Soap making began a long time ago when ancient people began to see that the fat from the meat they cooked would produce a substance that could be used to make what we now call homemade soap. This fatty substance could be combined with the ashes from outdoor cooking along with water to form a cleaning material that was easy to make and very useful around the home. Once it was realized that this strange combination of ingredients made a useful product, people made many uses of this substance before it came soap.
There are two main ways to make soap. These are the hot process or the cold process. At the Museum the cold process is used for making soap. Some heat is used in the cold process so the temperature is raised high enough to ensure complete melting of the fat. The mixture is poured into molds and allowed to cool. This soap is safe to use in approximately three weeks but does not reach its peak quality for use for several weeks.
A cold process soapmaker looks up the saponification value of the fats being used so the value can be used to calculate the correct amount of lye. Excess unreacted lye in the soap can burn or irritate skin or not enough lye will make the soap greasy. The term “Saponification” is the name given to the chemical reaction that occurs when animal fat is mixed with lye.