Sodium hydroxide 

What is it?

Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is a white, waxy, opaque, odorless crystal consisting of sodium ions and hydroxide ions. It is also known as lye or caustic soda and used in many industries, for pH adjustment, to purify drinking water, in household cleaners, and in soap-making.    

What does it do?

It is a highly versatile ingredient available in a wide range of grades and concentrations. At its highest levels it is very caustic and can be used as a drain cleaner, but at dilute levels it is safe for handling and food preparation.

In Tom’s products, dilute levels of sodium hydroxide are used to adjust the pH level in some of our oral care products, which is done to improve the overall efficacy of the product. When dissolved the hydroxide portion of the compound reacts with acids to form water.  The pH is adjusted (becomes more basic) as some of the acid is eliminated.

It is also a key ingredient to preparing many special food items. The traditional Nordic dish of lutefisk literally translates to “lye fish” as it is prepared with dried whitefish and lye (a common name for sodium hydroxide). Hominy is the preparation of dried corn kernels reconstituted by soaking them in a lye solution and pretzels owe their unique crust to being dipped in a lye solution before baking. 

How is it made?

Our Stewardship Model guides us to select ingredients which have been processed in a manner that supports our philosophy of human and environmental health.

Sodium hydroxide is derived from salt water (brine).  It is most commonly manufactured by the electrolysis of brine, a salt (NaCl) solution.  During this process the water (H20) is reduced to hydrogen gas (H) and hydroxide ion (OH).  The hydroxide ion bonds with the sodium to form sodium hydroxide (NaOH). 

What are the alternatives?

There are other weaker compounds that can buffer pH in formulas, but sodium hydroxide can be used at a very low concentration and be significantly effective.

Is this the right option for me?

The sodium hydroxide in our products is food-grade and designated as safe for general use in food by the FDA1. Sodium hydroxide has been widely used in drinking water as a pH adjusting agent and is also used in food processing. It has a long history of safe use in these applications.

Tom’s of Maine recognizes that no two people are alike, and even with naturally derived ingredients, some individuals may develop an allergic reaction that is unique to them. As with any product, be sure to discontinue use if you experience discomfort or other indications that the product may not be appropriate for your individual body chemistry.

21 CFR 184.1763