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Making Ash (Lye) Water

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cambree

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One of the soap making books I picked up was on pioneer living. The author said it was possible to make your own lye from wood ashes. At the time, I wasn't interested in going that route. Plus all the modern soap making books recommended caustic soda (which is easier to use and makes much better soap).

Better soap? I wonder if that's true bc I came upon a handmade soap company that would disagree. They are from Thailand (now headquartered in Vancouver, BC) and use only organic ingredients grown on their farm. They also proudly use ash water made from sun-dried coconut shells.



So I'm thinking, if they could use ash water and produce successful soaps, then why can't we do the same thing? :eek: Has anyone ever try to make their own ash water before? Would you recommend it? I am really interested in giving it a try (when there is sufficient space of course).

Btw, I also came upon Paul Norman's link that has instructions and everything on making your own "lye water" as well as info on soap making. Looks promising!

http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/paul_norman_3/soapmake.htm

Lye water made from wood ashes or pot ash powder, is not as easy to work with, as lye made from caustic soda.

Caustic Soda manages to work both oils and fats into soap (saponification) quite quickly and with little trouble. However, the amounts of caustic soda and grease or oil, have to be very carefully measured.

As said earlier, caustic soda is not able to be got in some places for one reason or another.

The draw back of using wood ash lye, is that it may not always work with all the oils that caustic soda is able to turn into soap.

Coconut oil has been used successfully with wood ash lye, but often needs a lot of beef tallow grease with it. - Paul_Norman_3@compuserve.com
 

Birdie

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cambree said:
Lye water made from wood ashes or pot ash powder, is not as easy to work with, as lye made from caustic soda.

Caustic Soda manages to work both oils and fats into soap (saponification) quite quickly and with little trouble. However, the amounts of caustic soda and grease or oil, have to be very carefully measured.

As said earlier, caustic soda is not able to be got in some places for one reason or another.

The draw back of using wood ash lye, is that it may not always work with all the oils that caustic soda is able to turn into soap.

Coconut oil has been used successfully with wood ash lye, but often needs a lot of beef tallow grease with it. - Paul_Norman_3@compuserve.com
I think Mr. Norman stated the more common reasons for the indvidual soapmaker not using wood ash lye. It is not impossible but much more work than most would like to do. And the amount of labor involved could never be re-cooped. A larger commercial company would have access to many more resources.
Making wood ash lye is an interesting process, though. I've always wanted to do it and just haven't. No time! :wink:
 

donniej

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I've researched it but never done it. I'm also into doing things the "good ol' fashion way".

You need hard wood ashes. Oak, walnut, cherry, etc... not pine. A common method would have been to pile them up on top of a bed of straw-covered-gravel. Rain water would wash over the ash and be channeled into a container of some kind.

You could simply mix your ash and water and then filter out the ash. I'd suggest poly bag filters from an industrial supplier like McMaster Carr. They're ~$10 each. You could also cut the legs off of blue jeans and stitch (or tie) one end shut.

The biggest problem is getting the specific gravity correct. The specific gravity tells you how much potash is in the water. Even in the days of yore this was a real hit-or-miss process and it was common to lose a batch because of it. "Back in the day" they would float an egg or small potato in the water. When the part of the egg sticking out of the water was roughly the diameter of a modern day quarter, it was considered to be close enough. I'd suggest you use a hydrometer, you can get one from an auto parts store. They're inexpensive and are used to test battery acid. See what properly made KOH/water tests at and compare that to your potash/water.

Lastly, potash is KOH. This will not make bar soap, only liquid. You will need to add salt to make bar.
 

cambree

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Wow, I guess it's much more difficult to make your own ash water. But it is good to know there are many ways for making it yourself.

Thanks for sharing the neat tips!
 

booner

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donniej said:
The biggest problem is getting the specific gravity correct. The specific gravity tells you how much potash is in the water. Even in the days of yore this was a real hit-or-miss process and it was common to lose a batch because of it. "Back in the day" they would float an egg or small potato in the water. When the part of the egg sticking out of the water was roughly the diameter of a modern day quarter, it was considered to be close enough. I'd suggest you use a hydrometer, you can get one from an auto parts store. They're inexpensive and are used to test battery acid. See what properly made KOH/water tests at and compare that to your potash/water.

Lastly, potash is KOH. This will not make bar soap, only liquid. You will need to add salt to make bar.
To the original poster. I've done quite a bit of research on this as well and Donnie has hit on the two biggest issues.

I don't have the resources to try making soap this way yet so I'll pass along a couple things I was going to try.

The first and most important being using a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity for the lye water. You can get these at brewing supply stores. Be aware, different hydrometers are calibrated for different solutions so a brewing hydrometer might very well sink straight to the bottom of a lye solution.

Also yes, salting your soap during the boil will create a hard bar... But it will also remove the glycerin.
 

carebear

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potash is technically potassium carbonate, tho is sometimes used to refer to KOH. I wonder which definition the literature means, and which is actually produced from the wood ash.
 
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