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How and Why to Use a Lye Calculator for Soap Making

Lye calculator for soapmaking

If you've read any of my soapmaking posts, you'll remember that I've told you to use a lye calculator with any new soap recipe to find out how much sodium hydroxide (lye) you need to use. I thought I'd give you a quick guide on how to use one.

Back in the old days - you know, before the internet was invented - a soap maker had to look up the saponification rate (or "sap rate") for each oil in their soap recipe, and through some complicated calculations, figure out how much lye would be needed to turn that particular combination and amount of oils and water into soap that would turn out just right.

Each type of oil needs a different amount of lye to make the chemical process known as saponification happen, so different amounts of an oil would need a different amount of lye. Add to that, the sap rates of the other oils in a recipe... well, you see what I mean, right?

I for one am thankful for online lye calculators that will perform this complicated math for me! You can still find tables of saponification rates in books, but it's so much easier now to let the calculator do the work.

I realize that there are those among us who are preparing for the possibility of a world without electronics, where online calculators won't be available. These people will want to learn how to figure out a recipe's saponification rate by hand. I'm not going to get into that here in this post, but I've included a link further down in this post that will tell you how to do that if you're interested.

When to use a lye calculator for soap making

If you use the same soapmaking recipe over and over, and have it clearly and legibly written down somewhere, you won't need to use a lye calculator every time you make soap with that recipe. You should use it the first time you use any new recipe though. Even if the recipe is from a book or a trusted soapmaking site online, it's a good idea to use a lye calculator, because typos can happen.

If you're tweaking a recipe, you'll need to use the calculator. Even a small change, such as replacing one ounce of castor oil with corn oil because the bottle of castor oil wasn't as full as you thought it was, could require changing the amount of lye.

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Using a lye calculator is so easy these days, so take a few minutes to check your recipe, ok?

Where to find a lye calculator

There are several soapmaking lye calculators online and they are free to use. I even checked the Play Store via my Android phone and found dozens of apps available. I've never used an app, so I can't recommend one in particular; you're on your own there, although I noticed that Brambleberry has a mobile app.

Of the many lye calculators online, my favorite is at Brambleberry.com; the calculator at Summer Bee Meadow (sbmcrafters) is very popular too. Although they both include a large selection of soapmaking oils, there are a few less-common oils that are only available at one site or the other, so use whichever one lists the oils you intend to use in your soap.

I'm going to give you a quick guide to using the lye calculator at Brambleberry.com in this post. Other calculators will work in a similar fashion and all of them will give you the amount of lye and of liquid (in my case, goat milk) that you should use in your recipe.

How to use a lye calculator

To begin, all lye calculators will ask you some basic questions about your recipe.

How to use a lye calculator to make soap

Use the drop-down menus to choose what type of soap you're making: solid or liquid. Solid soap uses sodium hydroxide and is what we've been discussing here on Oak Hill Homestead; liquid soap uses potassium hydroxide. Units asks whether your recipe uses ounces or grams. 

The superfatting level refers to extra oil in your recipe. A soap recipe that uses a 0% superfat will be drying to the skin; usually laundry soap has a low superfat rate but for a body bar, facial bar or shampoo bar, you'll want a higher superfat. 5% is commonly used.

I use goat milk as my liquid, which contains some fat of its own. I use the 5% superfat rate in my recipes, but I know that my finished soap will contain a little more than that. How much? Well, that would depend on how much butterfat is in the milk I use, which depends on the goat the milk came from and the time of year she was milked. All I can tell you is that the superfat level I use makes my finished soap positively luxurious.

So I recommend you set the lye calculator to 5%. You can experiment later if you want, but this is a great place to start. Then click on the NEXT button.

If you'd like to learn more about superfatting your soap, you can read this tutorial from Soap Queen, which by the way is connected to Brambleberry. (The tutorial also has the formula to figure out the lye amount required for your recipe if you ever want to figure it out for yourself.)

The next step is to enter your oils in the lye calculator. Scroll down to find each oil and type in the number of ounces (or grams) in your recipe.

Add your recipe to the lye calculator

Add all of the oils you plan to use and click on NEXT.

The calculator will think for a few seconds and the next screen will have all the information you'll need to make your soap: how much lye to use, how much liquid, the total amount of oil you are using, and the amount of finished soap your recipe will produce.

The calculator will tell you exactly how much lye you'll need to use to turn those oils and goat milk into soap.

Some extra benefits of the lye calculator

Knowing how much soap the recipe will make is helpful so you'll know if your recipe will fit the mold you're using. This particular recipe makes 50 ounces (49.9 oz) of soap and my mold holds 40 ounces, so I would use the RESIZE button to scale the recipe down to the amount I need.

Now your recipe, including the amount of sodium hydroxide and liquid, is right there on the screen in a neat, easy-to-read format, such as in the image above. Right under this table of information, you can give your recipe a title and print it out.

I love having my recipe printed on a sheet of paper when I make a batch of soap. I like to check off each kind of oil as I measure and add it. I'm always afraid I'll skip one! (Uh, yes, I've done that.)

I can also make notes on the paper, write down the date I made the batch, and add information about the essential oils or fragrance oils and colorants I've used (if any), then I file the paper in my soapmaking binder. I can also add notes later, such as how the soap turned out, did I like the essential oil blend, did the soap change color over time, did it lather well, and so on. 

This is especially helpful when I'm developing or tweaking a recipe. For instance, when I made my first batch of shampoo bars, I thought the bars were really soft. I made plans to add some harder oils to the recipe the next time. But before I made a second batch, the bars hardened up nicely after curing and I really liked them. I don't think I'll make much in the way of changes after all; I just need to plan ahead and allow plenty of time for them to cure before using.

So, now you know how to use a soap calculator. Feel free to play around with it so you're familiar with how it works. Then read my post on measuring oils for your first batch of goat milk soap, gather the supplies you'll need, and make your first batch of soap.

How and why to use a soap calculator before making a batch of soap.

Related Posts:
What you'll need to make your first batch of goat milk soap
How to use a shampoo bar
Soapmaking safety

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  1. Loy Leslie3:53 PM

    Thank you Kathi,
    I have been shying away from make lye soap because now I think when I can find some goat's milk I will give it a try. : )
    Do you still get milk from your goats for making soap?

    1. I'm so glad to hear that you're going to give it a try soon. It really isn't hard to make, I think what scares people is working with lye. Just follow the safety procedures and you'll be ok.

      I only have two goats these days and they are both retired from kidding and milking so I buy goat milk from a friend and keep it in the freezer.

  2. I've never made soap from scratch, but I know a lot of people who do! This post will be so helpful for them. Thank you for sharing, Kathi, and for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party. Hope to see you again this week. Hope you have had a lovely weekend!

    1. Thank you, April - I hope it's helpful to other soapmakers. Have a great week ahead and happy holidays!


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