Saponification!

This post is a little different from most of my others, hopefully you like it anyway and have no fear, I’m still going to be blogging about hiking, wildlife and travel.

Lye water mixture in jars after being separated from the ash
Lye water mixture in jars after being separated from the ash

According to Roman mythology, there was once an animal sacrifice to the gods on Mount Sapo.  The melted fat from the animal mixed with ash from the wood fire it was burnt on.  Rain washed this mixture into a river, where it foamed and lathered as soap.  Locals soon discovered that this strange mixture cleaned garments better than water alone; thus soap was born, taking its name from Mount Sapo.  This is a myth but it still is accurate as to the basic ingredients in soap making: lye (can be made from ash), fat or oil and water.

I'm adding oil and fat to the lye water mixture.
I’m adding oil and fat to the lye water mixture.

This last weekend, I spent some time trying my hand at soap making.  I did this partly out of curiosity.  I did it partly because it’s a good practical skill and maybe someday I’ll be in a remote cabin quickly running out of soap.  I did it partly because I can make soap a lot cheaper than buying it.  I did this because I posted about self-sufficiency and sustainability and soap is one of the necessities people generally purchase.  I also did this because I thought it’d be nice to make my girlfriend some homemade lavender-scented soap/body wash.  I wanted to try my hand at making soap with mostly waste products and so make a soap that was biodegradable and made from recycled ingredients.

Bringing the lye water mixture to a boil before adding the fat and oil.
Bringing the lye water mixture to a boil before adding the fat and oil.

My soap was a partial success.  I made lye from ash from my mom’s wood burning stove.  Over a period of day I let ash steep in a steel pot full of water, boiling it occasionally to concentrate the lye.  I then tested the strength of the lye by floating an egg in it.  Next I melted some saved cooking grease my mom had and mixed it with waste oil from her fryer.  After mixing these together and cooking and stirring them, I never got them to combine in quite the right way.  It’s very possible I got the ratio of lye water to fat/oil wrong.  It’s possible I was impatient and didn’t cook and stir the mixture long enough or vigorously enough.  The end product doesn’t look very pretty, it really looks like grease and it separates if left to sit very long.  All that said, if you shake it up to mix it together again and rub some on your hands with water, it lathers like normal soap.  It cleans like normal soap.  I even used some of the soap to take a shower, using it as an all-purpose body wash and shampoo, it worked well.  Considering that this is my first try at soap making, I’m reasonably happy.  It may take some work to make a perfect liquid soap as I was trying to make but I proved to myself anyway that it’s possible to make a simple, all-purpose soap from recycled materials for almost no cost (I did add a bottle of lavender essential oils that brought the cost of the whole project to $13.00 and provided 4 bottles of soap).  Now after waiting a day and letting my soap sit, I’m happy to say the situation has changed, the soap has congealed a bit more and is more uniform in texture, it’s much more like what I wanted originally.  If you’re interested in soap making, there are a few websites I’d suggest:  Mother Earth News Soap Instructions  Frontier Freedom Soap Recipe  Country Farm Lifestyles Soap Recipe

Finished liquid soap. Far from a perfect product but usable and a good learning experience.
Finished liquid soap. Far from a perfect product but usable and a good learning experience.
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