Monday, April 22, 2013

Old-Fashioned Lye Soap

Here's a batch of old-fashioned soap I made a couple of weeks ago--all sliced up and curing.  

I can remember my mom making homemade soap when I was little.  She used it for our laundry and dishes.  We always had a saucepan on the stove with chunks of soap--we would add water, heat it 'til it melted into some "soap jelly", then add that soap jelly to the dish water or the washing machine.  Back then, I wasn't much interested in the process.  Just as I wasn't much interested in washing dishes or laundry! :)

When I opened my shop back in 1996, I started experimenting with homemade soap.  I purchased a couple of books to learn more of the process and "science" behind soap-making.  I also was interested in making hand-milled soaps for my shop.  I even taught a class on soap-making at our church's State Family Camp Meeting one year--they were celebrating the history of the campground and old-time traditions.  Our pastor asked if I would share during one of the morning sessions for anyone interested.  You see, my mom had always made soap to sell at the "Missionary Cottage" during camp meeting week.  The funds raised from the sales of handcrafts, etc. at the cottage were used to run the Ladies' Missionary Society projects throughout the year.  There were folks who specifically headed to the cottage to buy soap each year.  After my mom passed away, I continued making soap for several years to send to the cottage.
Many folks believe that since it is called "lye" soap, it is harsh.  In fact, my hubby always tells people it will eat the skin right off of you!
I think he is just kidding?!?!
  However, nothing is further from the truth.  This is a cold-process soap, so all of the natural glycerin, which is a natural by-product of the soap-making process, remains in the soap.  This makes it much kinder to your skin than many commercial soaps.  In the manufacturing process of commercial soaps, the glycerin is often separated out to sell in that form.

Many commercial "soaps" are not soap at all--they are detergents.  Detergents are made from petroleum distillates.  Homemade soaps are made with fats or oils.  When fats (an acid) are mixed with lye/caustic soda (an alkali), soap results.  When the alkali is diluted with water and added to the acid, saponification occurs.  Once this happens, the alkali is being neutralized...and after curing for several weeks, should no longer be in evidence.  Thus the soap, which was made with sodium hydroxide (lye), does not contain it in the end.  

There is a local woman who purchased my soap because she has sensitive skin and the old-fashioned soap is all she could use.  When she told me that, I tried it for bathing and washing my face and wow, what a difference!  No more dry skin issues in the winter! 

I have grated some of the bars to make hand-milled gardener's soap for an upcoming show in May.  It is May Mart  sponsored by the Indiana Garden Club.  I will be selling handcrafted goodies as well as vintage wares that can be used to decorate your garden or porch.  This is my first time participating in the show--can't wait to see how it goes's that for a brief primer on soap making!

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