Make Your Own Lye

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Introduction: Make Your Own Lye

Lye is incredibly easy to make! It's just the product of combining water with hardwood ashes, and it's essential for making your own soap.

Step 1: Gather Materials

Materials are pretty minimal. You'll need:

5 gallon (or any large) bucket

smaller bucket to fit inside the larger one. We used a clay one, but you could use any material that you can drill holes through.

Metal mesh- But do not use aluminum! Lye will eat through aluminum

Drill

piece of soaker hose

Hardwood ashes

zip ties

Step 2: Determine Where to Drill Your Holes

We used a clay pot because the material is easy to drill clean holes through, and it already had a large hole in the center. Flip the pot upside down, and determine where to drill your holes. It doesn't have to be exact, you just need several holes throughout the bottom of the container.

Step 3: Drill the Holes

Step 4: Place the Mesh

Take a sheet of the metal mesh, and fit it to the bottom of your smaller container. We did this by just placing the mesh over the bottom of the pot and cutting around it. Cut several sheets of mesh because you will layer them. When you've cut about 3-4 sheets of mesh, flip your pot right-side up and layer the mesh at the bottom. We used glue to secure the mesh in place, but you don't have to; the ashes should secure it to the bottom adequately.

Step 5: Make a Soaker Hose Coil

Take a piece of soaker hose (aka gardening hose), and wind it into a circular coil that's roughly the diameter of the clay pot top. We evenly spaced and secured our coil by zip tying small wooden blocks throughout it. Your finished coil should look like the third picture here, the idea of the coil is just to make sure water is distributed over all the ashes.

Step 6: Place Your Smaller Clay Pot Into Your Larger Bucket

Step 7: Fill With Ashes and Soak With Water

Fill the clay pot with hardwood ashes (cedar, oak, etc.) Then, place your coil of soaker hose on top. Attach your soaker hose to a garden hose, and turn the water on. That's it! The mixture of water and hardwood ash creates lye. The water will filter through the ashes and the holes in the clay pot, and the finished lye will collect in your bottom bucket. Depending on how much lye you want at once, cut the water off after about 5 minutes. You can take the lye out of the bottom bucket on an as-needed basis and re-use this system again and again. The ph of lye should be about 14, and you can test the ph of your finished lye water with ph strips sold in the aquarium department of walmart.

Step 8:

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    157 Comments

    I didn't realize the setup was that simple, that's pretty neat! I'd like to learn how to make my own soaps, it looks like fun :)

    what happens if you use soft wood ashes?

    This is a really easy method of making your own lye. I'll have to try it sometime. I enjoy making homemade soaps (love the customize-ability of it!) in the crock pot. It's cheap and a fun afternoon project. I've seen a lot of comments saying you can get lye for $2.50/lb- can't imagine where they're finding it. I paid $11 for a 2lb container and that was the absolute cheapest I could find without getting it shipped to me and paying RIDICULOUS shipping and hazmat charges. This method may save me some money, but does someone know the conversion rates from crystallized lye to lye water?

    5 replies

    Dunno if it's still true, but when I was younger, you could find lye in the same aisle as Drano at the grocery store. Granted, this was when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but some places may still have it.

    Lye, Sodium Hydroxide, Caustic Soda, these names are that of a single product which is available in your supermarket cleaning aisle.

    But isn't it more fun to tell that smug hippie soap maker at the fair that their soap is not completely handmade like yours is because they didn't make their own lye.

    LOL wouldn't telling to hippie that in itself be smug? Black pot meer black kettle.

    Excellent point. Lol.

    Still Available at places like Smart & Final for about $ 3.00 per 16 oz container. I think it goes by the name Red Devil

    In regards to SHTF preps I may as well stockpile lye. very few harwodd tree growing in the Jigh Plains to burn

    Well I just wanted to thank you. You're instructable was most informative! I've been meaning to look into how to make lye for a while now for when the SHTF and I just stumbled across it while looking for something else here! Also the best comment section I've seen on Instructables haha

    Sorry, but this is an awfully complex way to do something as simple as making lye. It's expensive, too, when compared with the traditional ways we used/use on the farm.

    3 replies

    well why dont you enlighten us with your method instead of hurting the guys feelings?

    It's simple. Fill a bucket or barrel with wood ashes, preferably oak. Tap a hole at or near the bottom. Slowly pour water through the ashes, catching the "son-to-be" lye as it runs out the hole. You can either filter with a cloth or screen as it exits the first container or when you pour it into a kettle to further reduce the filtrate into true lye over heat (You're removing excess water by heating.
    Bonus: After you've cooked the filtrate down, re-filter if necessary to remove foreing particles, add lard, glycerin. mineral oil, or vegetable oil - add herbs or fragrances if desired, cook it down to a thick consistency, pour it out to flatten and harden as it coos, the cut. Soap!

    That's the exact same thing, only with more steps and less details.... Awfully complex you say? ......... MMMmmmmmmmkay.

    Thank you for sharing this instructable. This seems like a very effective way to get lye from ashes. But using wood ash produces potassium hydroxide lye which you can absolutely use to make soap, but in my experience it makes a lousy soap. Sodium hydroxide is way better and super cheap from either a soap supply store, or I get mine from the hardware store as a pure NaOH lye drain cleaner for 3 bucks a pound.

    Other than soap and cleaning are there other uses for lye? Am I alone thinking that KOH isn't as good as NaOH?

    Great job!

    5 replies

    I use this method to tan my deer and squirrel hides.

    Nifty, LeNeveu2. Could you go into a short bit of detail on how you do that and where the wood-ash lye comes into it? I produce a lot of acorn flour, so I end up with huge amounts of tannin and a boiled concentrate does a great deal of the treatment on my hides. But I'm curious about other ways people tan their hides.

    http://www.offthegridnews.com/how-to-2/use-your-brains-tan-your-hides/
    For instance...

    I accidentally made NaOH while making hydrogen gas by electrolysis of water. It was going very slowly so I figured common salt (NaCl) would help conduction and speed things up. It did speed my hydrogen production up, but on smelling the strong smell of chlorine gas at the other electrode, and some school chemistry I realised that the remaining solution must be NaOH, caustic soda

    Hiya!
    You are correct: potassium hydroxide makes a lousy hard bar (if at all), but is better suited for LIQUID soap! There is an instructable for making liquid soap in a crockpot somewhere on Instructables - try it! It yields quite a substantial amount of soap :-)