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2010-09-19 04:52 pm (UTC)
The chemical compounds change. Think of sodium, an explosive metal, combining with chlorine, a poisonous gas, to form common salt. Soapmaking reminds me a bit of that. When ingredients are measured very carefully and combined properly, there isn't lye in the resulting soap. But you can't make soap without lye. Anyone (some dodgy soapmakers, harrumph) who tells you otherwise is lying.
In the saponification reaction, the sodium hydroxide (lye) combines with the fatty acids in the triglycerides (fat) to make sodium salts of fatty acids - soap. The glycerol backbone of the triglyceride molecule is left as glycerine. The glycerine, a lovely humectant, is removed from commercial soap for separate sale, but retained in handmade soap.
Potassium hydroxide can be used and reacts in the same way chemically, but results in liquid soap rather than solid.
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