From the fryer to the shower at Wilson Arts Day

April 07, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Burnt offerings to the gods of ancient Rome might have been the precursors of Irish Spring and Ivory Soap, says Matt Steiman, who led a group of people Wednesday in making their own lathery concoctions from recycled fryer oil, one of the events at Wilson College Arts Day.

"It still has a whiff of french fry to it," Steiman said, holding up one sample of soap made from recycled vegetable oil culled from the college's dining hall, Chinese restaurants and vendors of deep-fried delicacies.

Steiman, project manager of the college's Fulton Center for Sustainable Living, said soap may have its origins in animal sacrifices. People washing garments in streams near sacrificial pyres saw that the combination of fat and wood ash produced a lather that made clothes cleaner.


Glycerin is one of the components of vegetable oil, which Steiman said is processed at the center to make about 800 gallons of bio-diesel fuel each year. Like diesel oil, it is used to run a tractor and some other machinery at the college, he said.

"Down on the farm, we make 50-gallon batches. Fifty gallons of fuel leaves about 10 gallons of byproduct," Steiman said. Lye and methanol are used to separate the glycerin from the esters, the part of the oil used for bio-diesel.

The recipe for the soap made Wednesday is simple: Heat about a liter of glycerin to 150 degrees, add 250 milliliters of hot water and 38.5 grams of lye. Stir well, pour and let cool.

The brown goo - Steiman said refined glycerin is clear - set up slowly in the molds. The soap should cure for a week before use, he said.

Increase the amount of lye and the more lather a soap makes, but the harsher it is on skin, he said. Red Devil lye drain cleaner was mixed with the glycerin and students measuring it out used gloves and goggles for protection.

"Lye is serious stuff," said Steiman. When it reacts chemically with the glycerin, however, it is no longer caustic, he said.

Lavender or other oils can be added to the mix to give it a pleasing aroma. Steiman suggested bits of hay could be added to give the soap better scrubbing action and encouraged students to add a few "surprises."

Student Theresa Retz dropped a couple of coins into her mix, while another person added tiny plastic dinosaurs. After her soap cured for a while, Wilson student Hannah Serra patted it into something resembling meat loaf.

"It sounded interesting and all-natural stuff is usually pretty good," Retz said when asked why she came to the workshop.

Steiman said the center has plenty of leftover glycerin from making bio-diesel and it is free to anyone wanting to make soap. The center also holds a couple of soap making workshops a year, he said.

Other events at the Arts Day included a demonstration by the Wilson equestrian drill team, T-shirt making, student art exhibits, architectural tours of the campus and improvisational comedy by the Wilson Drama Club.

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