Africa Test Project - Lye/Lard Soap is too Hard

Soapmaking Forum

Help Support Soapmaking Forum:

Joined
Jul 15, 2021
Messages
8
Reaction score
7
Location
Arkansas
Hi, we are working with a community soap making project in rural Uganda, Africa. We got a simple recipe using Lye and Lard that we tested in the US before our visit which was supposed to be in June but was canceled due to a COVID resurgence there. Our test soap here turned out fine (it was our first time making soap so that was a pleasant surprise) and it is a very nice soap. Since we were unable to visit, we sent the recipe and funds for the group in Africa to do an in-country test. The fat was 100% lard, after the curing process, the soap was too hard and they had to chip pieces to get it out of the molds. Palm Oil and tallow are readily available but from what I've read on other threads, am I right in thinking they will also create hard soaps? Are there other oils that can be added to reduce the hardness? Thank you very much for any suggestions!
 

dibbles

Supporting Member
Supporting Member
Joined
May 6, 2015
Messages
8,276
Reaction score
11,171
Location
Minnesota
I've never made a 100% lard soap, so I can't speak from experience and may be way off base here, but I don't think I've ever read that a 100% lard soap is too hard to unmold and cut. When you say 'after cure' they had to chip it out of the molds, did you mean it sat in the molds for weeks (4-6 weeks), or did you really mean 'after saponification' (a day or two before trying to unmold).

Questions I would have are
Are you sure they were using scales that measured accurately? If not, it could be lye heavy.
What kind of molds were used (silicone, plastic, wood), and if they were wood molds were they lined with something?
How long did the soap sit in the mold after it was poured?
We are talking about CP, not HP?
 
Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
7,855
Reaction score
14,138
Location
US
They could add liquid oils, but I believe it's more important to figure out what went wrong with this batch, before changing the recipe to try something new. I agree with @dibbles' suggestion that they probably left the soap in the mold too long before trying to cut it. If they failed to line the mold, or they didn't use a non-stick mold (silicone), it would definitely stick to the wood (absorb into the wood, actually).

My 100% lard CP soaps are ready to unmold and cut within 24 hours at most - usually sooner. My 100% lard HP soaps are usually ready to unmold and cut in 12 hours or less.
 
Joined
Jan 14, 2021
Messages
2,571
Reaction score
6,917
Location
Germany
First off, what a fabulous project! What a bummer it didn't work out as expected. Glad to see that you at least somehow have found a way to keep up the momentum, and they managed to make soap, if though it needs some troubleshooting. Still I can imagine for various reasons that it'd be perfectly successful on the first run even if they/you have had expertise on-site.

I guess they are using some kind of domestic lard (from African pigs)? The composition of animal fats is notoriously dependent on feed and climate, let alone the breed! For plants it is known that the hotter the climate, the more saturated their oils are (hence the harder the soap). Every temperate-climate soapmaker knows too well how difficult it is to evade tropical oils (or the fats of warm-blooded animals that create their own tropical climate inside themselves).
You (or rather your Uganda partners) might have the opposite problem: no need for pigs (and their fodder plants) to invest into unsaturated FAs, so even if the oils are soft/liquid at ambient temperatures (over there), they'll still make a hard bar of soap (the same is true for palm oil and tallow).

On top of availability, there is a possible recipe issue: the saponification value of tropical lard isn't necessarily identical to lard from pigs that lived in (and ate feed from) a temperate climate. Make sure that the soap isn't lye-heavy. A low-tech way to figure out is to make a series of soaps with lye discount -6%, -3%, 0%, +3%, +6%, and let them cure for a week or two. The -6% soap will (hopefully) be zappy, lye-heavy and very harsh, as a reference point how good soap should not be like. High (positive) superfat slightly reduces the cleansing power of the soap, but also makes the soap softer (usually unwanted, but in your case it might be a good thing). In any case, it's a good idea to take some precautions against rancidity. Lard is notorious to catch DOS to many, and when the quality of supplies can't be judged from a distance, better safe than sorry.

Towards a variation of the recipe: I can only guess what “soft oils” are available in East Africa, to add unsaturated FAs to the oil blend. Palmolein or superolein? Sesame, soybean, sunflower, peanut/groundnut, corn oil? Jatropha? Fractionated shea oil?
A few percent of palm kernel oil (or coconut) doesn't make the soap any softer or less brittle, but increase the cleansing skin feel, boost lather, hence might help “convince” others to use and love this soap.
 
A

amd

There is a local soapmaker in my area who makes 100% lard soaps (I haven't so cannot speak on the experience) but she does all of her soaps in cavity molds because she says it is too hard to do in bars. I assumed "too hard to do in bars" referred to the soap hardness and the difficulty of cutting soap loaves in general.
 
Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
7,855
Reaction score
14,138
Location
US
There is a local soapmaker in my area who makes 100% lard soaps (I haven't so cannot speak on the experience) but she does all of her soaps in cavity molds because she says it is too hard to do in bars. I assumed "too hard to do in bars" referred to the soap hardness and the difficulty of cutting soap loaves in general.
Interesting. I wonder if she also waited too long to cut when she poured in a loaf mold. It can be like CO in that you don't want to wait until it is completely firm or it will be too late.
 
Joined
Apr 19, 2019
Messages
4,158
Reaction score
9,907
Location
Virginia
I’ve made 100% lard soap and also used a blend of 80% lard and 20% coconut oil. I don’t recall any unusual behavior for either of them. I liked the 80/20 blend a lot better and think using even 10% palm kernel, if available, would make a better soap for personal use. I’ve also used an approach similar to the one proposed above by @ResolvableOwl to find/check SAP values for blends of fats when the exact composition of the blends was unknown. It worked well for me.
 

Becky1024

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 3, 2019
Messages
227
Reaction score
314
Location
USA
I make 100% lard soaps. Both HP and CP. I have found that time to unmold and cut the CP soaps is very dependent on the temperatures of the lard and lye when I soap. A batch I made at room temperature took several days to firm up. A batch made at around 120-130F was so hard within 12 hours it was nearly impossible to cut. A temperature between 80-90 works well for me.

If your African friends soaped at a hotter temperature than you did, that may have caused their problem. I also suspect that the higher the temperature during gelling the faster it hardens up. A simple solution might be to cut it sooner.
 

SPowers

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 1, 2020
Messages
1,168
Reaction score
1,651
Location
Windsor
My basic recipe is high lard and mostly other hard oils/butters - ie CO, PO, Shea plus castor and I never have a problem with it being too hard. There must be something else going on with the process I'm thinking? Great project!
 
Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
7,855
Reaction score
14,138
Location
US
I make 100% lard soaps. Both HP and CP. I have found that time to unmold and cut the CP soaps is very dependent on the temperatures of the lard and lye when I soap. A batch I made at room temperature took several days to firm up. A batch made at around 120-130F was so hard within 12 hours it was nearly impossible to cut. A temperature between 80-90 works well for me.

If your African friends soaped at a hotter temperature than you did, that may have caused their problem. I also suspect that the higher the temperature during gelling the faster it hardens up. A simple solution might be to cut it sooner.
Yup, totally agree.
 
Joined
Jul 15, 2021
Messages
8
Reaction score
7
Location
Arkansas
Thank you all so much for the great information. We are totally using this project as a learning opportunity so it's not a terrible thing that test batch 1 had some issues. We are using it to show that it's okay to mess up and that we will keep trying until we figure it out. So, based on the first two comments above (sorry i wasn't able to respond earlier), we decided that we may have waited too long before taking it out of the mold (I went back and figured out that they had tried to remove it after being in the mold for six days). They made test batch #2 today and the plan is to remove it from the mold within 24 hours. If we still have issues after this test, we will go back and try some of the other suggestions.

Of the softer oils that Resolveable Owl mentioned, I know that groundnuts are plentiful there so we can look for that and I will ask about the other options. Uganda sits on the equator and the temperature there is 70's and 80's (sometimes low 90s) pretty much year round and varies depending on if it's rainy or dry season. It's very possible they soaped a higher temperature as we were on an electric stove and they are using a propane burner that we purchased for this purpose (there is no electric, gas or piped water in the village). If we need to try test batch 3 and the oil addition doesn't help, we will next try reducing and increasing the lye.

Thank you all again! I appreciate it so much.
Kim
P.s. Some pictures of test batches 1 and 2 are posted on our facebook page if you want to check them out on our facebook /liveinlightministries :) Log into Facebook. This was supposed to be a 3 person test but as you will see in the pictures, it looks like half the neighbors came to watch the process in the new soap skill training room :)
 
Last edited:
Joined
Jul 15, 2021
Messages
8
Reaction score
7
Location
Arkansas
Just wanted to thank you all again. Test batch #2 was easily removed from the mold when done within 24 hours. The positive progress encouraged them to make test batch #3 immediately ;) However, after a couple more days, they have some concern that test batch #2 it may still be too hard compared to local products. Am I right in thinking that it will it continue to harden over the 4 week curing period? If so, then we will try adding some of the softer oils (such as ground nut oil) that were suggested. Thanks again! You all were such a blessing to this rural village in Uganda :)
 
Joined
Jan 14, 2021
Messages
2,571
Reaction score
6,917
Location
Germany
Well, every oil/blend will behave differently, and hardening/curing is dependent on climate/weather. The only definite way to find out is by waiting one or two months. But from collective anecdotal wisdom, “a couple days” isn't a very long time to judge the hardness of a bar of soap after months of curing.

On an upside, the “performance” (lather, mildness, cleansing, and overall joy of handling) only increases over this time, so maybe even if it feels “too hard”, the soap might still convince your villagers! In the end, hard soap lasts long, and customers don't have to restock that often.
 
Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
7,855
Reaction score
14,138
Location
US
Just wanted to thank you all again. Test batch #2 was easily removed from the mold when done within 24 hours. The positive progress encouraged them to make test batch #3 immediately ;) However, after a couple more days, they have some concern that test batch #2 it may still be too hard compared to local products. Am I right in thinking that it will it continue to harden over the 4 week curing period? If so, then we will try adding some of the softer oils (such as ground nut oil) that were suggested. Thanks again! You all were such a blessing to this rural village in Uganda :)

What do they mean by "too hard"?

If they mean "too hard to cut into bars," then they should be cutting it before it gets that hard. Depending on how much water they used, and the temperature at which they cooked it, that could be as soon as 8-12 hours, and is usually not more then 24 hours for my 100% lard soaps.

If they mean "it feels too hard in our hands," encourage them to lather up with it once it has cured. 100% lard soaps take a bit more work to create a lather, especially when they haven't cured at all. They need a good 6-8 week cure, and will be even better at 12 weeks.

Lather on a 100% lard bar will be more like a creamy lotion, and not bubbly. They can increase bubbles (making it easier to create lather) by adding some form of sugar or starch to the water before dissolving the lye. This can be in the form of plain sugar, honey, or molasses, for instance, usually at 1-2 T per pound of oils. They can also try adding carrot puree, grain or potato cooking water, finely ground cooked grains, etc., to the batter.

Another way to increase bubbles would be to reduce the lard by 15% or so and replace it with coconut oil, palm kernel oil (NOT palm oil), or babassu oil.

EDIT: checked out the FB page - wonderful to see the work you are doing there. My mom began a similar program in Uganda some years ago called Shared Blessings International Christian Ministries, and we have been talking with their local leaders about adding a soap-making program to the existing training programs (sewing, barbering, etc.). But I digress...

It looks like your trainees are using wood molds. I didn't see any mold liners except on the bottom of the mold. They could lightly grease the mold with petroleum jelly (since they make that themselves and have access to it), but it would be best if they could find something to use as a more permanent liner so the wood doesn't get ruined by coming in contact with the lye.

Also, what are they using for colorants? Many colorants, especially those that are plant-based, will not last in CP or HP soap. If it is a soap-stable colorant, they can increase the vibrancy by heating the soap for a few hours. In warmer climates where wood molds are used, this can often be achieved by simply insulating the soap for the first 12 hours or so, e.g., wrapping it in blankets or putting it inside an insulated box.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Jul 15, 2021
Messages
8
Reaction score
7
Location
Arkansas
Thank you both for the feedback. ResolvableOwl, I'm glad to read that I responded correctly when I suggested that two days was too soon to judge the hardness and that we will have to wait for it to cure. Our directions said 4 weeks to cure but I hedged a bit and said 4 to 6, my soap leader didn't like me reminding him of that so I don't think I will be able to get them to wait longer but may be able to stretch it over time. I will also suggest that they might find they like the soap even if it is a bit harder than what they see in the market. In this area of Uganda, soap is not cut into bars like we are used to seeing but is sold in the long strip just like it comes out of the mold so being able to get batch #2 out of the mold was a big success over batch #1. Thank you AliOop for the suggestions on the other oils that we can test to increase lathers (and clarifying that palm kernel is not plam oil cause I wasn't sure). We will definitely try that if there is a concern about the suds. Also, thanks for the petroleum jelly suggestion, that is fantastic and I will share that as a new step to try (I have suggested getting some type of a plastic liner but either there is a breakdown in language communication or it isn't easily accessible with the increased COVID travel restrictions because they aren't implementing). I hope all goes with your plan to incorporate soap making in Uganda. Do you know what are they are in? We have had a sewing training program in another village for a year and half and it has been such a blessing, eventually, we hope to add other programs. Thanks again and many blessings!
 
Joined
Nov 15, 2018
Messages
7,855
Reaction score
14,138
Location
US
Not to hijack your post, but in answer to your question, here is a link to their location page: https://sharedblessingsicm.org/locations

Thank you for clarifying that they plan to sell the soap as a long loaf, and not cut into bars. I am afraid that 100% lard soap may end up being too hard for that, as they may not be able to cut off pieces to sell after it has hardened up.

As @ResolvableOwl has mentioned, you could add some soft oils to help with this. Another option is to sub out 2-4% of the NaOH (sodium hydroxide, lye, caustic soda) and use that percentage of KOH (potassium hydroxide) instead.

KOH is normally used to make liquid soap, but it can also be used to make a dual-lye soap that will be a bit softer and easier to cut - and may also lather a bit more easily, although it will still be lotion-y lather, not bubbly.

My favorite soap calculator has a dual-lye option that will help you calculate the amount needed for proper saponification without being lye-heavy or over-super-fatted.
 
Joined
Jul 15, 2021
Messages
8
Reaction score
7
Location
Arkansas
Thank you for this helpful information. I do think they can get potassium hydroxide so we will try that if the softer oils don't fix it. It's an interesting process trying to help them figure out the recipe needs from across the world but as long as we take our time and implement the suggestions that you and others have shared, I think we will get there. Thank you for sharing the link to the Shared Blessings website. It was so interesting to read and realize that our journeys share the love in Uganda are so similar. We have also built a well, churches and a pre and primary 1-2 school and now the Adult Learning and Training Association for trades.
I'd love to know more about the sunflower oil project to see if that is something we could implement in Gingo or Lwanga villages :)
Many blessings,
Kim
 

Babyshoes

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 31, 2021
Messages
489
Reaction score
1,194
Location
Uk
I think there may be a cultural miscommunication happening here, with differing expectations of what "soap" is.

Growing up in a different African country, there were 2 types of soap available - "bath" soap which is what most westerners picture when they think of a bar of soap, and old fashioned "household" soap. The second type typically comes in a long bar, is soft enough to cut with a regular kitchen knife, and can be used for all sorts of things, including washing hands and body if you can't afford bath soap. In our household, we used a brand called sunlight, and it's primary use was for hand-washing clothing. It made loads of bubbles and was great at stain removal. I don't recall how long it lasted compared to bath soap. It sounds like the folks in Uganda are expecting a similar product.

I have no idea how it is made, or if it contains real soap or a syndet, but I think it is likely to be an industrial process as it appears to be extruded - see attached screen shot. The type we used was usually a uniform dark green colour, but cheaper brands are sometimes a mottled tan. I recall a slightly astringent, clean smell.

To replicate the texture in cold process, I agree with the use of at least some potassium hydroxide. They'll also want to add some coconut oil and sugar or starch to the recipe as well, since the bubbles from lard are smaller than they'll be used to.

Screenshot_20210723-221256.jpg
 
Joined
Jul 15, 2021
Messages
8
Reaction score
7
Location
Arkansas
I'm late to this party, but was excited to go to your FB page and send a little donation! I feel for these people who have so little control in their lives.
Thank you so much for blessing children and families in rural Uganda. It is a tough environment in normal circumstances and COVID makes it so much harder.
 
Top