Older friends of mine still wax poetic over Ivory Snow Soap Flakes, about how well they cleaned everything from spots to upholstery fabric. There is something wonderfully simple and inexpensive in returning to plain ol’ soap and water for a number of chores, and you’d be amazed at how many tricky issues soap can solve, such as to kill garden pests and kill germs. Soap flakes are no longer available, but you can make your own. Just make sure the bar you use is real soap, or buy liquid castile soap found in health food stores. Here are 10 great ways to use soap.
1. Skin Cleaner.
You will be amazed at how emollient homemade soap is compared to most commercial soaps, which have been stripped of their glycerin and as a result can be drying for the skin. They also can contain quite a few synthetic and toxic ingredients.
2. Kill Germs.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends washing your hands with plain ol’ soap and water to kill germs.
3. Garden Homemade Insecticidal Soap.
Soap has been used for centuries as a pesticide. It disrupts the insect’s cell membranes, killing the pest through dehydration. Just make sure not to use more than 2 tablespoons of soap to 1 gallon of water because too much can kill the leaves of the plant.
4. Flea Repellent.
Soap and water works as well as anything to repel fleas, and the fleas will drown in the water. Note that if you cover every part of the pet with water and soap they will all congregate on the head! Use a flea comb to remove the remaining fleas.
5. Floor Soap.
Most so-called “oil soaps” are in fact made with a detergent instead of a soap, but what a shame, because the old-fashioned linseed oil soaps had a nutty scent and an emollient wash, perfect for wood floors. Here is how to find this soap, or make an alternative, a formula for my (next to) favorite wood floor soap.
6. Hardware Lubricant.
Rub a bar of soap along screw threads and squeaky hinges.
7. Leather Cleaners.
“Saddle soap” is the old-fashioned term for leather cleaners. These are made with oil and liquid castile soap. I make one of these (as found in my book Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999), with 2 ounces jojoba (found in health food stores); 2 ounces olive oil, 1 ounce grated soap or liquid castile soap, 3 ounces water, and 1 ounce of vodka, run, or whiskey. Melt the oils and wax over medium heat. Once the beeswax has melted, remove from the heat, add the water and alcohol, and blend immediately with an electric beater until totally emulsified. This product will last six months or more if stored in a glass jar with a screw top.
One big question people have is, what is the difference between a soap and detergent? Almost all laundry products are detergents. If you have very soft water you can get away with a soap; if hard, I’d use a detergent. However, soap is great for stains; use a true bar soap (not a detergent).
9. Window and Glass Cleaner.
Many people try to wash their windows for the first time with just vinegar and become frustrated with the resulting streaks, not realizing that the years of a commercial window cleaners left a wax that requires a dab of soap along with the vinegar and water. After that first cleansing, just vinegar alone will work.
10. All-Purpose Cleaner.
Soap is alkaline, and combined with some minerals such as baking soda, borax, or washing soda, it succeeds in a number of different all-purpose cleaning tasks.
Annie Bond is the executive editor of Healthy & Green Living at Care2.com, and the author of several books including Home Enlightenment (Rodale, 2005) (newly released in paperback), and Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press).