If I had a mysterious substance in the garage stored in its original container, but everything is telling me it is lye, how can I do a quick test at home to be sure without having to put it on my skin and burn myself? Thanks.
First of all, you should be very careful, make sure there's adequate ventilation and wear nitrile glove and chemical splash goggles when doing anything with household chemicals.
Lye, which is sodium hydroxide, is a white solid that's usually in the form of small shiny white pellets or flakes. If it isn't white, it isn't lye. Lye is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts and absorbs water. If it's been around for very long it'll usually be stuck together.
Lye, when dissolved in water, makes a very basic solution. It also dissolves exothermically. You could test this by putting a small amount into a water and checking the pH. Swimming pool or hot tub pH strips will work. If you don't have these you probably have something in your kitchen that will tell you if it's acidic or basic. Hibiscus Tea, which is normally red, turns blue at about pH 10. If you add some red tea and it turns blue the solution is basic. Turmeric, a common seasoning, will turn from yellow to red in a base. It needs to be dissolved in a small amount of alcohol first. Red cabbage juice, obtained by boiling the cabbage, will turn green or yellow in basic solution.