Masterbatching is a method of measuring and mixing enough ingredients to make multiple batches of a product. I think it is tedious to measure and mix the lye solution for each and every batch of soap, so I normally make a masterbatched lye solution that is large enough to make several batches of soap.
If stored in a tightly closed, lye-safe, airtight container, a lye masterbatch can be safely stored for months without losing its strength.
There are two schools of thought about the lye concentration to use when making a lye masterbatch. Both methods are fine. Cchoose the one that makes the most sense for the way you like to make soap --
50% masterbatch -- Many soap makers make a 50% lye solution. Extra liquid is added to dilute the lye solution to the concentration desired. Advantages -- Liquids other than water can be used for dilution. A wider range of lye concentrations can be made.
Ready-to-use masterbatch -- Other people prefer to make their lye masterbatch at the concentration they normally use for making soap. Advantages -- Less math and measuring. Ideal for making many batches using the same base recipe.
1. Choose a sturdy, lye-safe storage container that is easy to grasp and not overly large.
Lye solution weighs quite a bit more than the same volume of water. If the container is too heavy, too big, awkwardly shaped, or slippery, it will be difficult to hold and pour safely.
Make sure the container is clean and dry and has a secure, liquid-tight cap. The cap should be a screw-on cap for safety, not be a snap-on or flip-top cap.
A laundry detergent jug (below) is an ideal choice because it is made of sturdy lye-resistant plastic and has an easy-grip handle, secure screw-on cap, and drip-resistant spout. A jug that holds about 100 fluid ounces (about 3 liters) is a good size.
2. Calculate the volume of the storage container --
Read the markings on the container if present. Look for the volume in "fl oz" (fluid ounces) or "liters".
If the volume is not marked on the container, fill it with plain water and use a measuring cup to find the volume. Measure the volume in fluid ounces or milliliters, not cups.
To make the lye solution easier to pour and reduce the chance of drips, I recommend filling the storage container only about 80% full. Calculate this reduced volume --
Lye solution volume = 80 / 100 X Full volume
If the volume is in liters, then convert liters to milliliters --
Lye solution volume in mL = Volume in Liters X 1000
If the volume is in ounces or milliliters, ignore this calculation.
3. Decide what lye concentration you want to make, and calculate the total weight of lye solution --
For a lye concentration from 37% to 50%, the total weight of lye solution will be --
Lye solution weight = 1.5 X Lye solution volume
Lye concentration from 27% to 36% --
Lye solution weight = 1.4 X Lye solution volume
Lye concentration of 26% or less --
Lye solution weight = 1.3 X Lye solution volume
Important -- If your volume is in fluid ounces, the lye solution weight will be in weight ounces. If your volume is in milliliters, the lye solution weight will be in grams.
4. Calculate the water and alkali (NaOH or KOH) weights --
Alkali weight = Lye concentration / 100 X Lye solution weight
Water weight = Lye solution weight - Alkali weight
Caution! Use water only -- do not use vinegar to make a lye masterbatch. For more information, see "Extra Credit" below.
5. Get prepared --
Check that you have enough alkali (NaOH or KOH) and distilled or demineralized water to actually make the masterbatch.
If your storage container has a small opening, you may need to make the solution in another container with a large opening so it is easier to stir and make sure all the lye is dissolved.
Plan to control the lye mist and water evaporation by lightly covering the container with a paper towel or something similar (below).
I also run my stove ventilation hood when I mix lye solution, because the hood will vent any mist directly outdoors. If the hood for your stove recirculates air back into the house, it will not be helpful.
You can let the lye solution cool down naturally or you can make a cold-water or ice-water bath to help the solution cool faster.
Last but not least, plan to wear eye protection and lye-proof gloves.
6. Make the lye solution --
Measure room temperature distilled or demineralized water into the container.
Caution! Do not use warm or hot liquid -- room temperature liquid only!
Measure the solid alkali in a separate, dry container.
Slowly pour the alkali into the water while slowly stirring. A silicone or plastic spoon or spatula is ideal. Stainless steel is next best.
Keep the container lightly covered as much as possible while stirring and cooling to reduce the amount of lye mist and water vapor that escapes into the room air.
Caution! Do not seal the container tightly when the lye solution is hot, because pressure will build up.
Let the lye solution cool while lightly covered until the lye solution is safe to handle. Pour into the storage container. Cap the container securely, label it well, and store it out of reach of pets, children, and unsuspecting adults.
If you make a 33% to 50% NaOH masterbatch, keep it at 65F / 18C or warmer.
If NaOH solution this concentrated is allowed to get colder than about 60F / 16C, some of the alkali will crystallize out of solution.
The result will be a glass-like layer of solid NaOH on the bottom of the storage container. If this happens, the solid alkali must be fully dissolved before it can be used to make soap. Speaking from experience, this is a real mess to clean up.
Prevent this problem by keeping the solution warm enough -- at least 65F / 18C.
7. Use the lye masterbatch to make soap --
Check your soap recipe and add the alkali weight (sometimes called the "lye" weight) and the water weight together. This answer is the total weight of lye solution you need for your soap batch.
Gently swirl or stir the masterbatch solution to mix any settled impurities into the liquid (see "Extra Credit" below).
Measure enough of the masterbatch lye solution to equal the total lye solution weight.
First, multiply the alkali ("lye") weight in your soap recipe by 2. This is the total lye solution weight.
Gently swirl or stir the masterbatch solution to mix any settled impurities into the liquid.
Measure enough of the 50% masterbatch lye solution to equal the total lye solution weight.
Subtract the alkali weight from the total water weight. The answer is the additional water needed to dilute the 50% lye solution to your desired lye concentration.
Measure enough water or water-based liquid to equal this amount.
If the math of using a lye masterbatch is daunting, try the SoapmakingFriend soap recipe calculator. If you tell it the lye concentration of your masterbatch, it will do the math for you.
You can also make a masterbatched fat blend...
More about lye masterbatching
Extra credit -- Frequently asked questions about lye masterbatching
Why mix impurities into the lye solution before using the masterbatched lye?
NaOH and KOH always contain impurities, particularly sodium carbonate or potassium carbonate. Mixing these impurities into the masterbatch will ensure the lye solution stays consistent from the first pour to the last drop.
If you did not mix these impurities into the solution, the impurities will accumulate in the masterbatch container. Your last batches of soap will contain more impurities and somewhat less NaOH or KOH than the first batches.
Can I use vinegar instead of water to make my masterbatched lye solution?
I do not recommend using vinegar when making lye solution that you plan to store for awhile. A vinegar-lye mixture will thicken into an unpourable gel a day or so after it is made. The gel can be used to make soap, but it is more difficult to use than a pourable liquid. It is best to use a vinegar-lye solution the same day it is made.
Should I warm the lye solution before I use it to make soap?
I never warm my lye solution for safety's sake. If I think my ingredients need to be warmer, I heat the fats rather than the lye solution.
But doesn't the lye temperature need to be close to the fat temperature?
It is a myth that the lye solution and fat temperatures must be within a few degrees before a person starts to make the soap. This is totally not necessary from a chemistry point of view.
I agree it is certainly easier to see if the lye solution and the fats are both 100F, for example, then the soap batter will also be 100F as well. But the only reason to match temperatures is to reassure the soap maker.
If the goal is to start with a soap batter at 100F, the lye solution could be 70F and the fats could be 110F.
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