The easiest method of making lye
water is to drip water through wood ashes. Sounds
real easy, but it is a bit more complicated than
that. One method that combines new technology with
old is to use a 10 foot length of plastic rain
gutter, complete with a cap on one end and a down
spout connection on the other end, and fasten it to
fence posts about 4 feet off the ground. The down
spout end should be about an inch lower than the
capped end. Fill the gutter with an even layer of
wood ashes, not tamped down or compacted. Water
sprinkled on the ashes will filter out the lye and
drip out the down spout end.
Under the down spout end of the
rain gutter should be placed two plastic buckets. The
bottom one collects the lye water, and should have a
valve installed in the bottom to drain the lye
water. The lid for the bottom bucket should have a
half-dozen holes drilled in a circle about 6 inches
from the middle of the lid, each hole being about "
in diameter. The bucket above that should have
matching holes drilled into the bottom, so any lye
water will run out the bottom, through the holes in
the lid below, and collect in the bottom bucket.
Straw is packed tightly into the top bucket, with its
lid holding down the straw. In the lid for the filter
bucket, cut a hole that matches the down spout, and
place a length of down spout between the rain gutter
and the bucket.
What you now have is an automatic
lye water machine. Because the system is "closed,"
rain water cannot dilute the lye solution, but rain
can be used as the source of water for the ashes, so
lye water can be made in the winter. During heavy
winter rains, a board can be placed over all but the
first foot or so of the gutter, which will limit the
amount of water intake and still allow what rain
falls into the first foot to filter through all of
the ashes to the exit down spout.
The straw in the filter bucket
acts exactly as a filter, removing any contaminants
and purifying the lye water.
Remember that the composition of
the wood ashes determines the quality of the lye
produced. Soft wood ashes yield a lye that will only
produce soft soap. Hardwood ash lye will make harder
soap for bars, and the best ash of all is from
seaweed, such as kelp. Kelp ash lye produces an
extremely hard, durable soap. And here you thought
the British fought the Falklands Island war over
sheep! The finest kelp ash in the world comes from
the sea around the Falklands.
Every part of the "automatic lye
machine" listed above is made from plastic. Do not
use any metal in the fabrication, particularly a
reactive metal such as aluminum, as lye really is
"caustic," and will quickly eat right through many
Lye water may also be used for
washing non-carpeted floors, followed by rinsing with
cold clean water. The lye water will oxidize and
sanitize the floor: any bacteria or insects will be
killed. It can also be used to sanitize outhouses and
latrines. Just be sure to wear rubber gloves and
always use cold water to rinse, as hot water makes
lye rather active.