Sodium hydroxide, or lye, is a must to make soap. You cannot have soap without the lye. Lye is a caustic alkaline (a soluble base) that can be found in hardward or grocery stores, or you can even buy it online from a soap supply store, like Colorado Organics or Bramble Berry.
When dissolved in distilled water, the lye forms a strong alkaline solution, which becomes slippery and soapy to the touch. Lye is actually extremely dangerous if proper precautions are not taken. I'm telling you, this stuff is almost like a chemisty project, but if you wear proper gloves, goggles, and an old long sleeve shirt you will be fine.
As for distilled water, this too is another essential ingredient in making handmade soap. Distilled water is basically water that has had all of its impurities taken out through distillation. You cannot use regular tap water in place of the distilled water, because tap water may contain certain minerals that react with the lye, and ruin your soap.
Sources for my research: Handcrafted Soap, 2002, by Delores Boone
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