Sunday, November 18, 2012

Soap Making

This post is a reader-contribution and has information for making soap.  I'm sure there are many of you who have made your own soap, and possibly do so regularly, but a lot of people never have, including myself.  It's on my list of things to learn and do!

Simple Lye Soap


3 Pounds Lard
1 16 Ounce Container Lye
1 1 Quart Canning Jar
1 8 Quart Enameled or Stainless Steel Pan
1 Plastic or Stainless Steel Stirring Tool ( long handled)
2 9 x 13 Glass or Coated Baking Dishes
Cooking Thermometer.


1. Lye is extremely corrosive, you may want to wear rubber gloves.
2. When Lye is mixed with water, it gets HOT. Possible as high as 160 - 180 degrees.

3. Vinegar applied to splashes of Lye on the skin can help nutralize it. Wash any lye
spills Immediately with lots of water then finish it with a wipe of vinegar.


- Melt the 3 pounds of lard using a low heat in the enameled pan. Do not

let the lard start to smoke.  The lard doesn't need to be hotter than about 120 degrees.

- Pour the lye into the 1-quart canning jar, then add water to make a total volume of 1 quart.
Do not pour the lye into the water, it could boil, splash out of the jar or over run the jar and
spill. Using a canning jar will ensure that it will not break with the sudden temperature
change created by the lye.

- Let the lye solution cool to no more than 120 degrees.

- Make sure the lard is about 120 degrees.

- Pour the lye solution into the pan with the lard and start stirring. the mixture.

- Continue to stir the mixture until it starts to "Trace".

Tracing is when the (at this point Soap) starts to show a lighter color in the ripples when
stirred. The soap will gradually start to thicken and if you dont see a trace but do notice
that the ripples from stirring start to remain above the rest of the soap for a short while,
that will be sufficient. The soap will usually have to drop below around 90 degrees(but not
always) before it trace. If you pour he soap
too soon, it may "sweat", while it is setting.
The sweat is beads of lye forming on he surface, it doesn't mean the soap is bad but you
dont want it to contact skin or unenameled utinsils.

- When the trace is seen, pour the soap into the baking dishes and let it harden. Hardening
may take a day or more. When a trace is seen, you can add any fragrance or oils as desired.

- After the soap hardens enough to hold a cut without it filling back in after slicing, cut the
block into bar sized pieces and let it continue to harden(in the baking dish) until about
the consistancy of regular bar soap.

- Remove the bars from the baking dish, seperate them and put them in a safe place to
Cure(in the open air).

The curing process is the period of time that the chemical reaction uses to make the lard/lye
mixture into usable soap. A safe bet is about a month or longer. If you use the bars before it
is fully cured, the lye will burn your skin(sometimes severly).

- Once the soap has cured, it can be stored in a bin, box, jar or other suitable container.

After the soap has cured, it is very mild and safe to use for most cleaning jobs. Be advised
that the bars will not lather near as much as commercial soaps but will clean, IMO,
better than bought bars and it usually leaves less residue on your skin and in your hair.

A good habit to make is to immediately wash all utinsils used, with plenty of water and
vinegar solution to ensure that no lye is left to cause problems. Some people dedicate
specific utinsils and pans for the sole use in soap making.

Different people have procedures for making lye soap that may differ from this method. It
doesn't mean that either is right or wrong. The imporant thing is that the result is usable

I have a few questions myself after reading this, so I'll be emailing the contributor to ask about them.  I was confused about the jar.  The directions say to put the lard in the jar and add water to make a quart.  Then it says that when the lye has cooled to around 120 degrees, add it to the lard in the pan.  But it said that using a canning jar made it so the jar wouldn't break with the sudden temperature change of adding the lye.  But I thought we were combining them in the pan?  And if we've filled the jar with lard and water to make a quart, we wouldn't have room to add the lye mixture to the  jar. 

I'm running on extreme sleep deprivation so it's probably me and not the directions that are confused!  My daughter's car broke down 40 miles from home in the middle of the night last night, so I've pretty much been up since yesterday morning.  I'll clarify these directions and update it later.

I have a couple things of my own to add.  My other daughter has made soap, but it was while she was living some distance away.  She had a hard time finding lye and finally got some at Ace hardware.

Several years ago we had a neighbor who made his own lye.  He took an old washtub and made a small hole in the middle of the bottom.  He filled the washtub with ashes from his woodstove and poured water over them.  The water seeped through the ashes and out the hole, into a bucket under the washtub.  That water was lye. 

He only burned oak and hickory in his woodstove, which are hardwoods.  I don't know if the ashes from pine woods or other wood would also produce lye.  I'll see if I can find that out too.  Here in our part of the country we only have pine and fir trees.

I would love to hear from other soap-makers.  Anything you want to add would be nice.  Email it to me at, or leave a comment here on the blog.


From the mailbox, November 19, 2012:

"Hi -

I came across your blog today. Nice job!

You posed a question about what kind of wood ash to use when making lye
for soap - it generally needs to be hardwood. I tried using pine once
outdoors and the results were not good- usable in a pinch but it never
firmed properly. It was usable in making biofuel but was not as
efficient as using hardwood ash.

I also wanted to send you this link which you might find interesting:

Thanks again for the great blog and I'm looking forward to reading your

Thanks for your email, and for answering my question about making lye.  The link you included is very helpful on the subject too. 


No comments:

Post a Comment