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What is Lye Soap?

Updated May 21, 2024
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Lye soap is a cleaning product that is made using lard, water, and lye. It was historically used around the world before commercially produced soaps became commonly available, and is still used by many people because of its potential benefits for skin and because of its all-natural recipe. Though it's primarily used for personal hygiene, this soap can also be used to do laundry and general house cleaning.


The main ingredient, lye, is a very corrosive material that's also used in making drain cleaner and paper. It is sometimes sold as caustic soda or sodium hydroxide, and is often found in hardware stores or from soap-making supplies vendors. Lard is animal fat, generally made from farm animals, like pigs. It gives the end product shape and a smooth texture. Water is used primarily as a distilling agent for the lye, and as a thinner for the final product. When combined, the ingredients interact with each other to form glycerin, which attracts dirt and oil and allows them to be cleaned away.


Most people use this product as a body cleanser, but it can also be used for shaving and shampooing. Besides personal hygiene, lye soap can be flaked and added to a washing machine to wash clothes, or rubbed on stains to pre-treat them before washing. It also works well for general household cleaning, washing pets, doing dishes, and mopping. Some people also say that it makes a good fish bait, and can be used to oil stuck hinges.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Though many historic recipes contain more lye than necessary, making a very harsh soap, modern versions are actually very gentle. This is because of the presence of glycerin, which is a very soothing and gentle cleanser that works well for acne-prone skin. Additionally, lye soap doesn't contain fragrances or other synthetic ingredients that can irritate skin, so many people with conditions like eczema and psoriasis use it too. It is also commonly used to relieve the itching caused by insect bites, poison ivy, and sunburn.

In addition to its benefits for skin, lye soap is an all-natural, biodegradable product, which makes it popular with those who want to use environmentally friendly cleaning products. It's also generally pretty cheap to make, since the ingredients involved aren't expensive. Despite this, it can be very harsh if too much lye is added, and tends to harden over time. Also, making it requires a lot of caution, since lye is so caustic.


Modern lye soap is made with an automated process, with many manufacturers purchasing large quantities of the ingredients and mixing them in industrial machines. Some manufacturers still use the original methods to make smaller batches though, and people also make their own soap at home.

Historically, this soap was made in much the same way as it is today, but all of the ingredients were usually made from scratch, not just the finished product. Many people collected their own lye from wood ash, and rendered lard from their own farm animals. Once the lard was cleaned, it could be added to the water and boiled until it thickened. After that, the lye was added in small amounts and the mixture was stirred for several hours. It was then left to cool, and the resulting liquid could be used for cleaning or mixed with a little table salt and solidified into bars.

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Discussion Comments
By anon323796 — On Mar 06, 2013

My daughter has psoriasis and I bought her a bar of lye soap last year, after trying everything else. After three uses, her skin was clear and no more flare ups so far.

By anon251739 — On Mar 02, 2012

You might want to try washing sheets and clothes in borax. You can get it at wally world (wal-mart). For the lye soap, go to a health food store. They have all kinds, or you can get it at ace hardware.

For the carpet, I recommend you use borax on the carpet. Sprinkle it from the box, get a bissell steamer (also from wally world) and then it's over. Yes, you can clean the bed with it too.

You might want to try clear lice. Look it up. That's the best product out there.

By anon210950 — On Sep 01, 2011

All soap is made with lye. You cannot make soap without it.

By anon189828 — On Jun 24, 2011

Where do I buy lye soap? I have ants, not bad but some and I'm tired of it.

By anon144256 — On Jan 19, 2011

Will lye soap get rid of acne? Will it cure my baldness? Get a hold of yourself, it's just soap. Try giving up sugar and refined carbohydrates and see how far that gets you. Then you can start looking for miracle soap.

By longshadows — On Oct 22, 2010

Years ago, I bought a bar of "homemade" lye soap from two old boys, selling it at their vegetable stand along a country highway in East Texas. They swore that regular use as a shampoo would restore hair growth to my thinning head.

I used up the bar, but never saw anything new up there and didn't buy any more. Has any man had success with restoring hair growth using lye soap?

By anon108777 — On Sep 04, 2010

I have trouble with soap and shampoo making my scalp itch and I am sorry to say the lye soap that I get at Cracker Barrel didn't help.

By rlr62 — On Aug 11, 2010

My question too, is does it get rid of acne? I am seeing a few testimonies of yes, and acne scars too, and one that says they haven't noticed anything yet.

By anon87335 — On May 29, 2010

I make lye soap, and it definitely gets things very clean. I use it in the bath, and on my dishes. There is so much natural glycerin in the soap that I have to hold a dish with two hands to keep it from slipping while they are being rinsed!

Lye soap has done wonders for my skin too. I am in my mid-thirties, but people swear I look like I'm in my early twenties. I end up with a lot of extra when I make my lye soap, so I tend to give it away to friends and family members.

By anon82189 — On May 04, 2010

Lye Soap is also an effective cure for bad stomach aches, as unlikely as it may seem. take about a 1/4th a teaspoon of lye soap and dissolve it in four cups of warm water. Let the water cool, and after it has cooled consume the four cups of water a cup at a time throughout the day (one in the morning, then noon, etc.)

I had an ache that had lasted a few days, but this got rid of it - next day I was feeling great!

By SoapLady — On Mar 29, 2010

Yes, it is great for all kinds of skin troubles. It doesn't "kill" germs since it is not antibiotic, or antibacterial etc. It does remove them and send them down the drain!

One reason Homemade Lye Soap is so good for us, is that the original glycerin is still in the soap. The glycerin is the moisturizer that soaks into your skin, draws moisture to itself and thus your skin, and keeps our skin from cracking and drying, which of course lets bacteria in. Sorry about the long sentence.

Commercial soap makers remove the glycerin (the best moisturizer in the world) and sell it individually to other manufacturers of: sweeteners, makeup, medicine and explosives. Once the glycerin is removed from soap, it can no longer be called "soap". So there are products called "bars" as in beauty bars, deodorant bars, facial bars, etc. Petroleum products are added to the bars and we are told that "moisturizers were added." Put some perfume in it to mask the petroleum, some dye also, some alcohol to make it clear, and there you have it!

If I made detergent soap like that and sold it to you, then I could also make some lotion to sell to you for your "dry skin" which would result from your using my detergent soap. Then I would have sold you two products instead of just one!

Sorry this is so long.

By anon71148 — On Mar 17, 2010

I used to make lye soap until I couldn't find the lye anymore. It took our any stain in my laundry. It was also very gentle for any use. I miss it.

By djr0992 — On Feb 06, 2010

Lye soap does do all those things listed. It can heal eczema and it does kill head lice and poison ivy.

i am a soap maker. i don't know what you put in your so called lye soap, but i know the soap i make does do these things and i have 153 people that i sell it to, who will all tell you the same thing, so it's not only me (or would you like to call 153 others a liar too?).

So why would you need an urgent answer? looks like you don't know your soap won't do it.

Bet my lye soap could. maybe you need a new recipe for soap.

By anon63923 — On Feb 04, 2010

Is lye soap suitable for cleaning external fixation pin sites? I need an urgent answer.

By anon53065 — On Nov 18, 2009

Lye soap does not do all those things listed at all. It can't cure eczema or head lice or poison ivy, for goodness sakes.

I am a soap maker. I teach soap making and have for over 10 years. It is very good for your skin yes, but it doesn't cure anything like that. It can help with eczema as you can put things in it that are soothing like ground oats and calendula oil, but it does not cure it.

If you want a cheap and easy head lice remedy, get any cheap white (not clear) conditioner from the dollar shop and a head lice comb. Put heaps of the cheap conditioner on to the dry hair, so that it is really wet with conditioner and using a normal comb, comb through, then let your child sit/play/read etc for 20 minutes (good in the sun as the heat is there.) You will see the head lice come to the top of the hair as they suffocate in the white conditioner.

Then take your child into the bath and comb through the hair with the nit comb. After each pull through, rinse the comb (we use a hose that we attach to the bath nozzle and the kids sit on a little foot stool in there). Keep pulling through and rinsing after each time (to rid the conditioner/comb of nits) and when you can do this without seeing lice, then you are done. Might take about 10 or more minutes. Then rinse out the hair and do this every three days for two weeks to be sure.

No nasty chemicals are ever needed to rid your child of head lice. Emergency rooms also use this method of conditioner. Keep hair spray or hair gel etc in your child's hair if it's short hair as lice don't like product on hair -- it's too hard to hold onto the hair.

If the hair is long, put a bit of conditioner on it and plait it and keep it up during the day. The conditioner coats the hair and stops them clinging on the hair as well.

Lye soap will kill germs, so wash your hands with it after toilet breaks under running water. Rub hands together vigorously. The soap lifts the germs and the scrubbing keeps them in the soap which is then rinsed down the drain. All handmade soap is antibacterial in itself as that's just what it is.

djr 0992 - please don't pass on misinformation like you are here, it gives soapmakers a bad name!

By anon43202 — On Aug 26, 2009

Hey folks, all soap is made from lye (sodium hydroxide). Lye, when mixed with oil, gradually changes chemically into something quite mild, depending on what oils you choose to use. Store-bought soap is usually not as mild as home-made soap because they have taken the glycerin out of it and/or added various noxious chemicals also, so that's the reason homemade "lye" soap is more luxurious - it's just more natural.

By anon36763 — On Jul 14, 2009

since everything that touches our skin absorbs into our bloodstream.....is pig lard OK?

By jondenise — On Jun 21, 2009

anon, have you washed her bedding in the soap with hot water, too? And her pillow! Anyplace her head has touched needs to be washed including her car seat if she uses one. There are over the counter shampoos that do work well. I had used them before with good results. So has a friend of mine whose child went to a pricey private school. Don't be embarrassed to buy the over the counter stuff. Good luck!

By anon34356 — On Jun 21, 2009

does lye soap really kill lice? if so how long does it take and how often do you have 2 use it for it 2 work? my child keeps getting it from school. i can clean and strip her hair and the next day she will come home with it again...stressed and at wits end..*help*

By djr0992 — On Apr 19, 2009

I make my lye soap with goats milk. I make 100 bars at a time and sell it in about a week. This is because it really does work for people. I use it in my homemade powdered laundry detergent. I wish everyone with skin problems would give it a try.

By jondenise — On Apr 18, 2009

I've been using the lye soap a few months and yes it did get rid of my acne. I also use it in the shower but it does not lather. It seems to take longer to shower because you keep wanting to soap up your washcloth more often. I tried some with lemon and with lavender in them, but they seem to dry out my skin a bit whereas the plain lye soap doesn't. It leaves my skin soft.

I've also been using homemade powdered laundry detergent lately and i like the way it washes and it's much cheaper than using the marketed brands. I found the recipe online. Give it a try!

By anon30236 — On Apr 15, 2009

I have been diagnosed with Morgellons

disease. It is being researched by the CDC and several private sector Drs., but nothing has really been solved. Symptoms include stinging, itching, biting, discoloration of skin, lesions that do not heal and also produce gross "stuff" that cannot be identified, redness, swelling, joint pain, chronic fatigue, hair loss, gastric disturbance, feelings of something crawling underneath the skin. Red, blue, green and black "fibers" that look like thin fishing line, and researchers cannot find a match for them in the FBI Database or NASA. It is unknown how it is contracted, or how to treat it.

A few very compassionate Drs. are healing patients with symptom control, pain relief, etc. Nothing definitive exists for our prognosis.

I used lye soap years ago (someone gave me a homemade bar). I noticed how velvety my skin became at that time. I also used it to get stains out before washing clothes. Nothing that I have ever used benefited in so many wonderful ways! I have a theory that lye soap may just be the magic bullet that will heal my skin! I began using it today and will give it a couple of weeks, then report back here. I absolutely love lye soap. Morgellons sufferers would buy tons if it helps. One point here, we who suffer also have an extremely difficult time with chemicals, pesticides, preservatives. The open wounds that plague us *attract* parasites of every imaginable species. It is an ugly and debilitating disease. Pray lye soap may be the magic bullet for us!

By jondenise — On Jan 07, 2009

I was given a bar of homemade lye soap 29years ago. I had pretty bad acne. I used that soap and the acne went away and I had baby soft skin in about a month. It was the only bar I was ever given and never seen it in the stores until yesterday. I bought it. Hopefully it will work on my "middle age" acne.

By djr0992 — On Nov 11, 2008

only JESUS can wash away people's sins.

By anon21009 — On Nov 08, 2008

will lye soap wash away sins?

By djr0992 — On Jun 17, 2008

yes it kills germs. yes it kills lice and eggs.

By djr0992 — On May 25, 2008

it's good for many, many things. i will aways have lye soap at my home. here are some but there are more

11. kills head and body lice

10. psoriasis, eczema & acne

9. poison ivy & poison oak rash -rub in let dry on

8. keeps mosquitoes & chiggers away -rub in let dry on skin

7. relieves pain and itching from sunburn, mosquitoes or chigger bites & athlete's foot, just lather on and let it dry on skin.

6. tied in old sock at backs of tree prevents insect invasion

5. better than bleach on whites and removes stains- wet, rub, wash

4. put on hook for catfish bait

3. lather hides human scent for hunters

2. kills fleas & dander on pets

1. best for dirty mouthed kids

By anon13070 — On May 19, 2008

Lye soap is great for my laundry. I disolve a few chips in hot water and pour into my washing machine. The beauty of this is that the waste water is safe for my garden. Donna (Pembroke, Bermuda)

By anon10062 — On Mar 19, 2008

is lye soap supposed to be good for you? because i just bought a bar after reading a comment that she uses it to wash her face because she has acne. the only thing i have noticed is very soft skin. so the question is what exactly does lye soap do for you? thanks

By djr0992 — On Jan 22, 2008

yes, it will kill head and body lice. and fleas on pets too.

By anon7214 — On Jan 21, 2008

is this soap good for lice treatment?

By djr0992 — On Jan 01, 2008

i have been using 14 oz of red devil lye for my soap but if i wanted to use Lye,#2 Flake how much would i need to use? or would it still be the same? any help would be great. thanks

By anon2160 — On Jun 30, 2007

Will lye soap kill germs?

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