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Old Fashioned Lye Soap Making

Updated on October 11, 2011
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Soap has been made for centuries, but has been in use for far longer. Ancient man made use of wood fire ashes with water to clean primitive utensils. Even before the discovery of fat, lard, and water mixtures, these same peoples found that some plants produced a slick, foamy substance useful for washing themselves and clothing.

Not everyone has time to gather Soapwort, beat roots on rocks, then shower before work. Even those that work from home would find this chore just a little on the tedious side if they tried to do this daily! Good thing that someone in our ancestry discovered that wood ashes make lye and that same lye can be mixed with melted fat or oils to get everything sparkly.

Whether you plan on homesteading, going completely off-grid, or dabbling in soap making, read on to learn the basics of making a great home made soap that will not only clean great, but last for a long time.


Before You Begin

Before getting started, make sure you have two essential items: gloves and safety glasses. Lye in liquid or solid form is very caustic and can cause serious damage to soft tissues. Never work with lye without these two safety precautions!

When making the soap always use non-reactive pots. The only metal that may be used is cast iron. Cast iron kettles over a fire outdoors is an old fashioned method. Otherwise use ceramics, enamelware, glass, or stoneware. Sturdy wooden spoons are best for stirring. Once used for soap making, never use for food. Trace lye can cause poisoning.

Gather the Ingredients

Gather the ingredients.

You will need:

  • 2 gallons of rain water (tap water has metals that can inhibit the final product)

  • 1 can of lye or 1 quart strong lye water

  • 5 pounds lard or oil (lard can be purchased in grocery stores or substitute with olive oil)

Mix It Up

Heat the lard or oil in a non-reactive pot. While the fat is heating, add the lye to cold water. Never pour lye into hot water! The chemical reaction between the lye and water will cause it to heat. Once the fat is completely melted and the lye water is warmed, pour the lye into the fat. Cook over a low to medium-low heat for two hours.

After two hours the mixture should be thickened. Turn off the heat, then pour into molds. A large roasting pan that has been lined with cloth will work. Once the soap has set overnight and begun to harden, cut into usable squares.Be sure to use protective eyewear and gloves when cutting. If the soap did not set up right the lye may not be totally absorbed and a splash in the eye can have long term consequences.

Allow to harden for two to three weeks.

Scents and More

If you would like to color or scent the soap, add essential oils before pouring into molds. Be creative and design your own signature scents. Be sure to stir well to incorporate the oil thoroughly. When adding scented oils, make the scent stronger than you would like with the final product. The scent will fade during drying, so extra oil will ensure a longer lasting scent.


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    • SEXYLADYDEE profile image

      SEXYLADYDEE 6 years ago from Upstate NY

      I love any hub promoting my favorite thing. But it is very important to note that you need an accurate recipe, a reliable lye calculator and a scale or all you are going to have is a big dangerous mess. Dee

    • profile image

      lisa 6 years ago

      how many ounces or amount of lye is needed? can sizes vary

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I love homemade soap and make it myself. Two gallons of water sounds like a lot of water in proportion to the fat.

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 8 years ago

      I was just thinking that due to he recession more people will probably be making alot of homemade things such as soap making to save on money. I go to a local market night in town and they have all these booths of local residents and most of them are selling things that is homemade from soaps, to beauty products and natural essential ingredients which is a great way to earn money and be healthier.

    • Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

      Tatjana-Mihaela 8 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

      I used  such soap (somebodie´s Grandma made it), but only for washing laundry. It was very good for this purpose.