How to make soap the ancient way

First step is making LYE WATER!
Soap making uses a caustic solution known as “Lye Water” which has high ph.

Lye Water is made out of wood ashes and water.

You will need to burn wood to recover the ashes to make the lye and most woods will do but hardwood is preferred. These preferred items are palm branches, dried banana peels, cocoa pod oak wood.

Your wood should be burned in a very hot fire to make very white ashes.After the fire is out and cold, gather only the finest of ash. Avoid any wood chips left. Place in a non metal container.

Step two is getting Soft Water
Water from a spring or from showers of rain is called “soft water” , because it does not have metallic or acidic chemicals in it.

Regular well or river water is not desired because because it might contain chemicals that will interfere with the soap making chemistry. This also means most water from the tap as they contain carbonates which will neutralize your lye.

Fill your bucket or barrel with white ashes to within about four inches of the top.

Bring a half bucket of soft water to a boil and pour over the ashes. Now slowly add more soft water. Do not add so much water that the ashes swim/float around.

Let this sit over night or even longer. The liquid should be brown now. You will need to separate the ash from the lye water. via straining or sifting or however you can figure to separate the ash from the brown lye water.

Test your lye water if you want to know if you have it at the proper strength usually the color of bourbon is right. If an egg or a potato will float just below half way or if a feather starts to dissolve then your lye water is good. If however the egg sinks then  boil some more water and pour that over some ash and add the lye water to the mix and again let it set over night.

Boiling down the lye water is another way of strengthening it but you obviously will not be able to make as much soap.

Be sure the egg doesn’t rise to high (less than half submerged) as this is an indication that the lye is to strong. Add soft water until the egg doesn’t float that high.

Next step is getting some Animal Fat.

The fat of most animals can be used in the making of soap but bird fat should only be used sparingly. Place the pure fat that is trimmed off  in a cast iron frying pan or a big pot.

Melt the fat until it turns into a liquid over low heat.

Pour the melted grease through straining cloths, preferably cheese-cloth

Now add equal amounts of water and grease and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat source and add 1/4 as much water. Set aside and let the grease and water solution cool. When the fat has hardened remove the dirty stuff leaving only the clean. Repeat until the dirty looking fat is gone.

On the last “washing” add some salt. One spoon full should suffice.

Fats gathered from cooking can be used but you will need to do the washing process with the addition of vinegar or lemon juice. For each cup (.25 liters) of fat at a couple of spoonfuls of lemon juice and 1/2 cup (.12 liters) of water and boil.

If the smell can not be removed this way then discard and forget about making soap with this.

This hardened fat can be stored for later use for a couple of weeks.

The next step is where experience will make you better over time. You must get the right proportions of grease to lye. 12 parts of lye to 1 part of grease is about right.

Mix the lye and ten quarts (9.4 liters) of water, and bring to a boil. Add 3 pounds (1.36kg) grease and bring to a boil. Then add 4 quarts (3.78 liters) of water and continue cooking it down. When the mixture is the consistency of heavy syrup, pour it into a mold. Cut into bars when cold.

Obviously adjust amounts to fit what you have available.

Leave some extra lye and grease unused so that you can adjust the concentration of the soap to get it right if the first time the concentration is a bit off.

Leave the new soap undisturbed for two days before removing from mold/bucket. Now cut into bars and place in a well-ventilated area to cure and dry out. Cure like this for at least three weeks in a dark, dry place with ventilation. You now have soap to wash with.

When combining the lye and grease, keep heating the mixture. The liquid will become stringy and muddy-looking. Continue to add lye water until the mixture looks quite clear, and not so muddy.

If a thick scum of grease forms on top, more lye is needed. If the soap mixture does not thicken, and no scum appears, more grease is needed.

Shea butter and coconut oil can be added for moisturizing.Brewing herbs in water will make a herb tea which you can infuse your soap with!Olive oil is also commonly added.

Note:if you add extra stuff you will need to recalculate the water and lye needed as the ratio will be changed.

Soap calculator

A good tool for calculating lye needed for soap making.


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