Lye soap is actually the first soap variety I ever made. I had heard about how good it was at cleaning, but I also heard how harsh it was and that it could make your skin turn red. In the old days, that was pretty much true. Grandma did not have the advanced calculators we have nowadays for figuring out safe recipes to make soap. The recipe was in 'abouts'...you know....about this much lye, about this much oil. Basically it was the same way she cooked the family meal. (photo at left taken from the Rushville (Indiana) Republican newspaper 03 Feb. 1938)
Now to clarify, all soap has some kind of lye in it. It is necessary to facilitate the chemical reaction to create soap. The term 'lye soap' in this article is referring to a particular soap that is a bit stronger in cleaning strength than ordinary body soap and usually is one of two types: vegan coconut oil or lard soap. Each soap maker has their preference, but I prefer the lard based as it is the most historically accurate recipe.
The lye soap that I make and sell is labeled as laundry soap because that is the main purpose. You can use it as a stain stick by rubbing it directly into a stain before washing. You can shave off some and place directly in warm water in your washer, or you can shred it to include in a wet or dry laundry wash recipe. The advantage of using this for a laundry soap is that the bubbles are very scarce, making it ideal for HE washers.
Since I do have a touch of asthma, and the chemicals in commercial cleaners can set me off coughing, one of the advantages of using lye soap as a cleaner is that it is not only chemical free, but scent free. I have been experimenting and have found various uses for household cleaning that are effective. The first way is using the soap to clean mats. I take them outside, wet them down with a water hose, and rub the soap all over it. After they have been thoroughly scrubbed with a bristle brush, I rinse them with the hose and hang them over the fence to drip dry in the sunshine. Now, I only have cheap mats, so if you have a nice expensive one, I would recommend that you test on an inconspicuous spot first and adapt your cleaning method accordingly.
Being made from natural ingredients, I have also used lye soap safely to clean my porch. While hot water is filling up my bucket, I scrub the soap with a scrub brush so that the bucket is now filled with hot, soapy water. This method is used not only to clean my house but also to soak fine, vintage linens. Preparing a solution this way allows you to control just how much soap you use. Again, don't expect to see a lot of bubbles like in commercial cleaning products. Just because there isn't a lot of bubbles doesn't mean that the product doesn't work.
My last experiment for cleaning has been with dishes. I have used it on fragile vintage litho items as well as my own dishes and have not only found it to be excellent for cleaning, but safe enough not to harm the lithograph or paint found on vintage items. Compared to modern dish soap, you do have to use it differently. Instead of dispensing it into the water and then washing, you would use a palm brush to get some soap onto the brush and then scrub the dish, or get some on your wash cloth and wash the dish directly. I would not recommend it for a dishwashing machine.
Finally, if you ever get tagged by poison ivy, washing with this will quickly cut the oils and help it to keep from spreading over your body. If you are able to wash within 20 minutes of contact, there is a chance you might not even break out. DO NOT wash more than twice, though, as this soap is very harsh.
I hope this little article has cleared up some misconceptions about lye soap and also given you some ideas on how to use a bar. Helping you stretch your dollar and get the most for your money is a top priority for us at Simply Creative Living. If you have any other ways you found this Laundry Soap works for you, let us know in the comments section below.
Find my Laundry Bar HERE.