How to Make Lye from Ashes for Soap-Making

Soap making in the woods can be almost automatic. Hardwood ashes are some of the best producers of lye.

article image
by Adobestock/Smole

Learn how to make lye from ashes using a lye-leaching barrel to help filter rainwater through hardwood ashes to make lye for the soap-making process.

If it hadn’t been for the help we got from the native old-timers… my friend, Dennis, and I would have starved or just plain quit the winter we settled into that abandoned miner’s cabin in Alaska. The sourdoughs came to our rescue, though, and soon taught us how to survive on less than $10 a month cash money by trapping, tanning, foraging food and dipping candles from our own tallow and lard. With their generous assistance, we also quickly mastered the fine and easy art of recycling hardwood ashes and left-over kitchen fats into clean, all-purpose soap.

Soap Making Is Almost Automatic

Now, soap making in the woods can be an almost automatic thing. Anyone who’s done much camping knows that — if you throw some white ashes from a hardwood fire into your frying pan after dinner — the lye in the ash will combine with the fat from the cooking to make a crude soap. This works fine for rough-washing tin plates and hunting knives, but there are times when even the most ornery outdoorsman needs bar soap. We were no exception and — thanks to our instructors — soon became adept at making both soft and hard soap, starting at ground zero with lye from our own leaching barrel.

All you really need to turn out the same sort of non-polluting cleanser that our pioneer foremothers scrubbed with, you know, is lye and animal fat. Whatever meat scraps and drippings you have on hand will supply the fat and the lye comes from wood ashes and water.

  • Updated on Dec 29, 2021
  • Originally Published on Sep 19, 2020
Tagged with: ash soap, diy soap, lye, lye soap, Modern Homesteading, soap, soap making, soapmaking, Survival Skills
Online Store Logo
Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368