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Long ago, I bought some food grade lye to make pretzels. Then I became afraid to use it cause I didn't think about the potential damage it could cause to my sink and some baking materials. Specifically, baking sheets and my kitchen counter top.

This answer solved the problem with my baking sheet and stainless sink but my biggest fear still remains with spilling lye on my quartz counter top, fake wood cabinets or ceramic tile flooring.

Does anyone know if I need to worry?

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  • I wonder if Home Improvement SE would be a good place to ask about this, since there are people who know about the different materials you're asking about.
    – csk
    Jan 2, 2021 at 2:37
  • @csk But people use lye as I am for baking so I'm asking people who use this for baking what their knowledge is.
    – Rob
    Jan 2, 2021 at 2:48
  • I didn't mean to imply your question doesn't belong here. This is a great place to ask it. I simply meant that home improvement may also be a good place to ask it, in case you don't get the information you need here.
    – csk
    Jan 2, 2021 at 2:49
  • Can you be more specific about what type of fake wood the cabinets are made of and how they are sealed? The most likely problem with these is moisture getting in and swelling as a result - lye is hygroscopic, so will absorb water from the air..
    – bob1
    Feb 2, 2021 at 19:27

2 Answers 2

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The biggest problem with lye lies (pun intended) in the fact that it is a strong base (lye is a metal hydroxide, usually sodium and/or potassium hydroxides) and will attack some metal surfaces such as aluminium strongly. Generally most other compounds are non-reactive unless they can form some sort of acid-base reaction.

Quartz countertops are engineered stone - that is finely ground stone powder/chips held together with resins, usually polyester or epoxy resins. Polyesters are readily attacked by alkali, while epoxy resins are more resistant (see entries for potassium and sodium hydroxides) so, in absence of knowing which resin has been used to make your countertop, I wouldn't allow lye to sit on your quartz for an extended period. Indeed use of such chemicals is not recommended for quartz countertops at all - partly because it can permeate into the pores in the stone surface and contaminate food later.

Lye will dissolve lignin (the main component of wood) to some extent, but I think this is fairly limited. However, as with the countertops, fake woods are held together, with - you guessed it - resins (different type). In the case of MDF and particle board, these are held together with urea-formaldehyde resins, which seem to be quite resistant to hydroxides (Warning: PDF). You will find that the biggest problem with these sorts of woods is water getting into them and causing the wood component to swell and mechanically break apart the material. However, this problem isn't specific to lyes.

Ceramic tiles should be completely resistant, but the grout between them probably isn't completely resistant as that is usually made up of cement with some epoxy resin as binder. Hydroxides will attack the grout slowly (as noted above for epoxy), but so long as you can clean the lye off fairly quickly, it should be fine.

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  • I wouldn't allow lye to sit on your quartz for an extended period. How long is that? If I clean up right away, am I ok? Of course, the problem with that thought is what if I missed a spot.
    – Rob
    Feb 2, 2021 at 22:52
  • @Rob I was thinking - if you were using it to wipe off the bench for cleaning, then removing more or less immediately. A missed drip here and there may not do much damage individually, but over years of use in the same spot, you could be in trouble. I would just put a cloth down over the area where you are working or some baking paper, even a chopping board or cling-wrap would work too.
    – bob1
    Feb 2, 2021 at 23:20
  • I'm using it for making pretzels. The lye is a browning agent. My concern is dripping the solution onto the counter and sink etc.
    – Rob
    Feb 3, 2021 at 1:24
  • @Rob - yep, just lay something down to catch the drips and you should be fine.
    – bob1
    Feb 3, 2021 at 7:36
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lye is corrosive, so depending of the concentration of your food grade lye it may react with the materials you mentioned. the longer it stays on the surface the more likely you could get a stain.

Most problematic would be the fake wood (depending of the make of its surface/surface sealing), while quartz stone and specially ceramic tiles due to its glassed surface are resistant.

I/we (my household) even use lye to clean those surfaces, so you shouldn't worry as long as you don't leave a substantial amount of lye in one spot for a long time.

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  • This only repeats what I already expressed as a concern and doesn't answer the question. The link also has nothing to do with the question.
    – Rob
    Jan 2, 2021 at 2:44
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    I've edited the answer * I/we (my household) even use lye to clean those surfaces, so you shouldn't worry as long as you don't leave a substantial amount of lye in one spot for a long time*, if you think this is still useless, please let me know and I remove the answer...
    – Vickel
    Jan 2, 2021 at 2:54
  • don't leave a substantial amount of lye in one spot for a long time In other words, the basic rule is don't let the lye lie around. Feb 4, 2021 at 2:37

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