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Get Squeaky Clean Using Pig Fat, Brooklyn Soap Maker Says

By Serena Dai | June 27, 2014 6:33am
 Joe Tangney, a Bushwick resident and bartender, recently launched Filthy Pig Soap. Here, he sits with bar of his soap next to the scented oil he uses to make it.
Joe Tangney, a Bushwick resident and bartender, recently launched Filthy Pig Soap. Here, he sits with bar of his soap next to the scented oil he uses to make it.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

BUSHWICK — Happy as a pig in ... soap?

A new line of artisanal soaps is relying on pork fat as the main ingredient to get New Yorkers squeaky clean, in what founder Joe Tangney calls a celebration of an otherwise wasted product.

Tangney's Filthy Pig Soaps smell like pineapple and rely on lard — which, when mixed with sodium hydroxide, or lye, becomes soap.

"People have their reservations of, 'Oh, it's pork fat, I don't want to put that on my body'," said Tangney, who lives in Bushwick and works as a bartender at restaurant Central Station. "But we eat meat, we eat fat, we drink fat, like in milk. We wear animal skin on our bodies as clothes."

In fact, lard has long been used as a base for soap and pomade, Tangney said. The fat actually ends up making the bar dense, long-lasting and moisturizing, Tangney said.

 A bar of Filthy Pig Soap.
A bar of Filthy Pig Soap.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

"It's a great soap," he said, adding that it's from pigs that are grass-fed and free-range. "It's soft on your skin."

Tangney's drive to make soap out of lard started shortly after he saw a chef at the West Village's Fatty Crab, where he once worked, scrape the lard off a braised pork belly and throw it away. It seemed like a lot to waste, Tangney said.

One day, the name "Filthy Pig Soap" popped in his head, a fitting tribute to the source of the ingredients.

Though many soaps and skincare products may already use versions of animal fat, Filthy Pig "is actually celebrating it," Tangney said.

"The purpose of this is to use something that would be going to waste otherwise," he said.

His online searches and inquiries on soap forums finally led him to a soapmaker in Virginia named Richelle Spargur, who buys lard from Columbus Foods, a salami purveyor that sets aside its lard not used for human consumption, Tangney said.

The company melts down the fat and throws it into a centrifuge, which separates "organic matter " — the stuff that would cause it to spoil — from the fat.

Spargur combines the resulting lard with a mix of scented oils that Tangney hand selected, and sends him the finished soap bars.

Tangney wraps up the soaps and prints the labels. The finished product goes for $10 a pop at Filthy Pig Soap's online site, and Tangney has also been pitching it to local meat shops, grocery stores and health care boutiques in hopes they'll carry it on their shelves.

He eventually wants to take the soap to a more local level. He's hoping to connect with local farms willing to give him lard that they would otherwise discard.

And he wants to expand the products available, as well. He's currently putting together a recipe for a pomade, including a lard-based one that would give men hold in their hair.

Tangney is already planning to skim some of the lard from a hog he and his friends are roasting at Central Station's Fourth of July Pig Roast, at 84 Central Ave.

He plans to give out free samples of pomade made from the stuff.

"We're going to have all this fat," he said. "We might as well make use of it."