Learn to make lye the traditional Roman way

Traditionally, lye was made by leaching it from wood ashes, and this lye was much less caustic than modern commercial products. You can still enjoy the benefits of traditional lye-based soap by making it at home. This guide explains the process.

Learn to make lye the traditional Roman way

Make your lye in a few simple steps

  1. Any large wooden container can be used for the lye-making process. Bigger is better, since the more ashes the water seeps through, the more concentrated the lye solution will be. A barrel or large tub with a hole drilled as near to the bottom as possible is excellent for leaching.
  2. Place the barrel on blocks so that an enamel bucket can be placed beneath it to collect the solution as it seeps out. Set up the barrel at an angle, with the opening at the lowest point. Line the bottom with straw to prevent ashes from sifting into the lye solution and then pack with ashes. Almost any hardwood ash will do. Finally, scoop out a depression at the top so that it's large enough to hold two to three litres (two to three quarts) of water.
  3. To make the lye, fill the depression with rainwater heated to boiling, and let the water seep through the ashes. When all of the water has gone, add more. It will be awhile (sometimes several days) before the lye begins to trickle out through the bottom, but don't try to hasten the process by adding extra water prematurely.

When you make lye at home, you aren't just left with the makings of a purer, less caustic soap product. You're also continuing an authentic, age old tradition. Be sure to enjoy the process!

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