A quick reminder for everyone: How to make soap from ashes, water, and animal fat. We'll all be pretty smelly in the Aftertime and soap will be a much desired luxury. It's simple to make, so study, study, study! I found the page on this site provided helpful. Save your bacon grease, etc, it will be an excellent barter item in itself...as well as the soap, obviously.
And hey, what's this? An excerpt from Nancy's story, The Passage, where she briefly describes the process:
Colonel Cage and Ian are walking up the hill toward the camp from the river bank. A group of women at the side of the trail are stirring something in a pot over an open fire. Colonel Cage and Ian pass a woman pouring water into a V shaped trough while another woman removes a drainage tray from under the trough, replacing it with an empty tray. The trough is filled with gray ashes with some chunks of blackened wood here and there, clearly ashes from a fire.
Phew . . Is that for supper?
They're making soap. Fat and lye. Works well enough but it'll take the hair off your chest.
Ian has flashed a smile at Colonel Cage as they continue walking up the trail, past a low table where a metal rack of soap forms is sitting inside a square cake pan, a crisscross of metal sides where a dozen or more soap bars can harden. The pot from the fire is brought over and a thick, beige colored, steaming mixture is poured across the rack.
This is a cut-out of the actual article link above, and NOT my work.
Toward the end of this article, I’ll give specific recipes for making soap, both with commercial lye and with homemade lye. There are countless recipes for making soap, but this will serve as a guide.
For this batch of soap, I made a fast batch of homemade lye. Today, the lye-making took approximately 2-3 hours, instead of 3-5 days for a normal batch of homemade lye from wood ashes. If you’d like to try the regular method of making lye from wood ashes , see the June/July/August 2007 issue of Frontier Freedom Online Magazine .
First, I began with a 5 gallon bucket of rain water. It was raining that day, so I took advantage of the situation and collected it from the gutter downspout. While nature and gravity were working together to provide me with soft water, I grabbed an old pillow case and filled it with wood ashes. You could also melt snow instead of using rain water if you live in a colder climate.
Next, I placed the pillow case full of ashes in a separate 5 gallon bucket. I then boiled about a gallon of rainwater. With the pillow case stretched open to the same size as the bucket, I poured the boiling hot rain water into the ashes. I then boiled more rain water and repeated this process until the ashes were completely covered.
With the hot water covering the ashes, I closed the pillow case and lifted and lowered the pillowcase in and out of the water, like making tea.
This dipping process continues for some time --- about one and a half hours. Then lift the pillow case out of the bucket, strain it, and pour the water into your pan. I used my enameled pot. Using my propane grill, I cooked the contents of the pan, which contained water and lye (Potassium Hydroxide). The reason for cooking this mixture instead of going straight to combining it with my fat was to boil the water away so that I could use the lye faster. In the regular method , you would allow the water to evaporate out of the lye until the potassium hydroxide was dry. Then you could easily store it for making soap anytime. But, today, we’ll make the lye quickly, then use it in a batch of soap.
Occasionally, I checked the strength of the mixture with a chicken feather. The rule is, the lye is strong enough to make soap when a chicken feather begins to dissolve in the solution. Today, my feather began to dissolve in the solution, so it was ready.
If the feather had not dissolved, I would have taken the following steps:
However, since I was happy with the results, I continued to boil the mixture down to almost nothing. Be careful when the level of liquid gets low, as you can scorch the lye.
Mixing Fat With Lye
After the lye has passed the “Feather Test” and the water has boiled off, we’re ready to go. Now, if you’ve already made lye using the regular method, you can skip the “Fast Lane Lye” section, and start right here.
When the lye was ready, I added some beef tallow, which I melted in another pan. I also added an olive oil soap mixture that I had been working on, but that was simply too soft for me right now. Using my wooden stirring stick, I stirred the fat and lye water mixture until thickened.
(Editor’s note: By the way, a soft batch of soap is not lost. There are several ways to use it, depending on how it turns out. You could scoop it into a dish or short, wide mouth jar. If it’s pourable, you could pour it into a squirt bottle or a liquid soap pump dispenser. Soft soap can also be used to wash dishes or your laundry.)
After some time of stirring it looks thick, as shown in the picture --- about the consistency of sour cream, or maybe melted chocolate. Then I let the soap rest in the pan to begin setting up while I prepared the empty soap mold.
The mold I used here is homemade. The interior of the mold measures 11”L x 2 ¾” W x 2 3/8”H. It was made from some scrap boards I had around, and a piece of paneling for the bottom. You’ll want to have a mold handy before you begin making soap. If you don’t have a wood mold available, you can use a shoe box, other type of box, baking pan, plastic food storage containers, or just about anything else you can think of. Just be sure to line it with plastic wrap before pouring in the soap. There are all sorts of things you could use for individual soap molds, as well, such as candy molds or those plastic dividers that are often used in tins of cookies.
To prepare the mold, I line it with plastic wrap to make it easy to remove the soap later.
Once the mold is prepared, I pour in the molten soap, spreading it around so that it’s even with the top of the mold. Even though this soap looks like refried beans, it dried to a nice, semi-soft white-gray soap. For harder soap, I would omit the olive oil. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. As soon as the soap is poured into the mold, it should be covered with something to allow it to cool and harden slowly ---- cardboard, Styrofoam, towels or blankets will work.
Cutting and Curing the Bars
After the soap has dried in the mold at least 24 hours (in this case, it was more like 72 hours, but some soaps go much longer), it should be removed, cut, and stacked for drying. If you use plastic wrap to line your molds, the soap should come out easily. Then you can unwrap the soap after you remove it from the mold.
If you use one large mold, like I do, you’ll need to cut it into bars. The easiest way to cut soap is with a wire or piece of fishing line, as shown in the pictures. Do this before the soap becomes too hard. If it’s too hard, it will crumble or break when you try to cut it. If it’s too soft, you’ll have trouble cutting it without mashing it out of shape.
This block provided ten bars of soap. These bars will sit in my basement, stacked as shown, on a shelf covered with wax paper or plastic wrap while they cure and dry for the next 4-6 weeks. Uncured soap is called ‘green soap’ and can cause skin burns. Also, as the soap cures, the saponification (chemical reaction) is still taking place. You can not hurt the soap by allowing it to cure too long.
The Standard Batch Soap Recipe
Below are two standard recipes. One calls for commercial lye, and the other is for homemade lye. Both will yield an excellent hard soap for bathing and laundering.
The following recipe yields roughly nine pounds of soap, enough to make about 36 bars. The soap can be molded separately or poured into one large container and cut into bars later. A combination of half tallow and half lard is usually suggested. Most other soaps are variations of this standard recipe.
|Commercial Lye Crystals||Homemade Lye|
13 ounces of commercial lye crystals
1 1/2 pints of water
6 pounds of fat
18.2 ounces of homemade lye
2 1/2 pints of water
6 pounds of fat