In a post-apocalyptic world, soap may not be easily available, but we can make our own! Keeping clean is vital for survival (and one of our 8 steps to surviving the apocalypse) because you don’t want to get ill when there’s no medical support. Here we learn how to make soap with natural ingredients that are fairly easy to find.
How To Make Soap: Ingredients
- Fat (approx 200ml): This can be animal fat such as lard, or any plant based oil.
- Ashes (approx 1 litre volume): Ashes from a hardwood fire are used to make lye.
- Water (approx 3 litres): Used in making lye from ashes.
- Dried grass or pine needles: To act as a makeshift sieve.
How To Make Soap: Making Lye
Lye is a strong alkali which is used to alkalise the fat to make soap. Modern soaps are made with nitrogen peroxide, but we will use ashes to make lye. Lye is strongly alkaline, and can cause burns. Be very careful and wear appropriate safety equipment to protect your skin and eyes.
The ashes of a hardwood fire are the best for making lye. Softwood ashes do not make the lye alkaline enough. The 3:1 ratio of water to ashes makes a medium strength lye. This ratio is important to make the lye alkaline enough to make soap.
To make the lye, you will need a container with small holes in the bottom. In the bottom of the container, add a layer of pine needles or dried grass. This is just to stop the ashes falling through the holes. Fill the container nearly to the top with ashes. Leave a little room at the top to add water.
Suspend the container with the ashes over another container that does not have holes. This is to allow us to pour water through the ashes and catch it as it flows out through the holes. I used a bucket with two pieces of wood across the top to support my ashes container. The water was able to drip into the bucket between the wood.
Now prepare the water by bringing it to the boil. Once it has boiled, pour it in to the container of ashes. Allow the water to drip through in to the bucket below. You may not be able to fit all of the water into the ashes container at once, so pour several smaller quantities.
How To Make Soap: Concentrating The Lye
You should now have a bucket of brown water. This is the lye water, but to make soap it needs to be much more concentrated. This is done by gently boiling the lye water for 3 to 4 hours. Watch it carefully towards the end of the time to make sure it does not boil dry. At the end of this time, it should have reduced in volume to a little under half a litre. It will also have thickened into a thick brown liquid.
Be extremely careful handling the lye, as it will cause chemical burns to skin and eyes.
How To Make Soap: Mixing Fat and Lye
Warm up the fat in a pan. Add half to a metal container, and add the lye. Thoroughly stir it for a few minutes, and then add the remaining fat. Keep stirring for another 15 minutes.
The soap now needs to be kept warm, at around 40oC for up to 3 hours (but it may be less depending on your fat and lye). Give it a good stir every 10 minutes or so, and watch the colour and texture changing. It will lighten to a creamy or very pale brown colour, and will be thick but still stirrable. If you make a line in the soap with your spoon and it doesn’t immediately fade, the soap is ready.
How To Make Soap: Moulding and Drying
The soap is now ready for pouring in to moulds. These can be any container that will allow the soap to cool and dry into shape. Plastic tubs make great moulds for soap as it’s easy to get the soap out when it’s dried.
Pour the soap mixture in to the moulds, and cover them with an old towel. Leave like this for 24 hours and then remove the towel. Leave for another week, and the soap will be ready to use.
How To Make Soap: Smells and Colours
The soap that we have made is simple, and not the prettiest, but it works. It won’t produce a lather like modern soaps do, because they have other ingredients for that.
You can add other ingredients at the end of the mixing to sweeten the smell, or change the colour. Dried lavender flowers add a nice scent to the soap.
Have you tried making your own soap? Let us know in the comments below! And do you have any ideas for colouring or scents?