Making Lye Soap
by Bonnie Fordham Hollingsworth
I grew up making homemade soap, and was never the worse for wear because of it. It was our bath soap, dish soap, and scrubbing the old pine floors soap. Us younguns had to have an EXTRA scrubbing if we had been out picking wild berries. This was to make sure any chiggers (redbugs to our older generation) we might have picked up he woods didn’t have a chance to survive. I still have lye soap in my home and still use it occasionally. If my hubby and I have been out in the woods rock hunting or berry picking, we always jump right in the shower when we get home, and scrub good with lye soap. We never have chiggers or ticks that live through it!
This is my mothers recipe, though I dont think she ever truly followed it. She was not a recipe person, but somehow knew just what and how much to add to the mixture
Soap MUST be made in either a cast iron or enameled pot.
Stir lye into water until it is dissolved well. Then add the grease and stir it for 20 minutes. Let it sit and cool for about a half hour Then stir it well again, and pour it up into moulds. If you don’t have soap moulds, you can pour it into an enameled baking pan, and let it harden overnight. Then cut it up into bars, and store. You can wrap it in freezer paper, or just let it sit out on an open shelf somewhere. If you don,t wrap it, it will air harden and last longer when you use it. Lye soap is good for everything from hand washing to laundry. It will NOT hurt you, as the grease kills the lye.
The settlers to Newton County did not have access to store-boughten lye, and made their own lye water. To do this, you have to have an ash hopper. All the ashes from the fireplace and cook stove were brought from the fireplace and cook stove were put in the hopper. Water was poured over the ashes, and left to slowly drip through them. It would drip out slowly through a spout that was placed at the bottom of the hoper. An enameled bucket was set under the spout to catch the lye water that was used to make soap. My granny said that her mother would always run the water twice to make sure it was good strong lye water. This was how you made a proper batch of soap.
A more appealing soap can be made my eliminating pint of the water and adding a pint of glycerin. You can also add a few drops of oil of lavender (or rose, lilac, etc.) to give it a more pleasing odor. We never went that far since we never had money for glycerin or perfumed oils. THAT was too extravagant.
ANY grease can be used to make soap. Our mother always saved all her bacon grease, sausage grease, and lard from frying chicken. It all went into the grease bucket to be saved for the next batch of soap. Most people used rendered out hog lard for their soap making.
If you wanted to clean your grease before using it for soap, you just put it in a large pot, added a quart or two of water, and brought the water to a good hard boil. Let it sit overnight and the scraps of meat (or whatever) would settle to the bottom of the pot. Then, you could skim the clean, hardened grease off the top to use for making soap.
A member of a local crafts club tells me that you can also use a five gallon plastic bucket to make soap. I have not tried it, but I do know this you can CANNOT use aluminum. My mother, needing a dab of soap to make do, decided to stir up a small batch in a big aluminum pot that she used for making jellies and jams. Almost as soon as she added the lye to the water, we could actually see the pot begin to wrinkle up. She grabbed some rags, then the pot, and made it out the back door to the washstand. As we all stood and watched, the pot (with the exception of its metal handle) disintegrated before our eyes! The lye water ran out between the cracks in floor of the washstand, and there was a dab of aluminum and two big steel handles left there on the floor. My mother, being one with a great sense of humor, simply cracked up laughing, and said, Well, I wont do THAT again!
I make my soap in a big cast iron wash pot, and stir it with a wooden paddle. That paddle, if it were used for stirring boiling clothes in the wash pot, would be called a battling board. Oh, well, that’s another story.