Cleaning with Caustic Soda Beads? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Cleaning with Caustic Soda Beads or Lye

Caustic Soda Beads, also called Sodium Hydroxide Beads or lye, are commonly used for soapmaking and pH adjustment. They can also be used on their own, directly, for cleaning purposes. While they can be very effective when used for cleaning, they are also corrosive with inherent hazards that must be respected. This is why it is important that anyone thinking of using them for cleaning takes time to learn how to use them carefully and correctly. If you’re thinking about cleaning with Caustic Soda Beads, here are some things you need to know.

Should I Use Caustic Soda Beads?

First, why do people use Caustic Soda Beads for cleaning? Sodium Hydroxide is one of the strongest bases, and can be very effective at breaking down fats, oils, greases, proteins, or other organic matter. This is why it is sometimes used as the active ingredient in commercial drain and oven cleaners. This is a useful application for the product in a lot of different environments.

However, for everyday cleaning purposes, Caustic Soda Beads by themselves are not really a great cleaning agent. A much better option would be a built-out product that may include some combination of the following agents: a pH adjuster, a surfactant that prevents re-deposition of dirt, builders and scrubbers, sequestering agents, and/or chelating agents.

How To Clean With Caustic Soda Beads

If using Caustic Soda Beads for cleaning, first make sure that the area being cleaned won’t be harmed by it. There are many types of surfaces that can be cleaned safely with a lye solution; vinyl, cast iron, mortar, tar, ceramic, tile, porcelain, glass, etc.

Caustic Soda Beads must be dissolved in water to make a solution for cleaning. When you add the beads to water, an exothermic reaction will occur, which means the water will get warm or hot. For this reason, it is important to always add the beads to the water, and not the other way around. Also, we suggest you start with cold or cool water. Stir to get them into a solution.

The amount of Caustic to water you should use may vary by application, but it should always be dilute. Try a 10% cleaning solution. You can pour it into a chemical-resistant spray bottle or dip a sponge in the liquid. Let sit for 10 minutes. Wipe surface. Remove as much residue as you possibly can. Rinse well, and let dry.

If using this product for cleaning an oven, keep away from the oven element and surfaces that may come in contact with food. Caustic can damage exposed steel in an oven. Afterward, run the high-heat self-clean cycle to destroy any residue. Keep away from other kitchen surfaces such as wood floors, cupboards, or worktops that it may damage.

Cleaning a surface with lye will make it very inhospitable to bacteria. However, it is not an active disinfectant, and shouldn’t be regarded as such.

How Caustic Soda Beads Work

A lye solution is very effective at breaking down fats, oils, or greases (aka F.O.G.) when used for cleaning. But what exactly is happening? Why is it so effective?

Fat, or triglycerides, are chemically made up of fatty acids and glycerol bound together. Sodium Hydroxide (lye) has a chemical formula of NaOH (meaning it is made up of Sodium, Hydrogen, and Oxygen molecules). When lye is added to fat, the chemical bond of the fat is broken down and the fatty acids and glycerol are released from each other. This is a chemical reaction known as saponification. The fatty acids become fatty acid salt (remember the Sodium from the lye?), and the glycerol is left on its own.

This is the same chemical reaction that is used to create soaps. Hard soap is simply a fatty acid salt made with lye. When you are dissolving fats, oils, or grease with a lye solution, all you are doing is essentially turning them into soap! Since soap is water-soluble, it can now be easily removed from the surface.

Where Not To Clean With Caustic Soda Beads

Caustic Soda shouldn’t be used for EVERY application where there is a F.O.G. problem. Here are some places we don’t recommend using Caustic Soda:

Although Caustic Soda Beads are sometimes used for clearing plugged drains, we don’t recommend them due to the unnecessary strain they might put on your plumbing. Putting Caustic Soda Beads straight down your drain will put a substantial amount of heat into your pipes which could warp or stress them. Also, it will raise the pH of your water for an extended period of time which could also cause problems. Although it may be useful in certain applications, consider using other chemicals or a drain cleaning product. (Or, call a plumber.)

Do not clean wood surfaces with a lye solution as it will cause the wood fibers to open up. Porous surfaces, such as concrete or drywall, or any surface that might absorb water, should be avoided. Do not use Caustic Soda Beads for washing clothes or in a washing machine. Lye is corrosive to metals such as aluminum alloys, carbon steel, galvanized steel, copper, and iron. Also, we don’t recommend using it as a paint stripper. Paints strip better with solvents than with Caustic Soda.

Wear Protective Equipment When Using Caustic Soda Beads

Sodium Hydroxide is corrosive and may cause severe chemical burns. Do not allow it to come in direct contact with your skin or clothing, whether dry or in solution. For handling, wear appropriate chemical-resistant gloves. If you wear gloves that aren’t suitable, the Caustic will eat through them and burn your hands. Wear chemical safety goggles to keep lye solution from splashing into your eyes. Contact with the eyes will cause severe damage and blindness. For full safety information, see the Safety Data Sheet.

Do not mix Caustic with other chemicals unless you know what you are doing as it reacts strongly with many chemicals and could result in substantial injury.

Where To Buy Caustic Soda Beads

You can buy Caustic Soda Beads in 50 lb bags online. For smaller volumes, try a soap-making supply store.