Soap!

May. 13th, 2010 07:56 pm
anarra: (Default)
April 17, 2010
We went to Old Sturbridge Village and watched them make soap. It will take fewer ashes than I thought. So here's what I think will work. Not sure when I'll actually DO it, though. I want to get notes down so I'll remember. (AEflgiva, I will not be doing this in May. It's sodium hydroxide lye and water for that. But I will write this down on a handout and discuss. Can't do this in a one hour class! I will at least bring a container of lye water to float an egg in to show everyone.)

Punch a hole in the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket. Fill the bottom two inches with straw. Fill it the rest of the way with ashes we saved this winter. Pour boiling water over the ashes just until a little bit drips out the hole. Let sit for 5 days.

Then pour a gallon or so of boiling water over the seeped ashes. Collect the brown lye water in quart batches. Put a fresh egg in to see if it will float. If it does, and the bit that sticks up out of the water is about the size of a quarter, then the lye is strong enough. Keep collecting lye water until it loses strength.

Add 3/4 of a pound of tallow or lard per gallon of lye water and boil for a looooong time. Stir every 5 or 10 minutes. When the soap has reduced to a pancake batter-like consistency, test to see if it's saponified. Dribble a bit on a plate and see if it feels and looks like soap. Too gray and greasy and it needs a bit more lye. Too crystalline and crumbly and it needs more fat. If it looks and feels like soap, then try dropping some in a glass of water. If it holds its shape and does not leave a greasy film on the water, then whisk briskly. If it suds up, it's ready.

If you've used lard, then stir in 1 cup of salt per original gallon of lye water. Stir until salt dissolves. This will harden up the soap almost immediately to a a gooey consistency.

Let sit overnight.

The next day, remove soap from pot and discard any lye water remaining under the soap. Cut off any obviously icky bits off the bottom. Re-melt sap in the pan and then pour into a cloth lined box (or other mold). Let sit until hardened.

If you use suet or tallow, you probably won't need to add any salt to harden the soap.

In the 19th century, housewife advice books advised burning bones and egg shells in the fire place to add calcium to the ashes. Calcium will also harden the soap like salt does. Another piece of advice was to soak your salt pork fat in water to remove the salt before using it to make soft soap, or your soap would harden due to the salt.

Salt removes water and so hardens the soap.

In the 19th century and earlier soap was mostly used to wash clothes. Also for shaving. Not as much for washing bodies. I wonder if it was used to wash fleeces? And I need to do some research into medieval soap as I have done almost none. I assume it was used mostly for clothes, too.

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