Can You Make Goat Milk Soap Without Lye?

PJ Jonas
Can You Make Goat Milk Soap Without Lye?

At Goat Milk Stuff, we have lots of goat milk soap that is made from scratch here on the farm with real ingredients.  Most of the ingredients are food grade with the exception of one ingredient - lye - which is also known as sodium hydroxide. Lye is the catalyst which initiates the saponification (soapmaking) chemical reaction. 

No lye = no soap. 

That's right, there is no such thing as soap without lye.  You can have detergent without lye or you can melt down somebody else's soap (who used lye). But lye is a necessary ingredient in the soapmaking process. Even goat milk liquid soap uses potassium hydroxide instead of the sodium hydroxide (lye) that is used to make bar soap.

There is nothing "unhealthy" about lye used in soap. Properly made soap (which our goat milk soap is) will not have any lye leftover in the finished soap. 

In pioneering days, lye was made by running water through wood ashes.  They didn't know the strength of the lye which is why the soap had a reputation as being very harsh.  Today we get our lye analyzed by a chemist so we know how strong it is. This means we know exactly how much oil and fats we need to add to our soap formula to ensure that all the lye is turned into a wonderful natural soap.

Lye is a naturally occurring compound that is a necessary ingredient in the soapmaking process. People often ask about lye because they are a bit afraid of lye burning their skin and causing injury. And this is a real concern because lye by itself is a very harsh chemical. 

If you remember the pH scale from your science classes, it is a scale from 0-14 with pure water being a 7 and considered neutral.   A pH below 7 is considered an acid.  The lower the number, the stronger the acid. 

A pH above 7 is considered a base, with the higher the number being the stronger the base.  Most people understand how caustic a strong acid can be, but it is important to realize that a strong base can be just as caustic.

A strong base can cause burns on your skin and do a lot of damage if not neutralized or washed off quickly. The pH of cold process soap is usually in the 9-10 range, which is safe for your skin. In contrast, lye is often reported to have a pH of 13 - 13.5 and needs to be handled very carefully as it is not safe for your skin.  At Goat Milk Stuff, we take many safety precautions (such as face masks, gloves, and proper ventilation) when handling lye.

There are a lot of people who want to make soap for their families, but they're concerned and don't want to use lye due to the possible danger lye represents. But without lye, you can't make soap from scratch yourself.  So if you find yourself wanting to make goat milk soap, but don't wish to use lye you do have two alternatives.

1. Rebatch cold processed goat milk soap.

Rebatching is a way of taking soap that has already been made, melting it down, and customizing it to your preference by adding scents, colors, botanicals, or  additives and then pouring the soap into mold shapes of your choice.

If you'd like to rebatch using our goat milk soap, we recommend the following steps:

  • Purchase our purity (unscented) goat milk soap logs and shred or grate them as fine as possible. 
  • Place the soap shreds in an oven-safe (non-aluminum) container.
  • For each pound of shredded soap, add 1/2 - 1 cup of liquid (water or goat milk) and stir until well combined. 
  • Cover with a lid or tin foil and let it stand 12-18 hours.  You can stir it periodically if it's separating, but that's not necessary. 
  • Place in an oven for approximately 90 minutes (may take longer) at 200 degrees.  You can stir periodically to help it melt evenly.  
  • Once it is nicely melted, add any desired scent, color, or additives (e.g. oatmeal or botanicals). 
  • Mix together well and then place into molds. 
  • Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Remove from molds (depending on your mold, freezing may help).
  • Let the soap cure for two to four weeks before using.

Please remember that this is not going to produce as smooth a finished soap as the original purity goat milk soap, but if you shred or grate the soap as finely as possible and melt it thoroughly, you can get fairly close.

It should also be noted that a benefit of rebatching your soap is that you can add essential oils and botanicals that don't have to go through the saponification reaction. 

At Goat Milk Stuff, we've found that essential oils and botanicals survive saponification with the vast majority of their beneficial properties intact.  But if you want your botanicals as fresh as possible, rebatching is one possibility.

Also note that rebatching is often called "hand-milling", but it isn't quite the same thing.  Most hand-milled soaps use special machines to evenly shred the soap and lay down thin layers of soap on top of one another.  Then they use a large amount of pressure to create the new bar.  Most households don't have the equipment or ability to apply enough pressure to produce a bar of natural soap that is as hard as commercially hand-milled soaps.

2. Purchase a melt and pour goat milk soap base.

Your second option for making soap without the use of lye is with the use of a melt and pour soap base. But it is important to realize that melt and pour soap is not considered by many people to be as natural as cold processed soaps because melt and pour soap bases often use several chemicals to get the meltable consistency.  Goat Milk Stuff does not make and offer a melt and pour soap base for sale because we are not comfortable with the chemicals required. But there are several options available online or in craft stores and you simply need to follow the directions that comes with the base you choose.

If you want to add additional goat milk to the melt and pour soap, you can add up to 1 Tbsp of milk (liquid, powdered, or condensed) per pound of melt and pour base.

You really don't want to add any more or it can cause problems such as orange spots in your soap.  When you add goat milk in this way, it's not being turned into soap since it doesn't undergo the saponification problem. The goat milk is merely an additive and can therefore spoil. The orange spots in the soap can be an indicator of this milk spoilage. 

Melt and pour soap will have a smoother consistency than rebatched soap, but make sure your skin can tolerate the extra chemical ingredients used in the melt and pour base.

So while there are alternatives to making soap without lye, neither is actually making soap from scratch. Rather, it is reforming it. Rebatching results in a somewhat coarse finished product. Melt and pour soap may have ingredients you don't wish to use on your skin. Because both of these alternatives to using lye have drawbacks, many people prefer to purchase a brand of natural, cold process goat milk soap made from scratch with raw goat milk that they can trust. This puts the risk of using lye on someone who has the systems in place to use it safely.

But if you want to make your own soap and don't want to use lye yourself, find a good quality cold processed soap or melt and pour soap base that is made with ingredients you approve of and have fun testing and trying different molds, scents, and additives.


Goat Milk PJ