How to make a Cheap and Easy Alternative to an age-old classic, HomeMade Lye Soap.
O.K., I just had to include a soap tutorial in my first post. Soap is an interesting topic, and I’m always surprised how many people must think it’s mind-numbingly boring, as they seem to skip over any soapmaking article they can find.
This makes me sad because I feel like soapmaking has a lot of history and provides us with a peek into our past. I’ve truly enjoyed learning about the origins of soapmaking, which go back much farther than you might expect!
Here’s what I’ve learned-
One of the things folks find most challenging about making “real” lye soap is the long, tedious process.
Let’s face it; most people don’t have access to a rainwater collection barrel, rendered down animal fat, or a tall bucket of potash!
Nowadays, we wouldn’t think of going through the rigors of making homemade soap because it’s inexpensive and readily available. But to have soaps that are inexpensive and easy to obtain, there needs to be some tradeoff. Unfortunately, for modern soaps to be affordable, the ingredients are some weird chemical by-products with coloring agents to make them more appealing to the nose and eyes.
In my opinion- Using a cheap chemical cocktail is not a fair tradeoff for an easy solution to an age-old problem!
Just remember…to make soap, all you need is fat, water and lye-
Old timers’ used stream water and white wood ash to clean pots and pans. This was common practice and worked like a charm back in the day. Little did they know that their method was also non-polluting and good for the environment. This worked great in the field, and the process was refined in the home and now could be made into bar soaps and household cleaners.
I wanted to try this for myself.
So after messing around with many different hot and cold soap-making techniques, I created my modern recipe that is quick and simple. It starts with the three main ingredients…FAT, WATER, AND LYE.
Simple is best.
For my fat, I use the cheapest commercial lard that I can find.
The water needs to be distilled and free from chemicals or heavy minerals.
The lye I use is in dry pellet form and is %100 percent Sodium Hydroxide.
Lye is very stable in this form and can be found in most hardware or supermarkets, it’s most commonly used to clean drains.
How To Make Lye Soap
You will need the following items:
Stainless steel pot (no iron or aluminum)
Stainless steel spoon
Hand mixer….(A stick blender helps it come to trace faster.)
Bowls…(To measure fat and water.)
Container dedicated to lye water (I use an old plastic bucket)
Digital scale that weighs in ounces to the tenths place (e.g., 2.3oz)*** The first few batches, I used a measuring cup to hold the pre-measured pellets, earlier measured by weight. (I took a few notes for my recipe and now have weight by volume conversion. There is no need for me to use a scale for the next batches. just use caution and borrow a scale in the beginning!)
Thermometer (I use a cheap laser thermometer* Unless you are making a fancy soap needing more ingredients… I found a thermometer useless. I mixed all in a large glass mixing bowl early on and the near 200 degrees reached by mixing both pellets INTO water…the lard simply melted away and was worked in when stirred. I Used a careful touch to the side of the bowl for assurance. This small-batch needs not a stovetop, microwave, or heat source to pre-melt the lard.)
Mold to pour soap in
Wax paper…(To line mold if necessary.)
Towels…(To cover the mold when finished.)
***Safety glasses and rubber gloves***
1.) Measure ( 7oz) of water and ( 4.4oz) of lye in 2 separate containers, then combine by pouring the lye into the water and stirring until fully dissolved. This should be done in stainless steel or a heavy plastic bowl.
***Note: the liquid is now caustic and HOT!
Be sure not to breathe in the fumes, and it’s best to do this step outside. Don’t be discouraged or scared to use lye. Treat it as you would bleach-The chemical reaction when water and sodium hydroxide is mixed results in very high temperatures, so both the bowl and lye water will be scolding hot!
2.) While the lye water is cooling outside, melt the lard (32oz) and set it aside to cool to 100-120 degrees F. (For this step, you can use a stovetop or microwave oven but most of the time now, I simply add room temperature lard to the lye/water mix. The heat generated by way of a chemical reaction does the job fine.)
You can measure fats and lye-water by weight or by volume. I have done this on a digital kitchen scale and transferred lye into a measuring cup to find the volume equivalent.
***Note: Both fat and lye-water should be between 100-120 degrees F when you’re ready to mix.
3.) Combine fat and lye water in one large mixing bowl and mix to a pudding-like consistency.
***This is called “trace.” It’s the state at which a spoon pulled through the mixture leaves a slight trace or trail behind. I use a small immersion blender bought specifically for making soap. It was super cheap- like $13 bucks!
4.) When the soap is mixed to trace- pour it into a mold and cover with a towel for at least 24 hours.
*** I like to use a small loaf pan from the dollar store and line it with wax paper.
5.) After 24 hours, remove the soap “log” onto a cutting board and cut into 1″ thick bars. Then transfer to a wire rack and separate the bars for maximum airflow, and let sit for a few weeks to dry.
***Note: They can be used as bar soap immediately, or you can shred them to be then used in handmade laundry soap or dish soap after they lose more moisture and are fully cured.
And that’s it😮
You have now made your first batch of old-fashioned lye soap…but more quickly and easily. Each time you make this soap, it will get easier each time. I promise-jb