In the nineteenth century, Making Soap from Scratch was a popular domestic chore that was accomplished with straightforward, natural components and rudimentary implements. Here is a comprehensive overview of the soap-making process. It is important to note that the techniques used then are slightly different from those employed today, as one can simply purchase soap or the necessary chemicals to make it. Back then, the entire process had to be undertaken, and it is the same one we will be sharing with you today, albeit with some contemporary modifications and considerations.
Making Soap from Scratch Materials
- Animal fats (such as lard or tallow) or vegetable oil (modern twist)
- Water (distilled is better)
- Hard wood ashes (or buy sodium hydroxide)
- A large non-reactive pot or cauldron (stainless steel, enamel-coated cast iron, or heat-resistant glass)
- A stirring utensil (such as a wooden spoon)
- Molds (such as wooden boxes, cloth sacks, or silicone molds)
- Safety gear (gloves, goggles, and long-sleeved clothing)
Instructions to make soap from scratch
Collect or burn wood ashes from hardwood trees and store them in a dry, covered container.
Render animal fats by heating them in a large pot or cauldron over a low flame until they have melted. Strain any impurities or solid bits out of the melted fat.
In a separate container, mix the wood ashes with water to create a slurry. Let the mixture sit for several hours or overnight, stirring occasionally to ensure even soaking.
Strain the liquid from the wood ash slurry using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. The liquid that passes through the strainer contains potassium hydroxide, which is a weaker form of lye than sodium hydroxide (which you would need to buy).
Slowly add the liquid from the wood ash slurry to the melted animal fat, stirring continuously.
Gradually add more water and continue stirring until the mixture thickens and reaches “trace,” which means it has thickened enough to leave a trail when a spoon or other utensil is dragged through it.
Pour the soap mixture into molds. Let the soap harden and cool for many days.
Once the soap has hardened, remove it from the molds and cut it into bars or other shapes as desired.
Let the soap cure for several weeks or months in a cool, dry place before using it.
Important safety tips when making soap from scratch
- Always wear safety gear when handling lye and the resulting soap mixture, including gloves, goggles, and long-sleeved clothing.
- Work in a well-ventilated area or outdoors to avoid inhaling fumes.
- Use non-reactive materials at all times.
- Keep children and pets away from the area.
- Dispose of any unused lye and other materials safely and according to local regulations.
Modern-day recipe for soap:
- 16 ounces (0.6 kg) of coconut oil
- 16 ounces (0.6 kg) of olive oil
- 13 ounces (0.49 kg) of distilled water
- 5.5 ounces (0.21 kg) of sodium hydroxide (lye)
- Essential oils or fragrance oils (optional)
Hardwood trees which would be suitable for making soap from scratch
White oak (Quercus alba) – This is a hardwood tree that is commonly found in North America. Its wood is hard, dense, and durable, and is often used for furniture, flooring, and barrels. White oak can also be used in soap making to create a mild, creamy lather.
Maple (Acer spp.) — Maple is a hardwood tree that is known for its hard, dense wood and its sweet sap, which is used to make maple syrup. Maple wood can be used in soap making to create a creamy lather, and maple syrup can be used as a natural sweetener in soap recipes.
Birch (Betula spp.) — Birch is a hardwood tree that is found throughout North America. Its wood is hard and durable, and is regularly used for furniture, flooring, and paper production. Birchbark can be used in soap making as a natural exfoliant.
Black walnut (Juglans nigra) – Black walnut is a hardwood tree that is found in the eastern United States. Its wood is hard and durable, and is frequently used for furniture and flooring. Black walnut hulls can be used in soap making to create a natural brown color.
Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) – Red cedar is a type of hardwood tree that is found in the eastern United States. Its wood is hard and durable, and is typically used for outdoor construction and fencing. Red cedar oil can be used in soap making to create a natural insect repellent.
Note that when using wood or other plant materials in soap making, it is important to research the specific plant to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for use in soap. Some plants may be toxic or irritating to the skin, and should not be used in soap making.
Hard woods which should NOT be used to make soap from scratch
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) – Poison ivy is a woody vine that is found throughout North America. While its wood can technically be used in soap making, it should be avoided due to the toxic urushiol oil found in the plant. This oil can cause severe skin irritation and allergic reactions in some people.
Yew (Taxus spp.) — Yew is a type of coniferous tree that is native to North America. While its wood is hard and durable, it should not be used in soap making due to the toxic alkaloids called Taxines found in the plant. These alkaloids can cause a range of health problems, including nausea, vomiting, and seizures.
Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) – Black locust is a hardwood tree that is found in the eastern United States. While its wood is hard and durable, it should not be used in soap making due to the toxic compounds called toxalbumins. These toxic compounds inhibit protein synthesis and can cause cell death. Found in the plant, these compounds can cause digestive upset, respiratory difficulties, and skin irritation.
It’s important to note that when using any plant material when making soap from scratch, it’s important to research the specific plant to ensure that it’s safe and appropriate for use. Some woods may cause skin irritation or other health concerns, while others may not produce desirable results in the soap-making process. The same can hold true for essential oils and their allergy irritants.