Unknown lye concentration and aloe vera

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Lemoert

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Hi all,

I have two separate questions. First of all, I have a lye solution made from hardwood ash and water (pH 13) and wanted to make olive oil based soap through hot process. Seeing as the lye strength is not certain, would it be possible to check the pH of the soap when it hits the gel stage to verify whether I have used the correct amount of oil? And, if so, is it possible to correct the mixture at that point by either adding more lye or oil (as suitable) or would that create issues?

Secondly, I have a few aloe vera plants that tend to create a whole lot of offspring which I often do not know what to do with. I was thinking of incorporating it into the soap, recipes for which abound plenty online, but seeing as I still have hardwood ash available and aloe gel is 98 % water or so, I was wondering if I could just not make the lye with aloe instead of water and skip a later stage in the process. Has anybody experimented with anything similar to this before or have any thoughts on it?

Thanks,
Martin
 

shunt2011

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I'm not going to be much help but, if making lye from hardwood you will have KOH not NAOH. So, your soap is going to be soft. KOH is better used for liquid soap. Some of our more scientific minded will pipe in I'm sure. You can replace any water amount with aloe vera gel when making soap.
 

Lemoert

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Thanks! I've read that adding about 5 % table salt (in relation to the oil) to the mix will allow soap made with KOH set as bar soap rather than soft soap. Perhaps the scientific minded others have some input on that as well :)

/Martin
 

DeeAnna

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It's not potassium hydroxide nor sodium hydroxide. Wood ash lye is mostly potassium carbonate with perhaps some sodium carbonate depending on the source of the ashes. Making soap with a carbonate lye can be done, but you will have to simmer the ingredients for a long time. Like days.

You can't measure the degree of saponification by measuring the pH. It's a long explanation of why that doesn't work, but the short, simple answer is that pH is not sufficiently accurate for this purpose.

Yes, you can always add more lye or more fat as needed when doing saponification.

Salt can firm up a potassium soap, but it will become a firm paste from the salt, not a hard bar.
 
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Lemoert

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Thanks for the feedback DeeAnna! Would you have any personal experience on making soap with wood ash lye? On the various hippie/homesteading websites I've checked they say it only needs to simmer for a couple of hours during hot process, which would be a lot handier than several days :)

Also, seeing as I can add lye/fat during saponification to get the right balance, how would I go about knowing that the ratios are correct if measuring pH does not work?

Thanks,
Martin
 

DeeAnna

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I have utterly no idea why modern tutorials say it only takes a few hours to make soap using a carbonate lye. Sources from the day when this was actually done tell a different story. Try making soap with washing soda (sodium carbonate) and prove to yourself who is giving correct advice. Here's an article that you might also find useful: https://classicbells.com/soap/woodAshLye.html

The zap test is a simple way of testing for excess alkali when making soap. There's a sticky thread on the beginners forum or the lye based soap forum that explains how. The correct chemistry method of testing soap for excess alkali is to titrate a sample with a acid of known concentration and calculate the concentration of excess alkali from those results. Kevin Dunn in Scientific Soapmaking provides a test procedure suitable for a kitchen chemist.
 

Lemoert

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Hi DeeAnna,

I'm sorry if you took my reply as offensive! However, countering information online with other information online is not particularly helpful I'm afraid, especially when there are no actual sources from the day quoted but only mentioned generically. From your answer I take it that you have not tried making soap with wood ash lye yourself? Anyway, I'll go the empiric way and see what happens. As for the zap test, I was under the impression that it only worked after the soap has settled? To be able to change the ratio of fat/lye while mixing it would be necessary to test it while still in the bain-marie, no? I'll post updates here once I get around to trying anyway.

Cheers,
Martin
 

Hendejm

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As a soaper that is whoefully uninformed on this subject - @DeeAnna wouldn’t it be best to disclose that you are the author of the website that you quoted?

Here's an article that you might also find useful:
https://classicbells.com/soap/woodAshLye.html
Respectfully - I am not sure that using an article that furthers your point of view, written by you, shows emphatically that your opinion is the correct one. Is that the scientific method? Relying on antidotal reporting and purporting it as fact, undermines the original query, in my opinion. In order to have a definitive answer, wouldn’t testing the thesis, and reporting on that, be a better solution than searching on the internet for the answer/solution?

Having said all that, DeeAnna, I agree with you. That isn’t based on evidence or testing in my part. That is because of your background, experience, and usually well documented responses to others questions, that I find you make a credible reporter of soaping information.

I guess my point is - advances in science and tech never come from people believing what they are told. Advances come because people are told it can’t be done! As a chemist, I would hope that you would present current evidence, ask questions, encourage experimentation, and challenge the status quo. Asking questions, challenging ideas, encouraging experimentation: those are the tenets of scientific discovery in my opinion.
 

DeeAnna

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@Lemoert -- I have been replying factually. Even re-reading what I wrote again today, I don't get any offended tone in what I had to say, so I'm mystified why you are attributing that emotion to me.

@Hendejm - "...wouldn’t it be best to disclose that you are the author of the website that you quoted?..."

I provide my real first name and a link to my contact information (and full name) at the bottom of the index of my soap making articles on my website.

I use my real first name here on SMF and provide a link in my SMF signature block to my website to connect my presence here to that on my website.

There is a clear, functional link to the article index at the top of every one of my soap making articles.

I provide the author's name and source on that index for every article that is not my own.

Just how much more disclosure do you need to not have the opinion that I'm trying to hide I'm author of the articles on my website? Furthermore, couldn't you just politely ask for clarification rather than make insinuations about my motives?

"...using an article that furthers your point of view, written by you, shows emphatically that your opinion is the correct one. Is that the scientific method? Relying on antidotal reporting and purporting it as fact..."

I will explain what my motives really are for providing those articles on my website, for those who want to know. People ask the same questions over and over here on SMF. For example, I have responded to about 20 threads specifically about wood ash lye since 2014. I can do one of these things when topics like this come up repeatedly --

Repeat the same thing in multiple threads on the same subject
Give links to my older posts on SMF that I can't edit and can't keep up to date
Provide a link to info on my website that I can keep up to date
Don't respond at all​

Various people on SMF have encouraged me to keep a blog so they can find my info easily and quickly, rather than having to spend time searching SMF. There's one motive for my articles. I have also gotten tired of repeating myself -- the repetition is boring for me and probably boring for others. So that's the other motive. To satisfy both, I started the "Soapy Stuff" section on my e-business website to make it easier for people to find info I've written about soap making topics that I find interesting.

As far as references go, I do give the source if I use a direct quote or use data from a book or article. Otherwise, you're right -- I don't give references. My audience is the everyday person who does not have a strong science or math background. I am not writing for a scholarly audience that has access to my reference sources and the desire to study them. The people I'm writing for want the useful stuff, and I write with that audience in mind.

But this is really beside the point.

You are holding up my apparent lack of rigor as sufficient proof that I don't know what I'm talking about and that I'm out to deceive and mislead people. Problem is, you aren't offering specific, factual reasons why you think my statements are incorrect.

If you don't agree with what I've written, then it's your responsibility to explain why my statements are incorrect or inaccurate. Factual debate is at the heart of the scientific method, not op-eds about what you think my motives are or why you disagree with my choice of audience.

Enough of this. I'm ready to debate the science and technology about saponifying fats with carbonate lye made from wood ashes.
 
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Hendejm

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@DeeAnna, please go back and re-read what I wrote earlier. I hope that you will find that I am agreeing with you on this subject (not that it matters as I am uninformed on the subject at hand).

I’m sorry that you take offense at me suggesting that you acknowledge that you are the author of the quoted article. Maybe it’s just me but I believe that most will not go to the effort to connect the dots as you are suggesting...but that is only my opinion. I would hope that in the interest of full transparency - you would have offered that information at the onset rather than making it the reader’s responsibility to verify/question the author of the quoted link. It was not meant as disrespect or implication on impropriety on your part.

I have read many responses penned by you to questions asked by new and seasoned soapers. I can even reference an exchange between you and me where I felt that you were being condescending and impatient towards me. In fact - you said in your own last message to me that you are “tired of repeating yourself” and you get “bored” by the repetition.

You mention that you understand that most do not come from your type of clinical background and you craft your messages/responses/website with those people in mind. As it appears that you enjoying educating and teaching and I would defend you to others if they suggesting otherwise. I value your input as I have stated earlier. I trust your opinions as stated earlier. But I would also suggest that you be compassionate and understanding to those that are just asking for help and assistance. I would encourage you to be more nurturing and supportive in your messaging. Not everyone has the ability to look past your style of communicating. If the goal of this forum is to learn, share, teach - then judgement and impatience cannot be allowed to thrive here.

The words of one person can hurt all of us when we lose a member because they don’t feel safe in asking questions. That person who asks a seemingly dumb question may go on become one of our greatest inspirations - if we don’t drive them away by not allowing those “dumb questions” to be asked over and over....ask often as it takes until they “get it”. Isn’t that a teachers role? .....to motivate and inspire the student to ask questions, challenge themselves to be better, and open their mind to new opportunities.

I respectfully submit this response to you in hopes that you will listen to what I’m saying. I believe you have so much to offer and share and I don’t want it clouded by an approach that could be interpreted as anything but helpful and caring.
 

Hendejm

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Just how much more disclosure do you need to not have the opinion that I'm trying to hide I'm author of the articles on my website? Furthermore, couldn't you just politely ask for clarification rather than make insinuations about my motives?
@DeeAnna if you are going to quote me, please use the quote in its entirety. I don’t believe I made insinuations about your motives.

I said:
“Respectfully - I am not sure that using an article that furthers your point of view, written by you, shows emphatically that your opinion is the correct one. Is that thescientific method? Relying on antidotalreporting and purporting it as fact,undermines the original query, in myopinion. In order to have a definitive answer, wouldn’t testing the thesis, and reporting on that, be a better solution than searching on the internet for the answer/solution?””

The intent was - I’m not sure that using your own website and writings ( with the absence of verifiable data and references) to defend your own point of view is the best way to further your point. I never insinuated that you were wrong or that your motives weren’t pure. In fact - I agreed with you. I am/was merely suggesting that you provide transparency.

I am sorry that you feel as though I may have been impolite when asking “ ...wouldn’t it be best if you disclosed you were the author of the quoted article?” That was a statement cloked as a suggestion....nothing more.

Thanks for listening/reading...this is just the opinion of a guy that wants to keep this forum a place for everyone to learn...regardless of background/experience/education. It is my belief that we all have the ability to learn from one another if we choose to keep our hearts and our minds open to the possibilities of what lies ahead!
 

Lemoert

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So, a year and a bit later I'm back to bump this up a bit. To not go back into the discussion above I would simply want to ask the two following questions:

- Does anybody have any idea, chemically, of what would happen if one were to make lye with aloe vera gel as a base instead of water. Would this be an acceptable way to incorporate the aloe vera into soap or would the chemical reaction interact and break down all the goodies in the gel?
- Has anybody empirically experimented with adding salt to the saponification process when using lye based on wood ashes for the purpose of getting hard soap?

Many thanks,
Martin
 

TheGecko

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So, a year and a bit later I'm back to bump this up a bit. To not go back into the discussion above I would simply want to ask the two following questions:

- Does anybody have any idea, chemically, of what would happen if one were to make lye with aloe vera gel as a base instead of water. Would this be an acceptable way to incorporate the aloe vera into soap or would the chemical reaction interact and break down all the goodies in the gel?
You’re taking about making ‘lye’ from scratch...of mixing raw aloe vera with your hardwood ash? If so, it’s not going to work but raw aloe vera is fairly thick and would not seep through the ash.

- Has anybody empirically experimented with adding salt to the saponification process when using lye based on wood ashes for the purpose of getting hard soap?
The vast majority of folks here use store bought sodium hydroxide (NaOH) as opposed to making a form of potassium hydroxide (KOH) so it is doubtful, though not improbable, that someone might have some experience. With that said, it is known that adding salt or sodium lactate will physically harden the soap. My suggestion would be to experiment with a small batch and see what happens.
 

Arimara

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You’re taking about making ‘lye’ from scratch...of mixing raw aloe vera with your hardwood ash? If so, it’s not going to work but raw aloe vera is fairly thick and would not seep through the ash.



The vast majority of folks here use store bought sodium hydroxide (NaOH) as opposed to making a form of potassium hydroxide (KOH) so it is doubtful, though not improbable, that someone might have some experience. With that said, it is known that adding salt or sodium lactate will physically harden the soap. My suggestion would be to experiment with a small batch and see what happens.
The OP has not been online in a while.
 

Arimara

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Yes, the OP just came back and posted. Post #12 is a new post.
Oh Thanks. I'm really hating how easy it is to completely skip over vital things like that now. I'm not used to it.
 

Lemoert

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I use aloe vera gel routinely as my water content - so yes, it can be done. :)
- Thanks for the information KiwiMoose. We also have quite an overproduction of Aloe, so using it as a base for soap could be a good option. Do you notice any difference in the end product compared to using straight water?

You’re taking about making ‘lye’ from scratch...of mixing raw aloe vera with your hardwood ash? If so, it’s not going to work but raw aloe vera is fairly thick and would not seep through the ash.
- Yes, I have considered that as well. The seep method would likely not work, as you mentioned, but simply mixing water with hardwood ash left me with lye (or at least some liquid with pH 14+), so I was considering if the same could be done with aloe vera as a base. However, perhaps leaching would change the chemical structure of aloe vera and thus nullify any potential benefits it might have.

My suggestion would be to experiment with a small batch and see what happens.
- Will do, but wanted to check if anybody else had done before. The same goes for trying to make lye straight from aloe vera gel instead of water. Thanks!
 
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