Does 100% non-chemical soap exist? No – Lye is always used

I wish there was such a thing as a completely natural soap made only from coconut oil, olive oil, essential oils etc. But this is unfortunately impossible. There is absolutely no way to make a bar soap without using lye.

The basic reaction that is needed to make soap, called ‘saponification’, cannot occur without some form of lye reacting with some form of oil. Lye is actually a general term for a very strong alkali. There are two alkali’s that can be used to make soap: sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and potassium hydroxide. Both are considered lye, but the potassium hydroxide is not strong enough to make a solid soap. It is only used for making liquid soaps.

Therefore sodium hydroxide cannot be substituted for potassium hydroxide and vice versa because soap making recipes will have different quantity requirements for these two chemicals depending on the kind of soap being manufactured. In addition, the quantities required for soap saponification differ when using caustic soda and hydrated potash.

Soap manufacturers do everything they can to hide the fact that they use lye in their soap. Dr. Bronners soap, which is considered “pure” natural, uses lye. It is hidden under the term “saponified oils”, which is actually the process of mixing lye with oil. Soap simply cannot be made without lye.

Lye is commercially manufactured using a membrane cell chlor-alkali process. It is one of the highest volume industrial chemicals with an annual production of 40 million tons. It is supplied in various forms such as flakes, pellets, microbeads, coarse powder or a solution. I use flakes to make soap – but would use any form available.

Interesting enough, Lye is also used for other things:

Food uses: Lye is used to cure types of food, such as: lutefisk; olives (making them less bitter); canned mandarin oranges; pretzels etc. It is also used as a tenderizer in the crust of baked Cantonese moon cakes, and in lye-water “zongzi” (glutenous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves); in chewy, southern Chinese noodles popular in Hong Kong and southern China; plus, in Japanese ramen noodles.

Household uses: Lye is also valued for its cleaning effects. It is commonly the major constituent in commercial and industrial oven cleaners and clogged drain openers, due to its grease-dissolving abilities. Lye decomposes greases via alkaline ester hydrolysis, yielding water soluble, easily removed (e.g., rinsed away) residual substances.

It does have hazardous reactions and has a potentially destructive effect on living tissues (e.g., skin, flesh, and the cornea). Solutions containing it can cause chemical burns, permanent injuries, scarring, and blindness—immediately upon contact. Lye may be harmful or even fatal if swallowed; ingestion can cause esophageal stricture. Moreover, solvation of dry solid lye is highly exothermic; the resulting heat may cause additional burns, or, ignite flammables. Therefore it is extremely important to use personal protective equipment including safety glasses, chemical-resistant gloves, and adequate ventilation when using lye to make soap (or clean your drain).

The reaction between sodium hydroxide and a few metals is also hazardous. Aluminium reacts with lye to produce hydrogen gases. Since hydrogen is flammable, mixing a large quantity of lye (e.g., sodium hydroxide) and aluminum in a closed container is dangerous – especially when the system is at a high temperature, which speeds up the reaction. In addition to aluminum, lye may also react with magnesium; galvanized zinc; tin; chromium; brass; and, bronze—producing hydrogen gas. Therefore I always use plastic containers and glass when I make soap.

My 5 stay-the-same New Year resolutions

First of all – Happy New Year to everyone.

Going into a new year usually makes people think about resolutions. They often consist of things they want to change – like stopping to smoke or lose 10 kg etc. I decided that I would rather like to focus on the things I like to stay the same.

1. Staying adventurous: I spent more than half of 2009 travelling all the way down from Costa Rica to Argentina, spent time in an organic Hare Krishna village in Peru, went through the Bolivian desert on horse, jumped out with a parachute in Argentina etc. I want to continue having the courage to do and live things that may seem risky and that may not have a guaranteed reward because only that way does life stay an adventure.

2. Staying open-minded: This is something I have to work on continuously because we are often not conscious about our own prejudism. Before I met Thomas I only dated Israeli men for about 10 years and couldn’t imagine going out with other nationalities. But I am happy that I did go out with Thomas because I learned an incredible amount of things from being with someone from a different culture and with a different mental pattern than what I was comfortably used to. My stay in the Peruvian Hare Krishna village is another example. Had I known in advance that it was a Hare Krishna village I would never have joined. Why? Well actually for no reason at all. In my mind Hare Krishna had a stigma and I don’t have any reason for this. I actually ended up finding out that the religion possibly fits my belief system better than any other I have studied so far (Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Christianity, Islam), but I am not a devotee. But I definitely want to continue challenging my own prejudism and try to stay open-minded.

3. Staying healthy: I have been a vegetarian for 18 years now and feel very healthy. However, in the past I have been a bit of a cheese-bread vegetarian because I hated cooking. I changed this in 2009 and after my return to Denmark I started cooking and can actually make some fairly decent dishes now. Furthermore, being adventurous and fairly open-minded brought me to the Hare Krishna village in which I learned yoga. I have studied it before in Thailand but due to lack of a spiritual dimension I lost interest in it. Vaisnava yoga included the spiritual dimension and I fell in love. This made me take a yoga teacher training course in Cuzco, Peru and since then I have done yoga almost every day. I want to continue this practise because it keeps me healthy physically and mentally.

4. Staying friendly: 2009 is probably the period in my life in which I have gotten the most new friends in all my life and I really feel like my life got enriched in ways that I can’t even begin to describe. I love the company of people and I really believe that the essence of life is the people we surround ourselves with (and animals of course). I want to continue making an effort to meet new people and to nurture the relationships I already have.

5. Staying in the now: I spent the last part of 2009 just enjoying being in the now. I didn’t make any plans and hardly ever made any appointments more than a week into the future and honestly had no aim for my life – but I felt very happy. But I do realise that if you don’t visualise events – nothing happens (law of attraction) and although you can be perfectly happy like that – I do like the magic of visualisation. But I want to try to stay as much as possible in the now and enjoy every moment no matter what I do.

So when I say happy New Year to everyone I wish to add that in my experience happiness cannot be travelled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is felt when you don’t want to be anywhere else than where you are, be anybody else, have anything else or be with anyone else. It is living every minute with love and gratitude. May the New Year bring happiness and love to everyone.

Video: Eco Yoga Park, Argentina

Here’s a short video compilation of clips I took whilst staying at the Eco Yoga Park just outside Buenos Aires in Argentina. You can also view a photo slide show of the Eco Yoga Park here, and listen to the Eco Yoga Park podcast here. Thanks to all who appear in the video. Pete, you’ll get it eventually :-).

Photos of the Eco Yoga Park

The pollution is covering Santiago, Chile

Pollution in Santiago
Pollution in Santiago

Santiago, being the capital city of Chile, is a big city. The city was founded and named Santiago de Nueva Estremadura on Feb. 12, 1541, by Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago has spread over a broad valley plain and is today one of the largest cities in South America. Low foothills surround the valley, and the snowcapped Andes, forming a beautiful backdrop, rise in the eastern distance. For most of the year the climate is nice: warm days and cool nights.

Santiago is the political, commercial, and financial heart of the country, although Valparaiso has been the seat of the Chilean congress since 1990. Much of Chile’s industry is distributed among other cities, but Santiago is an active manufacturing center. Textiles, foodstuffs, clothing, footwear, and other goods are produced. There are also large iron and steel foundries in the city, which has a subway and an international airport.

The industries are heavily felt. If you climb up to a view point in the city you will not be able to see very far in certain parts of the year. The smog is so heavy that even the mountains are hidden. So although I actually like Santiago a lot: the Chileans are very nice and the city (apart from the occasional demonstrations) is orderly, courteous and feels pretty safe, I would not like to live there. Having gone through a pollution emergency crisis in Thailand in 2007, I will never again live in a country with such heavy pollution – regardless of the salary – my health is priceless!!

Pucon: A beautiful lake-side village in Chile

Pucon: A beautiful lake-side village in Chile
Pucon: A beautiful lake-side village in Chile

Pucon is a beautiful lake-side village in Chile. It is located 25 km from Villarrica at the east end of lago Villarrica, Rio Pucon in the north and Volcan Villarrica to the south. It is a stunning place to visit during the day.

Pucon is an outdoor activity kind of place. In the summer you can swim in the lake, hike, go rafting or kayaking, and go biking. During the winter it is also a very pleasant place to go for a walk on the beach by the lake and enjoy the very friendly accommodation there.

However, it does get very smoky in the night time (after 6pm in the evening). Most houses are heated with fireplaces and this leaves the city full of smoke. I still liked my time there during the winter – but I am sure I would have loved it in the summer a lot more.

The 7 steps to stop smoking

As a smoker I was a late starter. While friends of mine started smoking at the age of 13, I was never the least tempted. My dad used to smoke on New Years Eve to light the fire works which was easier with a cigarette when there is an ice wind blowing (or maybe it was just a bad excuse for my dad who used to be a smoker for 15 years). Once when my sister and I was about 12 and 13 years old my dad gave us a cigarette to smoke to "show us how bad it taste" and we coughed and definitely thought it tasted bad really bad

Nevertheless, while living on a kibbutz in Israel I started smoking and managed to smoke for the next 11 years, but I don’t think I ever considered it something I would do all my life. I have stopped a few times in my life before – the longest period being 9 months. Now I have stopped again, but this time it is forever. You might think "yeahh right "until next time". But actually by now I have not smoked for nearly two years – so I think my advice to you about stopping to smoke is valid. Below I have lined up 7 steps which I found to be helpful when stopping to smoke or deciding that you will soon stop smoking:

    1. Never stick to the same cigarette brand all the time. As a smoker you of course have your favorite brand but this is also a major part of the addiction: the familiarity with a certain "smoky’ taste and the chemicals it contains. Try to buy a different brand it will not taste "nearly as good" (if you can actually say that cigarettes taste good in any way). In fact it will probably taste bad. Smoke it anyway – but only when you really crave the nicotine. This will reduce your smoking a lot.

    2. After smoking a brand of cigarettes that you don’t really like you will automatically cut down the cigarettes. However, most of us still continue smoking even if it tastes bad because we are addicted to the nicotine. But you will probably be able to cut down the amount of cigarettes you smoke. The benefit of not stopping completely from one day to the next is that you don’t suffer from nicotine withdrawal and insomnia (which makes it even harder to stop smoking). I started out by not smoking at work which meant that I would not smoke the whole day and then when I would come home from work in the evening I would smoke one or two cigarettes. But I would still smoke a lot when I would go out with friends socializing – especially if they were smoking.

    3. The next step is to stop the daily cigarettes and that was a bit hard. I was no longer craving the nicotine on a daily basis but it was more the ritual part of coming home and "relaxing" with a cigarette. I had to adjust my mind to the fact that relaxation is not related to cigarettes. Apart from the nicotine addiction, the major part of an addiction is the association with activities that is pleasant activities of course (like coffee with a cigarette, the after dinner cigarette, the relaxing cigarette, the social cigarette, the cigarette that goes together with drinks etc.). I am not suggesting that you give all of your associations up at one time I don’t think it’s possible. I prefer a slow path of changing habits and mind. Once I had quite the daily cigarettes and no longer associated relaxing and after-work with cigarettes I continued smoking for quite a while socially. Of course it would ideally be great to be able to stop from one day to the next (and not damage your body more) but I think it is equally important to do it in a way that makes the smoking stop last.

    4. I decided that smoking was only "allowed" when I was drinking alcohol. Now I am not a big drinker and I will usually not drink alcohol more than once a week at the most. But believe me even this step can be hard. Your addictive brain might try to pursued you to buy a drink (even from seven-eleven) just so that you can smoke a cigarette. Fight it. Try to observe how you are yourself justifying to continue polluting yourself .it’s quite ridiculous really. I did buy a drink a few times on a week day just to be able to smoke but the cigarette didn’t actually taste good so I would turn it out after smoking half. At this point in time you might already have been socially smoking for half a year and you are no longer addicted to nicotine or used to the taste.

    5. The fifth step requires that you stop buying cigarettes yourself. This means that you will have to ask other people for cigarettes. Perhaps you don’t have a problem with that but I personally don’t like to ask people all the time for cigarettes. So it will probably limit your smoking to 2-3 cigarettes on a big night out. Despite the small number of smoked cigarettes I always got a soar throat anyway after a night out because at this point in time your body is not used to the smoke either.

    6. Now you will have to make the crucial and hard decision to stop forever. And when I say forever, I mean until you die (from age hopefully). But I don’t go around announcing to people that I stopped and I suggest you don’t do that unless it is a promise you make to them and that it will put more pressure on you to keep the stop. Telling people that you have stopped will automatically make them ask you all the time how the cigarette stop is going you don’t want that. You don’t want to be reminded of cigarettes when you are trying your utmost to forget about them. It’s like having a bad break-up in a relationship and then people constantly reminding you of your loss .not fun at all.
    I made a clear promise to myself that I will never touch a cigarette again and that it is a sign that I have no strength and willpower at all if I smoke again (basically I am a loser). Perhaps you need to tell yourself other things but for me it is really important that I am in power "meaning the part of me that wants to keep me healthy is in control. Now there is never a good time to stop completely I am aware of that and you might be able to pursued yourself that only smoking 2-3 cigarettes when you socialize will not give you cancer. But how do you know? If you are genetically sensitive to smoke it might cause lung cancer, throat cancer or mouth cancer. Do you dare to take the risk? How much is your life worth? It is really sad that we only realize that our health is priceless when we get sick. I will bet you anything that if you ask a person who has got smokers lungs or lung cancer if they wish they had never smoked – they will all say ‘yes’. Who wants to be sick if they can chose to be healthy?I recommend stopping to smoke on a memorable date (like your daughter’s birthday or going somewhere important a date you will remember later). But then again don’t wait with stopping smoking until a memorable date comes up the sooner the better!! Your lungs take at least 10 years to regenerate and repair the self-inflicted damage .start today!

    7.I suggest that you try spending more time with friends who are non-smokers it’ will make life much easier for you in the beginning. However, it can also be a good idea to spend time with friends who smoke because you will notice how ugly your clothes smell afterwards.Try not to think about cigarettes and focus on the obvious advantages of being a non-smoker: Enjoy that every day you can smell flowers better, the food has more flavor, you don’t ruin the health of your loved ones by making them passive smokers, your clothes and fingers doesn’t smell anymore, you save lots of money and you don’t constantly feel guilty about destroying your own health. And most important: Keep the promise you made to yourself – after all it is your life which is at stake.

Good Luck!

The motivations and benefits of being a vegetarian

People often ask me why I am a vegetarian and for how long I have been a vegetarian. I decided to write a series of articles about vegetarianism because it is close to my heart and there are lots of things to be said about it. In this first article I briefly outline my personal reasons for being a vegetarian.

The simple answer is that I love animals and since the age of 16 I have refused to eat them. To me the notion of loving someone and killing them does not go together. And to me all animals are worthy of life and it makes no difference whether people eat a cow or a cat – you kill to eat and it is equally bad.

the cat who adopted me

Now I am not a fanatic vegetarian in the sense that I don’t object to other people eating whatever they want, but I do oppose people categorizing themselves as something they are not – like the notion that people who don’t eat meat but do eat fish are "vegetarians". To me this categorization is wrong because a fish is NOT a vegetable.

According to the official definition of vegetarianism from Wikipedia “it is the practice of a diet that excludes all animal flesh, including poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacean, and slaughter by-products”. A vegan is a person who excludes all animal products from diet and in some definitions from attire also, whether or not the production of clothing or items has involved the actual death of an animal (dairy, eggs, honey, wool, silk, down feathers, etc.). I am a vegetarian but I don’t buy leather or feather pillows or covers. This is against my conviction (which is personal and not religious).

My main reason thus is ethical – an aversion to inflicting pain or harm on other living creatures, or a belief that the unnecessary killing of other animals is inherently wrong.

Environmental reasons also count high on my list – namely the fact that so many people are starving and the production of meat for consumption as oppose to grains is unsustainable. Did you know that the inefficiencies of meat, milk and egg production range from 4:1 energy input to protein output ratio up to 54:1 and as such the U.S. could feed 800 million people with the grain that the livestock eat.

Another argument is that farmed animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the United States. Since factory farms don’t have sewage treatment systems as cities and towns do, this ends up polluting ground water, destroying the topsoil, and contaminating the air. Hence as a meat-eater you should consider yourself partly responsible for the production of all of this waste "” about 86,000 pounds per second.

There are an endless list of motivations and benefits of being a vegetarian including: religious and spiritual, health reasons, medical, ethical, environmental, economical, psychological, and cultural. In my next blog posts I will write on the topic in greater detail.

So as you can see there are plenty of reasons to stop eating meat – in fact you can improve the world by stopping today 🙂

Good luck.