The intention here is to provide the basic data
on how to make soap from the most basic materials. There are many
fancier soap recipes which make better soaps, as long as you have
all the ingredients.
The first write-up assumes you can just go to a store and buy
the ingredients. The second only assumes you have some animals you
will be butchering and that you have been burning wood fires and
cleverly saved the ashes.
[A. This first write-up is taken from Hulda
Clarks book, "The Cure for All Diseases," pages
A small plastic dishpan, about 10" x
A glass or enamel 2-quart saucepan
1 can of lye (sodium hydroxide), 12 ounces
3 pounds of lard
Plastic gloves [really; use eye-protection too]
1. Pour 3 cups of very cold water (refrigerate
water overnight first) into the 2-quart saucepan.
2. Slowly and carefully add the lye, a little bit at a time, stirring
it with the a wooden or plastic utensil. (Use plastic gloves for
this; test them for holes first.) Do not breathe the vapor or lean
over the container or have children nearby. Above all _use no metal_.
The mixture will get very hot. In olden days, a sassafras branch
was used to stir, imparting a fragrance and insect deterrent for
mosquitoes, lice, fleas and ticks.
3. Let cool at least one hour in a safe place. Meanwhile, the unwrapped
lard should be warming up to room temperature in the plastic dishpan.
4. Slowly and carefully, pour the lye solution into the dishpan
with the lard. The lard will melt. Mix thoroughly, at least 15 minutes,
until it looks like thick pudding.
5. Let it set until the next morning, then cut it into bars. It
will get harder after a few days. Then package.
If you wish to make soap based on olive oil,
use about 48 ounces. It may need to harden for a week.
Make chips from your home-made soap cake. Add
enough hot water to dissolve. Add citric acid to balance the pH
(7 to 8). If you do not, this soap may be too harsh for your skin.
Basic Method When There Are No Stores!
[This write-up was taken from one done by Marietta Ellis
concerning the soap-making practices of colonial America, with the
tense mainly changed from the past into the present.]
Saponification is a very big chemical word for
the rather complex but easy to create soap making reaction. Saponification
is what happens when a fatty acid meets an alkali. When fats or
oils, which contain fatty acids are mixed with a strong alkali,
the alkali first splits the fats or oils into their two major parts
fatty acids and glycerin. After this splitting of the fats or oils,
the sodium or potassium part of the alkali joins with the fatty
acid part of the fat or oils. This combination is then the potassium
or sodium salt of the fatty acid. As we said at the start, this
Soap Making Takes Three Basic Steps
1.Making of the wood ash lye.
2.Rendering or cleaning the fats.
3.Mixing the fats and lye solution together and boiling the mixture
to make the soap.
First Let's Make The Lye
In making soap the first ingredient required
is a liquid solution of potash commonly called lye.
The lye solution was obtained by placing wood
ashes in a bottomless barrel set on a stone slab with a groove and
a lip carved in it. The stone in turn rested on a pile of rocks.
To prevent the ashes from getting in the solution a layer of straw
and small sticks was placed in the barrel then the ashes were put
on top. The lye was produced by slowly pouring water over the ashes
until a brownish liquid oozed out the bottom of the barrel. This
solution of potash lye was collected by allowing it to flow into
the groove around the stone slab and drip down into a clay vessel
at the lip of the groove.
Some colonists used an ash hopper for the making
of lye instead of the barrel method. The ash hopper, was kept in
a shed to protect the ashes from being leached unintentionally by
a rain fall. Ashes were added periodically and water was poured
over at intervals to insure a continuous supply of lye. The lye
dripped into a collecting vessel located beneath the hopper.
[Use whatever you have available or can make.]
Now The Fats Are Prepared
The preparation of the fats or grease to be
used in forming the soap is the next step. This consists of cleaning
the fats and grease of all other impurities contained in them.
The cleaning of fats is called rendering and
is the smelliest part of the soap making operation. Animal fat,
when removed from the animals during butchering, must be rendered
before soap of any satisfactory quality can be made from it. This
rendering removes all meat tissues that still remain in the fat
sections. Fat obtained from cattle is called tallow while fat obtained
from pigs is called lard.
If soap is being made from grease saved from
cooking fires, it is also rendered to remove all impurities that
have collected in it. The waste cooking grease being saved over
a period of time without the benefits of refrigeration usually become
rancid, so this cleaning step is very important to make the grease
sweeter. It will result in a better smelling soap. The soap made
from rancid fats or grease will work just as well as soap made from
sweet and clean fats but not be as pleasant to have around and use.
To render, fats and waste cooking grease are
placed in a large kettle and an equal amount of water is added.
Then the kettle is placed over the open fire outdoors. Soap making
is an outside activity. The smell from rendering the fats is too
strong to wish in anyone's house. The mixture of fats and water
are boiled until all the fats have melted. After a longer period
of boiling to insure completion of melting the fats, the fire is
stopped and into the kettle is placed another amount of water about
equal to the first amount of water. The solution is allowed to cool
down and left over night. By the next day the fats have solidified
and floated to the top forming a layer of clean fat. All the impurities
being not as light as the fat remain in water underneath the fat.
You may have observed this in your own kitchen.
When a stew or casserole containing meat has been put in the refrigerator,
you could see the next day the same fat layer.
Finally The Soap Making Can Begin
In another large kettle or pot the fat is placed
with the amount of lye solution determined to be the correct amount.
This is easier said than done. We will discuss it more later. Then
this pot is placed over a fire again outdoors and boiled. This mixture
is boiled until the soap is formed. This is determined when the
mixture boils up into a thick frothy mass, and a small amount placed
on the tongue causes no noticeable "bite". This boiling
process could take up to six to eight hours depending on the amount
of the mixture and the strength of the lye.
Soft and Hard Soap
Soap made with wood ash lye does not make a
hard soap but only a soft soap. When the fire is put out and the
soap mixture allowed to cool, the next day reveals a brown jelly
like substance that feels slippery to the touch, makes foam when
mixed with water, and cleans. This is the soft soap the colonists
had done all their hard work to produce. The soft soap is then poured
into a wooden barrel and ladled out with a wooden dipper when needed.
To make hard soap, common salt is thrown in
at the end of the boiling. If this is done a hard cake of soap forms
in a layer at the top of the pot. As common salt may be expensive
and hard to get, it is not usually wasted to make hard soap. Common
salt is more valuable to give to the livestock and the preserving
of foods. Soft soap works just as well as hard and for these reasons
the colonists, making their own soap, did not make hard soap bars.
In towns and cities where there were soap makers
making soap for sale, the soap could be converted to the hard soap
by the addition of salt. As hard bars it will be easier to store
and transport. Hard bars produced by the soap maker were often scented
with oils such as lavender, wintergreen, or caraway and were sold
as toilet soap to persons living in the cities or towns.
Hard soap is not cut into small bars and wrapped
as has been familiar. Soap made by the soap makers is poured into
large wooden frames and removed when cooled and hard.
The amount of soap a customer wants can be cut
from the large bar. Soap is sold usually by the pound. Small wrapped
bars were not available until the middle of the 19th century [nor
maybe shortly after the end of the 20th].
Difficulties in Making Soap
The hardest part is in determining if the lye
is of the correct strength, as we have said. In order to learn this,
the soap maker floats either a potato or an egg in the lye. If the
object floats with a specified amount of its surface above the lye
solution, the lye is declared fit for soap making. Most of the colonists
felt that lye of the correct strength would float a potato or an
egg with an area the size of a modern quarter above the surface.
To make a weak lye stronger, the solution can either be boiled down
more or the lye solution can be poured through a new batch of ashes.
To make a solution weaker, water is added [more data to be added
here on how to determine the correct strength of lye].
A Pennsylvania Dutch recipe once carefully warned
that a sassafras stick was the only kind of implement suitable for
stirring the mixture [see Hulda Clark comment above re sassafras]
and the stirring must be done always in the same direction [?].
Not Always Done Down On The Farm
Soap making as a trade had grown in direct proportion
with the growth of the colonies. Even in the very early days there
were tradesmen making and selling soap, who were called soapboilers.
Since tallow was the main ingredient for both soap and candles,
many tradesmen were producers of both. These tradesmen were called
Potash and Pearlash Trade
Soap making and the manufacture of potash and
pearlashes were closely related trades of colonial America. Pearlash,
purified potash, because of its many industrial uses, was an important
item of export for the colonies. Pearlash, in addition to soap making,
was used for making glass both in the colonies and in Europe....
Potash is the residue remaining after all the
water has been driven off from the lye solution obtained from the
leaching of wood ashes. Pearlash is then made from the potash by
baking it in a kiln until all the carbon impurities were burned
off. The fine, white powder remaining was the Pearlash....