Grandma's Homemade Lye Soap

Grandma's homemade lye soap....those words can bring the fear of God into a young lad's heart.

I remember when school was almost ready for summer break. We would be excited as we planned our summer vacation to my grandparents' home for several weeks. Then, as part of the checklist, Mom would tell Dad to remind her to bring home some of Grandmother's homemade lye soap.

Knowing that Mom would wash my mouth out with soap if I said a bad word or if I had sassed back at her made me analyze every word I had spoken since the previous Christmas. I knew what an awful taste the soap had but what I didn't realize was the benefits that the homemade lye soap had.

Grandma's lye soap was great for a pre-wash to help get dirt and grime from the laundry. All you needed to do was to get the soiled area damp, rub the soiled area with the bar of soap and throw the article of clothing into the washing machine. Lye soap made the clothes come out clean and made white items whiter and brighter. Used everyday as a body soap, lye soap is good for sensitive skin. It helps with clearing acne, eczema and psoriasis.

For hunters, when used to shower it helps eliminate the human scent. For hunters and gardeners who accidentally get into poison oak, poison ivy or poison sumac, lather up the area and let it dry on the skin; it will eliminate the burning and itching. This application also works for mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, sunburn and athlete's foot. Lye soap will make your skin softer, make your hair shine, helps eliminate dandruff, and kills head and body lice. For your pets, it kills fleas and reduces dander.

Grandma also used it in various other ways. She would tie a bar into and old sock and hang it near the porch to keep bugs away. The scrapings from the big iron kettle in which she made the soap, were spread around the outside of the home to keep ants and termites away.

Grandpa swore that Grandma's homemade lye soap made good fish bait, and that it would keep snakes, spiders, and roaches away from the house. It was used as a degreaser when he worked on equipment. A little lye soap rubbed on the bottom of drawers made them open easier. Door hinges would get lye soap rubbed into them to stop squeaking. His favorite, however, was that it was guaranteed to help clean up the language of the children.

Making homemade lye soap is a very easy process. Add lye into fat, lard or grease. Then the work begins of stirring and blending the two together.

The safe part of the ingredients for making your own soap is the animal fat or lard. Lard can be purchased directly from your grocery store. Some people like to substitute coconut, sunflower oil, vegetable oil or canola oil instead of using lard. It will give a different consistency to the finished product.

The dangerous part of the ingredients is the lye, which is known as a base and an alkali, caustic soda or sodium hydroxide. It can be purchased from a chemical supply house or you can make your own. Caution must be used when working with lye, as it is very caustic and will burn your skin and blind you if it gets into your eyes. Use rubber gloves, goggles, and long sleeve garments when using lye. If you accidentally get any on your skin, do not use water! This will increase the burning and damage. You must use vinegar to neutralize the effects of the lye. For more safety issues about handling visit lye @ In case of an emergency from coming in contact with lye, call 911 or your local poison control center. Let them know immediately that you have been working with lye so they can give you the proper advice.

Grandma's Homemade Lye Soap Recipe

There are numerous recipes for homemade lye soap. Below is a very basic one that is easy to use for any beginner.

Basic items needed to make your own soap:

  • 4-6 quart Pyrex or oven ware bowl with handle and a spout.
  • 4-6 quart glass, stoneware crock, stainless steel or iron cooking pot.
  • A long handled heavy duty wooden or stainless steel spoon for stirring the mixture.
  • Rubber gloves
  • Eye Safety glasses
  • Small shallow cardboard or wooden box lined with a plastic trash bag.
  • Ingredients:

  • One 12 oz. can of 100% lye
  • 21-1/2 oz. ice cold or partially frozen distilled water
  • 5 lb., 7-1/3 oz. (2.48 kg) lard or all vegetable shortening.
  • Directions:

    Place the water and or ice cubes into the bowl, carefully add the lye to the water. Do not reverse this process. Using your stirring spoon stir carefully till the lye has dissolved. Cover and let set until it drops in temperature to around 85 degrees.

    Melt your lard and put into the 4-6 quart container; let cool to 95 degrees. Now you can start to make your soap.

    With your stirring spoon, start to stir in an "8" pattern. Slowly pour the lye water into the melted lard. Pour very carefully and slowly, making the flow of the lye water smaller than a pencil...just trickle it in until its all been added. Once you start this process you must keep stirring until the mix is thick like a cooked pudding. If you stop stirring it may separate. The key is constant gentle stirring.

    When the mix has thickened up you can then pour it into your lined box. Allow to set for 4-6 hours. Using a table knife you can cut into bars. Do not use a sharp knife that will cut into the plastic liner. Allow a week for drying time before you remove the soap from the box. After the soap is removed from the box, allow the soap to cure for 30 days before using it.

    This is the most basic recipe for making Grandma's homemade lye soap. There are hundreds of different ways to make it. You can add different oils, fragrances, and other items like flower petals, oatmeal, grapefruit and orange peels. For the one time when I did slip and said a bad word, having orange peel added to the soap would have made it taste much better than the plain soap. I learned my lesson! Now the important thing for you is to learn the basics of soap making and expand from there. More information is available on the internet. Soap making can become a fun and creative hobby as well as coming in handy at gift-giving time.

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