How To Make Lye From Ashes?

Discussion in 'Soapmaking' started by Pam in KY, Aug 25, 2011.

  1. Pam in KY

    Pam in KY Well-Known Member

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    I would like to make some lye soap from scratch, the way our granny or great-granny used to make it, with lye made from ashes. I have found several YouTube videos on the subject and while I commend these folks for wanting to spread the knowledge, they aren't very thorough with their measurements and/or directions. (1/4 of their bucket may not be the same amount as 1/4 of MY bucket...see what I mean?) Lye is SERIOUS stuff and I don't want to be guessing my way through it. Yes, I could just go out & buy some lye, but would like to be able to brag that I made 100% home made soap.
     
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  2. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    Pam,
    As a person who has made potash (lye from wood ashes) for a few years I will not recommend using this method if you want to a) sell to the public or b) use if for cleaning anything but a human body.

    Oh, there are exceptions. Are you a chemist that has a lab where you can analyze the concentration of the KOH produced from the wood ashes, (or the NaOH if you add salt to the mixture)????

    If not, then please buy 100% Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) for bar soap or KOH for a liquid soap or both for a Cream Soap.

    If you really want to make potash and use it, please use it to lye flint corn (commonly used for animal feed) into hominy (and hominy grits).

    You only want to use ashes from hardwoods, with Ash being the best wood to use. Don't bother with softwoods (like pine). You're just wasting your time.

    WHY?? Because soap making is an exact chemical reaction combining fatty acids with a base creating a salt (i.e. soap). Commercial lye has been around for centuries, the past 100 years it has been available for consumer use. Before that, if a family could not afford store bought soap and had to make their own, it was by guess and by golly.

    Most of yesterday's soap made from potash was stored in a pannikan (sp?), a cup used to hold soft soap. If salt was added (slightly changing the chemical composition from KOH to NaOH), then a layer of hard soap would form on top of the soap kettle.

    Please, please, please Ask questions on this forum, visit the Lye Calculator at Soapcalc.net. see my soapmaking page. But please don't use potash for making soap!
     
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  3. lathermaker

    lathermaker Well-Known Member Supporter

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  4. Wisconsin Ann

    Wisconsin Ann Happy Scrounger

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    And here I come AGAIN to tell you that for centuries people have made soap ONLY using lye made from ashes. Soapmaking is NOT hard to do. You do not have to have EXACTLY this temperature. (research hot process) and it's not a "buy guess or by golly" craft.

    There are quite a few sites giving you a process for leeching lye out of wood ash. One of the most prominent is Journey to Forever It has detailed plans and discussions on how to do it, how to tell the PH (there are very simple ph papers out there that get to the 1/10 point, as well as pricier PH meters), and how to make soap as well as biodiesel.

    You can make hard soap. You can make soft soap. You can make shampoo. I do it all the time using Potassium hydroxide (KOH). My mother did it. My grandmother did it. The colonists did it.

    Sodium Hydroxide was FIRST created in 1807 in the laboratory. It was not available for consumer use until around 1900. Before that, all soap that relied on lye was made with Potassium hydroxide (KOH)(from wood ash)

    My soap is an excellent cleaner...very soft on the hands, can be fragranced or super fats added...just like any other home made soap. It's not hard to do. Leeching wood ash does have to follow common sense safety. But millions of people do it.

    In the past soap makers knew their craft just like any other craftsman. They knew how much of a feather should be eaten by the lye for a particular type of fat. They knew how much of the egg should be floating above water line. They taught that to their children or apprentices....just like my grandmother and mother taught me.

    If working on it alone worries you, find someone in the area that will help you. Check out biodiesel ppl, historic re-enactors, old time farmers, history museums will often have real world resources to draw on, too.

    eta: I decided to post because this is a forum for asking questions in a homesteading forum. A place where people seek answers for a variety of reason, but quite often because they want to recapture something from the past. and to simply DISMISS a craft that has been around since before Rome is a disservice to history.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2011
  5. AngieM2

    AngieM2 Big Front Porch advocate Supporter

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    Well Pam - seems one wants to tell you NOT to do what you've asked for help on, and another sent you information.

    Guess you can take your pick.

    Lordy - who knew soap making would have folks with such opposite ways of responding to a how to, help post.

    Angie
     
  6. Bill_the_Baker

    Bill_the_Baker New Member

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    Agreed, there are way too many conflicting views on soap making and leeching and every other topic in that are, all i have to say is whether your working with NaOH or KOH, BE CAREFUL! ive had this stuff on me several times and believe me, it doesnt feel good.
     
  7. Karen

    Karen Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I'm going to deal with this just like I did the great canning debates in the canning forum: which is agree to allow each other the grace to do as they please without making a big issue over differences and techniques (no matter how full of information, documentation, or warnings we may feel the need to post to the contary).

    It's okay to issue a word of warning (such as to simply say, "If you're going to sell your soap, you may wish to check into some factors using wood ash"), but then leave it simply at that one line. The poster then can either look up that information independently or ask for further information about the warning.

    If the poster does ask for more warning information, then opposing views can be made by both sides; however, there will be no debating, no snippy comments, and everyone will post in a friendly and helpful manner and simply agree to disagree.

    If we can't agree to disagree on techniques, then I'll do just as I did in the canning forum. I'll start eliminating the snippiness by issuing 2 warnings. After that, there will be no further warnings and the offenders will be banned from the entire Homemaking Forums.

    I don't expect us all to agree, but I do expect us to give friendly advise when asked for it. :thumb:
     
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  8. Pam in KY

    Pam in KY Well-Known Member

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    I didn't mean to stir up such a controversy, but it's good to know people are looking out for one another.

    In my case, I don't plan on selling the soap, but may give a couple bars for Christmas presents, etc. I would like to make potash for the sake of bringing back an olde world craft. My granny was a farmer's wife who raised a dozen kids on their farm. NOTHING went to waste and making lye soap was a necessity. Not only that, but the small hobby farm we bought had belonged to a farming couple that lived well into their 90's and according to the stories I've heard from neighbors, they would make their own potash and render lard out in the side yard...and got some cracklin out of the deal too. :happy:

    I may only make potash/soap one time, but I would like to at least try it and hope that my Granny Mary and Rufus & Francis will be watching me from heaven and nodding their heads with approval.

    Thank you for the helpful link Wis Ann. They do go into more specific details re: measurements, but since those large barrels cost the earth these days, I'm wondering if I can get enough potash using a 5 ga plastic bucket instead? (assuming I only have to fill with oak ash one time)

    Maybe I'm using the wrong name in my internet search, but where does one buy one of those pH/litmus kits? (and do they have a shelf life?) I'm thinking the 'floating egg' test would work since I just know Granny didn't use litmus paper. lol
     
  9. Wisconsin Ann

    Wisconsin Ann Happy Scrounger

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    litmus paper is available from any place that sells science stuff..often for kids even. It keeps as long as you keep it dry. (usually comes in little waterproof vials...great numbers of papers in a vial). If you are near a highschool, you could probably just drop in and talk to the science teacher and ask if you could maybe borrow a couple, or where he/she gets the litmus. (it's available online in numerous spots. )

    Do be careful if you decide to make the KoH. Like NaoH it's very caustic and will burn you VERY quickly. what I like about using crafts from the past is I'm not relying on purchasing anything.

    The biodiesel ppl need to make it in large quantities at once because they need so much of it to turn oil into usable fuel. Just reduce the amounts of ash/water and watch the PH.

    The caution about using KoH in soaps you sell probably comes from the idea that you aren't controlling the PH. :shrug: I don't know any other reason why you couldn't sell your soap. Every batch I make I test before using on myself to make sure it's "done". However, with the hot process I've never had a problem. The soap is ready to use as soon as it cools. You just need to make sure that all the lye and all the oils are ...consumed, I suppose is a good word for it.

    Do your research. Write everything down. Be sure to use good safety procedures and have NO distractions (like little kids or dogs running around). Good luck with your endeavors.

    I still remember my grandmother's soap. Always a lovely white, hard bar. She'd grate it fine for the laundry, left it in a bowl of water to make shampoo, and a bar on the sink for the grimy hands of the mechanic in the family. Lard was her fat of choice.
     
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  10. Karen

    Karen Well-Known Member Supporter

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    You didn't do anything at all wrong, it's been an ongoing thing. ;)
     
  11. Pam in KY

    Pam in KY Well-Known Member

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    That's another use that occurred to me - replacing the Fels-Naptha in my home made laundry soap. Looking to save any way I can these days.

    Oh boy - I've got a curious pup that thinks everything I do revolves around food. Guess I can distract him with a nice bone from the butcher. :icecream:

    Looks like I'm going to have to wait for cold weather though before I can try making my lye soap - since my reliable hubby cleaned the wood stove out months ago. That's ok, I don't handle summer temps very well.

    Thanks again for your help! :thumb:
     
  12. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    No worries, Pam. I've made soap using commercial NaOH & KOH and have made soap using potash from Oak & Ash ashes & lard rendered from our own hogs over 10 years ago.

    The link Deb gave is one of the better ones at describing the 'how to make potash' but fails to tell you how much lard you need to how much lye solution. Perhaps Deb can fill in the blanks with this?

    It's been way too long ago for me.

    Yes

    I trust the floating egg over the 'melting' feather. I liked my potash solution strong enough to have a quarter size portion of the egg above the 'water' line. Make sure you use a fresh, fresh egg.

    Even on the Journey to Forever site, they do not give exact amounts for oils and lye solution. Each batch of soap has to be 'proved' (i.e. my reference to "by guess or by golly"). Making soap using potash isn't an exact science like making soap using commercial NaOH. I don't need to 'prove' each soap batch I make using commercial lye.

    I'm certainly not dismissing making soap using potash. I certainly understand wanting to do it this way. It is how I made soap for a few years until I started making soap with commercial lye in 1999.

    As for selling soap made with potash to the public, as with any soap or body product, make sure you have liability insurance just in case. This is a litigious society out there.

    Please read my first post. There is good information about making potash in my post ... see paragraphs 4 & 5.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2011
  13. Pam in KY

    Pam in KY Well-Known Member

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    Now that you mention it... :teehee:

    I figure I've got about 2.5 months before I get any oak ashes from our wood stove, so we have at least that long to find the exact measurements. Who knows, I may come down with a case of the lazies and never get around to it 'til March.
     
  14. Wisconsin Ann

    Wisconsin Ann Happy Scrounger

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    Okay. Let me answer a few of the implied things here. I don't test and prove,etc. ...I look at them when I've used a new oil, or different recipe. Perhaps I wasn't clear enoughon that.

    If you use PH testing, you're as safe as using any commercially, chemically man made lye. When you use something like RedDevil, etc., you have to be exact with measurements in order to get the correct strength. Period. When you leech wood ash, you use the PH testing to get the exact PH, the same way you'd use the measurements with the chemically made lye. It's all about dilution. Not strong enough, leech more. Too strong, use more water. simple....it's the same thing. You can make a mistake with either.

    so. Go to a soap calculator. Look at their instructions. You will see on most of them a selection for NaOH, or for KOH. They will also tell you the correct PH/dilution.

    There is nothing wrong with soap made from either type of lye. No one is going to sue you because you used KOH or NaOH. They'll sue you because you gave them caustic soap. It's the end product. If you produce good soap...no problem.
     
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  15. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    What pH are you looking for when you test your soaps, Ann? I looked over the Journey to Forever Traditional Soapmaking Page and didn't see this answered.

    Please, help me understand your meaning of the correct pH/dilution. I want to understand this process using potash better, in case one day I can no longer get commercial NaOH.

    Please bare with me as I 'think out loud' through this. (oh joy, a view into the inner workings of my thought process :yawn:) Hopefully, this will help you see where I am so you can enlighten me.

    I do understand how SoapCalc calculates the amount of NaOH/KOH needed for the oils chosen and how each of the liquid amounts are calculated on SoapCalc as well as how the attributes of the finished soap are calculated. (Ken turned my Excel worksheet with all these calculations into the php format known as SoapCalc) :)

    The recommended liquid amount for NaOH on Soap Calc is only a recommendation of how much liquid to use to dissolve the NaOH. The default on SoapCalc and a number of other lye calculators (such as MMS is 38% of the total amount of oil (noted on SoapCalc as "water as % of oils". It has nothing to do with the amount of NaOH used.

    "Lye Concentration" is calculating the amount of water used based on the amount of lye used. There is no default number for this, although based on the default water as 38% of oils, lye concentration usually falls between 25% - 27%. Using 25% lye concentration, this means your lye solution is 75% water and 25% NaOH .

    Using commercial lye (and making my lye solution using lye & frozen milk), I use about a 32% lye concentration (68% milk to 32% lye).

    Here's the part I don't understand about the instructions on Journey to Forever.
    This is where I get stuck. I understand the process of what they are doing, but I don't understand their definition of the "correct distillation of lye for making soap". Just what is the lye concentration of this solution? (water/lye) 75/25? 50/50? 25/75?

    On lye calculators that ask for liquid lye solution, such as MMS, or on SoapCalc, you need to know this to properly calculate how much of the solution is needed for your recipe.

    Say you're making soap using 5 lb of lard with a 5% superfat and your lye concentration is 75/25 (water/lye), you would use 42.917 oz of this lye solution to make a 5% superfatted soap.

    Okay, what if the water/lye is 50/50? You would only use 21.428 oz of the solution.

    And if the water/lye is 25/75, only 14.305 oz is needed.

    See my quandry? If I don't know the concentration of the potash, how can I accurately calculate how much of the lye solution to use for the amount of oils I'm using??

    If you could clear this up for me, I'd sure appreciate it! :goodjob:

    eta:
    When I made soap from potash, I was never able to get a white soap. Heck, I was lucky to get enough hard soap skimmed off the top :) Maybe I didn't add enough salt? :shrug: How do you do it?
     
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  16. tentance

    tentance Irish Hurricane Barbie

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    I should think that as long as you had the appropriate pH then there might be a way to use hot process to "boil off" additional water, as it probably wouldn't reach the "mashed potato" state if the soap had too much excess water. did the settlers we are speaking of use hot process with their leached ashes and lard?
    Wikipedia says the pH of potassium hydroxide is 13.5. I think wikipedia says the pH of sodium hydroxide is 13. if the ashes had a pH of 13.5 and passed the egg floating test, then it would just be a matter of trying to figure out how much oils to use with how much ashwater. And extra clean water shouldn't be a problem.
     
  17. Terri

    Terri Singletree Moderator Staff Member

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    There is a demonstration by a historian on this film, just past 24 minutes.

    [ame]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUKIrO-5nV4[/ame]
     
  18. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    And there in lies the rub. Unless you can determine just how strong the potash is, you do not know how much oil to use. The excess water in the potash isn't a problem ... it is using too much or too little oil for the strength of the potash. Potash is neither KOH nor NaOH and can vary with strength depending on what ashes are used, how many times you have ran the potash water through the ashes, et al.
     
  19. K.B.

    K.B. Well-Known Member

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    the pH of the KOH solution will depend on the strength (normality) of the solution. if you have a sensitive method of determining the pH (i.e. litmus paper with the proper range), you can calculate the normality.
     
  20. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    That's the easy part ... the hard part is determining the proper SAP value for the oils used based on the normality of the potash.
     
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