Sunday, July 29, 2012

51a - Making lye with ashes

Commercially made soap may have unwanted chemicals in it.

Making your own soap can be a rewarding experience that allows you to experiment with different ingredients for scent and texture. You control the process, so you can ensure that the only additives in your soap are ones you want. 
Making homemade soap involves using the same methods that have been used for generations. The two basic substances used are lye and tallow. Lye can be bought commercially, but for truly homemade soap, make your own from wood ashes. Commercial soap is sodium hydroxide while homemade lye is potassium hydroxide
The homemade lye is actually less harsh than the commercial alternative, making the resulting soap kinder on your skin. 

Things You'll Need
  • Wood ash from hard wood
  • Rain water
  • Two plastic buckets
Making the Lye
  • Burn some wood to create the ashes you need to make lye. You need to use a hard wood like ash, beech or hickory. When the wood is burnt, collect the light, white-colored ashes. Disregard any blackened, charcoal remains.
  • Drill an 1/8 inch hole in the bottom of the plastic bucket (green) about an inch off-center.
  • Stop up the hole in the bottom of the bucket with an 1/8-inch nail.
  • Elevate the bucket (green) above ground with, for example, two breeze blocks. Place the bucket so that there is space under the center for you to put the other plastic bucket (red) to collect the lye.

  • Scoop spadefuls of cold ashes into the bucket (green), compacting the ash down after each spadeful. Fill the bucket to about a third of its capacity.
  • Boil approximately half a bucket of water (rainwater preferably) and add some carefully to the ashes. There will be some hissing and popping at this stage so be sure to wear your protective clothes, gloves and goggles from now on.
  • You are in the process of making a caustic substance, which can be dangerous. 
  • Initially the water will not appear to be mixing with the ashes and will just sit on top. Leave it and come back later when you can add more water.
  • Take the nail out from the bottom of the bucket and come back to check it every few hours. It could take hours or days for nearly a bowlful of lye to accumulate.
  • When it has done, take it to the kitchen and boil it very carefully.
  • Pour the boiled bowl of lye back into the top of the bucket. 
  • This is how you strengthen your lye and repeat the process later on, if necessary.
  • To check the strength of your lye put a chicken's egg into it. 
  • Too weak - if it sinks,
  • Too strong - if it floats too high,and you should add some pure water. 
  • Just right - the egg will float with about the size of a modern dime showing above the surface of the lye.
  • Leave your lye in the sun in a shallow container until it dries into crystals.

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