Making Soap the old fashioned way

Discussion in 'Back to Basics' started by Falcon15, Nov 12, 2010.

Register to hide advertisements

  1. Falcon15
    Offline

    Falcon15 Falco peregrinus Site Supporter

    A SAFETY DISCLAIMER AND WARNINGS WILL BE FOUND AT THE END OF THIS POST AND EVERY POST PERTAINING TO SOAP MAKING.

    Making soap is part chemistry and part art-form. The basics of soap are very easy to understand. Soap has three base ingredients:
    Water (the softer the better)
    Lye
    Fat
    Our grand parents, and great grandparents and so on all the way back into the dim and misty usually made their own soap. They did not have all of conveniences of society that we take for granted, for the most part. Sure they had general stores or Merchantiles and could get some "store bought" things, but soap was usually made by hand at the home. Why? It was made from things that were on-hand, and with the right skills and some basic equipment, you did not have to buy anything.

    What is lye? Lye is a corrosive alkali substance - commonly sodium hydroxide (Red Devil Lye is Sodium Hydroxide), or potassium hydroxide (this substance can be leeched from hardwood ash, and commonly was). It chemically reacts with the fats in a process known as "saponification". there is a long, drawn out highly technical explaination as to what saponification is, but that is unimportant for this post. What is important is you can acquire the basic ingredients from local sources and "waste" products of everyday living.

    In this first part I would like to outline how you can make your own lye water from hardwood ashes. It is imperative you use hardwoods, because the potassium hydroxide you get from the soft woods like pine will only produce soft soap.

    To begin the process you need a few basic pieces of equipment:

    A water-tight bucket - a 5 gallon plastic bucket would suffice
    A drill
    Fine gravel - regular washed gardening gravel will work
    Straw
    White hardwood ashes (burn the hardwood in a really hot fire to produce white ash)
    Soft water - collected rainwater is the best, it has no chemicals or dissolved minerals in it - you can use distilled water if you like.
    2 cinder blocks
    A non-reactive plastic catch basin
    Chemically resistant rubber gloves and eye protection
    A non-reactive storage container (plastic) for your lye water (I use a 5 gallon bucket with a lid, commonly available at your local hardware store).

    Step-by-step instructions:

    1: Drill small holes in the bottom center of the bucket - approximately 10-15 holes, in a pattern no bigger than the opening of your catch basin.

    2: Put a 1/2" - 1" deep layer of gravel in the bottom of the bucket. layer approximately 2" of straw on top of the gravel. This is your filter media. It keeps the ash in and lets the lye water seep out.

    3: Fill the bucket to within 2" of the top with white ash, it is important to not overfill the bucket, because the ash will float out when you start adding water. Pack it down gently, not too tight or the water will take forever to seep through, too loose and the water will not draw enough lye from the ash.

    4: Take your catch basin and fill it to within 1-2" of the top with distilled or rain water. Slowly pour this into the ash, taking care to not overfill, again the ash will float out and it is a nasty mess to clean. Pour in stages if you have to. If you have packed the ash in your bucket correctly, the water takes a long time to seep through, so you have time to slip your catch basin underneath.

    5: Set your ash bucket on the two cinder blocks (being careful not to block the weep holes) and slide your catch basin underneath. It takes a long time for all of the water to seep out so you can leave this for the day, come back tomorrow. Make sure no children or animals will get near the buckets as this is EXTREMELY CORROSIVE and HARMFUL. It will BURN unprotected skin. IF you get lye water on your skin - spray the affected area with Ammonia, the ammonia neutralizes the lye and stops the chemical from burning you.

    6: Take your collected brown lye water and pour over the ashes again. Allow this to seep through a second time. When the brown lye water stops coming out, test it for strength.

    To test your lye water for strength you can float a fresh (in the shell) egg or potato in it (wearing gloves and eye protection). If the egg or potato float about 1/2 way into the water - it is the right strength for making soap - remove the egg or potato and destroy them. Also, you can drop a chicken feather in, if the feather begins to dissolve, you have the right strength.

    If the egg or potato doesn't float or the feather does not dissolve, you can strengthen the lye solution by boiling it down, much like making a reduction. Put the lye water into a non-reactive vessel (an old iron pot or stainless steel pot). NOTE: once you put lye water in the pot you can never, ever use the pot for anything else. There is no way to guarantee that all of the lye is washed out and lye is POISONOUS.
    Boil the lye water down until it has lost about a third (1/3) of it's volume. Let cool and test the strength again. If it is correct, then allow to cool and pour carefully back into the collection basin, and lid for storage. MARK IT CLEARLY - LYE WATER - POISON - CAUSTIC.

    DISCLAIMER: THE SOAP MAKING PROCESS INVOLVES A VERY CAUSTIC AND POTENTIALLY HARMFUL CHEMICAL - SODIUM HYDROXIDE OR POTASSIUM HYDROXIDE - COMMONLY KNOWN AS LYE. LYE IS A HIGHLY CORROSIVE HYGROSCOPIC SALT THAT WILL CAUSE ORGANIC SUBSTANCES LIKE SKIN, HAIR, AND CLOTHING TO DISSOLVE. THE INFORMATION LISTED HEREIN IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. USE PROPER SAFETY PRECAUTIONS - CHEMICALLY RESISTANT RUBBER GLOVES AND EYE PROTECTION WHEN HANDLING LYE. KEEP A SPRAY BOTTLE OF PURE UNDILUTED AMMONIA ON HAND. IF YOU GET LIQUID OR DRY LYE ON YOUR SKIN SPRAY THE AFFECTED AREA WITH AMMONIA IMMEDIATELY! THIS WILL NEUTRALIZE THE LYE. THOROUGHLY WASH ALL TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT USED TO MAKE SOAP AND USE IT FOR NOTHING ELSE.
  2. Falcon15
    Offline

    Falcon15 Falco peregrinus Site Supporter

    Part 2 The fats

    SAFETY PRECAUTIONS AND DISCLAIMERS ARE FOUND AT THE END OF THIS POST.

    Alright. Now you have lye water, now what? Well you need fat. Yes, fat, aka oil, aka grease. A good thing to remember about fats for soap making are: the harder the fat is at room temperature, the harder your soap will be in the end.

    Traditionally, animal fats were used for soap making. In the Ozarks around the turn of the century, people would collect their bacon fat drippings, boil them with water until they were "clean" and use that for making soap. The soap had a smokey bacon-y smell - many guys I know would LOVE that- to smell like a strip of bacon. Other use the fat from beef kidneys - (suet). This is a reasonably hard fat , most good butchers have it on hand, and it is almost pure right out of the animal. All one needs to do is render the fat down. If you don't know how to render the fat, there are several good sources on the internet that take you through step by step but it is basically:

    Chop the fat into 1/2" cubes
    Cook over medium heat until all of the oils have been forced out, leaving you brownish bits. Scoop the brownish bits out, place on paper towels, salt liberally and munch on these later (YUMMY). Take the rendered fat and pour into a clean metal or high heat glass container and allow to cool to room temperature.

    Additionally if you can get commercially prepared lard (rendered pork fat) from the grocery store, this is a good source of already clean, white fat.

    Also, any left-over fats from cooking - like bacon drippings - can be collected, cleaned and used to make soap.

    There are several very good vegetable sources of fat available to us today: coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter (you can buy blocks of food grade cocoa butter on ebay), olive oil, etc.

    Regardless of the type of fat this is the second most important portion of the soap making process. It is the chemical reaction between the fat and the lye that makes soap - saponification. The quantities of fat to lye will be addressed in the next post - Making Soap.

    DISCLAIMER: THE SOAP MAKING PROCESS INVOLVES A VERY CAUSTIC AND POTENTIALLY HARMFUL CHEMICAL - SODIUM HYDROXIDE OR POTASSIUM HYDROXIDE - COMMONLY KNOWN AS LYE. LYE IS A HIGHLY CORROSIVE HYGROSCOPIC SALT THAT WILL CAUSE ORGANIC SUBSTANCES LIKE SKIN, HAIR, AND CLOTHING TO DISSOLVE. THE INFORMATION LISTED HEREIN IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. USE PROPER SAFETY PRECAUTIONS - CHEMICALLY RESISTANT RUBBER GLOVES AND EYE PROTECTION WHEN HANDLING LYE. KEEP A SPRAY BOTTLE OF PURE UNDILUTED AMMONIA ON HAND. IF YOU GET LIQUID OR DRY LYE ON YOUR SKIN SPRAY THE AFFECTED AREA WITH AMMONIA IMMEDIATELY! THIS WILL NEUTRALIZE THE LYE. THOROUGHLY WASH ALL TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT USED TO MAKE SOAP AND USE IT FOR NOTHING ELSE.
  3. Falcon15
    Offline

    Falcon15 Falco peregrinus Site Supporter

    Making Soap

    Making soap can be messy and potentially dangerous. You will be handling some harsh, caustic chemicals and hot fats. YOU MUST TAKE SOME SAFETY PRECAUTIONS AHEAD OF TIME. It is IMPERATIVE you use safety goggles and chemically resistant rubber gloves.

    Any and all equipment you will use for making soap will forever be for soap making only! Once you make soap with this equipment, clean it thoroughly and set it aside for future batches.

    Once you have your safety equipment, you will also need:
    1 Glass measuring cup
    1 wood stirring spoons,
    1 glass candy (fry) thermometers
    1 large enameled iron or stainless steel 15 quart pot
    1 old blanket (preferably wool)
    1 kitchen food scale
    saran wrap
    and one plastic or wooden box for a mold

    As far as ingredients, there aren’t very many:
    You will need, by WEIGHT a total of 32 oz. of Fats.
    Caustics:
    12 fluid oz of lye water
    OPTIONAL: Lemongrass essential oil - 2 Tbsp.

    Step by step instructions:

    Take your wooden or plastic box (make sure it is large enough to hold your batch of soap) and line it with saran wrap. Set aside, this is your mold and the saran wrap is a release agent. It is not essential to have it, just nice. If you do not have saran wrap, you can pour the soap into the mold and cut it out with a sharp knife after it has initially cured.

    Measure the lye water into the glass measuring cup. BE CAREFUL LYE WATER IS A CAUSTIC! - set aside.

    Using the kitchen food scale, weigh your fats and place them into the pot.

    Melt the fat completely over medium heat and then pull off of the heat and let cool to 100-125 degrees.

    Monitor the temperature closely.

    Once the fats have gotten to 100-125 degrees, slowly pour in the lye water, stirring constantly. Be careful not to splash while combining the mixtures. AGAIN: BE CAUTIOUS - LYE WATER IS A CAUSTIC

    Stir until the mixture traces. Tracing looks like a slightly thickened custard, not instant pudding but a cooked custard. It will support a drop, or your stir marks for several seconds.

    If tracing takes more than 15 minutes, which it often does, stir for the first 15 minutes, then stir for 5 minutes at 15 minute intervals. Once tracing occurs, add the lemongrass oil. Make sure it is completely worked into the soap and immediately pour into your mold.

    Cover the mold with the wool blanket and set it in a cool, dark place to cure for a few (2-3) days. After 2-3 days check the soap, if the surface is firm, you can turn it out of the mold and slice it into bars for further curing. If it is not firmed up, cover and let cure until the surface is firm.

    Once you have un-molded your block of soap, cut into bars and let cure and dry completely (about 2 weeks).

    Once the bars are cured, wrap in saran wrap or waxed paper. This will preserve the fragrance and keep the soap from getting powdery residue on the outside.


    This soap can be used to wash you body, you dishes, your hair, your clothes. It costs pennies to the pound, especially if you make your own lye water, use recycled fats, and have some or most of the equipment on hand. The largest investment will be your equipment. This is defrayed, however by the cost savings across the board you will realize by making your own soap. Hand-made soap makes an excellent birthday or holiday gift.

    There are many, many books, websites, and videos on the web that detail soap making and it's many different aspects. There are specialty companies that sell soap molds, scents, colors, specialty additives, etc. Experiment. Have fun. Above all, learn how o do this for yourself. It is one more step away from dependence on a grocery store for the basics. Also, these skills will be indispensable in a post-SHTF or TEOTWAWKI scenario.


    Thank you all for your patience, and enjoy.

    DISCLAIMER: THE SOAP MAKING PROCESS INVOLVES A VERY CAUSTIC AND POTENTIALLY HARMFUL CHEMICAL - SODIUM HYDROXIDE OR POTASSIUM HYDROXIDE - COMMONLY KNOWN AS LYE. LYE IS A HIGHLY CORROSIVE HYGROSCOPIC SALT THAT WILL CAUSE ORGANIC SUBSTANCES LIKE SKIN, HAIR, AND CLOTHING TO DISSOLVE. THE INFORMATION LISTED HEREIN IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. USE PROPER SAFETY PRECAUTIONS - CHEMICALLY RESISTANT RUBBER GLOVES AND EYE PROTECTION WHEN HANDLING LYE. KEEP A SPRAY BOTTLE OF PURE UNDILUTED AMMONIA ON HAND. IF YOU GET LIQUID OR DRY LYE ON YOUR SKIN SPRAY THE AFFECTED AREA WITH AMMONIA IMMEDIATELY! THIS WILL NEUTRALIZE THE LYE. THOROUGHLY WASH ALL TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT USED TO MAKE SOAP AND USE IT FOR NOTHING ELSE.
  4. Falcon15
    Offline

    Falcon15 Falco peregrinus Site Supporter

    Distilled water: the easy, SHTF way

    Water for lye water making should be distilled, or collected rain water. As stated earlier, the minerals in hard water, or well water affect the saponification process. The easiest thing to do is collect rainwater, however in areas that have very little annual rainfall, or where the rainwater could be "contaminated" with undesirable minerals and/or dirt etc.- a simple solar still is the best way to go.

    There are plans available to make your own solar water still, and many of us know how to build a survival still. Using water from either one of these is perfect, as the water is distilled naturally, has no chemicals or minerals and is pure. The fact that the still runs on the sun means it is powered by abundant free energy, relatively low maintenance, and has very few parts to break.

    Here are some links to some solar water stills that can be made:

    The contents of the below pages are the property of the owners, and I am providing them for informational purposes only:

    Solar Distiller

    SOLAR STILL

    In addition to being able to distill water for making lye water, it is an excellent thing to have on-hand for making pure drinking water!
  5. melbo
    Offline

    melbo Hunter Gatherer Administrator Founding Member

    Great info. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.[winkthumb]
  6. CRC
    Offline

    CRC Resident Parrothead Moderator Founding Member



    Yep...what melbo said....

    Can you put essential oils in this to make scented soaps as well?
  7. tacmotusn
    Offline

    tacmotusn Mosquito Sailor

    .
    The answer to that is in page 3 of the post. Essential oils are optional, but listed. The example of "lemon grass is given". one could assume other essential oil could be substituted.
    .
    Mods, the basics of this thread needs to be a sticky. Cleanliness for many reasons would be very important post SHTF.
  8. Falcon15
    Offline

    Falcon15 Falco peregrinus Site Supporter

    Thank you Tac. Yes, CRC, essential oils and other scents may be added. I do not recommend perfumes, as the alcohol burns off quickly and is a major component of a perfume scent profile.

    Any essential oil can be added at the final step, just after trace has occurred. The more you add, the stronger the scent, and too much can affect the final hardness of the soap. The 2 Tbs measure gives you a significant scent profile without being overwhelming.

    It should also be noted that soaps with essential oils added may seem "dull" smelling after final cure. Don't worry, wetting the soap will reactivate the scent.

    I suggested lemongrass as it is a mild, grassy, lemony scent and suitable for both men and women. You can add dried lavender flowers (about 1 cup), and lavender essential oil (2 Tbs) for a more effeminate soap, or sandalwood and bergamot essential oils (1 Tbs each) for a more manly, musky scent.

    Scents do not have to be added, but make a nice addition to the soap.

    For a really hard soap some cocoa butter can be added to the fat on an equal exchange for other fats (example 12 oz of cocoa butter by weight in exchange for 12 oz of base fat). This adds a moisturizing profile and is especially good for chapped wind burned skin. It also makes the soap last longer, as harder soaps do not "reduce" from use as quickly as softer soaps.

    If you want to make a "pine tar soap", research this carefully and be prepared well in advance. Pine tar makes the soap a medium tan color and adds a very resinous scent to the soap. It also causes soap to harden FAST. Once you add it to the soap, mix it in quickly and be ready to pour it into a mold fast, because I kid you not, this stuff causes soap to harden QUICKLY. If you don't get it molded fast enough you will be chipping it out of the pot. Harden, not cure. It still has to cure for weeks before use. It does not make the same kind of soap as Grandpas Pine Tar soap.

    I have been making soap of all stripes most of my life, thanks in large part to my grandmother. So I have learned quite a bit, but I am still learning.
  9. CRC
    Offline

    CRC Resident Parrothead Moderator Founding Member

    Lavender was what I was interested in....and I try not to make assumptions about anything....as we all know what that means. [angel]

    Plus I was wondering about the amount...I love the Yardley's Old Fashioned Lavender Soap...and use it a lot...And I have some Coconut Oil...It makes me feel warm in the middle of Winter to use Coconut...Reminds me of the beach, and lotions and sunscreens... :smile:

    Thank you Falcon.... :smile:
  10. Falcon15
    Offline

    Falcon15 Falco peregrinus Site Supporter

    De nada, CRC.
    Pure coconut oil (like you find in the oil section of the store or specialty ethnic markets) can also be added to a soap for a hardening and moisturizing profile, much like cocoa butter, oz for oz replacement. The coconut essential oil (1 oz) and pineapple essntial oil (1 oz) added to this would make a nice Pina Colada soap. You could even add 1/2 to 1 cup shredded UNSWEETENED dried (dessicated to mummy like-dryness) coconut for use as an exfoliant. Just some fun stuff. Making soap is limited only by the imagination and availability of products.

Share This Page


Null


Locations of visitors to this page


Find us on Google+