A verie good way to take out spottes of clothes (Cold Lye Solution) – 2014

This recipe comes from A Profitable Booke (1588).  This recipe calls for specific wood to be used for the ashes.  For my experiment, I used apple wood since I did not have English Broome.  Several other recipes call for Ash or some do not specify the type of wood.  I have not done enough testing to see how different woods affect the lye solution (if at all).

cold lye

A verie good way to take out spottes of clothes

Take the roots of the herb called Gentian, in English Broome, take and burn it and make ashes thereof, and with the ashes make a lye, and with the said lye, you shall wash your spotty clothes, and in a short space it will take away all the spots thereof.  Well proved.


  • ½ cup wood ash
  • 1 qt water (I used distilled water because my well water has a lot of other minerals and iron content)

Let ashes soak in water for 4-5 days, stir mixture every day or so (I put it in a quart mason jar and every now and then gave it a shake).  Strain ashes out of liquid and use this liquid to clean the spots from the clothes.

Note: Lye is very caustic.  The pH strips I used to test this liquid gave it a pH of about 13 (14 is the top level for bases).  I used gloves and goggles when handling this lye solution.  Keep any lye secure and away from any pets, children, areas where it can be easily spilled.


This recipe did the best overall of the ones I tested in 2014.  I think if I had let the sample sit even longer in the solution it would have removed everything except the Ink and the Wax.

A. Olive Oil – Gone

B. Red Wine – Mostly gone

C. Mustard Sauce – Gone

D. Green Sauce – Gone

E. Blood – Mostly gone

F. Mud – Mostly gone

G. Beeswax – Not Good

H. Iron Gall Ink – Not Good


Gone No noticeable trace of stain remaining
Mostly gone The stain has mostly been removed but there is a slight discoloration
OK The stain has been lightened but there is still a noticeable discoloration.
Not Good No change or the stain is still very noticeable.


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