In days gone by, lye soap was a homemaker’s ultimate all-purpose cleanser.
From clothes and stains to dirty dishes and floors – even to poison ivy and bug bites — lye soap was the answer for the family’s daily cleaning needs.
Usually made with leftover cooking fats and lye made from wood ashes…townspeople would gather on soap-making days, preparing large batches together.
As modern keeper’s of the home, we have the privilege of following in the vintage ways of those before us! By using fats and oils such as lard, tallow, or sustainably-sourced, organic palm lye soap can again find it’s place as a household staple.
Benefits of Using Lye Soap
The secret to old fashioned lye soap’s cleansing power is in it’s high lye content and lack of exotic oils.
We see this benefit mainly in the area of laundry and general household cleaning recipes.
I receive many of emails asking for trouble-shooting help when it comes to homemade laundry detergent especially. Problems such as:
- the laundry detergent isn’t gelling.
- it doesn’t clean clothing as well as commercial products.
- stains are hard to remove.
A majority of the recipes available for homemade laundry detergent call for the use of castile soap or some other “super-fatted” soap (Note: Super-fatted is a fancy soap-making term that basically means…soap made with a lower percentage of lye so as to be ultra moisturizing for the skin and/or hair).
While these nourishing and moisturizing all-natural soaps are wonderful for bathing…they have the potential to leave an oily residue on laundry, dishes, and a variety of household surfaces – not the squeaky clean we have come accustomed to with commercially-prepared detergents.
The solution is a strong lye soap.
And trust me when I say, making a batch of homemade lye soap does not have to be complicated.
Basic Lye Soap Recipe
- 2 pounds fat (choose between: tallow, lard, or sustainably-sourced, organic palm oil)
- filtered, pure water
- lye, 0-1% excess fat (Note: Depending on the fats used the amount of lye will differ. Please run your recipe through a lye calculator for the amount of water and lye you will need.)
***I use locally-sourced, hand-rendered Arizona tallow for my basic lye soap and my recipe looks like this:
- 2 pounds tallow
- 10 ounces filtered, pure water
- 4.4 ounces lye
Hot Process Method
*Remember…there are 2 different methods for soap-making — hot and cold process — this is the Hot Process Method.
1. Measure the lye and water — each in separate bowls — using a kitchen scale. (Note: Always run your recipe through a lye calculator to be sure that you are using the proper amount of fats/oils, lye, and liquid.)
2. Carefully combine the lye and water by pouring the lye into the water (never pour the water into the lye) and stir liquid until lye is completely dissolved. The liquid is caustic and not to be touched in anyway. The outside of the bowl will be extremely hot as well. Note: Be careful when working with lye and follow all of the recommended precautions. (Note: What I’m trying to say is, I can not be held responsible for any craziness, mishaps, explosions, etc. that may happen when making this recipe.)
3. Allow the lye mixture to stay under a vent and cool down while you prepare the fats/oils.
4. Measure the fats/oils by weight and then place in a crock pot to melt on low heat.
5. Once melted, add the lye/liquid mixture to the oils in the crock pot and stir. (Note: Any equipment the lye touches needs to be neutralized in a mixture of white vinegar, soap, and water.)
6. After a brief stir, grab your stick blender and get to work! Blend the oils and liquid in the crock pot for at least 3-5 minutes. We are working toward ”trace.”
7. Blend until the mixture becomes a thick, pudding like consistency.
8. Once the mixture is pudding-like, cover the crock pot and “cook” the soap for approximately 1 hour.
9. Prepare your mold. I just use a standard loaf pan lined with parchment paper and it’s always worked perfectly.
10. Spoon soap mixture into molds.
11. Allow soap to cool and harden for 24 hours.
12. Remove from mold onto cutting board and cut into bars.
13. Place bars on a tray with good airflow so that they can harden further. But go ahead and feel free use your first bar!!!
-If you are new to soap-making I strongly suggest you read through these very informative articles and find what will work for you:
-I would also recommend borrowing a few of these books from the library if you really find yourself wanting to know more:
- Handcrafted Soapby Dolores Boone
- The Soapmaker’s Companionby Susan Miller Cavitch
- The Natural Soap Book by Susan Miller Cavitch
-This lye soap contains NO excess lye to hurt the skin in anyway…however it may be too drying for daily use.
-It’s perfect for super oily skin and wonderful when used to treat poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and/or bug bites.
-Tallow, lard, and palm all create low-suds soap, making these bars perfect for use with HE washing machines.
-To use as a laundry stain stick simply wet the edge of a bar and rub vigorously directly onto stained clothing.
Where Can I get this stuff?
Looking for the raw materials mentioned in this post? The Soap Dish has some of the best prices on soap-making ingredients you can find — not to mention it’s a small family owned business.
I also highly recommend Mountain Rose Herbs for high-quality, organic herbs, oils, and essential oils!
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