Good old sodium hydroxide! Veteran soap makers know that in order to make scrumptious cold process soap, you must include lye in your recipe. But, because lye is a highly reactive chemical and is also commonly used in meth labs, it is near impossible to find unless of course you have a friendly neighbour who happens to be a chemist! If you happen to find lye online, you will find that most companies will not ship it due to it's reactive properties.
Lye is a common ingredient in many household drain cleaners. If you check the active ingredients on your 'Drano' bottle, you'll see sodium hydroxide listed. DO NOT use 'Drano'! In order for your soap to be successful, you need to use PURE sodium hydroxide. 'Drano' also contains other chemicals and aluminum shavings that will harm your skin and perhaps will cause a different chemical reaction in your soap recipe.
So, where can you find lye?
Most soap makers will tell you to simply run to your local hardware store, but in my experience most hardware stores do not carry pure lye.
If you are a proud Canadian soap maker like myself, heed my words: I have been to 'Home Depot', I have been to 'Lowe's', I have been to 'Rona'. They do not carry any such product that is pure lye, and furthermore they usually cannot even tell you what it is! At least in Canada... specifically, Toronto. However, you can find it at 'Home Hardware'. I know... I would think a big box store like 'Home Depot' would carry it over our tiny neighbourhood chain. 'Home Hardware' carries only a few bottles at a time and it is made by a company called 'Gillett's'. The label clearly says 'Gillett's 100% Lye'. This brand, I've heard, can also be found in some IGA stores across Canada.
If you live in the Huntsville, Ontario area, there is a company called 'Canwax' that carries sodium hydroxide. They used to be located in Mississauga, but have recently relocated to cottage county. You can find their address here: www.canwax.com . I believe they only offer local pickup for their sodium hydroxide, but carry excellent soaping supplies at great prices.
I know most of you American soap makers used to use a brand called 'Red Devil', but it is no longer on the market. I've heard that you can buy lye from 'Home Depot' and 'Lowe's' in the states. I've also heard from fellow soap makers that you can find it at 'Ace Hardware' and even 'Wal-Mart'. I know 'Backyard Style' carries a brand of lye called 'Robic'.
I invite any soap makers who have experience buying and using lye to comment about the brand they use and where they buy it, as this can be the most difficult ingredient to find when creating cold process soap. Please also state your location.
I hope this information helped my fellow crafters get an idea of where to buy your soap making lye. As always, happy crafting!
P.S. Do NOT use 'Drano'!!!