> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Cleaning Post-Collapse: Making Traditional Soap



Cleaning Post-Collapse: Making Traditional Soap

Sanitation and cleanliness will of the utmost important after a TEOTWAWKI-event. Our immune systems aren't up to snuff when compared with our ancestors. We'll be doing manual, hands on, dirty work in order to survive. Getting sick may not just be an inconvenience; it might kill you. 

Something as simple as soap will be of great value to the survivor. We take soap for granted now -- buy the gel anti-bacterial stuff a few times a year and forget about it. But not so long ago, soap was a much more core, essential thing to daily life. And not so long ago, people used to make their own soap.

Soap is not a particularly complicated thing to make and the basic ingredients required are simple - some kind of fat or oil and lye water. Some knowledge and practice in traditional soap making could be a great help, source of barter and a literal lifesaver in a post-TEOTWAWKI world. Here's some information, links and videos that explain the process.

Soap making on Wikipedia gives an overview of soap making processes - there are three main ways to make soap, "cold", semi-boiled and boiled process and boiling. The cold process is apparently the easiest.

Lye water is made through a simple process. Burn up some hardwood, collect the ashes and sift them. In the old days, many families would keep ashes just for this purpose. When soap making time rolls around, pour water (most recipes call for distilled, rain or spring water) over the ashes, let it soak and collect the runoff--with some creativity, a simple filter rig can be made; here's a YouTube video of one, and other with a 5-gallon bucket based rig. The old lye water concentration test was to try to float an egg in the water. If the egg sinks, pour the water back through the ashes and collect again. If the egg floats, concentration is good for soap making. Lye is powerful, skin and eyeball burning stuff, so caution should be taken.

To make the actual soap, the fats are rendered down to a liquid state, lye water is added and then stirred continuously until the mixture begins to thicken up and droplets will "trace" on top. Scents and coloring can be added at this point and then the soap is placed into molds. The molds are left to sit for 24-48 hours before they're really "soap", and then usually for a week or more to dry out.

All of the soap recipe that I've been able to find call for store-bought lye crystals and using a saponification chart to determine the lye to fat ratio. I can't find anything concrete on using lye water, probably because the concentration of primitive wood ash lye water would be inconsistent. I am still looking. If anyone has concrete information on this, let me know. I think you'd get into some trial and error on this; at this point, roughly 8 ounces (weight) of appropriately concentrated lye water to a pound of lard looks to be about right. But I may be way off, so don't start any backyard experimenting based off of that.

This video shows the traditional soap making process with lye water:

This video shows a modern "hobbyist" type soap making with the cold process, using lye crystals:

And this shows a more typical modern approach to unscented lard soap, which uses a crock pot to hot process the soap, cutting out the time needed for saponification. The finished bars look amazing.