Homemade Lye Soap

Narratives from the Georgetown's Yesteryears Book

A special thanks to The Georgetown Heritage Society and Martha Mitten Allen for letting us post these wonderful first person stories.

View Foreword and Preface

E. C. "Pete" Bouffard: Bobby Deaton, Interviewer

My last few years at home before I moved into this place that I inherited, Mother was getting pretty old and having a hard time staying on her feet, and I usually did the washing on Monday mornings, if the weather permitted. A rub board and the old cast iron wash kettle, boiled the clothes in the kettle. I had one pair of overalls, a blue shirt, no socks, and some old run-down shoes. On the days that I laundered, I wore a cut-off cotton sack, like a dress, until my clothes were dry and put back on. I had underclothes. Mama made underclothes out of flour sacks or chicken feed sacks, so we had good underclothes. If I wanted socks, I'd just take a piece of old sack, and just wrap it around my foot and use it for a sock. Pretty rough going.

We couldn't afford to buy soap. We made our own, old lye soap. I made up many a bar of lye soap and it was good. Very simple to make. Of course, we had to kill hogs for meat, and we used lard and lye and let it cook a certain length of time. That's all there is to it.

Mary R. Engvall: Cynthia Burton, Interviewer

[At my grandmother's in West Texas] they didn't have washing machines. After soap making, they had wash day. That was a day to remember. They put two benches out-side the ranch house, two benches and three tubs. They carried water and filled up the three tubs. The first tub was filled with boiling water from the black pot. Then they filled the pot again and as they scrubbed those clothes on a rub board with the lye soap, they dropped them in the boiling water, and they had to come to a boil before they put them over in the second tub. They washed them lightly again, then put them into the big tub with blueing. If you get it too blue, it kind of ruins the looks of white things. And the colored things, it doesn't show at all in them.

A lot of us remember the homemade lye soap used for laundry.

Lye Soap Cook in wash pot. Mix cracklins amount, one pint lye and two pounds of clean melted fat from cows, pigs, or sheep. Simmer gently for three hours, stirring often. As mixture cools, pour in one pound of salt. This settles to the bottom, but hardens the soap. Some people added scenting ingredients and color. Pour the molten soap into wooden molds lined with a damp cloth, leaving the brine in the pot.

I watched Granny do this a lot of times, seems to me in hog killing time when it was real cold. She cooked as directed except left out the scent and color. She let the soap harden in the pot, then cutting it out a bar at a time. They were not necessarily all the same shape or size. The soap was used for laundry and improved with age.

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