My wife has been making our soap for over a year. Once you start using homemade, chemical-free, natural soap… it’s hard to go back to the factory-produced stuff.
The only thing I really miss is Sodium laureth sulfate.
I’ve spent a decent amount of time considering the options in case of a collapse. If everything fell apart and we could no longer hit the local Walmart for a brick of Irish Spring(TM), going without soap would be a real drag. Have you ever tried showering without it? Getting really clean is next to impossible.
I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to go through the Apocalypse squeaky clean and smelling slightly of lavender. Or better, gunpowder. But that’s basically a given.
Soap is one of those products that has been manufactured so long that it’s not all that common to make at home.
Sure, you’ll likely run into a crafty lady at church who makes it, but how much of the population knows how to make soap? Or even what it’s made from?
Probably not many.
However, today’s post isn’t going to be directly about soapmaking. Instead, it’s going to be about producing the raw soapmaking materials that go into soap making. There are plenty of sites that will tell you how to assemble a bar of soap from purchasable ingredients… but when things crash, finding those ingredients may get tough.
That’s why we grow our own.
First Things First: What Is Soap Made From?
Soap is an oil that’s been treated with a strong alkaline solution. This is called “saponifying” the oil. When you scrub with soap, you’re able to break up oils that would be difficult to remove with water alone. It is science!
Basically, soap requires a strong alkaline solution and a fat. Lye (Sodium hydroxide) is the most common alkaline substance used for soap, though it’s not the only thing you can use. As we’ve experimented with soap making, we’ve found that saturated fats make nicer soaps than do unsaturated vegetable oils. Right now it’s easy enough to buy lye and fat. Right now. When this window shatters, we’ll need other options for finding our ingredients. Let’s look at a few.
Before we developed an unhealthy obsession with lean pigs and factory soap, there used to be varieties of pigs raised just for their incredible amount of fat.
Lard was a big part of life less than a hundred years ago. It was used for cooking, lubrication, illumination, sausage-making, and…
Soap. There’s nothing like lard soap.
If you can manage to raise a few pigs or trade for them, you can make lots and lots of soap from the fat.
Ducks are loaded with fat. It’s what makes them able to glide on top of the water, rather than sink into it like I do.
If you raise ducks on the homestead – particularly chunky ones like pekins – you have a source for fat. As a bonus, they breed quickly, grow faster and forage better than chickens do.
Beef tallow is another good fat for soap-making. This gal makes amazing bars from it (among many other things). Cows aren’t as easy to raise on small acreage as pigs are, but perhaps you can trade a local cattleman some soap for some fat. It’s often discarded in butchering, believe it or not. Savages!
Another bonus of beef tallow soap: it makes a great lather.
Other Animal Sources
There are other animal sources of fat but few are as good as cows, ducks and pigs.
Keep feeding your dog cake, though. Once day it may pay off.
Soap From Plant Sources
Growing oil-rich plants seems like it would be easy, except for one thing: most plants don’t make much oil, and those that do often require a prohibitive amount of processing.
Castor plants, canola, soy, olives, coconuts, etc. can be processed for their oil, sure… but why bother with that when there are also plants that contain soap?
In Florida, there’s a native tree called the “soapberry.” Its dried fruits will lather wonderfully and can even be added to your washing machine to wash clothing.
Out west there are many yucca plants that can be used as soap, most of which are cold-hardy. Mother Earth News has a great article on yucca soap.
Other than those two plants, there are many others that will serve as soap if we have a complete collapse. Plants for a Future (they need a few bucks so donate if you can – the site is fantastic) has a great article here.
Making Your Own Lye
Before lye came in containers and became sought after by the idiots that make meth, you had to create the stuff yourself.
It’s too complicated for me to explain in this article; however, you start with wood ashes, meaning it’s a lot easier to find the raw material for lye than it is to find fat. Grow some trees and you can make lye (though it will be mostly potassium in wood-ash lye, rather than sodium).
Journey to Forever has a good amount of info on making lye from ashes here.
Now is the time to start planning for getting clean in the future. Stockpiling soap is a good idea… but being able to make your own? That’s going to be a money-maker, and it’s something worth planning out.