heat and will burn you. If a chemical reaction involving lye releases fumes, leave the area immediately and ventilate the room. Toxic fumes can quickly cause irreparable burns to your lungs.

Always wear goggles, safety gloves and protective clothing when working with lye. The substance can produce unpredictable reactions, and you don't want to become a statistic of its caprice.

It goes without saying that you should not eat or drink lye, but have you considered other members of your household? Always mark your lye solutions as hazardous, and use symbols in addition to words that can easily be understood by the preliterate and illiterate. Keep in mind that a hazard label should really be the last resort. Store your lye and lye solutions in a secure place where little hands cannot reach.

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