Does anyone make lye for soap making from their wood ashes?
With our alkaline soil, we can't just dump our ashes, so we're looking for other uses. Besides soap making, how else do folks dispose of their ashes?
Making Lye from Wood Ashes
Does anyone make lye for soap making from their wood ashes?
A long time ago we used to put ashes in a barrel and filled it with water, stirred it up and let it settle, then we used the clear water to add about a cupful to the clothes wash water, it worked great.
You can also store wood ashes dry in a container and sprinkle then at the base of plants that are being bothered by insects like slugs and sow bugs, they will leave them alone.
We used them to keep them from eating our strawberries.
Josephine, what a great thing to know. I'm going to try that with my grungy garden clothes next summer.
Jay, I found this on-line. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Lye The hardest part sounds like finding an oak barrel. I've been looking for one to collect rain water and they are expensive. Do you make your own soap now? I was wondering if freshly rendered lard can be used instead of shorting or does it go rancid?
What a great idea to use a barrel! I think we'll try a plastic drum... I can get them cheap from a little local winery here. What do you do with the wet ashes?
I may try using that water for making hominy, too. =) Anybody here made hominy with homemade lye?
I don't know about the lard, I've got my tallow in the fridge, though it's been there for months and doesn't seem to have gone rancid. I haven't really read up yet on soap-making, and I'm pretty sure I haven't got near enough tallow. All a process, don't cha know. =)
I don't try to make lye from my ashes, but I CAN tell you that homemade lye soap is great for poison ivy if you scrub with it soon enough after exposure.
I have started sifting my saved ashes for the small pieces of charcoal which I add to the garden as a biochar. http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1669/
I use a 55 gallon galvanized metal trash can for saving ashes, away from anything combustible.
The article said to store the finished lye in wood or glass containers. I assumed this would be because the lye would eat through plastic, but don't really know. It also said the wet ashes could be disposed of by digging a pit and bury them, only make sure ashes have dried out before covering. I've never made soap and find it interesting, especially if made from scratch, please share your out come with us!
oops cross posted, Darius, I've been eagerly awaiting your article on making charcoal. Did I miss it or will it be out soon?
I forgot my ash tip.lol Wood ashes are the mildest of abrasives. If you need to remove something from a surface and are worried about marring it, start with wood ashes.
Many good uses for wood ashes here, this is great!
cocoa_lulu, you didn't miss that article... I just haven't written it yet. I thought I had some barrels lined up for the quick and easy version, but that faded away. The unit I want to build as a permanent burner (one that burns off more of the gases) is going to require some investment in materials, and that will have to wait for spring and an improvement in our economy, assuming I get through the holidays somewhat solvent.
Your tip on another use for wood ashes triggered a half-formed memory... weren't ashes used in wood finishing back when it was all done by hand?
I haven't heard about ashes used for wood working, would make sense tho. It's used as mild metal polishing compound, toothpaste works too :0) A woman told me long ago she used it to remove hair dye from her face. I don't dye my hair , just thought it was interesting tidbit :0)
I hope you can get your needs for the charcoal system running soon. We get most items for our projects from the dump. So many people have been collecting the scrap metal for extra income it's become harder and harder to find what we need. And we almost feel guilty for taking the cash out of some ones pocket who's will to work so hard for the extra cash.
Anyway, I'm eager to use it in the flower beds. But I was also going to give it as Christmas gifts along with woods chips from our fruit and hickory trees and maybe a bottle of homemade BBQ sauce.
I don't know what pH your soils are in TX, but wouldn't the bio-char make them more alkaline? I sure wouldn't want that here in NM, where both our soil and our water is already plenty alkaline. We actually use elemental sulfur (sparingly) in our garden here.
We're planning on sifting out the charcoal to put back in the wood stove. We've got the metal trash can and a piece of hardware cloth that fits over it for sifting.
I'll have to give the mild abrasive idea a try. I'm loving all these ideas. Keep 'em coming! =)
I'm in East Texas and our soil is sandy/loam and acidic. I do use use wood ashes sparingly around plants. A lot of my ashes just get dumped into my compost. I cold compost and think that the finished compost is ph neutral, but that's from observation of plants, not soil testing. That and I've never measured how much ashes our fireplace produces. We don't have long winters and only use the fireplace when socks and sweater don't help, yet too warm to turn on the heater :0)
Biochar doesn't seem to affect the pH although the wood ashes do...
So what is the biochar supposed to do? I'm not familiar with it.
Here is the article Darius wrote http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1669/
I'm hoping it will up my moisture retention, much like expanded shale would. The shale is very expensive here and the homemade char would have more micro nutrients and benefits.
Thanks cocoa, I'll check it out later. Moisture retention would be good, though we've got donkeys and their bedding, etc. makes for good "peat moss". LOL
I was just cleaning the glass on my wood stove with a special glass cleaner and lo and behold it says it contains sodium hydroxide, aka lye! Well, well. So next time that glass needs cleaning, I'm going to try some ash water. I wonder if it would work well on windows? Smells a darn sight better than ammonia!
Hey Frostweed... do you remember how full you filled that barrel before adding water for washing lye?
We filled it about half full with ashes and filled the rest with water, added more water and stirred it again after taking some out.
You may find this article on the "story of soap" and the implications for self sufficiency interesting:
Beginning with the American Revolution, and continuing with the westward move across the continent, the American spirit was fiercely independent and self-reliant. An especially simple example was that family soap was made and used almost exclusively at home through most of the 1800's. In a sense, soap-making was one of the simplest forms of autonomous health care.
Advertising changed this. Few people know that the soap business was one of the first industries to use large-scale advertising beginning in the late 1800's. Soap manufacturers set out to mold the American experience so that consumers needed to buy - not make their own - soap. They built an advertising strategy centered on the connection between physical health and spiritual wellness, with an embedded message that only industrially-produced pure soap could provide that connection. For instance, one early advertisement featured cherubs bathing with a large bar of soap. Another included a testimonial from the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher in 1870: "If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then surely soap is a means of grace." [Lears, Jackson, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America, Pantheon Books, 1981]
I noticed that the Frontier Freedom site on home soapmaking with wood ashes has a recipe for a single bar of soap that only needs one cup of melted tallow or other fat.
How many cups of tallow do you have in the fridge? Perhaps it's enough for a small batch to test out the process?
Thanks. I'll take a look at it.
Have you ever made lye from wood ashes or home made soap?
At the pioneer farmstead museum in Cherokee, NC they have a section of the valley set up to show how things were during those times. They have a small log structure to keep the ashes in and a spout near the bottom on front. It says they would pour water through the ashes and collect the lye at the bottom for their soap making. I don't have any of those photos on this computer but it is an interesting display. I love to go there and putter around.
I forgot about this thread and recently read some things concerning lye. It's used in making hominy. Lye can be used in the scalding water for butchering pigs to make the hair slip. And that the proper strength for lye in soap making is when an egg floats and only a quarter size of the shell is showing above the lye. I think all was in Carla Emory's county book, but I had been looking around on the web too tho.
I knew from my Little House books about the hominy but I didn't know about it making the hair slip from a hog. Very interesting. Better not wash your hair with lye soap. LOL
Something to keep in mind when making homemade washing compounds for laundry - animal fibres need an acidic or pH neutral washing solution, plant fibres do better with an alkaline washing solution. Lye is a caustic base (alkaline), so you'll want to add something to neutralize the pH if you are going to be washing wool.
Good to know. I'm wanting to make soap flakes for my HE washing machine. The HE soap is formulated to be low sudsing. I figure a lard base soap would work. Any one know of any reason the flakes might not work or gunk up the soap dispenser?
A friend has used homemade soap flakes fairly successfully for about 6 mos now. She does melt her soap flakes in hot water though, before putting them in.
I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who has made hominy from 'home grown' lye. We have a bunch of dried corn that is supposed to make good hominy, but I've never done it and would like to talk to someone who has first.
Thanks Grownut, I probable wouldn't have to have them very dry if I dissolved them first. Do you happen to know if she cures them any differently from regular soap?
Jayryunen, the homegrown lye makes me a bit nervous, I read the trick is know when they have swollen just enough for the hulls to loosen.I did copy this from the web. You can practice with baking soda first.
Be sure you allow yourself plenty of time for hominy making, it is quite labor intensive!! First shell your corn, I used regular yellow field corn this time, although this fall my Mom and I used white Hickory King corn that she had grown just for the purpose of hominy making. I think the yellow has a little more flavor though. The next step is to go outside in the breeze and pour the corn from bowl to bowl to get rid of all the chaff and dried silks. I probably had about eight cups of shelled corn. I then put the corn in a large enamel pot, covered it with water and let it soak overnight to begin the softening process. The next morning add about 1/3 cup of baking soda to the corn and water, put it on the stove and bring it to a boil. Boil vigerously for about an hour, stirring occasionally to be sure it doesn't stick. Be sure you keep plenty of water over the corn, it will begin to swell. After the corn has boiled for an hour, the outer husks on the kernels should begin to loosen. Drain the corn, cover with cold water and begin washing it with your hands. Change the water frequently, a lot of the husks should begin coming off of the kernels of corn. Put the corn back in the enamel pan, cover with water and bring it to a boil again. Boil for about an hour again, watching the water level closely, the corn should really start swelling up now. It will end up nearly doubling in size. Drain the corn again and wash it vigerously to remove more husks from the kernels. Put it back in the pan, cover with water and boil it for another hour. Wash it again, at this time most of the outer hull should have come loose from the kernels. Skim them off the water or use whatever method you find most efficient to get rid of the things. Put the corn back in the enamel pan and cook it again until it is almost tender enough to eat. This could take a couple more hours. At this point, I drain the corn again and give it another washing to get rid of any lingering husks. I then cover it with cold water in the enamel pan, put a covering of aluminum foil or a big dishtowel over the top and put it in a cool place overnight. The refrigerator is fine if you have room, mine usually goes out in the garage. The next morning, bring the corn to a boil again, have your pressure canner and jars ready, fill jars to within one inch of the top with hot hominy and water, add 1/2 teaspoon of canning salt to each pint, and proccess in pressure canner for one hour at 10 pounds of pressure. I only can hominy in pints, I think it is safer. You can make hominy using lye instead of baking soda, but I think this is a safer method and you can do it all in the house without so much worry. Mona Lea in Southeast Missouri
This seems like a different recipe from the one I found for using ash water... no boiling (bad fumes). I'll see if I can find that one again.
Apparently you can also use pickling lime to make the Mexican version of hominy... but that wouldn't solve my wood ash problem. LOL
Ohhh, I just the most exciting use for wood ashes...I'm easily entertained.lol
You can use them as your first layer of litter in the chicken coop. It absorbs the excess moisture from droppings and eases scraping the floor. Both then go to the compost :0)
I've only seen hominy made with pickling lime, so I'm not sure of the difference. DH and I are yellow corn meal fans. Neither one of us really likes hominy (or grits). Perhaps if I understood the dish better. What is the reason for liming them in the first place? Does it help preserve the corn? Is it for the flavour? If made with pickling lime (calcium hydroxide), hominy is a good source of calcium. Beyond that there doesn't seem to be much nutrition left in the corn.
Well, GM, some folks just like hominy or posole or masa. They are cultural foods.
All are old fashioned forms of carbs, easily grown, easily stored.
This message was edited Dec 9, 2008 8:32 AM
Oops, looks like I mis-remembered about the boiling (maybe I should try politics? lol) Here's the instructions I had...
Hominy has been made by Native Americans for thousands of years. It
is basically a method to remove the hulls from maize which makes it
more digestible and allows you to do more things with it (like make
tortillas, or masa dough for tamales). It also happens to make more
of the niacin in the maize available, which helps one avoid the
nutritional deficiency disease pellagra. Here are some traditional
Amish recipes for making hominy from dried corn:
Hominy (Lye Method)
In a large kettle, bring 1 1/2 gallons of water and 3 tablespoons of
lye to a boil (take care not to inhale steam from the lye water). Add
1 gallon of clean dried shucked corn. Simmer 10 minutes (no need to
stir). Remove from heat and let sit for 25 minutes.
Drain off the lye water and add clean water. Wash with repeated
changes of fresh water until the black ends of the corn kernels are
loose. Remove the black ends and hulls. Then either soak overnight
and follow the "hominy canning" recipe below, or dry and store in a
The traditional method for making hominy, invented by Native
Americans in pre-Columbian times, used a dilute lye solution made
from wood-ash leachings. Flint corn varieties are traditionally used,
rather than dent corn varieties, which are used for making flour and
I liked the system of the 5 gallon bucket with a tiny hole. Sounds like power leach water, for sure. I'll have to set that up soon and just try using the leach water with a couple handfulls of corn.
But reading the above, I wonder if I have flint or dent corn...
whatever it is, I have buckets of it. LOL
This is some really interesting stuff. I wonder about things like, what made the first person think to try lye to take hulls off corn. Things that make you say Hmmmm?
Let's see... dried corn in a crib that partly burns in the snow or rain (lightening?) and starving pioneers...
no, this goes way, way back. Interesting to speculate on a cold and snowy day here in northern NM. =)
I'll bet a catastrophic fire was involved somewhere in there... Aztecs burning down Mayan villages?
Accidentally dumping the cut corn in the lye bucket? Then trying to rescue it so you wouldn't be without all winter? Or are we not talking hominy...
Yep, we're talking about hominy, which is just the white man's version of whatever the indians were doing.
Hominy, by the way, is made from dried-on-the-cob corn, not cut corn. But anyway...
so what do you imagine was going on that the corn accidently got dumped?
I wonder if it had anything to do with slipping the hair off hogs? And how'd that come about anyway?
This is how novels get started! LOL
Accidentally dumped a hog....??? No, well maybe my theory doesn't hold up so well under closer inspection...
Wait. Accidentally dumped the WATER on the HOG and the CORN...leaving til I have myself under control (P&Litis, sorry!)
P&Litis? What is that? Should I call the vet? =)
OK, they were roasting the hog, but the spit dog jumped out of the cage and ran off, the hog caught fire, the kitchen maid threw the lye water to put the hog out, its hair fell off, and the fat drippings combined with the lye water to make soap.
P&Litis looks to be catching...
I'm still not sure who put water in the wood ashes. And why was the feed corn there?
Maybe some ol' gummer (may I live to be one) thought if this stuff'll dissolve a chicken feather, it oughtta take the hide off a corn kernal. eh-eh-eh =)