Old soap recipe from aunt's 96 year old friend

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Arthur Dent

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One of my aunts has a 96 year old friend who makes a soap for her that she really likes. This lady is getting on in years (!!!) and doesn't know how much longer she will be able to make soap, so I offered to take over making it for my aunt. I'll list the recipe here so y'all can comment if that's ok.
It looks kind of odd to me, but my aunt loves it.

5 1/2 pints cold water
5 lbs lard
1 can lye
1/4 cup ammonia

Mix all this up and stir slowly for 10 minutes

then add...

2T borax
2T sugar
2T glycerin
1T salt

Mix in and stir slowly for another 10 minutes then pour into mold.

Running it through SoapCalc, it looks lye heavy to me.
:confused:
 

Obsidian

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Old time recipes often were lye heavy. Maybe try a small batch of 100% lard, see if your aunt likes it just as well. If not, then I would alter the old recipe to have a 5% SF. I think I'd want to save out some water to dissolve the borax, salt and sugar in.
 

KristaY

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I've seen recipes like this before "add one can of lye" and "1 Tbsp of this" or "a pinch of that". I wonder if that's where the borax comes in, helping with pH control. How long does she cure this soap?

I hope you can help re-create this soap for them!
 

Arthur Dent

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I was planning to give her some of my 80% lard soap, when the friend finally ponied up this recipe. We have been waiting for it for a while.
How long does she cure this soap?
Your guess is as good as mine, these are all the instructions she gave us. I would give it a good long cure myself if I ever made it.
I wondered what the borax and ammonia were for.
 
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maya

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Soap them was used for many things, not just hand washing, but basically everything, floors, skin, hair, walls, clothing, animals, everything. So, most women made soap once or twice a year, as a group effort (if they could) and used it for a year. If your soap was lye heavy then it was. It still cleaned.

Not that I'm saying you shouldn't make the recipe with a superfat.
 

lenarenee

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So are you planning to adapt it - make a smaller but proportionate recipe to the original, while correcting any lye issues? I'd love to hear how it turns out!
 

dixiedragon

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According to the Kathy Miller page, Red Devil Lye was once packaged in 13 oz cans. Assuming 13 oz of lye that's a -15 % superfat. Not great but better than -41.7! They probably did make their soap on the harsh side since they were cleaning everything with it.
 

DeeAnna

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Arthur Dent

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Ah, lots of answers, thanks everyone very much. Sorry for posting something that has already been discussed multiple times.
I shipped a sampler box of my high lard soaps to the aunt today, hopefully she will like one or more of them so we can lay this old recipe to rest.
 

DeeAnna

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Arthur -- Absolutely no apologies are necessary. This is actually one of the more interesting and less discussed topics, so it's good you brought it back up for people to enjoy. It's a nice break from topics that are ~really~ discussed to death. :)
 

gdawgs

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Arthur -- Absolutely no apologies are necessary. This is actually one of the more interesting and less discussed topics, so it's good you brought it back up for people to enjoy. It's a nice break from topics that are ~really~ discussed to death. :)
Yes, plus there are plenty of us newbies around who haven't seen this kind of stuff before.

So what does the ammonia bring to the table??
 

DeeAnna

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"... So what does the ammonia bring to the table?? ..."

I wrote "...ammonia -- or ammonium hydroxide (NH4OH) -- is a base just like potassium hydroxide (KOH) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH). It will be happy to just politely react with fats to make ammonia-based soap.... Ammonium soaps are even more water soluble than potassium soaps..." From post 8, http://www.soapmakingforum.com/showthread.php?t=41965

When making an NaOH soap using lard, tallow, or a blend of both, the soap will be more difficult to dissolve and won't lather as abundantly as a soap made from a more balanced blend of fats that includes maybe a little coconut oil, olive, castor, etc. If all you have is household grease, lard, or tallow to make soap, one way to get around these issues is to replace some of the NaOH with an alkali that will increase solubility. In my grandmother's day as now, KOH is not normally sold in small-town grocery or hardware stores, but ammonia solution for household cleaning is/was fairly easy to find.

If you have KOH, however, you could use that rather than ammonia solution -- try 5% to 10% KOH and the rest NaOH and see what you think. See my tutorial for how to do the calculations for a dual-lye soap: http://classicbells.com/soap/dualLye.html
 
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topofmurrayhill

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So what does the ammonia bring to the table??
In the spirit of science, I would take that description of what the ammonia does as a theory. The ammonia could affect the soap or the process of making it, and the ammonium soap theory could be right in some way, but it might not be. My personal speculation is that the ammonia entirely or largely cures out rather than becoming part of the product. Anyway, its purpose isn't obvious and we would need good references or experiments to really know.

By my napkin calculations, 1/4 cup of the strongest clear household ammonia could potentially saponify about 3 percent of the fat. However, there is unlikely to be anywhere near that much ammonium soap in the product, if any.

One problem is that ammonia is a weak base that politely reacts with free fatty acids, but very reluctantly with oil. If it is simply mixed with oil, that reaction takes a really long time. If we say that it could react with the FFAs in the fat and maybe "muscle in" on the reaction with NaOH as the oil molecules get chopped up, that brings us to the next problem.

Ammonia really can't compete with NaOH to saponify the fat. NaOH is such a strong alkali, that adding it to ammonium soap would convert it into sodium soap and release ammonia. Even table salt converts ammonium soap to sodium soap and ammonium chloride. Since these old recipes don't tend to skimp on the caustics, there could easily be enough NaOH and such to exclude ammonium soaps from the party.
 

Arthur Dent

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To wrap this up, I sent the aunt a sampler box of several of my favorite soaps, mostly high lard recipes, but a couple of high olive oil soaps too. That was a few weeks ago, so yesterday I messaged her to ask if she had tried any of them out yet. She said "yes, I really like the good smelling one".
I give up.
 

nsmar4211

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Oh wow.......just goes to show you sometimes all the "fancy" things don't matter to the end user!
 

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