Sudsy ammonia in soap?

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cm4bleenmb

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I am reading The Delany Sisters' Book of Everyday Wisdom. The Delanys were two sisters who lived to be well over 100 years old and made their own soap right up to the end. They included the recipe in the book and I thought I would get your opinions on it.
6 pounds grease, melted and clean (or 3 pounds grease and 3 pounds olive, coconut, or other rich oil)
1 cup borax
1/2 cup water, boiled
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon washing soda
1 cup sudsy ammonia
1 can (13 ounces) pure lye
2 pints plain water
Optional:
2 ounces glycerin
2 to 4 tablespoons perfume, such as oil of cloves
2 cups oatmeal
The instructions start with dissolving the lye in the 2 pints of water. It says to collect 6 pounds of grease from cooking, or buying and rendering it--they note that half solid and half liquid fats make the best soap. You put the borax in a porcelain pan with the 1/2 cup of water, the sugar, and the waxhing soda. Then you add the ammonia and immediately follow that with the lye but make sure your lye is just slightly warm. "Hold your hand over it -- don't stick a finger in it." Then you add the melted grease 1/3 at a time and stir it until it's like thick cream. If you're making facial soap, they instruct you to add the glycerin and perfume when it's thick as honey and state that sometimes they grind the oatmeal and add it for texture.
Pour it into boxes lined with freezer paper and when it's thick cut it into bars. The final steps say to set it in the sun until it bleaches white then store it for use. The very last comment is, "One nice feature of this soap is that it floats!" Just thinking about what lye and ammonia would smell like together made me cringe. What do you all think? Would you make this soap?
 

AnnaMarie

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Is this for a laundry or cleaning soap by chance? I love looking at old soap recipes too, but haven't tried one yet :)
Cheers!
Anna Marie
 

lsg

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I don't think I would try this recipe until you ran the oils through a lye calculator. I have made a laundry bar using ammonia. Make sure you are soaping in an open area or near an open window. This is the recipe I used:

Lard 19.2 oz
Coconut Oil 12.8 oz
Lye 4.8 oz
Distilled water 10 oz.
Borax 3 Tbsp.
Sugar 1/4 cup
Ammonia 1/4 cup
8 drops Vitamin E

Add sugar and borax to lye water and stir until lye and other ingredients are dissolved. This may take a while.
Melt coconut oil and lard, stir in Vitamin E. Add lye water and
soap as usual. At thin trace add ammonia. Be careful to soap by an open window because the fumes from the ammonia are potent at first. If desired, you may add 1 oz orange or lemon essential oils.

Pour into mold and let set for 24 hours.
 
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Thankyou Lsg, I have made laundry soap with borax but never tried adding in ammonia. Thinking I will try it this week. I have never really liked homemade laundry soap. Do you grind it up into a powder for the washing machine or just keep it in bar form for stain removal?
 

lsg

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When I used it, I would grind up one bar and dissolve it in hot water, then add some of the dissolved soap to the machine. I am guessing about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of the dissolved soap, depending on whether it is a top loader or front loader machine. We have hard water, so I use commercial detergent now. I have tried several of the recipes for making homemade laundry soap, but as long as we have hard water, I guess I am stuck with the store bought kind. I had a lady on another forum tell me that I was going to die from the chemical reaction between the lye and ammonia, well years later, here I am, still alive and soaping.:grin:
 

DeeAnna

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I'm miserable with a cold, so I'm digging into this question tonight to distract myself from my runny nose and plugged up ears. Ugh....

Anyways, 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. Unfortunately, no explosions are likely occur during the process, if you're looking for thrills and chills rather than soap. :)

Ammonium soaps are even more water soluble than potassium soaps, so this recipe should make an easy lathering bar, especially with the added sugar. The borax will neutralize excess lye, so including this ingredient makes the recipe somewhat similar to liquid soap recipes based on Catherine Failor's methods where borax is used to neutralize excess lye. The washing soda will act as a water softener.

Household cleaning ammonia is a solution of ammonia, water, and sometimes detergent. The MSDS I found for one product says this stuff contains about 5% ammonia, so only about 12 grams in every cup (236 g) of household ammonia is actually NH4OH -- not much.

So, okay, I ran this through my personal soap calculator after modifying the calculations to handle these two lyes (NaOH and NH4OH).

I assumed the "grease" called for would be bacon fat (aka lard) with an NaOH saponification value of 0.140. A mix of lard and beef tallow or all tallow would also work fine, because tallow is pretty close to lard with a SV of 0.142. You're on your own if you want to substitute other fats, especially coconut, which has a much higher SV of 0.192.

Turns out the basic recipe is pretty well figured out -- 6 lb (2724 g) "grease", 1 cup 5% NH4OH solution (12 g NH4OH + 224 g water), and 13 oz (369 g) NaOH. The superfat is about 4% (5/11/14 correction: I originally wrote 0% superfat, but later rechecked my numbers), but the borax will neutralize up to 32 g of excess NaOH, so that is your insurance against the soap being lye heavy.

The water called for in the OPs recipe -- 1/2 cup hot water, 2 pints cold water, and the water in the 1 cup of ammonia -- totals about 5 1/2 cups (1286 g). All that liquid makes a 22% solution of NaOH in water, which is low by today's standards. A "full water" recipe (28% NaOH solution) would need only about 4 cups (942 g) of water.

Bottom line -- the recipe could be tweaked a bit to reduce the water, but it should work fine as written. I don't know that I'd count on it being a luxurious bath and body bar -- what with the washing soda and all -- but it should lather nicely, clean well, and be safe for household use.

Edit: the ammonia won't smell after it's reacted into soap.

Another edit: These are "the numbers" from my recipe calculator (not SoapCalc) based on 100% lard as the fat in the recipe. Not too much bubbly lather, but the ammonia and sugar will help that issue. It otherwise looks like the soap would be mild and longlasting with lots of creamy lather.

Hardness (Lau-Myr-Palm-Ste) 42%
Cleansing, solubility (Lau-Myr) 1%
Long lasting (Palm-Ste) 41%
Conditioning (Oleic-Lino-Ric) 52%
Bubbly (Lau-Myr-Ric) 1%
Creamy (Palm-Ste-Ric) 41%
Saponification (INS) 139%

And yet another edit: The recipe comes from the days before stick blenders. The unusually large amount of water would have made it easier to make this soap with just hand stirring.

To explain -- Fat is immiscible (doesn't want mix) with plain water or lye solution -- fat just wants to float on top of the watery layer. If you didn't stir soap batter at all, the only place where soap would form is right at the interface where the fat touches the lye. Once enough soap forms at this interface, the two layers would be separated by a thin layer of soap and saponification would pretty much stop.

So there are two reasons for mixing soap batter -- (1) to break up the fat and lye into globs to create more surface area so the fat and lye can react better and (2) to keep the bits of newly forming soap from interfering with this happy union. :)

Stick blenders can break the fat into tiny globs that float around in the lye solution. This creates a LOT of surface area between the fat and lye solution so the fat and lye can saponify more easily. That's why saponification is so much faster when one uses a stick blender versus just stirring with a whisk, spoon, or spatula. A whisk mixes more efficiently than a spoon or spatula, but it's still not in the same league as a stick blender.

Getting back to why a watery lye solution works better for hand mixing soap compared with a concentrated lye solution -- A concentrated lye solution is much denser (heavier) than the fat. If you mix soap by hand, a concentrated "heavy" lye will be much harder to mix with the much lighter fat due to the large density difference. If you really mix hard, you can get the two to temporarily blend together, but they won't stay mixed for long.

If the concentration of lye is less (more water for the same amount of alkali), the density of the lye will be more similar to the fat. That means the two will be easier to mix together into smaller bits and will stay mixed together for a bit longer. That means more saponification will happen and the faster the soap will emulsify. Once enough soap has formed, the mixture of the fat, lye, and soap will become stable. A soap maker could then add a more concentrated lye solution without problems.
 
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Soaplily

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I am intrigued about the Delaney Sisters . I'm going to have to find this book pronto. I need inspiration and they sound like my kind of ladies!
 
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Bottom line -- the recipe could be tweaked a bit to reduce the water, but it should work fine as written. I don't know that I'd count on it being a luxurious bath and body bar -- what with the washing soda and all -- but it should lather nicely, clean well, and be safe for household use.

I only quoted the summary to save on space, but man, that is one impressive analysis! I couldn't have done that even without a snotty nose or plugged up ears! Thanks for another practical chem lesson :clap:
 

cm4bleenmb

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I am intrigued about the Delaney Sisters . I'm going to have to find this book pronto. I need inspiration and they sound like my kind of ladies!
Having Our Say is the story of their lives, it intrigued me enough to read the Book of Everyday Wisdom. Both books were written with the help of Amy Hill Hearth. The soap recipe is not the only one in the book, each chapter has a recipe for something different at the end, the biscuit recipe sounds yummy. And the rose wine might be interesting too. Maybe I should try making the wine and then adding it to their soap? ;)
 

cm4bleenmb

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I only quoted the summary to save on space, but man, that is one impressive analysis! I couldn't have done that even without a snotty nose or plugged up ears! Thanks for another practical chem lesson :clap:

CaraBou, I agree. DeeAnna, you are AMAZING. :clap:

Apparently they even used it for facial soap and since they both lived to be more than 100 years old (107 and 104 I think) I guess it couldn't have been doing them any harm!

It makes quite a large batch of soap for me but maybe with DeeAnna's breakdown, I can figure out how to cut it down to a more managable size and give it a whirl. But not until summer, I'm thinking this would be a good one to make out on the deck! Peeee-yooooo.
 

mel z

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What a great thread. So happy to see WHY ammonia is added. I thought it was to hide bad fat smell, or to make the soap extra cleaning for washing clothes. Thought I would add a link to join the recipe from the OP. The soap is on page 64, the rest of the book is mostly about cooking and some canning.

http://archive.org/stream/twohundredandse00webbgoog#page/n6/mode/2up
 

DeeAnna

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Wow -- thanks for the link Mel. And thanks to CM for turning us on to the Delany sisters. I'm always interested in stuff like this!

"...Apparently they even used it for facial soap and since they both lived to be more than 100 years old..."

Yeah, I can see that the soap might be plenty fine for bath use. I'm just wondering if the washing soda would dissolve completely -- might be a bit scratchy if it doesn't. I'd want to make a small trial batch to see if I like it before making a whopping 6 lb of "grease" into soap. That's a lot of soap suds!
 
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cm4bleenmb

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question about SAP values

Okay, this has been spinning around the deep space of my brain and I can't stand it anymore, I've gotta ask.

DeeAnna, you said that ammonia will saponify with oils and make soap, and you modified your calculations to reflect the use of both types. (NaOH and NH4OH) How did you know what to put in for the NH4OH? I'm assuming it will have different SAP values for each oil than NaOH will?

My other question is, used on it's own, would ammonia make a solid soap or a liquid soap? What I'm really wondering is, what effect it would have if you were to increase the ammonia. Other than bug . . ., ahem, asking you, I have no idea where to find this kind of information. Odds are, even if I did find it somewhere else, it would just leave me :Kitten Love:

I'm miserable with a cold, so I'm digging into this question tonight to distract myself from my runny nose and plugged up ears. Ugh....

Anyways, 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. Unfortunately, no explosions are likely occur during the process, if you're looking for thrills and chills rather than soap. :)

Ammonium soaps are even more water soluble than potassium soaps, so this recipe should make an easy lathering bar, especially with the added sugar. The borax will neutralize excess lye, so including this ingredient makes the recipe somewhat similar to liquid soap recipes based on Catherine Failor's methods where borax is used to neutralize excess lye. The washing soda will act as a water softener.

Household cleaning ammonia is a solution of ammonia, water, and sometimes detergent. The MSDS I found for one product says this stuff contains about 5% ammonia, so only about 12 grams in every cup (236 g) of household ammonia is actually NH4OH -- not much.

So, okay, I ran this through my personal soap calculator after modifying the calculations to handle these two lyes (NaOH and NH4OH).

I assumed the "grease" called for would be bacon fat (aka lard) with an NaOH saponification value of 0.140. A mix of lard and beef tallow or all tallow would also work fine, because tallow is pretty close to lard with a SV of 0.142. You're on your own if you want to substitute other fats, especially coconut, which has a much higher SV of 0.192.

Turns out the basic recipe is pretty well figured out -- 6 lb (2724 g) "grease", 1 cup 5% NH4OH solution (12 g NH4OH + 224 g water), and 13 oz (369 g) NaOH. The superfat is about 0%, but the borax will neutralize up to 32 g of excess NaOH, so that is your insurance against the soap being lye heavy.

The water called for in the OPs recipe -- 1/2 cup hot water, 2 pints cold water, and the water in the 1 cup of ammonia -- totals about 5 1/2 cups (1286 g). All that liquid makes a 22% solution of NaOH in water, which is low by today's standards. A "full water" recipe (28% NaOH solution) would need only about 4 cups (942 g) of water.

Bottom line -- the recipe could be tweaked a bit to reduce the water, but it should work fine as written. I don't know that I'd count on it being a luxurious bath and body bar -- what with the washing soda and all -- but it should lather nicely, clean well, and be safe for household use.

Edit: the ammonia won't smell after it's reacted into soap.

Another edit: These are "the numbers" from my recipe calculator (not SoapCalc) based on 100% lard as the fat in the recipe. Not too much bubbly lather, but the ammonia and sugar will help that issue. It otherwise looks like the soap would be mild and longlasting with lots of creamy lather.

Hardness (Lau-Myr-Palm-Ste) 42%
Cleansing, solubility (Lau-Myr) 1%
Long lasting (Palm-Ste) 41%
Conditioning (Oleic-Lino-Ric) 52%
Bubbly (Lau-Myr-Ric) 1%
Creamy (Palm-Ste-Ric) 41%
Saponification (INS) 139%
 

DeeAnna

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"...ammonia will saponify with oils and make soap, and you modified your calculations to reflect the use of both types. (NaOH and NH4OH) How did you know what to put in for the NH4OH? I'm assuming it will have different SAP values for each oil than NaOH will?..."

Um, well, okay, here's the math.

Ammonia (more correctly: ammonium hydroxide) is NH4OH. Sodium hydroxide is NaOH. One molecule of ammonium hydroxide will make one molecule of soap. Ditto for sodium hydroxide. Here are the basic "stochiometric" equations for these two soap-making chemical reactions:

1 molecule of fat + 3 molecules of NH4OH => 3 molecules ammonium soap + 1 molecule glycerin
1 molecule of fat + 3 molecules of NaOH => 3 molecules sodium soap + 1 molecule glycerin

Notice the numbers are the same in each equation -- ONE molecule fat, THREE molecules of lye, etc.? That is a good thing -- it means the chemistry is basically the same and we only have to adjust for the different molecular weights of the two lyes.

NaOH weighs a bit more at 40 g per mole.
NH4OH weighs 35 g per mole.

(A "mole" in this context isn't a furry underground animal, it is just the name chemists use to mean a certain number of molecules. A "dozen" means 12 doughnuts, a "gross" means 12 dozen (144) pastries, and a "mole" means 624,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules. This many molecules of NaOH -- 1 mole of NaOH molecules -- weigh about 40 grams. The same number of molecules -- 1 mole -- of NH4OH weigh 35 grams.)

Let's assume a soap recipe needs 100 g of NaOH to saponify some fat. To substitute NH4OH, we would need 100 * 35/40 = 87.5 g of NH4OH to do the same job. We need less WEIGHT of NH4OH, but that weight still gives us the correct number of molecules to turn that fat into soap.

"...My other question is, used on it's own, would ammonia make a solid soap or a liquid soap?..."

Ammonia soaps are soft soaps, even softer and even more water soluble than potassium (KOH) soaps.

Hope this answers your questions! You're not "bugging" me a bit, by the way!

****

PS: I realize my first long post on this subject has a math error. Turns out the Delany sisters' recipe has a moderate superfat with my corrected numbers, rather than a zero superfat as I originally thought. I'll double check and correct it tomorrow ...I'm off to bed...
 
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DeeAnna-go to bed, get some sleep, feel better.

You are a soaping rock star!

I may not understand everything you say, but every time I read one of your explanations, I learn something new. Something that makes me go back and read the other ones and go, "OH, that's what that means." And every time you act like I am capable of getting this, you make me feel like I AM capable.

And for that, you have my sincere gratitude.
 

cm4bleenmb

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great minds think alike

You seriously need to collect all these q&a where you make all of this understandable, and make an e-book or something : "The Science of Soaping for Non-Chemists" --

For true. I have read a huge number of books from the library, I lurked around reading forums, blogs, and websites for months before I finally took the plunge and made my first batch, and I have gleaned the better part of my most useful information from DeeAnna in just a few posts.
 
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