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By Jenny Jack – entry for our non-fiction writing contest.
In 2009, I took Beginning Soap Making at a local adult continuing education class. It was a one-time Saturday morning class. I took the class because I wanted to have the knowledge for SHTF purposes, so I’d have a product that I could barter with. I’ve been making our family’s soap ever since.
One thing brought up in class, that I had never thought of before, was that your skin readily absorbs all things it comes in contact with. So, everything you use in the shower from shampoo, conditioners, body washes, to soaps, all are in contact with your skin from head to toe. Even during the quickest of showers, your skin is absorbing all those chemicals that you can’t pronounce. That made me think a little and gave me a second reason to make our soap.
Saponification (the process of soap making) is a chemical reaction whereby lye (sodium hydroxide) bonds with fats. Each molecule bonds with the other until all the lye and all the tallow (or lard, or oils) have been changed. It is a new compound. There is no LYE in the finished product (no worries of burning your skin off) and it is not “washing with a pot roast” (as one guy put it). While wearing gloves are recommended in the process to protect skin from the lye as it is processing, I can’t help but think of colonial children who were charged with the task of stirring without the aid of plastic gloves. So, it’s possible, and care is to be taken, but it’s not something to fear.
Back in the day, sodium hydroxide was made from running water through wood ash to achieve the proper strength (reached when an egg would float). Thankfully, we were born in the era of modern conveniences. Buy your lye at True Value or some other store that carries drain openers. You can order in bulk from companies online as well. Not too much though, or Uncle Sam will come knocking.
I’ve read that during colonial days all the fat and grease from cooking was saved in a crock or pot and then used on soap making days. For me, it just takes a heads up to a local butcher. Mine saved me 40# of fat from a cow he was butchering that day.
You could always purchase tallow (beef fat)…restaurant supply stores sell drums/buckets of tallow. ($$$) If you want to save money though, it’s fairly easy to render your own tallow or lard. When we sent our two hogs to the butcher last year, we requested the fat and then rendered that into lard (pig fat) ourselves. I’ve made soaps with either tallow or lard and both make nice, hard, sudsy soaps.
I’ve rendered fat in two ways: Boiling chunks of fat in water, skimming & straining, then letting the fat harden on top of the water in cooler conditions.
Or I’ve slow simmer the chunks in an electric roaster pan or crock pot for quite a while, skimming & straining, and then bagging the cooled fat.
The smell from both ways is that of cooking hamburg for a long time, so perhaps an outdoor summer kitchen would be the best place. We have done it over an open fire, too. Word to the wise when doing this over an open flame, rub the outside of your pots with a coating of Dawn dish soap to prevent the blackening that happens to the outside of pans uses over the fire.
I have a friend who adds baking soda to her rendering for a whiter color and less odor. I haven’t tried that, but you could. I bag the tallow up and freeze it until I’m ready to make a batch of soap. I have also poured the melted fat into canning jars when hot and they’ve self-sealed. I store mine in the fridge this way for cooking or future soap batches.
If rendering wasn’t fun enough, let’s move on to the REALLY fun part!! This is the soap recipe that I use. I got it from that adult ed class. It’s simple and makes great soap!
You can really get into soap making…adding things like goat’s milk, olive oil and other fancy stuff. For practicality, I stick to a basic recipe. Since we buy coconut oil in bulk from Dutch Valley Foods, I add that too, but I’ve made soap with straight fat & lye which makes a beautiful, usable product just the same.
Here’s a picture from a batch I made using the self-rendered tallow. In this photo, I was at the 8th step on the above directions… alternating 1 min on stick blender with 5 min of hand stirring until full trace* where I added 1 oz of scent bought from an online company (I skipped the herbs & oatmeal this time). You don’t have to add scent. I sometimes don’t and it doesn’t smell like anything. *Full trace is when you lift the spoon and the dripping line sits on top of the mixture.
The soap turns out beautifully. I don’t add color so the rendered tallow made a wonderful cream colored soap. I can also mention that when the directions say “pour into mold”… I use a cardboard soda flat. I line it with plastic wrap taped to cover the inside and held to the outsides with masking tape. It works just fine… no store bought molds needed. I cut it, with a non-serrated kitchen knife, into approx 30 bars of soap per recipe. I let the cut soap sit/air dry/cure for one week before using.
Here’s my bucket o’ soap I keep under the sink. The rest I store in a cardboard box. Unwrapped soap lasts longer…it continues to dry over time and the bar will last longer when later used.
Some final advice…FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS!! Use stainless steel…NEVER aluminum pots or utensils. Aluminum + lye = BOOM And don’t be a hero, wear the gloves and be mindful of splashes as you are stirring and blending.
Prizes for this round (ends October 20th 2014 ) in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A $500 gift certificate off of any product or products at MRE Depot!
- Second place winner will receive – a gift a gift certificate for $150 off of Winchester ammo fromLuckyGunner and a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads.
- Third place winner will receive – a Survival Puck courtesy of Innovation Industries and 20 Live Fire Sport – Emergency Fire Starters from LPC Survival.
- Fourth Place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net and copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net.