Sanitation is an essential aspect of everyday life and it will become a critical one during a crisis when common resources are low. No matter how you look at it, you will need to find ways to stay clean and maintain good hygiene. When commercial detergents are no longer available, you will have to make your own and your best chance of success would be to make soap with fat and ashes.
I’ve learned how to make soap with fat and ashes from a good friend that has been living off-grid for more than 20 years. Even more, following his wife’s “suggestions” he perfected his soap making methods by producing and adding natural aromatic oils to his recipe.
In order to make soap with fat and ashes, you need to create a chemical reaction called saponification by mixing appropriate amounts of lye, water and fat.
To make soap with fat and ashes here is what you need:
- 6 pounds of hardened, leftover cooking fat (you can collect the fat after cooking and refrigerate it for later use)
- Uncooked egg
- Wood ashes
- 36 ounces of pure water (some people prefer to use distilled water, but rainwater will work just fine)
- Natural aromatic oils to provide a pleasant scent (if available)
As for tools, make sure you have the following ready: a muffin tray or silicone soap mold, waxed paper, glass bowl, large stainless steel pot, knife, wooden spoon, rubber gloves, safety goggles, measuring cup, cooking thermometer, 3 clean empty coffee cans – one smaller than the others and a drill with ¼ inch bit.
Step by step to make soap with fat and ashes:
- Start by scooping the fat you saved into a large stainless steel pot and add an equal amount of water.
- Place the stainless steel pot on a medium flame and heat until the water boils and the fat melts.
- Once the fat is melted, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit overnight. The fat should cool and solidify as a layer on top of the water.
- Use the knife and cut the fat into chunks. Make sure you scrape off any cooking debris from the bottom of each chunk if you notice any.
- Now take your drill and make sure you drill a few holes in the bottom of the smaller coffee can.
- Fill the can two thirds full with wood ashes and suspend it over the larger can.
- Prepare your safety goggles and rubber gloves and fill the upper can with hot water while wearing the protective equipment. Let the liquid leech through the ashes and drain into the bottom can. You are now making lye solution, a caustic chemical that is known to cause severe burns. I can’t stress this enough, if you get it on your skin, make sure you flush the area with white vinegar and wash thoroughly with water and soap. Make sure you don’t get any in your eyes as you will need to seek immediate medical attention after flushing the eyes with cold water.
Related reading: Survival Sanitation and how to deal with it
- After all the water drains from the top can pour the lye solution from the bottom can into the top can and repeat the operation, but this time drain it into a third can.
- Now you need to test the concentration of the lye solution and the following trick will help you. Place the raw egg in the lye solution and if it sinks the concentration of the lye solution is too low. You will need to pour the solution through the ashes again until the concentration increases, allowing for the egg to float in the lye solution.
- Melt the fat in a large stainless pot and use the cooking thermometer to measure the temperature. Allow it to cool to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Now pour the 36 ounces of pure water (distilled or rainwater) into the glass bowl.
- Wear your goggles and rubber gloves and gradually add 13 ounces of lye to the water in the glass bowl while gently stirring with the wooden spoon. Never do the other way around as pouring the water into the ley can cause the mixture to violently boil or explode and you will have corrosive lye everywhere.
- You will notice that the water and lye generates a good amount of heat and you will need to use the cooking thermometer and let it cool to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Stir the fat in one direction and slowly pour the lye water into it as you continue stirring.
- Continue stirring and add a few drops of essential oil (if available), 5 to 10 drops should do it, depending on the concentration of the oil. The mixture should have the consistency of honey after stirring for 20 to 30 minutes.
- As a final step to make soap with fat and ashes, you need to pour the liquid soap into the compartments in the muffin tray or the silicone soap mold.
- Let the tray sit undistributed for at least 24 hours.
- Once you can handle the soap (it is in a solidified form) remove the bars from the muffin tray or silicone soap mold and wrap them in waxed paper.
- Store the wrapped soap in a cool place for at least three weeks to allow it to harden.
- After three or four weeks you can start to use your soap.
As you can see, there is no science degree needed to make soap with fat and ashes and all you need to do is pay attention and follow the steps listed above. The main problems may arise when handling the lye solution as it can burn through clothes and skin, but as long as you use protective gear, you should be fine.
Now if you don’t feel comfortable to make soap with fat and ashes, there are always other solutions available and you can start by foraging for soap plants if they are available in your area. I wrote in a previous article about the soap plants that one can use to replace commercial soap, so make sure you read it if you think you won’t be able to make soap with fat and ashes when the need arises.
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