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Wood ash lye and soaping?

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vBlake

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Hello everyone! I'm new here and to soap making. I have watched countless videos on the Internet and researched soaping and it has me hooked!! I want to do the entire process from scratch? I have a small BBQ side hobby that leaves me with two by products... Pig fat and lots of wood ashes... Or the two thing you need to make soap!!

Has anyone tried leaching distiller water and wood ashes to get lye solution? I tried my first batch yesterday with little success.

I leached my wood ash and water and got plenty of lye solution. I reduced it down till it floated an egg with only a nickel to quarter size of the egg above water. Next I rendered down some pork fat and strained and filtered it till it was pure oil/fat. I then got both oil and lye solution to about 110 degrees I slowly mixed two ingredients at about a 60/40 ratio.

60% or 850ml pork fat
40% or 340ml lye solution

It was beautiful! It instantly started the saponification process and turned a nice creamy white.... Anddddd that's where it stayed. I hand mixed for about 5 minutes then used a stick blender or another 20-25 minutes.. It never came to trace. I put it in my mold and waited 24 hours to see very little change in my "soap".

what went wrong?? Can anyone help???
 

not_ally

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From the posts I have seen about people trying to make lye themselves, it is really tricky, kind of a PITA, and also likely to be problematic. I would really just buy it, I get mine from the Lye Guy. I guess the only other thing I would say is that you*have* to use a soap calculator to figure out how much lye you should use in proportion to your oils.

That amount of lye is really, really, high (how did you arrive at it?). It would not be usable without rebatching (and to me that is a pain). Here's a couple of calcs that are often used:

Soapcalc: http://soapcalc.net/calc/SoapCalcWP.asp

Soapee: http://soapee.com/calculator

ETA: based on Dory's posts, this might be entirely irrelevant with respect to wood ash lye. But I am sticking to my original thoughts about buying lye and using a calc, though! Unless you are truly committed to doing the whole thing from scratch, and then God help you :)
 
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Dorymae

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You can not make bar soap with wood ash lye. What you will get is a creamy soap that you would need to keep in a bucket or bowl and scoop out.

Bar soap is made with sodium hydroxide, I believe what you have is a different hydroxide. I'm not sure if it is potassium hydroxide ( used to make liquid and cream soaps) but if you wait a bit DeeAnna can explain.

Bottom line is what you got is what you should expect to get when leeching wood ash.

Edited to add I believe there is a way to make it harder but it involved boiling and salting and to be honest I'm not familiar enough with either to help.
 
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Stacy

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Hey vBlake and welcome!

We have some really brainy science types on here so if you can make your own lye and figure out the strength, I'm sure they'll be able to point you in the right direction. I suspect that the advice you're going to get is along the lines of what not_ally just gave you though.

The calculator tells you exactly how much lye to use in based on the properties of the oil you use, but the essential part of the equation is knowing how strong the lye is.

Edited: Dorymae beat me to it with a better answer...so nothing to see here *whistles*
 
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vBlake

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Thanks for the quick feedback! I have looked into those calcs and for my first batch they seemed a bit complicated. My lye solution may be a potassium hydroxide and not sodium hydroxide I do recall hearing that. Yet folks on the ol' trust web seem to have no issues making bar soap. I'll try and pick up some lye at the store and go that route.

From the posts I have seen about people trying to make lye themselves, it is really tricky, kind of a PITA, and also likely to be problematic. I would really just buy it, I get mine from the Lye Guy. I guess the only other thing I would say is that you*have* to use a soap calculator to figure out how lye you should use in proportion to your oils.

That amount of lye is really, really, high (how did you arrive at it?). It would not be usable without rebatching (and to me that is a pain). Here's a couple of calcs that are often used:

Soapcalc: http://soapcalc.net/calc/SoapCalcWP.asp

Soapee: http://soapee.com/calculator

I got those values based off a wonderful YouTube video of a guy in his shed sitting in a bucket!! Trustworthy right!! I'll do a bit more studying to get those values dialed in.
 

Stacy

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You might be happy just rendering your own fats and buying lye.

The calculators look scary at first, but understanding how they work will actually save you a lot of time and money because you can plan a batch and fine tune it for the properties you want on paper before you use any of your materials.

I don't use animal fats in my soaps so I can't help but there have been a lot of threads on here talking about recipes. You can try a quick google if you're interested in looking back at any of them.
 

vBlake

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You might be happy just rendering your own fats and buying lye.

The calculators look scary at first, but understanding how they work will actually save you a lot of time and money because you can plan a batch and fine tune it for the properties you want on paper before you use any of your materials.

I don't use animal fats in my soaps so I can't help but there have been a lot of threads on here talking about recipes. You can try a quick google if you're interested in looking back at any of them.

I agree! I was so disappointed when it was not doing what I had expected it to do. It has to be my lye solution. Is that stuff fairly inexpensive??
 

Dorymae

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If you want to try right away, go to true value hardware. In the plumbing section with drain cleaners they sell 100% lye. Make sure it says it is only lye. (Technically it is not 100%, but you just want to make sure it has no other ingredients. ). I believe 1 lb is around $4, so not the cheapest route, but you'll have it today not two weeks from now.
 

Stacy

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I can't help you out there because I'm in Canada and prices/regulation are different.

If you go to a store to look for it you have to make sure it's 100% lye. Some outdated sites will tell you to get a certain brand of drain cleaner for example but there may be changes in the formula of that brand. Lye IS a drain cleaner, but not all drain cleaners are pure lye.

I'm sure someone more local to you will have more specific advice!

ETA: Man I'm just slow tonight, I'm going to bed!
 

snappyllama

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It is. i get mine from the Lye guy. But you can buy it from any reputable soaping supply place... wholesale supplies plus, bramble berry, essential depot, etc. You can also pick it up in some hardware stores... it's drain cleaner - but you have to make sure that it's pure sodium hydroxide without other stuff mixed in.
 

The Efficacious Gentleman

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You could do 85% hog fat and 15% coconut oil - that would make a lovely soap and use mostly your home made fat. You could use 100% lard, but then it would not really lather and seem like soap that you are used to.

I very rarely give out lye amounts as the calc is really not hard to use - for the first batch, leave most things as it is other than to change the weight units if you prefer and then put in your chosen fats. The rest can come later. When changing the oil in a car people don't panic because they don't know what all the other things do, they just put what they need to where it needs to go.

As for your ashes, I wonder if liquid soap is an option? I'm not sure, maybe someone else who knows the processes with that type of lye can tell you
 

DeeAnna

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I'm going to chime in with an edited version of something I wrote awhile back:

The oldest form of intentional soap making used a "ley" (a very old word for "lye") made from the ashes of plants. When the ashes are leached with water, the resulting ley is an alkaline solution of potassium carbonate and some sodium carbonate. The soap made with a mostly potassium carbonate ley will have a paste texture -- it will never be a hard, solid bar like soap made with sodium hydroxide.

The ashes from select marine or seacoast plants contain the highest levels of sodium carbonate, and so ley made from these plants will make the firmest type of paste soap. That's why the historically important soap making regions of the world have typically been seacoast communities -- they had access to these plants.

The ashes of inland plants can also be used to make ley/lye, but the amount of sodium carbonate is lower, so ley from these plants makes a much softer soap compared to soap made with a marine/seacoast ley. If you are going to use ashes from inland plants, the ashes from hardwood are preferred for soapmaking purposes.

Natron, one of the materials used by the Egyptians for mummification, was also used as a cheaper but less satisfactory alternative to the ashes. This is a mined product that is a mixture of soda ash (sodium carbonate, Na2CO3), sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), and other chemicals.

In the simplest form of soap making, the ashes were mixed with water and allowed to slowly steep, much like tea. Some of the potassium carbonate and sodium carbonate from the ashes leached (dissolved) into the water. This ley was concentrated if needed by using it leach a fresh batch of ash or by boiling it down to the required concentration. The ley was then mixed with fat and the mixture was heated and stirred until it formed a crude paste soap. Because the ley concentration varied and saponification values were unknown, enough ley was gradually added until the finished soap was somewhat "sharp" to the tongue (aka the soap had a slight zap) to ensure the fat was fully saponified.

In a later refinement of this process, the ley from ashes was not used directly to make soap. This ley was mixed with water and slaked lime (calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2). The chemical reaction of the carbonate solution with the lime formed a purer, stronger ley of potassium hydroxide and some sodium hydroxide, mixed with particles of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). The calcium carbonate particles were allowed to settle out of the lye solution and the resulting clear lye was collected and used to make a soft paste soap. People found out that adding plain salt to this soft soap would harden it somewhat. The increase in firmness was caused by the sodium in the salt replacing some of the potassium in the soft soap. Not all of the potassium could be replaced by adding salt, so the resulting soap was firmer than it would have been if made with wood ash ley, but it was still not the same as the pure NaOH soap we make nowadays.

Fast forward to my great-grandmother's time. People were still making soap with ashes alone or lime and ashes, but an alternative to ashes was gradually taking over -- pure, commercial soda ash (sodium carbonate, Na2CO3). This product is also called washing soda, since it is used for laundry and general cleaning.

One can add slaked lime to soda ash, boil the mixture for a few hours, and let the calcium carbonate particles settle. The resulting clear solution was pure lye as we know it today -- sodium hydroxide in water. This could be used to directly make a hard soap. Sometimes this type of recipe is billed as making a "soap without lye", but that's really not very accurate -- it's just that the lye is formed indirectly by boiling soda ash with lime.

The lime and soda ash process to produce NaOH lye was cumbersome and time consuming, so when pure lye (NaOH) became commercially available in my grandmother's day, most housewives quickly turned to store-bought lye as a timesaving, simpler, better alternative. (The large soapmakers had access to pure NaOH for some decades before this time, and these companies had gradually converted over from the soda ash & lime process to using commercial NaOH decades before our foremothers were able to do the same.)
 
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not_ally

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I found it a little hard to find good lye locally recently when I ran out and wanted some right away. Home Depot drain cleaners were not pure lye (none of them). I think Lowe's might have it, the Roebic's (sp?) brand, but the local Lowe's was too far. I finally found some at a good local hardware store, but I had to call four or five of them to do so. It might be easiest to order some from a supplier that delivers really fast, like Nature's Garden, they are very, very quick to get things out.

I agree w/EG on adding some coconut oil. That I buy at Costco. If you don't want to drive there (or want a lesser amount to start) you can some of that from NG as well.

Re the calc, have you tried Soapee yet? The link again: http://soapee.com/calculator

It really is pretty straightforward. For right now, just use three boxes, leave everything else at the default setting.

First, #1 (click on "solid soap"), #2 (put in the total amount of your oils), and #6 (add your specific oils by selecting them on the drop box and then clicking on the + sign at the top of the box, one at a time). That will bring up another box on the far right that lets you add your percentages. When they get to 100%, the recipe/soap info will appear below.
 
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