A corrosive alkaline solution–sodium hydroxide–commonly known as caustic soda and used in washing powders to achieve purer whites, in oven and drain cleaning products, and to cure certain foods such as green olives.

* Lye solution is also used to treat woods, especially oak: soak in a bath of lye to bleach it for flooring, or scrubbing oak with caustic soda guarantees that lovely whitened–bleached–look which works so well in shabby chic style.

* For fabric, a lye bath can take the colour out of a too-bright fabric, try the tea bags first, always test a piece and be careful with the quantity and time.

* Lye was traditionally obtained from the ash of hardwoods, so if you have a log fire, you could try your hand at making it from use your ash. However, it must only to be handled by an adult with appropriate personal protection: glasses, chemical resistant gloves and adequate ventilation.

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