How NOT TO Make Lye Soap
I’ve always said Mother would tackle just about anything. If she didn’t know how to make or build it, then it was trial and error until she got it just the way she wanted it.
I can remember quite a few “ooops, well that didn’t work”. But she kept trying until she got it right. That was her mantra UNTIL she decided that we needed to make our own laundry soap…. “just think of the money we’ll save” she said.
Remember… Google and YouTube hadn’t been invented yet. But we did have my Grandmother, who had made lye soap forever. So, Mother called Granny long distance, and got her recipe.
Yes, we did have phones back then, but you had to “dial” the number, and pay, per minute, for anyone you called that didn’t live in the same town you did. The cost was determined by the distance you called. No such thing as free, one rate, or unlimited anything.
If you wanted to make a long distance call, you waited until after 7:00 on Friday evening, because it was a cheaper rate. The cheaper rates went back up at 7:00 Monday morning. So you made your long distance calls on the weekend.
Mother wrote Granny’s recipe down, but since it was after 6:00 p.m. all the stores were closed, so we had to wait until the next morning to get the lye and lard we needed. This was pre-1962, so there weren’t any 24/7 Walmart stores around either!
Other than “dragging Main”, or going to the movies, there wasn’t any reason to be out after 6:00 p.m.
Granny had said the recipe made a big batch of soap but since there were only 3 of us, Mother decided that she would just half the recipe.
You were supposed to mix and cook everything outside, but our only stove was in the house, so Mother opened all the doors and windows. The fact that it was the middle of December and snowing didn’t seem to matter… we had soap to make. We put our coats, caps and gloves on and went to it.
We had started about 10:00 in the morning and finished about 3:00 that aftenoon. Everything had worked just like Granny said and it “looked” right, so Mother poured it out to harden, which Granny said would take 2 or 3 days depending on the weather.
A couple of days went by and Mother couldn’t wait any longer. She was ready to do laundry. Granny told her to cut into pieces and, using a hand grater, grate it into a thick powder.
When Mother bent down to pick it up off the utility room floor, the newspaper that she had poured it out on was wet and tore loose from around the soap. So Mother just reached under the soap, picked it up, took it to the kitchen counter and started cutting it into pieces. That should have been our first hint that something was wrong.
I, on the other hand, was still looking at the floor in the utility room where the soap had been. Not only was there no newspaper left, there wasn’t any lineoleum left on that spot. There was also a hole where part of the wood sub-floor had also “been eaten”. You could actually see ground.
And she was going to wash our clothes with this stuff?
“Mom”, I said, “Look what it did!”
Mother couldn’t figure out why our soap hadn’t turned out like Granny’s. She read and re-read the recipe, we had done everything exactly right… except, she had forgotten to half the amount of lye she had used!
I don’t remember what we did with the soap, but I do know that we didn’t wash our clothes with it and we didn’t ever make lye soap again. I guess Mother decided that Tide wasn’t so expensive after all.
She actually got a rug and put over the hole in the lineoleum so that you couldn’t see where it was and never mentioned to anyone about making lye soap. It would be interesting to know what she told Granny, though.
When we sold the house and moved to Arkansas several years later, the hole was still there.
The new owners were probably surprised when they moved the rug and saw the hole . I’ll bet they wondered how in the world that weird shaped hole got there.
I’m not sure what the “take away” to this story is except…. if you’re going to make lye soap, be sure to read the recipe.
Can hardly wait to read your comments…