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


piece of soaker hose

Hardwood ashes

zip ties

<p>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?</p>
<p>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. </p>
<p>Still Available at places like Smart &amp; Final for about $ 3.00 per 16 oz container. I think it goes by the name Red Devil </p>
<p>Lye, Sodium Hydroxide, Caustic Soda, these names are that of a single product which is available in your supermarket cleaning aisle.</p><p>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.</p>
Excellent point. Lol.
<p>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</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>well why dont you enlighten us with your method instead of hurting the guys feelings?</p>
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 &quot;son-to-be&quot; 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.<br>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!
<p>That's the exact same thing, only with more steps and less details.... Awfully complex you say? ......... MMMmmmmmmmkay.</p>
<p>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.</p><p>Other than soap and cleaning are there other uses for lye? Am I alone thinking that KOH isn't as good as NaOH?</p><p>Great job!</p>
<p>I use this method to tan my deer and squirrel hides.</p>
<p>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. </p>
http://www.offthegridnews.com/how-to-2/use-your-brains-tan-your-hides/<br>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!<br>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 :-)
<p>I have a bar of soap I made with my grandmother in the 1950's It was my job that year to collect the hardwood, it was mostly black cottonwood, burn it collect the ash and wash it. we made 'hard' soap bars that were used mainly to take stains from clothing before washing them. except for one time she caught me swearing.</p>
<p>Nnnnoooooo!!! Hahahahahaaha! </p>
<p>LOL!<br>Then grandma used that soap on the foul-orifice, right?</p>
<p>Wood ash lye was used to process olives, which makes sense, they had the wood, used cooking fires, and therefore had plenty of ash. I'd do this as a self sufficiency exercise, not just for olives but also because lye can be used as a sterilising wash that also happens to dissolve lipids, i.e. not bad for cleaning down a processing area. Also, try getting hold of NaOH in sufficient quantities for cleaning, processing, and soap making without getting suspicious sideways glances from the supermarket staff... %)</p>
<p>This can also be used to produce hydrogen for fuel when mixed with aluminium or it can clean your drains. There are man y great uses for Caustic Soda.</p>
<p>I like this setup for leaching salts from wood ash. The soaker hose is a great variation. However, this is not producing any kind of lye. It is producing potassium carbonate, whereas the lye used in soap making is either potassium or sodium hydroxide. You would need to boil this with calcium hydroxide to turn this into lye. Leaching salts from wood ash is an important step toward making lye, but not the only one:</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium_hydroxide#Manufacture">https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium_hydroxide#...</a></p>
<p>What was called wood ash lye certainly was and is made from wood ashes. It does not matter just what is in it exactly but it was used for millennia for making soap. I have no doubt that modern science is much better.&lt;http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_ashlye.html&gt; describes making it and using it for making biodiesel and has a link to a book on making soap with it. My Grandmother and Grandfather (born in the 1880's) made their own wood ash lye, using a wooden hopper with straw in the bottom to filter the solution in a stone trough I presume my grandfather made, as he was a stone mason. For laundry my grandmother mixed lard and wood ash and boiled the clothes with this in a wash boiler and called it &quot;soft soap&quot; . While I use Wikipedia a lot, everything in it is not the only way things were done. A web search on making soap in Colonial days will give links to the fact that lye made from wood ash was used. It may well have a lot of carbonates in it. So, this is a valid process that was used in soap making. I can attest that a bunch of wood ashes and water will dissolve your skin. I have never done a chemical analysis on it, but it is a strong alkali.</p>
<p>T'aint lye. At least, not in the current sense. It's primarily carbonates, bicarbonates and a little sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide. You can definitely make soap from it. It's not as efficient as what we now call lye, which is almost pure potassium or (more commonly) sodium hydroxide. The link you provided is referenced in the Wikipedia article on Wood Ash. That link also states that the potassium hydroxide content of wood ash is often questionable. The ability to make soap from something does not make it potassium or sodium hydroxide. If you look at the comments, most commenters seem to think the &quot;lye&quot; referred to here is a hydroxide, because for the last hundred and some years, the term &quot;lye&quot; has meant either potassium or sodium hydroxide. I was praising this set up, but trying to clear-up some confusion among the commenters about the product created. </p>
<p>Nice apparatus. Actually the solution produced is a mix of sodium and potassium hydroxide. It is used, as one correspondent says, to create hominy by soaking dried corn and rinsing away the shell. Hominy is eaten as is or dried and ground to make grits or ground further to make masa which is mixed with lard and made into tortillas. All of these products may be more easily from your supermarket.In our family lye soap was made with small amounts of vinegar to neutralize excess lye. Not an exact thing so one sometimes felt and smelt like a pickle after a bath. At least it did not remove the skin. Another use for wood ashes or the lye is in ceramic glazes. It provides the flux needed to reduce the melting point of other minerals. Another use is to mix the lye or the ashes with leguminous compost and urine to produce nitrates which can then be made into gunpowder. Wood ashes and lye were once commonly used to adjust the pH of soil in farming and also provide sodium and potassium for the crop. </p>
<p>I saw a few people ask what other uses might there be for Potassium Hydroxide (KOH). It is the electrolyte of choice for Nickel-Iron batteries. NiFe batteries are some fascinating old-school technology with some real-world applications and are definitely accessible to the DIY community. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel%E2%80%93iron_battery</p>
<p>People asked what else lye can be used for. <br><br>Making grits. Back in the old (old old) days, people took dried corn (and/or) field corn and soaked it in lye to make grits.</p>
<p>I wouldn't cut the blocks of wood this way either but, really, how many posters do we really need whinging about how Marcus does it?]</p>
<p>That operation being demonstrated with the circular saw is extremely dangerous. For anyone reading this, please do not emulate this!</p>
<p>Do it the way that works for you!</p>
<p>The average mug has no idea how dangerous a circular saw is. That was all I was pointing out. Do it another way. Heck, use a hand saw. It isn't going to take that much longer and it will be a lot less time then the time wasted in the emergency section at your local hospital.</p><p>I've got ten fingers, and I intend to keep them! </p>
<p>Do it the way that works for you!</p>
<p>I just bought a 2 lb jar of Red Devil lye at a fragrance and soap making supply store in Seattle for eight dollars. Perhaps online it could cost a bit less but I perfer to support local businesses.</p>
<p>Why would someone buy something so easy to make?</p><p>Have some pride in your work. If you are browsing this website you probably want to make things yourself so why buy something so easy to make. I bake food rather than buy processed because it is so easy and you can enjoy it with the pride of someone who has made their own.</p><p>Same rules apply.</p>
<p>WoW, I'm an old man &amp; never new how lye was made. Thanks a lot, now I know how to make Castile soap from total scratch!</p>
<p>The day may come, when something as simple <br>as lye, may for whatever reason, no longer available. If that time ever <br>comes, having certain skills like lye making, could possibly determine <br>who survives and who does not. </p><p>It's sad to me that some of the commenters don't see the necessity of <br>familiarizing oneself with such a basic skill for making an incredibly <br>valuable product. I would like to know how many of these people even knew that lye is made from hardwood ash?<br><br>Lye<br> is an incredibly strong base that can be use for a myriad of household <br>and industrial applications i.e. as a food additive, a drain cleaner, <br>soap making, a chemical solvent and basification agent. Hardwood ash has<br> been used for thousands of years by indigenous peoples of the Earth to <br>remove the fur from a skinned animals in preparation for tanning. Golden<br> brown German pretzels get their amazing taste from being dipped in lye,<br> not backing soda before being placed in the oven! Backing soda will <br>work, but it's not as good as using lye solution. The list of uses for <br>lye go on and on.<br><br>Lastly, I find it a sign a sign of stupidity <br>for an individual to criticize or somehow lessen the value of the <br>information being shared. It doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't order <br>your lab grade NaOH off of the internet. If nothing else, at least one <br>has learned something new.</p>
&quot;If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are now&quot; ~Master Shifu
Love this. Been saving fat to make soap. Can't find anywhere to get lye in Hawaii. Im sure it's available somewhere but haven't found yet. I have all the materials so im going to give this a try.
<p>Nice instructable. I have always just let the ashes sit in water for a few days and then filter..</p>
<p>that is a pretty ingenious set up for extracting lye from wood ashes. This project and the comments it has received pushed me over the edge.</p><p>sure you might be able to purchase the results of this project for less money and surly less trouble. so ------- what? you can buy artisanal soap many places again so what. these projects are projects, instructables on how someone did something. no one is forced to do them just like they did or even read them. many are cheaper to buy then build that is not the point at all</p><p>What is the point of just ranting on how stupid they are or a waste of time and money?</p><p>You have the time, you have the material in this case a ready supply of wood ashes anyway it might be fun and interesting to try and learn to extract the lye even make something out of it, insecticidal soap is a thing and mixed with nicotine is a very strong contact insecticide and home made will wash the dog and home made soap would probably smell better that a dirt itchy dog. at least my dog.</p><p>helpful comments are helpful the other kind are just more discouraging BS</p><p>uncle frogy</p>
There's another reason Lye is hard to get.It's a key ingredient in bathtub Meth. The DEA Doesn't want you breaking bad. Same with pseudoephedrine.
<p>To all of you poo pooing about this and that......MY MAMA TOLD ME IF YOU CAN'T SAY SOMETHING NICE KEEP YOUR DAMNED MOUTH SHUT!</p><p>That goes for your fingers as well....just saying.....I make my own soap and have been buying my lye.....I like this idea and if I didn't live in an apartment I'd be doing it (I don't like all the additives in my soap)</p>
<p>This is the type of Instructable I really enjoy. Thank you for the education :)</p>
This is a great instructable. I will probably use this method when I try it. Do I need lye? Not particularly, but to know how to make and use it cant hurt. I know how to start a fire using the bow drill method. Will I ever need to use that? Hopefully not. But I would rather know how and never need to use it, then need it and not know how. Knowledge is amazing.
<p>Lye is pretty cheap if you buy the old (non-ecological) drain cleaner, <br>which is commercial grade lye (Caustic soda, also called sodium <br>hydroxide). </p><p>The quality of the finished soap mostly depends on how well the maker managed to neutralize the lye needed to make the soap from the ashes. Poor neutralization makes a pretty harsh soap that's VERY hard on skin (but good for getting oils out of clothes)</p><p>BTW, cedar is a softwood - a gymnosperm, more commonly referred to as a coniferous tree. Hardwoods are those that produce a protected seed such as those that make fruits or nuts (oak, maple, apple, peach, sycamore, pecan, etc.) A source for such ashes is the wood chips ashes left after smoking meat or fish.</p>
<p>As a kid, I remember using Castille soap. Peculiar smell. You haven't gotten squeaky clean till you scrub your face with Lava soap. In the 60's when nice smelling soaps arrived, I remember the bars being much larger so they seemed to last longer. Now, I'm lucky to get a weeks worth of clean from the smaller bars. I enjoy the homemade soap bars friends give us and consider them a real treat. Soap making is not easy and can take a lot of time to make just 12 bars. Wouldn't you rather have something made with love, than something from China that contains who knows what?</p>
<p>This process will make really weak lye not suitable for much. To increase the strength you can recycle the water a time or 2 or use a bigger (longer flow through time) container. even with that, the best thing to do is boil the lye down to about half volume in a non-metal (or enamel coated) pot. If you don't have PH testers just wait until an egg will float in your solution. Happy soap making!</p>
<p>This is neat ! Thank you for sharing.</p><p>So the chemist in me wants to see the stoichiometric relationships. What quantity of ashes ? If water is dripping through the apparatus, I would expect water to be collected at the bottom. You mention pH paper, but no discussion whatever of the strength of the solution. Have you, or worked with someone who makes soap from the resultant of the process you illustrate ?</p><p>Again, neat, and all the best. </p>
<p>Um..just buy a container of lye. It's cheap enough and you don't cut your fingers off.</p>
I agree with nathanaloysiusbash. Buying something is not always an option and there's a great feeling you get when you realize that you can make something from scratch. Give me some scraps of candle wax and some sawdust and I will make you a fire brick that will burn for hours. You say you don't have a candle wick? Give me a twist tie and some toilet paper and I'll make you one that works better than the store bought. Thanks for the info Nathan!

About This Instructable




More by marcus2015:Make your own lye 
Add instructable to: