To start, you need used oil, hot water and caustic soda. It must be mixed outside because of the gases that are released. / V. M.

Making soap at home, the old-fashioned way

The tradition of using home-made soap, utilising recycled cooking oil, for washing clothes remains alive in many country homes

VANESSA MELGAR

The soap that our grandparents used to make never fails. No stain on clothing can resist it and nothing can match it, no matter how many years pass. That is why so many people keep up family tradition and make their own soap at home, recycling used vegetable oil. In the Serranía de Ronda, for example, the same recipe is used in most villages and is passed down through the generations.

"It's been around a long time, our grandparents used to use it," said Lina Melgar and Ana Jiménez, two neighbours who still make their own soap from oil today and explained to SUR how they do it.

To do the same, you will need five litres of water, five litres of used vegetable oil and a kilo of caustic soda. Also, colourant if you want to make it look pretty, or salt if you want it clear. You will also need a container, a stick to stir the mixture and a mask, gloves and glasses to protect yourself.

First, you put the hot water into the container and then the kilo of caustic soda. It is very important to do this outside, because of the gases that are released, and be extremely careful when handling the caustic soda.

Next you add the used oil little by little, stirring all the time and always in the same direction, and you will need somebody else to help.

"We have to keep stirring the mixture for about two hours," said Bartolomé Andrades, another neighbour who makes his own soap as well. "After half an hour or so, it will start to get a bit thicker and then it will gradually begin to set," he added.

Once the mixture is ready, you add the colouring if you like and, when the appropriate amount of time has passed, the soap is poured into a mould (these used to be made of wood covered with plastic to make it easier to remove the soap afterwards)."

"It needs to be left to dry for 24 to 48 hours," Bartolomé explained. Then the soap can be cut (this is usually done with a knife, cutting rectangles which can then be sliced into two or three pieces).

Drying

The soap has to be left until it is completely dry. "When we do it at home, we always make this amount so we have a stock of soap. And we give some to relatives and friends, as a gift. It is a very good soap but it is laborious to make, because of the amount of time you have to keep stirring the mixture," Bartolomé said.

The oil used is cooking oil which has been kept. "You have to strain it first. It's a way of recycling oil, because it's not at all environmentally friendly to dispose of it," said Ana.

She recalls that her family also used to make soap with pork fat. "Not everyone could afford oil, so people used to keep their leftover lard. They would melt it on the stove and then use it in the same way as oil for the soap," she said.

Ana uses her home-made soap in her washing machine. "You use it the same way as the detergent that you buy, but you grate it with a grater first," she said. "Before, every village used to have its public 'lavadero', where people used to go to do their washing. They would use their soap and a breadboard. There was no bleach in those days either, so they used to use a mixture of water and ash to soak white clothes in," she said.

Although this soap can be used for personal hygiene and for washing in general, it is most commonly used to remove stains from clothing, at least in this part of the Serranía de Ronda. "Before, the clothes would be soaked and left out in the sun and the stains would come out more easily. Now, rubbing the stains with a brush is enough before putting the washing in the machine. For white items it is really good, they come out looking really clean," Ana and Lina said.