New guy with questions, lye and lard soap

Discussion in 'Beginners Soap Making Forum' started by Cheese, May 4, 2019.

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  1. May 4, 2019 #1

    Cheese

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    Hello, glad to find this forum!

    I am new to soap making. In keeping with my traditional living, I want to make soap the old way. We do a lot of things around my place the old way to keep it alive. We cure country hams that don't need refrigeration, bacon, have a blacksmith shop, make wine, make syrup, and lots of other things like that. In the process of growing and processing our pigs, we get a lot of lard sometimes and a lot of hardwood ashes from running the smokehouse. So... the next step is pretty well laid out for us... soap!

    I built a leaching trough to leach rainwater through the ashes and collected a good bit, then I simmered it down until it floats an egg. Then I used the measurements of 1 cup of lard to 3/8 cup of lye solution. On the first attempt, we stirred for hours and it never thickened at all. I added more lye and nothing, then more, and still nothing. Finally we cooked it down on the stove for a few hours and gave up on it. The next day, we have what looks like beige butter in the pot. It's still soft though, it can't be handled and when I test it to see if it acts as soap, it is greasy and has to be washed off with real soap. Will that change as it "cures"?

    While that batch was being simmered down and basically given up on, we tried another batch using tallow instead of lard. It did thicken up to a trace as expected and we poured it into a mold. It's been 24 hours and that is still too soft to handle. When I test it, it's also greasy under water and has to be washed off with real soap.

    Did we fail at making soap, or is it supposed to be that way until it cures? Any suggestions or input is greatly appreciated!
     
  2. May 4, 2019 #2

    KiwiMoose

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    So you made your own lye? I wonder if the lye calculation is not quite right - how can you tell if yours is at least 97% NaOH? Maybe ask a chemist such as @DeeAnna - she will know more.
     
  3. May 4, 2019 #3

    Cobelloy

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    wood ash lye is a weak and impure form of potassium lye (KOH) as opposed to commercial lye which is the same as caustic soda, or sodium lye (NaOH). KOH (or caustic potash) will saponify fats, but it rarely makes a solid bar of soap, for most people the end result is a liquid or paste. when you make lye from ashes you get a lot of mineral contaminants which can have any number of effects on the process, in leaving the soap to sit ( or cure) for weeks or months may improve the soap quality, but it is unlikely that you will achieve anything like a bar of traditional soap.

    The type of wood is important too, only hardwoods (deciduous angiosperm type trees) will do the job, fir and pine and other softwoods (evergreen gymnosperm trees) wont work as lye ash.

    Also bear in mind your SAP value for KOH lye is not the same as for NaOH lye

    One suggestion I have is to test the pH of your lye, it needs to be very caustic - like 10-14 on a pH scale, you can make home made pH indicator with red cabbage, just boil it in distilled water and use a few drops of the coloured liquid in the lye, it will change colour depending on the pH of the lye solution (check the internet for an approximate colour scale). Good luck, other people have made soap with pig fat and wood ashes, I'm sure you can too.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2019
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  4. May 4, 2019 #4

    Dawni

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    I'm also thinking it's the lard/lye ratio but can't help computing for it, sorry.

    When I cook my lard soap, even at only 60% of the total recipe, it gets hard within hours. Haven't tried tallow but I expect it will harden sooner.

    I have to say though, that what you're doing sounds very interesting. I'm hoping I get to read more as you experiment more :)
     
  5. May 4, 2019 #5

    lenarenee

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    Oh wow. You want to be able to use this soap for bathing? Can you be happy with using your own rendered lard or tallow along with store bought sodium hydroxide and doing your own saponification calculations by hand?

    No?

    I know little about the "pioneer" way of making soap except that its extremely difficult to get a consistent product. Because every batch of lye you make is going to different, which means that while cooking the soap you are going to be making additions of lye, salts, salt water or baking soda depending on the samples of the cooking batter.

    Is there a soap guild, or historical site in your state with soaping demonstrations? This kind of soaping is better learned with a mentor.

    But I wish you luck - and let us know what you learn. (There's an historic soap guild in San Diego that meets monthly, I'll see if they have a demo scheduled this weekend)
     
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  6. May 4, 2019 #6

    Cheese

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    Yes, I made my own lye. I used a litmus test and got 13+ph, so my lye solution is very strong. The pioneer method was to boil the lye solution until it floats an egg high enough that a spot about the size of a quarter is exposed above the solution (a very simple method of measuring specific gravity). I used litmus paper just to be sure. After some more research, I think I've done this correctly and it may take some time for the soap to firm up. It sounds like it may take a week or so before I can take it out of the mold and then another 6 weeks before use. We'll see how it goes. I added about one tsp of sea salt to help it firm up.

    I know there are more scientific approaches and ways to do this with store bought chemicals and components, but that's not what we're about around here. I helped raise the pigs, I butchered them, I rendered the lard, I collected the hardwood ashes from the oak logs I burned, and I built the leaching trough to collect the lye and the soap molds from rough sawn heart pine, just like they would have done 100 years ago. I will figure this out in time one way or another, just hoping someone here has gone through this same process. Thanks for the well wishes!
     
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  7. May 4, 2019 #7

    Relle

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    I doubt that you wiĺl find that anyone here as done that, as Lenarenee has said that results are inconsistent.
     
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  8. May 4, 2019 #8

    earlene

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    Cheese, did you use the Hot Process method to make your soap? I believe that a long cook (sometimes more than a day) is required for making soap with potash made from wood ash. And you may well have to use the method of 'salting out' the resulting soap to separate the unwanted material from the true soap, which also removes the glycerine, by the way. But the resulting soap that floats on top of the brine (which you then discard - perhaps into a compost pile), would be the best quality soap you can get from the soap you have already made. (You discard the brine, not the soap that floats on top; thought that might be unclear.)

    I refer you to DeeAnna's website to read about and watch her videos on how to salt out soap. I have done it and the resulting soap was very nice, of course I wasn't using soap made with wood ash potash, but the method for salting out would be the same. But before you do that read the second link below as it might have some useful information on what is going on with your soap right now.

    In your research have your read these two links? They might shed some light onto some of what your are experiencing.

    http://journeytoforever.org/bflpics/TraditionalSoapMaking.pdf

    https://farmingmybackyard.com/homemade-soap-from-ashes/

    Here is a place that does a workshop on how to make soap from wood ash leeched lye:

    http://www.practicalprimitive.com/eddiebio.html

    I have no idea if the workshops are worthwhile or not, but perhaps you can contact them and decide for yourself. Perhaps they may be willng to let you pick their brain or put you in contact with someone closer to you who might have hands-on experience with what you are doing.

    Edited to add the words in italics at end of first paragraph for clarity.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2019
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  9. May 4, 2019 #9

    DeeAnna

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    That might be true ... or it might not. You don't really know. A simple pH test is useless as a test for solution concentration.

    Anything over 1% KOH or NaOH by weight in water will have a pH of over 13.

    You actually have a solution of mostly potassium carbonate, not KOH. The pH will be about 11 for K2CO3 solutions over about 2% by weight.

    Most pH strips are extremely inaccurate for high pH solutions as well as for soap solutions.
     
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  10. May 4, 2019 #10

    artemis

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    Random thoughts and questions:

    1) what era are you aiming for? 18th century? Eariler? Later?

    2) have you tried searching the forum for "wood ash"? This subject comes up about once a year. You may not find answers there, but perhaps you can connect with some of these other soapers who have tried.

    3) find a reenactment group (near you or online). The participants are a wealth of knowledge about daily life it their chosen era. If nothing else, they may be able to direct you to just the right person.

    Please update us with your progress!
     
  11. May 4, 2019 #11

    Cheese

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    Thank you DeeAnna, I didn't know that. Is there a simple method to determine the strength? I may just have to guess at that too, but that's okay, that's how they did it.

    Thanks for the links earlene, I'll check them out now. I am doing the hot method but may not have cooked it as long as needed. The lard batch did inevitably get a long cook after I sort of gave up on the batch. That's when it finally came to trace. It's in the mold now, so time will tell.

    Artemis, I'm not really shooting for any articular era. I want to produce the best soap I can from nature, without buying any components. Right now I'm working with info from many sites but mostly https://grandpappy.org/hsksoap.htm .

    I have made something that resembles soap but my main worry is that if I get some on my hands and try to use it as sop, it's greasy. I'm hoping that's because the chemical process takes time and hasn't fully occurred yet. It seems to be quite effective as soap for cleaning, however, you need real soap to get the grease off that it leaves, and that defeats the purpose. Maybe as it cures, that will change. It doesn't have to be perfect or compete with a bar of Irish Spring, I just want it to work and to gain satisfaction and knowledge in the process.
     
  12. May 4, 2019 #12

    atiz

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    This sounds like a really interesting project, I will be curious to hear about your experiments.
    If your soap is very oily, that might be because your lye was too weak and could not saponify all the oils. Maybe you could try boiling the soap in some lye water, similarly to the salting out method? (But I have no experience in this.)
     
  13. May 24, 2019 #13

    Cheese

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    Update:

    After two failed attempts, we began diagnosing the problem and since the lye was an unknown factor, we decided to use some store bought lye (drain opener) to see if that worked. It did! Our soap traced and got lumpy like tapioca pudding.

    I made wooden molds for the soap and melted wax and coated the insides, thinking the soap would be able to slip out easily that way. Wrong. I had to break the end off of the mold and pop the cake out with a thin, long spatula. I'll have to redesign that.

    Now they are sliced and curing. This soap as it is right now is very effective, cleans my hands really well but leaves just a very slight film on the skin. I hope that goes away with curing but if not, I guess we'll add more lye next time. Here are some pics:

    [​IMG]
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    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  14. May 24, 2019 #14

    KiwiMoose

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    Well done! Like slicing a block of Cheese, huh?;)
    I reckon you should line your mold with freezer paper - that's what most of us do if we don't have silicone moulds.
     
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  15. May 24, 2019 #15

    Candybee

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    Definitely line your mold. Besides freezer wrap you can also use plastic bags for trash cans. I don't know what the pioneers lined their wooden molds with but wood does have a habit of 'curing' so maybe it just needs more use.

    Soap needs to cure for 6-8 weeks to be mild, hard, conditioning, more sudsy, etc. The longer the cure the better the soap properties. Another element it may do is help the excess oil dry out or draw back into the soap leaving it less oily. Can't say for sure as you are working with some unknowns but its possible after a couple months cure you may have a much nicer less oily bar of soap thats milder and more sudsy and conditioning.

    Also remember you are using lard only which can make a great soap but since its your only fat it will have some limitations. Lard lends hardness, cleansing, creamy bubbles, and conditioning to soap. By itself you may not see or feel the same qualities a soap with other oils would add to the party.
     
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  16. May 24, 2019 #16

    Zany_in_CO

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    Cheesecloth is also a traditional liner for a soap mold. ;)
     
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  17. May 24, 2019 #17

    artemis

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    It doesn't have to be a guessing game, though. If you're now using store-bought lye, you can use a lye calculator to figure out how much is actually needed. Guessing can make a soap that is actually dangerous to use.
     
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  18. May 25, 2019 #18

    TAS

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    My mom use to make 100% lard soap with store bought lye outdoors over a fire. She used a big (huge) brass kettle. I wasn't allowed to get too close to the soap pot but I remember her pouring her soap batter into old enameled containers. Never aluminum. Never cast iron. She'd let the soap harden just enough so that it would pop out, then she would cut it before it got too hard. Hope this helps Cheese.
     
  19. May 25, 2019 #19

    DeeAnna

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    Whatever worked for your mom is what worked, but lest someone in the modern day is tempted to follow this advice, I have to say using brass to make soap is a really bad idea. Brass contains copper and copper causes fats and soap to go rancid a lot quicker.

    If one is wanting to be old school and make soap over an open fire, an iron pot would actually be better, since iron isn't quite as bad for causing rancidity. An enameled pot would be better yet to totally avoid any metal contamination.

    As for me, I'm all for sticking with stainless steel or plastic soap pots, but obviously plastic doesn't do well over a fire and stainless is not historically correct.
     
  20. May 25, 2019 #20

    lenarenee

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    You'll find the contact info for a person who helps historic sites start an outdoor soap making program. She might have some good info for you!

    I thought she was doing a demo this weekend in San Diego, and thought I'd film it, but I can't find it anywhere.:(

    http://www.soapmakinghistoricalguild.com/thehistoriccauldron.html

    Seriously! I forgot to add the link?
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2019
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