Castile soap: A super cleaner for a spotless future

Castile Soap

Kya deLongchamps gets in a lather for a super cleaner with an ecologically immaculate history and spotless future — castile soap

CASTILE soap is trotted out proudly as one of the best natural cleaning contenders.

Determine to fling the Flash and bin the Bang? Just what is it, and what rates as a true castile?

First of all, castile has a fascinating pedigree. It’s a type of soap not a brand. It’s nam (surprise surprise) comes from soaps produced for centuries in the Castile area of Spain — jabón de castilla. Its more ancient origins have been traced to the cradle of the ancient Levant group of territories making up the Eastern Mediterranean. Personal grooming has universal appeal and the trade in soap from the Muslim world to the Europeans ranked alongside the demand for spices, textiles, and precious metals.

Castile, like soap was known at least as far back as the early 4th century by the Romans — a hard vegetable oil based cleanser which included an alkaline sodium, used for a myriad of tasks for the body and home. Other countries and regions grew and remain famed for their soap industry, including Palestinian Nabulsi soap (adored by Elizabeth I) and Marseilles soap (savon de Marseilles) formulated with sea water, ash, lye and olive oil.

Olive oil (favoured for Spanish castile) and laurel oil (favoured as the principal ingredient in Syrian Allepo) were easily propagated and endemic in hot desert and mountain surroundings. Spanish soap makers brought their recipes with them to England in the 17th century.

However, the production of this foreign ‘castile’ was challenged by both an anti-Catholic ruse created by their English soap competitors using tallow (animal fats), and the sheer difficulty of obtaining the essential oils for a Spanish blend.

Castile, as a result, remained a separate style of soap, and from the 1700 was popularised through its Iberian title, and today can be found made from a variety of other oils from walnut to coconut oil. Sold in traditional hefty green or naturally tinted blocks with the maker’s stamp — planet friendly, vegan cleansers are a beautiful, skin friendly addition to any bathroom. Still, there are more than fragrant, upper class suds to these lovely old naturals.

Say castile soap to anyone worth their lean green credentials, and they will declare vouch for one brand — Dr Bronner’s c 1948. American chemist Emmanuel Heilbronner, was an extraordinary counterculture character. He’s remembered somewhere between Zionist hero and hippie super-scientist and has survived in the marketplace as a staple for contemporary ecologically friendly castile lovers.

Dr Bronner’s products today include a variety of delicious, nutritious extras from Vitamin E to hemp oil and citric acid, far from a traditional olive oil purity. However, safe and non-toxic, their soap stable is vast, embracing Fair Trade suppliers and retaining the philanthropic and Earth worshipping spirit of their founder.

The company offers dozens of ways to use their bottles of liquid castile in dilute quantities all over the home, a neat reach back to the early origins of castile.

Actually, Dr Bronner’s non-castile Sal Suds, heady with fir scent, is a pricy at €19.50 for 960ml, but a worthy, long lasting contender for everything from washing dishes to sparkling up the bathroom.

Castile Soap

Soaps from €6.79 a bar, liquid blends of 237ml castile from €9.60, dr.bronners.ie, nourish.ie (great prices on Dr B) and most good health food outlets. Dr Woods is another comparably branded worthy castile liquid soap found in many Irish health stores.

Now, hear me now, you don’t need to use a liquid castile Dr Bronner’s or buy Dr Woods, to apply castile soap talents for cleaning around the house. Elsewhere, look for an all natural, vegan, organic, GMO free soap based on vegetable oils. ‘Castile’ has no copyright, so read the label carefully, an olive oil natural is a good start. Put the sliced up bar into a heat-proof preserving jar, cover with boiling water, mash patiently with a spoon and it will be ready to go once cool. If you fancy additional essential oils such as a nice fresh hit of peppermint, just dash them in during liquidation.

Use the power of white vinegar as a grease cutter and rinse agent in its own combinations, and castile as a cleaner in the following mixtures, to slash the grime all over the house.

Uses for Castile Soap as a Cleaner (online you’ll find plenty more):

      • Everyday cleaning spray:

        Add 1 tablespoon of liquid castile to your everyday spray of 500ml water, 5-10 drops of tea tree oil. Leave out white vinegar even where you find it suggested, as it doesn’t blend well with castile. Shake up in a bottle and apply as needed to counters and sinks.

      • Furniture polish:

        For sealed surfaces. Use the above recipe but trade the peppermint for lemon essential oil free of the chemical compounds in ‘fragrance’ sprays. Use in a fine mist on a micro-fibre cloth. Never over-wet wooden furnishings.

      • Washing dishes.

        Make up a more liquid solution if you find you like your castile and simply use it as you would any dish soap. Safe and kind to hands without chemical nasties to absorb through the skin. You could try washing the dog with a diluted solution by jug over the damp coat.

      • Laundry soap/granules.

        The mix here is between borax 250ml/grated castile 1 bar/washing soda 250 ml. If you don’t like borax or are not familiar with it just use twice the soda and the bar of castile. A liquid mix allows for drops of essential oils. Use around 2 tablespoons per load and see what suits the Ph of your water. Some home detergent makers swear by a handful of sea salt.

      • Cleaning wipes.

        Put two tablespoons of your castile liquid soap into a large 750ml or so glass jar with a screw or seal and clamp style lid. Add a cup of warm water and a few drops of your favourite essential oil. Shake up and cram as many old clean cotton rags as will fit. Seal, shake up again and use the cloths as needed. Launder used cloths (they will freshen up the load too!).

      • Soft scrub:

        Three quarters of a hefty mug of baking soda. A quarter of the same cup of castile liquid soap. Combine with water to make a good workable paste. Wear light rubber gloves and work on the bath, basins and even the loo bowl with a soft cotton rag. Rinse well.

Fresh ideas for the year ahead

Are chemical cleaners a health hazard rather than a help? The truth lies somewhere between hysteric online anecdote, and the manufacturers’ commonsense usage advice. Obviously, natural ingredients are less injurious to the natural world when flushed away down the sink.

As for our physical well being — let just say, using a broadcast spray bottle, keep those deep breaths in check, aim the bottle down and away from your face and don’t lap the counters after you have disinfected them.

Airborne, in residue on counters, and floated out over to food and dishes, triclosan and its chemical-heavy companions phthalates, 2-butoxyethanol and chlorine (bleach) are unlikely to improve your respiratory and immune-system performance.

If you want to stick with commercial chemical types with a tough carbon footprint, lean toward products that break down into water and oxygen, such as the Dettol Power & Pure Advance line.

Use bleach as a last resort, in measured quantities, and don’t mix it with other products as the resulting fumes can be lethal.

Check the instructions to see if a rinse is required after application — most ‘fresh-scented’ anti-bacterial sprays demand this for all their green leafy labelling. Please make a pledge this year to stop being led by package imagery. 

For everyday cleaning, a micro-fibre cloth together with a spray of water with a dash of white vinegar and a few drops of your favourite essential oil will handle lightly dirty, wipe-down tasks.

Safe suds

If you loved Pears original glycerine soaps (now hopelessly changed by chemistry) you’ll love these gorgeous Irish Baressential soaps made using an ancient cold processing technique mixing plant oils and sodium hydroxide(oil & lye) which trigger saponification.

Plant oils, essential oils, herbs, and spices are blended with mineral pigments for colour — pink clay or rose-hip powder for pink, nettle leaf or plant chlorophyll for green, paprika and cayenne for orange, turmeric or beta-carotene for yellow — and mineral pigments for blues.

Their palm oil is from sustainable sources and the essential oils are therapeutic grade. Gorgeous to group as a gift, €5.50 a bar, and orders of €50 or more are delivered free.

    • See baressential.ie.

More in this Section

Trend of the Week: Rise to the Occasion

What to watch this week

Movie Reviews: Birds of Passage, The Hustle and John Wick: Parabellum

Review: Murder of Garcia Lorca gives backdrop to chilling tale


Latest Showbiz

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan dazzles in gold on Cannes red carpet

Now our watch has ended: Emilia Clarke says goodbye to GoT ahead of finale

Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge: I wanted to be a boy called Alex

Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick celebrate 22 years of marriage

More From The Irish Examiner