Monday, April 23, 2012

The Life of Lye (Soap)

Grandma's lye soap set up?

Lye soap. Your grandmother probably used it when she was a kid. In Appalachia, they've used it forever using the trees they had to collect drippings from certain trees to eventually make lye. Suffice to say it's been around a long while. Only recently have I noticed that a lot of soaps these days are sold in stores and have left the home entirely.

Well, anyone who reads anything here on a regular basis knows that if I can do it, I will do it. I love being autonomous, particularly in times where there are so many harmful chemicals floating around everywhere that we don't seem to even consider anymore. And let's not even talk about the cost-effectiveness yet!

Alright, enough gabbing. Lye soap. It works. There's no film or soapy residue that stays on your skin. It'll even wash your hair. I know, I know. Some people out there are really repulsed by the thought of washing your hair with dirty old bar soap. But this isn't Dial or Irish Spring, folks. This is lye soap. It's natural. It's organic. There are no detergents, there are no preservatives, and excuse my French, but there's no bullshit in this. You can make it yourself and you can see how well it works, I swear. And don't let the "lye" part of this scare you, either!

The basics of lye soap is mixing a fat or oil with lye and water at the right ratio to produce soap. That's it! I mean, there's a little more to it than just throwing it all in a bowl and calling it a day, but that's the basic idea.

Here comes the penny-pinching part: I use lard because it's cheap. I can get a pound of lard at the local discount grocer for under $2. Three pounds of lard used in soap making should produce enough soap to keep you and yours going through many months. You can buy a freakin' pound of lye for $5. That's cheaper than the lard! I get mine at ACE Hardware.

There's a nice lye to fat ratio table using all different kinds of oils and fats, and even combinations of them. Note at the bottom the amount of water to be combined with lye. You do that first, before involving the oils or fat. The heat generated from the chemical reaction of lye and water is incredible - something you should be aware of. I was surprised no one mentioned it when I made it the first time.

Once you get your lye and water mixture dissolved, you slowly pour it into your oil or fat and stir until you get "trace" (lift your mixing implement and let some mixture dribble into the bowl. The dribblets should not readily go back into the mixture - you should be able to see the dribblets stand out. If you still don't know what I mean, google image search "soap making trace.")

Now that you've got trace, you throw it into a mold and let it set for a few weeks. Getting to trace is probably the worst part of soap making. It takes a while to get there, even with a stick mixer - about 20 minutes of non-stop mixing.

You can get crazy with your soap and add exfoliants like ground oatmeal or brown sugar. You can add oils to make your soap smell good. You can do pretty much anything you like, including throwing in glitter and bathing every day with princess soap. WHO KNOWS.

I urge you to try it. See if it works for your house. It's so cheap and it's so much fun to use things you made with... wait for it.... your own bare hands. You don't have to use it for just bar soap either! It's great if you have allergies to the detergent soaps out there, and you can use it in your laundry (I'll post about that later)! Some folks say that insects don't like lye soap; it can repel them. You can even use it in place of shampoo and conditioner (which I recommend!).

The cost-effectiveness, eco-effectiveness, and use-effectiveness should sell you on this, guys. It's a great solution.

If you do decide to make it, please use a more thorough website than this for any instructions. I fear I was a little too simplistic about it all, and I don't want to be blamed if you burn yourself on the lye or something. (Lye is pretty dangerous, use protective gear.)


Nicole said...

This is great! I love the idea of making our soap. I love the idea of having soap that is not harmful to my children. I want to try it, but I am nervous about working with lye.

Thank you for sharing!!!

Yumi Shiraishi said...

I yearn for the soap you made! I haven't found bar soap that I quite like as much as I liked yours!! :)

Danielle McCauley said...

Yumi, I can totally bring some to the meet if you want. I think I've got a huge batch of Rosemary soap. I'll bring it and you decide. :D