Soap Making

Soap is nothing more than a mixture of fats or oils with lye and water. Although soap has been a part of human life for at least the last 2,000 years, its commercial history is very short. Before people learned the connection between bacteria and disease and figured out that soap killed bacteria, cleanliness was not a popular concept. But by the mid-19th century, innumerable fat-lye soaps were on the market, some made with animal fats and others with palm kernel oil, which lathers more easily than tallow soap. These days, commercial soaps and detergents are so plentiful that homemade soaps are a handicraft.

The idea of making one's own soap is attractive for several reasons. First, it is the only way to really know what you are rubbing on your hands or soaking your clothes in. Makers of commercial soap detergents don't list all their ingredients on the package. Those of us who are concerned about ecology have to dislike the detrimental effects of the commercial synthetic detergents that have been widely used since just after World War II. (Although soaps in large concentrations can poison marine life, this rarely happens because the soap decomposes readily.) Second, soap is another use for the by-products of slaughtering your animals, making the proposition of raising stock that much more economically efficient. Third, the cost of making homemade soap is much less than that of buying commercial soaps.

Homemade soap leaves clothes with a lovely clean smell. (Use about IV2 c. per load, or more if you're planning on putting a lot of clothes through the same water.) I like homemade soap for dishwashing, too. Here's my testimonial: my glasses have been shinier and my silverware sparklier since I started washing them with homemade soap. I can also see the soap in the rinse water for the dishes because it turns gray very quickly—an advantage over detergents, which are so clear that you think you have washed them away, but you end up eating them! Homemade soap works okay in lukewarm water if you can give a halfway ample hot rinse. It's also fine for human bodies if it is properly aged. You can wash your face and take baths with it. You can use the leftover water to irrigate garden or flowers, since the soap has no additives that harm the environment. And homemade soap is a bargain!

If you wonder what using homemade soap flakes is like, just buy some White King. As far as I can tell, it's identical to homemade! Of course, homemade soap doesn't contain the bleach that is present in so many detergents now, so your clothes won't look "white" unless you add a bleaching agent separately to the water. Or you can make your soap with bleach. Homemade soap won't work well in a very hard water unless you use some borax to hold down the "curding." You can put borax in when you make the soap. Using liquid bleach will also help hold down the curds. Books on Soap Making: The Art of Soap Making: A Complete Introduction to the History and Craft of Fine Soap-making, by Merilyn Mohm (1979); Dorothy Richter's Make Your Own Soap! Plain and Fancy (1974); and The Natural Soap Book, by Susan Miller Cavitch, are available from 719962-3228; Milk-Based Soaps, by Casey Makela; The Soapmaker's Companion, by Susan Miller Cavitch; The Handmade Soap Book, by Melinda Coss; Making Natural Liquid Soaps and Making Transparent Soap, both by Catherine Failor; and Melt & Mold Soap Crafting, by C. Kaila Westerman, are available from Storey Books (address in Chpater 1).

The most recent is Elaine C. White's Soap Recipes: Seventy Tried-and-True Ways to Make Soap with Herbs, Beeswax, and Vegetable Oils. Order her book from Valley Hills Press, 1864 Ridgeland Dr., Starkville, MS 39759 ($24 postpaid). Soap-Making Supplies: A homemade bar of soap can be a work of art and/or a way of making money. K & W Popcorn ships 5-gal. coconut oil or 35-lb. bags: 816-359-2030; PO Box 275, 710 E. 24th St., Trenton, MO 64683.

Liberty Natural Products, 8120 SE Stark St., Portland, OR 97215, 800-289-8427; fax 503-256-1182; www.liberty Wholesale only; $50 minimum. They sell essential oils, soapmaking fats, herbs, clays, etc. Lorann Oils offers molds for soap and candies, essential oils, flavorings, and specialty ingredients for soap-, candle-, and food-crafters: 4518 Aurelius Rd., Lansing, MI 48910; 800-862-8620; fax 517-882-0507; [email protected]; SunFeather Natural Soap Company, 1551 State Hwy. 72, Potsdam, NY 13676; 800-771-7627; fax 315-2652902;, offers soap-making books, supplies, and equipment. Free color catalog. Hot Water, Cold Water, Hard Water: Homemade soap is good for washing if you are able to wash in hot water. It isn't good for washing dishes or clothes in cold water, though, because it doesn't dissolve easily, even if you make it into soap flakes. If you use it to wash dishes in hard water, it leaves a ring around the sink. Hard water contains calcium, magnesium, and iron, which, with soap, form compounds, or "curds," that resemble sticky gum. Use borax or washing soda to soften hard water before adding soap. Make sure the soap is dissolved before you add clothes or dishes. Otherwise you risk having little particles of undissolved soap left among your clothes. A really good hand rinse will easily get rid of those particles, but automatic washers aren't built to handle that. You'll have to agitate the water to dissolve the flakes into solution and produce suds. Use water as hot as your hands can stand— or hotter. Great-Grandmother literally boiled her clothes with homemade soap in a big iron pot over a fire in the backyard on washday. But then, practically everything her family wore was cotton.

soap Jelly: You can solve the dissolving difficulty by heating, or adding hot water to, a concentrated soap mixture, stirring it into solution, and then cooling. The old-timers called this dissolved soap "soap jelly" and made it ahead. They used it in washing machines and for washing dishes because soap jelly easily melts in hot water and makes thick suds. To make soap jelly, you cut 1 lb. hard soap into fine shavings and add 1 gal. water. Boil about 10 minutes and then cool. Keep soap jelly covered to prevent drying out. A reader told me an even easier way. She puts homemade soap bars into a few gallon glass jars and pours hot water over. Every day or so she drains off the liquid into a plastic pail, and that liquid is soap jelly. Buying Lye. You can buy lye from the cleaning agents section of a regular supermarket. If they don't carry it, ask. They can order it for you. It may be called sodium hydroxide or caustic soda. Store lye is sold in cans, usually containing about 13 oz., under several different brand names. Note the sodium hydroxide content. It should be 94-98 percent. Lye for soap is different from the lye used for drain openers, which has nitrates and other additives. There is usually a soap recipe on the lye can. Most lye companies will send you further information on soap making upon request. Making Lye. Use ashes from hardwoods, if possible, such as oak, walnut, or fruit wood, since they make a stronger, better lye. Pine, fir, and other evergreens are soft woods. Put the wood ashes in a barrel with a small opening near the base to let the water "leach" through. Set the barrel so that you can put a container under the hole. If your wooden tub or barrel doesn't have a hole, bore one with a drill on the side near the bottom of the barrel. Before putting in your ashes, put several clean rocks or bricks inside the container by the hole and then add a generous layer of straw, if you have it—hay or grass, if you don't. Then you can add your ashes. You can just let them accumulate until you want lye or until your container is full. The most efficient way of proceeding is to then add soft water to your barrel until wa

Leaching Barrel


Layer of Straw

Rock or Bricks

Hole Drilled for Drainage

Non-Metal Container

Leaching Barrel

Layer of Straw

ter begins to run from the tap (this may take awhile). Then plug the tap hole with a cork plug (home brewer's supply houses have them) or something, and let it soak a few days. If you have extra ashes, you can add more ashes and water as the first layer settles in the barrel from the wetting. In 3 days, open the plug and have a wooden tub, crock, or glass container ready to catch the trickle of lye water emerging from the opening.

Lye Concentration. Store lye is just fine if you follow the directions. For homemade lye, put in an egg or potato. If it floats enough that a piece about the size of a quarter is exposed on the surface, the lye is about right for soap making. If it sinks, the lye water needs to be leached another time through fresh ashes or else boiled down until the concentration is strong enough. If your lye isn't strong enough, you'll make soft soap as the pioneers did. Knowing how much homemade lye to use in soap making requires experience. Excess lye makes a coarse, flinty soap that will crumble when shaved and burn you when used. Soap should have a smooth, velvety texture that curls when shaved. If any free lye is present, the soap "bites" when touched with the tongue.

Lye for Cleaning. You can use lye as a cleaning fluid for washing garbage cans; hog, dairy, and poultry housing; and other problem areas. Use about V/i c. liquid lye or 1 can commercial crystals per 10 gal. warm water, or as you like it. In days past, lye was poured down rat holes and also used in making hominy.

fats for Soap: Since soaps and candles both use tallow, pioneer families often produced both at the same time. The grease must be pure, clean, and fresh (or frozen) to obtain soap with a clean, wholesome odor. By "toilet" soap, the old-timers meant soap using fat from butchering rather than drippings; it was a whiter, better-quality soap. "Saddle soap" meant an all-mutton or beef tallow soap. Such a soap was valuable as a cleaner and preserver of leather.

Six pounds of fat and 1 can of lye will make about 9 lb. of soap. Mutton (sheep) or goat tallow (fat) is the hardest of all animal fats, having the highest melting point. Used alone, mutton or goat fat makes a hard, dry soap unless you add extra water or mix the hard fat with softer ones like lard, goose grease, or chicken fat. Beef tallow, once the preferred fat for soap, is next in hardness and also should be mixed with softer fat or additional water. One pound of untrimmed beef fat will get you 1 c. tallow. Lard (pig fat) makes fine soap, giving you 2 c. fat for every pound of meat, although it may be a little soft. Poultry fat is too soft when used alone, so it should be mixed with harder fats. Meat fryings, cracklings, meat trimmings, and other refuse fat must be first clarified and desalted.

You can use any animal or vegetable fat (even salad oil), but not mineral oil. Tallow alone produces a hard soap without much lather. Adding vegetable oils improves the texture. The best vegetable oil by far is coconut oil, which produces a fine sudsing soap similar to a "shaving" soap. (All-lard soap is similar; you can use the coconut oil soap recipe to make it.) Soap made from vegetable oils or soft fats requires less water and needs to dry longer than soap made from tallow. Cottonseed oil is difficult to work with and results in a soft soap, while olive oil is better for soap making than other vegetable oils.

Store your fat in a cool, dry place while you accumulate enough for soap making. When you do have enough, make it into soap promptly, because fat will become rancid over time, and rancid fat has to be cured of that problem before it can be used (more on that later). Soap improves with age; fat doesn't.

To accumulate fats, each day save your fats of all kinds. If you boil meat, cool the pot of liquid and remove the fat. Then put the accumulated fat on and melt it. Cook long enough to get all the water out (if you don't, it will mold or spoil). Then fold several thicknesses of cheesecloth or any loose-weave cotton, and strain the melted fat. Always be careful when handling hot fat, since it can burn you. Keep all fat in a tightly lidded pan, away from any strong-smelling stuff, until you are ready to make soap. You may want to freeze it, but if you can store it in a cool place, it will keep for several weeks.

Rendering Fat. Render any surplus fat from butchering or fatty trimmings from cutting up. Grind the fat or cut it into pieces. Put it into a large kettle on top of the stove or in a large pan in the oven. Add about 1 qt. water for each 10 lb. fat. Use a moderate temperature and stir occasionally. When the fat is liquefied and the solids (cracklings) are brown and settling, carefully strain the fat. You may want to do this more than once. Your soap will be as white as your fat is. If your fat is not pure enough, you may end up with yellow soap with an unpleasant odor. If you do not want to strain the fat, scrape the sediment off its bottom, pour off the liquid, and repeat as necessary. Years ago, old-timers had a "fat press" for pressing out lard or tallow. It was an iron kettle about IV2 feet in diameter, with a sieve in the bottom and a big dasher that fit over it and could be screwed down tight to put pressure on the cracklings. Clarifying Drippings and Removing Salt Put the leftover cooking grease into a kettle with an equal amount of water. Use a large pot so it won't be likely to boil over. The day before soap making is a good time to do this. Bring to a boil, stir, and add 1 qt. cold water for each 1 gal. drippings. Stir to break up any lumps. When the water boils, let it set and settle. Then cool and skim fat from surface with skimmer, or refrigerate and clean the cake of fat as described above, or strain. Repeat these procedures until you are satisfied with the condition of your grease. I would advise not even bothering with leftover grease that has absorbed strong smells, but sometimes you can cut the effect by adding a little lemon or vinegar to an amount of water equal to half the amount of fat and boiling them together. (Soft fats that won't get firm even when refrigerated have to be skimmed, of course.)

Removing Rancidity. Boil the sour or rancid fat in a mixture of 5 parts water to 1 part vinegar. Cool and skim fat, or refrigerate and remove fat cake. Remelt the fat; for each gallon of fat, add 1 qt. cold water. Stir slightly. Cool and skim fat or remove fat cake. Repeat as necessary. Fat that is rancid is fine for soap making but not for eating ever again. Other Soap Ingredients

Water. Water is a basic ingredient of soap making. You need pure water, free of chemicals that can combine with the lye. Don't use hard water unless you neutralize the chemicals in it with washing soda. "Hard water" means water with minerals dissolved in it. Rainwater isn't hard, but almost all water from springs, wells, or rivers is, in varying degrees. Measure the water into enameled, wooden, or crockery containers that are easily handled.

You can test how hard your water is by making a solu tion of denatured alcohol or wood alcohol and pure soap. At room temperature, mix in soap a bit at a time until the solution is nearly thick. Then find 2 identical small medicine bottles or spice containers. Put rainwater or distilled water in one and the test water in the other. Use an eye dropper to add soap solution to the distilled water. Shake frequently The idea is to get suds to cover the water surface for 1 minute after the bottle is laid on its side. If you then add the same number of drops to the test water, shaking, you can see how long the suds last there. Soft water will produce a minute's worth of suds; hard water will not. Perfume. Perfumes like oil of sassafras, oil of lavender, and oil of lemon may be added to soap. They used to be cheap, but not any more. Oil of citronella is sometimes suggested, but I wouldn't use it. It's an excellent insect repellent, however. Never use perfumes containing alcohol—they will not last and may cause separation. Experiment to learn just how strong you want your soap to smell. For a start you might use, per 15 lb. tallow: 4 t. oil of sassafras; 2 t. oil of lavender; 11. oil of lemon; 11. oil of cloves; 11. oil of almond; 2 t. oil of pine; or V21. rose geranium oil.

You can make your own rose geranium perfume by making a tea of the rose geranium leaves and adding it to your soap. All soap readily absorbs odors, desirable or undesirable, so it can be perfumed simply by placing with it the petals of any favorite flower or perfume, if you have yet not added a scent.

Coloring. Uncolored soap is fine. A light yellow or marbled effect can be made with liquid butter coloring. You can make your own pink coloring by adding an extract of the blossoms of pink roses or tulips. A green color can be had by pounding the tops of beets (or spinach, parsley, etc.) to extract a few drops of the juice and adding it to the water. (For more ideas, see the section on making food colorings in Chapter 5.)

Borax. Borax quickens the sudsing action of soap because it helps to hold down homemade soap's tendency to curd in hard water and it's a natural fabric softener. Because they used borax, the old-timers could hang their clothes on a line and they'd come out soft.

Since chemically, borax doesn't play any role in the soap recipe—it's just a physical additive—using more or less doesn't affect the quality of your soap a bit. I've seen recipes with anywhere from 2 T. to 3 c. borax per can of lye. You can buy it at your grocery store. The exact amount you should add depends on how hard your water is. You can make a batch one way and see how it washes, and then either add or subtract borax the next time according to what you learn. Or you can leave the borax out of the soap recipe completely and add it at the time you wash clothes. That will give you a good notion of just how much borax to include the next time you make soap. Air. If you want your soap to float, fold air into it when it begins to have a creamy consistency. You fold in air just as you would fold an egg white into a cake mixture. Test for floating by flicking a few drops on cold water. Rosin. Adding rosin to soap increases its lathering ability but makes the soap darker and softer. Rosin soap is okay for laundry. Add 8 oz. crushed rosin to 5Vi lb. fat and heat until the rosin melts or is dissolved in the fat. Cool fat to 100°F and add 90 lye solution made of 1 can lye dissolved in 2l/i pt. water.

saponification: Soap making is a chemical process.

When lye and fat are brought together under the right conditions, they react to make soap, which is an alkali salt of fatty acids and glycerin. The process is called "saponification." It may take several weeks for complete saponification to take place. This is one reason that aging is so important in soap making. Soon after it is made, soap actually contains some free lye, but the longer it ages, the less likely it is to contain any free lye. Soap made from lard or soap that has been boiled requires longer aging before it becomes hard and ready for use. Once it is saponified, the soap will never separate into fat and lye again. In homemade soap, the glycerin is left in. In commercial soap making, it is separated and sold.

Lye to Fat to Water

To make good soap you need correct proportions of these basic soap ingredients.

Lye Fat Water

3A C. + 2T. 7 c. 23A c.

Cold Process. The process I use to make soap is the cold process. To make the very best soap (mine is not), use exact weights, measures, and temperatures. A dairy (floating) thermometer and household scales are useful. Soap has to have the right proportion of fat to alkali. Too much fat makes for an ineffective emulsifier, but too much alkali will make soap that's too harsh, especially for skin. The saponification has to be nearly complete. Free fat can become rancid, smelly brown spots on your soap. Free bits of lye can burn the skin.

Combine lye, water, and fat (see "Lye to Fat to Water" table for proportions). First add the lye slowly to your water when making a solution from the lye crystals, and then add the lye solution slowly to the melted fat. Stir evenly, preferably only in one direction. Rapid addition of the lye to your fat, or of the fat to the lye, can cause separation. So can jerky, uneven stirring. Boiled, or hot-process, soap is probably superior to the kind I describe here, but it's a lot trickier to make. Use an enameled kettle, never aluminum.

Confused already? This will help. The Basic Steps of Soap Making 1. Slowly add 1 can lye to 5 c. cold water in an earthenware or unchipped enameled or "ceramic on steel" container. Steel or aluminum under the enamel is okay. Don't use cast iron. Ask at a kitchenware store or at a homesteader's supplier if you are not sure what pot to use.

Mix lye and water outdoors or near open windows, because the mixing produces heat. There will be strong fumes that you can see. Try not to breathe them; they'll make you cough. Don't use anything but a wooden spoon to stir. Be careful not to splash it on your skin. Stir constantly until the lye crystals are all dissolved. Now let it cool. Cool the lye solution to 70-75°F if your fat is lard (pig fat), 90-95°F for an all-tallow soap.

2. Heat 10 c. melted fat. A relatively large proportion of fat gives you a milder soap. If the temperature of the lye water (including borax if it's in your recipe) is about 75 to 80°F at the time of mixing with the melted fat, the fat should be heated to the appropriate temperature, as shown in the "Heating Fat" table. Too high a temperature darkens the color of the soap and may keep it from setting.

Heating Fat

Type of Fat Temperature

Vegetable oil 110-115T

Bear 115°F

Goose 115°F

Pork 120°F

Beef 130°F

Deer 130°F

Sheep 130°F

3. Pour the fat slowly into the lye water when you have each at the right temperature.

4. Add your borax, perfume, coloring, or other extras at this point.

5. Stir in one direction until you have soap. This usually takes about 15 minutes, but it could happen in 5 minutes or take an hour, depending on temperature. If you have waited for your ingredients to cool, you should have no problem. If you're having a setting problem, you might try setting the mixing container in cold water. If, on the other hand, the soap starts setting on the edges, stir faster or even beat it. Soap starts out dark-colored; as you stir, it gets somewhat lighter in color. When all the lye gets mixed with all the fat, saponification happens. You'll notice a cloudiness first. It's ready to pour when it is like thick pea soup, and drops that are trailed from the spoon stand momentarily on the surface of it. It's also ready if the stirring spoon will stand by itself in the middle. If you pour too soon, the soap may separate into 2 layers, the bottom hard and brittle and the top greasy. But if you wait too long, you'll end up with incomplete, odd-shaped bars with air pockets.

6. Pour into molds. Scrape all the mixture out of the bowl. Your soap will be a little dark when first made but will turn white in a week.

This sounds like a lot of work, but it isn't after you make a couple of batches. All these little things will soon come naturally. There are infinite variations on this procedure, but it's the one I know best and it's relatively simple. It makes a good basic raw (cold, not cooked) soap for soap flakes with which to wash dishes and clothes. But later on, I have some even easier ones for you that readers have sent me. soap Molds: What you can best use for a mold depends on whether you're planning to make soap flakes or bar soap. For soap flakes, you can use anything except metal containers for a mold—serving bowls, enamel pans, wooden boxes, plastic containers, and cottage cheese cartons (handy because you can cut them off when you're done). Avoid containers with paint or dyes that the soap could absorb. Have your molds ready before you start, and expect to dispose of them once the soap hardens. Grease

1. Lye is caustic soda. It burns, even in tiny flakes. Lye in the eyes or on skin or clothing can cause severe burns. Obviously, you should not swallow it.

2. Keep children and animals away from lye.

3. The fumes of lye in water can burn your throat and chest. Work in a well-ventilated space, outside or near a window. Don't breathe the fumes!

4. Keep newspapers handy to sop up spills.

5. Don't keep lye or a lye solution in metal; lye reacts with metal. Don't put it in aluminum, because it will react with the aluminum. Don't put it in tin, iron, or stainless steel. It's best contained in plastic, glass, stoneware, or unchipped enamel.

6. Be careful with glass. Water and lye can heat enough to break glass.

7. Measuring spoons of stainless steel are okay, but cups should be glass or heat-resistant plastic. Utensils exposed to lye should be enamel, crockery, glass, or wood—and they should never be used for any thing else. Rinsing utensils after they have been in a lye solution makes them safe to handle, but remnants of lye in cracks can contaminate foods.

8. Use only wooden spoons. A slotted spoon is good for stirring. Better yet, stirring with a piece of kindling will save spoiling a good wooden spoon.

9. Never add hot, or even warm, water to canned store-bought lye crystals. They heat up anyway when combined with water, and the hot water will cause spattering.

10. For protection when making soap, wear rubber gloves and keep a bowl of vinegar nearby, so if you spatter lye on your hands or arms, you can dip them immediately into the vinegar to neutralize it.

First Aid for Lye Burns

Be extremely careful when working with lye. If lye comes in contact with human skin, it causes a chemical burn. Flush immediately with water. If it is not flushed, it will continue to burn. If possible, add a little salt to the water. If water is not available, use soda water or soda pop—they're better than nothing. If, after 5 to 10 minutes your skin is still red and painful, seek burn care in a hospital emergency room.

If lye is swallowed, call 911. Swallowing lye can be fatal. When swallowed, it burns the esophagus, so vomiting (which may be inevitable) should be avoided. Take milk or ice cream to help neutralize the lye's chemical reaction. Although vinegar, orange juice, and so forth also neutralize lye, they should not be ingested because the combination creates heat. This rise in temperature will burn physically in addition to the chemical burn.

If lye gets into the eye, call 911. Flush the eye immediately with water; add salt to the water if possible. Again, use milk if available, to neutralize the chemical reaction. Most likely you should get to an emergency room as soon as possible. Do not use vinegar or boric acid solution.

But the best advice is: Be Careful!

the molds with Vaseline and then pour the soap carefully into the mold. Smooth the top surfaces with a plastic spatula.

Keep setting soap away from the heat. It takes from a few hours to several days for the soap to harden enough to be removed, and it shrinks as it hardens. Soaps with higher amounts of soft fats will take longer to dry. To get it out of the mold, slip a paring knife around the edge and pry some. The longer it sets, the easier it is to get out. The Vaseline gives the soap a nice surface finish. Let the soap dry at room temperature for about 2 weeks, but keep it from freezing, since

Grate thoroughly aged soap for soap flakes

Grate thoroughly aged soap for soap flakes

Bar soap may be neatly cut with a wire

Bar soap may be neatly cut with a wire that stops the curing process and produces a too-soft soap.

To make flakes, use a grater with medium holes, or put the soap through a food chopper, or shave with a knife. Once the flakes are completely dry and hard, you can store them in a cardboard box, paper bag, or what-have-you.

Although the soap is soft and easy to flake immediately, let it age as long as possible before making flakes. The longer the soap has aged, or cured, the more complete the saponification and the less the risk of free lye. Five-year-old soap crumbles into something very much like detergent in consistency. Age soap in an open box in open air for 8 or 10 months or a year if you can. Don't allow the soap to freeze for at least the first 2 weeks. The best curing is at room temperature. If you're desperate, the soap can be used after a month has passed. If you grate it prematurely and find that it still has so much moisture in it that it comes out lumpy, you can rush it by first flaking and then drying it in a 150°F oven. When thoroughly dry, pulverize it.

To mold bar soap, pour soap that is ready to mold into a soaked wooden box lined with a cotton cloth that has been wetted and then wrung as dry as possible. Or you could use Plexiglas or glass pans lined with wax paper, or milk cartons. If you have molds the size of soap bars, those are most convenient of all. You can construct an open wooden grid that fits into a box and makes several bars of soap at the same time. Cover with cardboard and then with a rug or blanket to retain heat while the soap is texturing out. Some people cut the blocks into bars only a few hours after pouring. If you do this, be careful. The saponification is probably not complete, and the lye in the solution can still burn you. Some people prefer to leave the soap molds undisturbed for at least 24 hours before cutting and piling. Others take a knife and score the soap into bars a few hours after making, let it sit overnight, and then turn them out on a board and finish breaking the cuts so the bars will separate nicely. When well set, remove the soap and cut into convenient-sized cakes. To remove the soap from a mold made of a damp box lined with cotton, just lift the soap by the ends of the overhanging cloth lining. Pile the bars on top of each other so air circulates around each cake. The soap can be neatly cut by wrapping it once with a fine wire such as piano or guitar wire, crossing the ends, and pulling.

Many of the commercial molds for decorative candles can be used to make soap too. Just avoid the metal ones. Those molds that shape the top of the soap must be pressed tightly since soap hardens more slowly than wax, especially in a closed mold. Remove the soap before it is completely hard so you can smooth the edges and fix any small flaws. Remember that the soap is still fairly caustic at this stage. Soap on a Rope. Double a washable cord and wrap the ends with thread for 2 inches. Stick this end into setting soap and let harden.

storing Bar Soap: After the soap has completely dried, you can wrap it in wax paper, tissue, plastic wrap, or paper envelopes. Colored papers may stain the soap. Aluminum may interact with the alkalis. Scents will fade from soaps unless they are wrapped.


Gertrude Johnson of Lamont, WA, wrote me, "I've made soap for years, but mine never turned out to my satisfaction until I ran across this recipe. Start with 10 c. melted fat (lard and suet is a good combination), and stir in I c. liquid bleach until well blended. Dissolve I can lye in 6 qt. water (don't use aluminum pan). Do this outdoors, being careful not to breathe the fumes or splash any liquid on your hands, face, or arms. Stir with wooden spoon or paddle until well dissolved. Stir the bleach/fat mixture into the lye solution and stir well again. Set aside for 4 to 6 days, stirring frequently.

It will start out thin and watery, but by the fourth or fifth day it will be solid to the bottom of your old canner (my soap kettle). Put on the stove and melt and then boil over medium heat stirring all the while, until melted and thick like honey. Pour into molds, cover, and let cool. Cut into bars. Store in a dry place for several months to cure. I Just grate this and then melt it in water to make thick suds to use in my automatic washer, and it makes my clothes clean-smelling and white. Besides, the suds don't ruin the soil and water as detergents do." Since I first published Gertrude's recipe, lots of people have written to tell me what good soap it made for them.

VIOLETS SOAP-SHAKING TECHNIQUE Violet Stewart is a wonderful pioneer lady from Okay, OK, who has helped me a lot with the writing of this book. She wrote me, "Weigh fat I make only small batches at a time since it is easier to handle. Granite pots are best to use. Do not use glass or aluminum. Aluminum will turn soap dark—besides, it ruins the aluminum; lye eats it Melt the fat and do not let it get hot Just melted. Set aside and measure out 2'Apt cold water for 6 lb. melted fat Measure water into pot large enough to hold the amount Slowly add I can of commercial lye and stir with a wooden stick that's long enough so that lye doesn't spatter on your hand. Stir gently until lye dissolves. Pour in your 6 lb. melted fat stirring gently while pouring the fat Fat must never be hot or it may explode when added to lye. Keep moving gently for about 20 minutes, and it will get about like honey. The fat should feel warm to the hand. Have molds ready. Pour soap into molds and put where draft will not hit it Each batch makes 9 lb. finished soap. I make it every time I get 6 lb. clean fat"

ABRASIVE SOAP To make a regular mechanic's soap, add pumice stone, emery dust or Tripoli powder. Castor oil or some other light mineral oil is also needed to prevent the abrasive from settling. Dissolve 3 lb. homemade soap in 6 c. water (more if the soap is very dry). Add I T. borax and 3 oz. castor oil or other light mineral oil. When cooled to a creamy consistency, work in 5 lb. pumice stone powder. Pour into widemouthed jars or cans, cover tightly, and use as a paste. Or pour into a mold and, when hard, cut into cakes. Or you can add 5 to 6 lb. of the abrasive to the regular soap mixture when it thickens, and stir until thoroughly blended.

FLOWER SOAP Take 4 packed c. fragrant flowers (such as rose, cherry, or apple), 4 c. rendered tallow, 2 c. cold soft water, vegetable oil, and Ai c. plus 2 T. lye flakes. Gather flowers just before you make the soap. Immerse them in the melted tallow. Heat for an hour just at the melting point Allow to harden overnight and then remelt (don't overheat) and strain. Add enough vegetable oil to flower tallow to total 5 cups. Cool. Stir lye into cold water until dissolved. Grease molds with vaseline. Proceed to cool, mix, and mold as for any other soap.

"CASTILE" SOAP This one is a very high-grade soap: use 24 oz. olive oil, 38 oz. good tallow, and 24 oz. coconut oil. Have fats at 90°F. Use I can lye and 2 pt water cooled to 90°F. Follow basic soap-making procedures to complete.

& COCONUT OIL SOAP A pure coconut oil soap gives a very profuse but thin lather. For a thicker lather, use part tallow. Pure coconut oil soap is made by using I can lye, 4Ai lb. coconut oil, and 2Ai pt water. Have lye solution at 70°F, oil at 130°F. Follow basic soap-making procedures to complete.

<i> MYSTERY PALM OIL SOAP This recipe was sent to me by Randee Greenwald, a Peace Corps volunteer working in Cameroon, a country in western Africa. Like many Westerners in non-Western settings, Randee wrote me to say this book had been useful and to help me make it more so. She shared her soap recipe, adapted to the local village economy. This recipe requires 5 liters water, 5 liters palm oil, and 500 grams (17.5 oz.) caustic soda. (A liter is just a bit more than a quart.) "Palm oil can be produced in the villages. The oil has to be cooked first It takes anywhere from Vi hour to an hour to cook out all the impurities. It then must be allowed to cool awhile. The caustic soda must be bought in town. Using a plastic bucket add the caustic soda to the water and stir until it's dissolved. Let it cool for a couple of minutes and add the oil."

Now here this recipe runs into a problem. A mouse chewed off a bit of the edge of the letter during the years I stored it waiting to write this new edition. After the gnawed-away place, it continues: "... ached [be bleached?] first— and takes anywhere from Ai hour to an hour to cook out and stir... [another mouse-eaten chunk, blank?] with a wooden stick This takes quite some time—an hour or more. You know when the soap ... [is done?] when your arms break or when you stop and it does not separate. You can leave the mixture in the plastic bucket or pour it into molds. It takes about 3 weeks to dry." (Anybody who can supply the mystery words, I'd love to hear from you!) Natural Sudsing Agents: a number of plants (mostly tropical) produce a substance called saponin that can enhance the sudsing quality of handmade soap. Saponin is commonly obtained from soapbark, a South American tree, but a few saponin-yielding plants grow in the northern United States and Canada as well. Saponaria officinalis, a common weed known as chimney pink, soap-wort, bruisewort, bouncing bet, or latherwort, has an abundance of saponin in its roots. It has dense pink and white flowers in late summer and early fall. Although all parts of the plant have saponin, you can dig up the roots and crush them in water to obtain a foam that is good for cleansing silk and wool. Another plant that has saponin is Saponaria ocymoides, a small pink-flowered perennial. Sweet pepper-bush, a species of white alder, grows along the coast in the United States and in lower Canada, mostly in swamps. Lamb's quarters, a summer weed, also has the soaping agent. And finally, quinoa growers have to get rid of the saponin before eating their grain. To extract saponin, crush or grind the plants, boil them in alcohol, and strain the hot liquid. While it's cooling, it will produce a white crumbly powder that easily sudses in water.

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    How to store oldfashion homemade lye soup?
    3 years ago