[Warning: Patrick DiJusto is a trained journalist and, as such, takes no responsibility for his physical safety. GettingIt therefore does not recommend doing anything he suggests -- ed.]
From primitive hunter-gatherer societies to dippy Robert Bly weekend retreats, that elusive concept manhood has mostly been defined as a combination of strength and knowledge. But the recent film Fight Club more stringently defines manhood as the strength to brawl bare chested in basements with total strangers, and the knowledge of how to make soap.
Ancient Roman legend specifies the birthplace of soap as Mt. Sapo, the mountain of animal sacrifices. Wood ash contains a great deal of potassium hydroxide, a simple alkali, and when the ashes of the burned pyres mixed with melted animal fats, a primitive form of soap resulted. Fight Club's prescription to make soap from human liposuction fat, however, is not the most practical.
Soapmaker Kathy Miller is disgusted by the very idea of liposuction soap. She insists that since the specifics of human fat (like iodine value and melting point) are not commonly known by the soapmaking community, you would be likely to wind up with an uneven soap. However, she reluctantly speculates that human fat "would be similar to lard, since humans and pigs are both omnivores." Armed with this information, for legal and safety reasons, we're going to give the basic recipe for lard-based soapmaking, and leave the substitution of any other fat to the reader.
To break down fat globules into something useful, you'll need an 18 ounce container of sodium hydroxide, (a.k.a. lye, a.k.a. Red Devil -- look in the supermarket drain-cleaner aisle, usually on the lowest shelf), a huge enamel or stainless steel pot, a large Pyrex or stainless steel mixing bowl with a spout, thick rubber gloves, eye goggles, plastic stirring spoons, two thermometers, some trashbags, some shallow cardboard boxes, 1 pound of olive oil, a roll of duct tape, and a relatively clean kitchen. You'll also need 8 pounds of hard fats. Rancid fats make terrible soap so -- wherever you get your fats -- be sure to get a fresh batch.
1. RENDERING THE FAT AND MAKING THE MOLDS
Fill one of the large pots with a 50/50 mixture of fat and water. Bring the mixture to a low rolling boil. This will make your kitchen smell like a combination slaughterhouse/unflushed toilet, so open the window or turn on the oven fan or something. Let the mixture boil for three hours. If any gray lumps or blood rise to the top, carefully skim. Remember, alternative fats (you know what we're talking about) may be tainted with HIV or Hepatitis C, so take precautions. Stir the mixture every 15-20 minutes, and continue to add water as the brew boils off.
While the fat is boiling, duct tape the trashbags to the inside of the boxes. You want to end up with a completely watertight seal on the inside of the boxes. These are your soap molds. Make about six. At the end of three hours, set the pot aside. When it is cool to the touch, refrigerate it. The next morning, there should be a layer of whitish-yellow fat atop a pot of nasty water. Skim off the fat, throw away the water, wash the pot, on to step 2.
2. MIXING THE LYE
Put on the goggles and rubber gloves. Wear long sleeves and long pants. Send kids and pets outside. Open the windows or even better, go outside. You're working with concentrated sodium hydroxide here, and it's no time to fool around. Place 54 ounces of water in the mixing bowl, and carefully sprinkle the entire can of lye into the water, stirring constantly with a plastic stirring spoon. Keep your face away from the fumes. The mixture will begin to heat up, as the lye endothermically reacts with the water -- in some cases, the mixture starts boiling! Set this bowl aside (if indoors, the sink works best) to cool.
Lye is probably the most dangerous substance you will ever deal with. This stuff is like the juice from Alien. NEVER mix lye in an aluminum bowl. If you splash your skin with lye, wash the area in cold running water immediately. If you splash your eye with lye because, like a jerk, you weren't wearing your goggles, rinse the eye with cold running water and rush to the emergency room, where they have the equipment to painlessly remove your eyeball.
3. MELTING THE FATS
Put the olive oil into the big pot, and set it over low heat. Add the hard fat into the pot, and stir until it is melted. Do not boil. Stir until the fats are liquid and clear.
Keep your gloves and goggles on. When the temperature of the lye and the fats are both between 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit (use the thermometers), turn off the heat, and CAREFULLY pour the lye into the pot of fat. Do not splash it. Grab a plastic stirring spoon and stir like a mad scientist. Keep this up for 15 minutes. The mixture will bubble and heat up on its own. Keep stirring as the mixture thickens into custard, then pudding, then applesauce. When the mixture is cool and thick enough to hold the spoon upright (45 minutes), it is ready.
Carefully pour the proto-soap into the molds. The mixture is still loaded with lye, so don't spill it. Smooth the surface with the stirring spoon, and leave the molds out overnight. The next day (or possibly the day after), the soap will be hard enough to cut. Cut the soap into bars, and let them cure for three weeks. Using this soap too soon can result in serious burns, as the lye and fat will not totally be converted to soap yet.
After three weeks, test the soap on your hands. If it lathers and does not sting, you've made soap out of your favorite fat, and can probably get rich selling it. If the soap doesn't work, throw it away and don't look back. That's what being a man is all about.
Thanks to Fight Club, Patrick DiJusto is a lot leaner and cleaner.