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Lye soap recipes _ and warnings

Two weeks ago, Ventura Alvarez of St. Petersburg asked whether anyone had a recipe for making lye soap. A number of readers responded. Because lye is an extremely caustic substance that can cause severe burns and is highly toxic if swallowed, we thought we'd ask the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service for advice. Here are some cautions it forwarded to us, taken from Rodale's Book of Practical Formulas, edited by Paula Dreifus Bakule, Rodale Press.

Lye is a highly caustic, crystalline substance that is easily dissolved in water.

It can react with moisture in the skin to cause severe burns, so always wear rubber gloves and eye goggles when using it.

Wear a face mask or shield because lye added to water generates heat and gives off harsh fumes. Make sure the work area is well-ventilated.

Use pure lye crystals or flakes, not lye sold as a liquid drain cleaner.

Always add lye to water, not the other way around, and add slowly.

Keep vinegar on hand when handling lye. In the event the solution splashes on your skin, flood the area with vinegar and then cold water to stop the burning.

Use a large pot made of stainless steel, stoneware, enameled cast iron or heat-proof glass.

Use a stainless steel or wooden spoon or even an old broomstick for stirring.

Do not use pans or spoons made of aluminum, tin or iron, or non-stick pans such as Teflon or Silverstone.

Store leftover lye crystals in the original container or jar. Seal the lid tightly. Make sure the container is labeled and kept out of reach of children.

Lye can be disposed of by pouring small amounts of the crystals down the kitchen drain and immediately running a heavy stream of cold water for two to three minutes.

If you still want to make your own soap _ many of our grandmothers did, after all _ here are some recipes:

Betty Bosley of Bushnell has a recipe for a "nice white soap":

1 quart cold water

1 can lye

5 tablespoons clean, strained fat

1 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

\ cup ammonia

2 tablespoons borax

Mix together the first three ingredients and set aside. (Remember: Add lye to water, not water to lye.) Mix together the second three ingredients and set aside. Mix the last two ingredients. Add everything to the lye mixture and stir until thick. Let set overnight, then cut into squares. Note: Stir mixture in an enamel pan. Do not use aluminum.

Peggy Thubet of St. Petersburg passes on this recipe for lye soap used by her grandmother McGowan and her mother during and after World War II. She writes that as a child her clothes were always spotless using grandma's lye soap.

5 pounds of grease (reclaimed from cooking)

1{ pints hot water

1 can lye

1 cup borax

Mix in an enamel tub and stir with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes. (Remember: Add lye to water, not water to lye.) Let set until hard and then cut it into bars of soap. To use in a washing machine, shave a bar of soap with a knife and start the machine agitating before adding the laundry.

Katherine Montgomery of Palm Harbor sent in a copy of a recipe that she, too, received from her grandmother. The recipe comes from a cookbook that was published by a church in Newnan, Ga., in 1973.

8 cups melted grease

10 cups cold water

1 can lye

{ cup ammonia

\ cup borax

Warm and measure grease into an enamel or stainless steel pan; don't use aluminum, the lye will ruin it. Dissolve lye in water in a glass mixing bowl. (Remember: Add lye to water, not water to lye.) Pour lye water slowly into the grease, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or paddle; add the ammonia and borax. Stir for at least 20 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Pour into shallow pan and let cure for at least two weeks before removing from the pan and cutting into bars. For best results, cut soap with a wire cheese cutter. You may begin soap on your range, but do the final mixing in the garage or yard. Yield: about 6 pounds of soap.

She adds this hint: Putting a bar or two of soap in your closet will give a clean smell to your clothes.

Marie Gavit and her sisters-in-law used to make this soap while camping up north. She writes that the recipe is from the book Bull Cook by Herter.

1. Bring to a boil 10 pounds of pure lard mixed with two quarts of soft water (rain or distilled). Let cook 10 to 12 hours.

2. Mix four tablespoons of sugar, two tablespoons of salt, six tablespoons of powdered borax and one-half cup ammonia. Mix well and stir into one cup of soft water.

3. Outdoors, mix two quarts cold soft water and two cans (Lewis) lye in a large dish. (Remember: Add lye to water, not water to lye.) Stir well and let cool.

4. Mix the sugar mixture (2 above) into the lye mixture (3). Then add the cool lard mixture (1). Stir well with a wooden paddle until honey-colored. Pour into molds or pans. Cut into squares before completely hard.

Gayle Spearman sent in this recipe from the 1938 The Home Dietitian's Cookbook by Ella Mae Ives, David McKay Co.

1 quart cold water

1-pound can of lye

5 pounds lukewarm, melted grease (fats not fit for food such as bacon grease or chicken fat may be used)

3 teaspoons borax

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

{ cup cold water

\ cup ammonia

Dissolve lye in 1 quart cold water. (Remember: Add lye to water, not water to lye.) Melt fat and let stand until cool. Then add the fat slowly to lye water, stirring constantly. Mix other ingredients together and add to first mixture. Stir the whole mixture until thick and light colored. Pour into a pan lined with cloth. Mark or cut with wire or strong string into pieces of desired size before the soap becomes hard. When hard, break pieces apart and let them dry well. The cloth in the pan makes it easy to lift out the soap before cutting it into bars.

Other recipes may be found in Rodale's Book of Practical Formulas. This book also suggests adding fragrant oils to make scented soap and using decorative candy molds to make soaps in pretty shapes.

Care with chemicals

Marie Wolownik wrote in after reading Mrs. Santo Cortis' solution for that tiresome dirty grout problem to remind us that mixing two or more chemicals can be dangerous. "Never, never mix two chemicals together. Mixing bleach and cleanser can cause a deadly gas." This can be a particular problem for people with health problems or chemical sensitivities. So, if you're not sure the chemicals or cleaning agents you're mixing together are compatible, don't do it!

Please help

Patty McMenamin of Clearwater with the following laundry problems: gray spots on white clothes, especially T-shirts, and pale stains from a dyed T-shirt on white cotton spandex work-out shorts. She also wonders whether there's an alternative to using bleach on whites.

An out-of-state reader, Mrs. Gene Hayward of Fitzgerald, Ga., owns a La Machine by Moulinex that lost a few small parts during a move. A letter she mailed to the address in her instruction booklet was returned. She would like a current address or phone number for the company.

Bunny Muller of Lake Panasoffkee hasn't found anything that helps with her sugar ant problem.

Any suggestions?

Joan Fragnoli of Clearwater needs help with controlling silverfish.

Ethel Grischow of Pinellas Park lost the instructions for her Presto pressure cooker and wonders whether anyone knows where she can obtain a new book.

Virginia Endres of South Pasadena is looking for a Mikasa 11-inch dinner plate in the Garden Poetry pattern CAC 08 to replace one that is broken.

Elizabeth Rapp of Brooksville writes of grease and rust stains on her driveway that any number of products have so far failed to remove. Any suggestions?

Send your household questions and answers and tips to share to Reader Exchange, At Home, The Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg 33731. Please include your name and address and a daytime telephone number.