The end of the year just slipped past us. It’s a natural time to look back at all that’s happened in the past 12 months and to plan for good things in the upcoming year. Looking back, I thought I would have more time to write. Who are we kidding…I have time. Time that I spend with my family, at work, cooking, cleaning, reading to my daughter and listening with a smile as she learns every new word. Still, there is a pull I feel to write more. Not that I’m particularly gifted as a writer. My grammar is terrible, I use commas to excess…and ellipses as well (and probably too many parentheses also). I think it’s more about having so many thoughts and ideas in my head, and wanting to get them out in some way. Writing as a process forces me to slow down and be mindful. Writing forces me to continue to try something that I’m not good at, that I have to learn and make mistakes with. Probably why I fail to make time to do it. Who likes to do crap they’re not good at? We all probably should do more things we’re not good at.
Looking at 2015, I want to do more crap I’m not good at, and have more fun doing it. I will always have fun doing what I love – cooking, spending time with my family, finding things to tinker with around the house, etc. I would simply like to be more comfortable, more fluid, in the river of change that I see rolling my way in 2015. Most of this will be work related, but Beautiful Wife and I are sitting down in a bit to go over what changes we want to see as a family in 2015, and as you all know “change” is code for “doing things differently” – often in a way that we’re not already good at.
So…what’s my point? My point is that for me each new year comes with a big, clean slate. (side note – who the hell uses a slate anymore. Blackboard might be less antiquated. But really, a whiteboard would be more appropriate. Or Evernote for me. We are a paperless, white and blackboard-less, slate-free house. Seriously though, give Evernote a try.) So for this new year, I’m going to leave you with a recipe for making soap from bacon grease (clean hands, clean slate). And really, you should be using good old fashioned soap as you start the new year. None of that hand sanitizer crap. Read about it here, and from the horse’s mouth here (the CDC no less.)
Let’s begin. I’ll list the steps here in order, then do the illustrated walk through below. There really is only one ratio you have to get right/measure, and that is the amount of lye you mix with your cleaned up, pure bacon grease. The rest of this recipe is done by eyeball. Before you even start the process though you’l need to collect a good amount of bacon grease. Don’t worry about the chunks and bits, just let it cool a bit in the pan and pour it in a large container. Repeat this until you have at lease a pint or two.
- Scoop the grease from your container into a large stock pot or something similar. Add 1-2T salt, and enough water to almost fill the pot – give yourself 1-2″ of room from the top.
- Put the pot on high heat and watch it like a hawk. Once you start seeing little bubbles – the beginnings of the boil – turn it to medium. You want all the grease dissolved into the water, but not boiled over onto your cooktop.
- Once you’ve got a pot of uniform sludge with everything melted evenly, remove from heat and let cool. I will typically put the pot outside if it’s a cooler season, or in the garage. In the summer, I let the pot cool to room temp and put it in the fridge. Once completely cooled, you should see the hardened grease at the top, slightly whiter than when it went into the pot the first time.
- Get a butter knife or scraper, and break the cheesecake shaped disk o’ grease free from the pot. Put it on a dinner plate or baking sheet and set aside.
- Clean the pot with soap and water
- Start the process over again WITHOUT the salt this time. Cut the disk o’ grease into chunks, put them in the pot, and fill with water, heat, let cool.
- At this point, you’re going to repeat the cycle of: melting the grease in clean water, letting it cool, pulling the grease out, washing the pot, and re-melting the now slightly whiter grease in fresh water. You’re going to keep doing this until you see clear water after you pull the cooled grease out of the pot. This will mean that all the bacon bits are gone from the grease and your soap will smell like soap instead of a cast iron skillet that hasn’t been washed. For the few batches I’ve done, I’ve had to melt/cool/repeat about 10 times. I’ve also used at least a quart of grease each time I’ve made soap, and a relatively small stock pot. I imagine a larger pot with less grease would go faster.
- Once you’ve got clean, solid grease you need to weight it then re-melt it in a clean pot. Heat it until it’s at 88F.
- Take the weight of your grease and multiply it by 0.1388 and that’s how much lye you’ll need. So for 1 kg of grease you’ll need 138.8g lye. You can get lye at most hardware stores. It’s pretty caustic, so don’t mess around. I wear eye and hand protection when I’m using it.
- Add the lye to twice as much water (in our example above you’ll add 139g lye to 278g water) in a glass container and let the fun begin. Lye and water create an exothermic reaction, which generates a bunch of heat. Stir frequently and let it cool to about 88F.
- Add the lye/water solution to your melted grease (both should be near 88F) and stir. You can stir by hand, which takes forever, or just use an immersion blender. I’ve never bothered stirring by hand. Either way you want to stir until you see traces forming.
- At this point you can a few drops of essential oil if you wish, and stir to mix.
- Pour your finished soap into a mold (I use a pyrex baking dish because I’m lazy, but you can buy soap molds, use a box lined with plastic wrap, etc.) and let it set for about a day.
- Cut the firm but pliable soap into bars and wrap with paper. Don’t use plastic, and don’t wrap them air tight. They need to cure.
- Let your bars sit for a month and – through the process of saponification – viola! You have soap!
Now for pictures.
First, collect yerself a tub o’ grease:
Here’s what it looks like when you first melt the grease in salt and water:
This is what it’ll look like when it’s completely cooled.
Notice the nasty, dark water underneath?
A few cycles later it will start to clear up, but still be pretty nasty…
And finally, your pot should look more like this or pretty close to it. As a side note, I take a paper towel and wipe the brown residue from the cheesecake shaped hardened grease each time.
Then it’s time to weigh out and measure your lye and grease
Then mix the lye with water and let it cool until it reaches 88F (it will get VERY hot at first).
While you’re waiting for that, melt your grease (just grease, no water) until it reaches 88F.
Then mix the lye/water mixture with the pure, melted grease until you see traces form. (traces not formed in the picture below)
Pour that into your mold, let it sit for a day or two,
Then cut and wrap your new bars of soap! Remember to let them cure for a month before you use them.