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Making Lye Soap from Lard and Wood Ashes
Frequently Asked Questions
WARNING - Read this! Lye is very caustic and will burn your skin and can permanently damage your
eyes and other soft tissues. Be sure to wear protective gear. Keep plenty of vinegar and water nearby to
help counteract the lye when it comes in contact with your skin. Also, be sure to avoid breathing fumes
from boiling lye water, as it is very hazardous to your well being.
How do you prepare the lye water from wood ashes?
There are two steps to preparing lye water. The first is to extract the lye from wood ashes. One common
method is to collect hardwood ashes in a large container, which has a small drainage hole in the bottom.
Plug the hole and add just enough water to cover the ashes. Let this set for a few days, then pull the plug
and collect with water in a non-reactive container (such as stainless steel, enamel). The other method is
to use a container without a drainage hole and pour the lye water off the top.
The second step is to reduce the lye water down so that it is sufficiently strong to convert fat to soap. Place
the lye water over a heat source in a well ventilated area and boil to reduce the liquid and increase the
concentration of lye. Carefully, lower a fresh egg (not cooked/boiled) into the concentrated lye. If it sinks,
the lye water is not strong enough. It if floats with an area at least the size of a quarter above the water
level, then it's ready.
Can I use an oil other than lard?
Yes, but all oils behave a little differently and you may have to adjust your recipe a little. Some folks use a
combination of oils, such as vegetable oil and coconut oil.
Does this process make a soft or hard soap?
The process we use makes a soft, creamy soap. However, if you have the patience to let the soap dry for
several days or weeks (depending on the time of year and where you live), the soap will firm up over time.
When will the soap be ready?
Lye is a strong alkali that breaks down fat and converts it to soap. The process is called, saponification,
and continues for 24-48 hours after combining the lye and lard. It is pretty amazing how quickly the smell
of lard and wood ash quickly changes to a sweet, soap aroma.
What about fragrances?
We've used orange zest, oatmeal, peppermint leaves, and various spices. Some work better than others
for fragrance and some better for adding a little texture or soft grit to the soap.
Some of the materials we used for fragrances, such as peppermint tea leaves, will quickly oxide and turn
the soap a rather unsightly brown color. Others, such as orange zest, adds a far more pleasing orange
tint to the soap. The fun is in experimenting and coming up with your own special soap.