Lye Soap – The Stigma

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Is all homemade lye soap brittle, harsh, and rancid?

Exactly what images pop into your head when you hear the words “lye soap”?

Does it conjure up pictures of a hardened hunk of white matter? 

Maybe it even crumbles when touched? 

Perhaps it smells like rancid pig fat?

YUCK!

That doesn’t sound too appealing, right? Wait!  It gets better worse.

Origins of the Stigma

Maybe you see you see a chunk of it in a soap dish. Your mind immediately goes to scenes from the Beverly Hillbillies.  In my favorite episode Granny stands near the cement pond barely visible through a cloud of smoke.  The plot centers around a feud between Granny and government officials.  The point of contention is the right to make soap versus the smog it created. The gutsy granny takes them on with her shotgun for her right to make soap.  Of course, she wins.  We laugh but we are left with a stigma around lye soap.

Maybe “lye soap” is music to your ears, this specific music, these specific lyrics.

Grandma's Lye Soap
Then let us sing right out for grandma's, for grandma's lye soap
Used for, for everything, everything on the place
For pots and kettles, the dirty dishes
And for your hands and for your face
Little Herman and brother Thurman
Had an aversion to washing their ears
Grandma scrubbed them with the lye soap
And they haven't heard a word in years
Mrs. O'Malley, out in the valley
Suffered from Ulcers, I understand
She swallowed a cake of grandma's lye soap
Has the cleanest ulcers in the land
Do you remember grandma's lye soap?
Good for everything in the home
And the secret was in the scrubbing
It wouldn't suds and couldn't foam

You get the picture, right?  Grandma’s lye soap was harsh. Granny’s soap was a pollutant. How is it that something so stinky, so hard, so harsh is so beneficial? 

Demand for Lye Soap Increases

Why is a product with that kind of track record sold in abundance at a craft shows, boutiques, and gift shops everywhere?  So many people pursuing old fashioned lye soap. Why?  How is it this industry continues to grow?  

Maybe you’ve heard others talk it up.  Some report it helps eczema, psoriasis, poison ivy, and more. All of them have good hearing and no one mentions a word about “having the cleanest ulcers in the land”.

My Personal Experience with Lye Soap

I remember when a friend told me she was sending me a gift of lye soap. My skepticism peaked into the cynical range. But I was shocked when it arrived.  It looked nothing like the images described above.  In fact, it smelled divine, lathered well, and pampered my skin.  It was that experience that caused me to abandon all my preconceived notions.  I became infatuated with making my own soap. This obsession led to my current career that includes an inventory of several thousand bars of artisan soap.

lye soap

That one experience erased all stigma for me.  I was amazed that one small bar could bring so much joy to my daily routine.

Indeed, lye soap carries stigma for many mainstream consumers. I, too, fell prey to that same set of concerns.  But all it took was one high quality handcrafted bar of soap to change my life and vocational direction.  The experience was so positive it would help me overcome another stigma that often morphs into hysteria.  That is, I would have to learn to work with lye.  And, I would learn this in the context of a house full of young children.   

Stay tuned for an in-depth look at the lye in lye soaps.  I will dispel common myths about soap makers being hillbillies who stand over the hot kettle. We will even cover what that means for consumers who … well … consume it.  Not internally, but externally.  I don’t want any claims about “clean ulcers”.   So, y’all come back now.  Ya hear?

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