What is Castile soap (and how to use it!) – terra20

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By Andrea Tomkins

As concern over toxins in cleaning products rises, many consumers are heading back to basics.  

In order to fully understand how soap works, it’s important to first understand a bit of chemistry. Dirt and grime infused with oil, and as we know, oil and water don’t mix. So water alone cannot get something really clean.

Soap is not a new invention, in fact, it’s mentioned in the Old Testament. It could even be older than that. Some forms of soap – probably for washing garments – have been traced to Babylon in 2800BC. Imagine, thousands of years ago, someone figured out if you mixed fat rendered from animals with water and ashes, it was very good at getting dirt out of their tunics. Even though this mixture probably didn’t smell great, it was actually very good at “pulling” dirt away and suspending it in water.

Ultimately, all you need to make the chemical reaction we call saponification (in simple terms, soap), is a fatty acid and an alkali such as plant ash.

From Babylon and onward, soap makers have been working hard to make soap cheaper, better, and of course, improve its fragrance to make it appeal to consumers. So where does Castile soap come into all of this?

Fast forward a few centuries – but not too many – to the Castile region of Spain. Instead of using animal fat, Castile soap was made from olive oil. Castile soaps at terra20 are a fine grade of soap that is healthier, and contains ingredients that will lift dirt and grime away without the harmful ingredients that other soaps may contain including foaming agents such as sodium lauryl sulphate,and triclosan, an antibacterial agent. (See our banned ingredients page for a full list.)

Modern castile soap is very concentrated, completely biodegradable, and has a whole range of uses. It can be used as a body soap, to wash dishes, laundry, floors, and more. (We’re betting most people would not pour regular floor cleaner in their bath, but it’s actually ok to do with Castile soap!)

Castile soap comes in a bar format – ideal for shower and bath – and also a liquid. Here are two brands of liquid castile soap that are available at terra20 stores in Ottawa and online:


Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Pure Castile Soap

We are big fans of Dr. Bronner’s, and we know many of you are too. Emanuel Bronner, a third-generation master soapmaker from a German-Jewish soapmaking family, founded this international brand in 1948. The company is still family-owned and run.

Dr. Bronner’s doesn’t contain any synthetic preservatives, detergents, or foaming agents. It’s certified fair trade and made with organic oils,biodegradable, and environmentally friendly. Even the bottles are made of 100% post-consumer-recycled plastic!

The “18” refers to the 18 different ways you can use it, although it’s quite possible you may find your own. I just cleaned the dog-washing sink (yes, we have a dog washing sink in our mudroom!) with it. How about adding a few drops to the birdbath before taking it out of winter storage and scrubbing it out? Or your grocery bins, recycle bin, or kitchen garbage can? The list of is endless. Our favourite way of using it is as a bathtub cleanser that is safe to bathe in afterwards, even if you didn’t rinse every last drop. The liquid Dr. Bronner’s soap comes in several varieties. We don’t like to play favourites, but eucalyptus is a fresh, revitalizing scent that is especially nice in a steamy bath or shower, especially for anyone who’s nursing a spring cold. Add a few drops to a warm face cloth and let it rest on your face for an especially relaxing “spa” like treatment.


Green Beaver

Green Beaver is a Canadian company founded by a husband-and-wife duo– Karen Clarke and Alain Ménard–whose work in the pesticide and pharmaceutical industries, and the birth of their son, inspired them to start this innovative company.

Green Beaver sunflower soaps are authentic Castile-type soaps, made from locally harvested organic sunflower seed oil instead of the olive oil that is traditionally used in Castile soap recipes.

The orange citrus variety is a fave for cleaning up. We’ve used it recently to clean our grocery bins and launder our reusable shopping bags. It’s the ideal product to wipe down kids toys and high chairs too.

Green Beaver liquid Castile Soap is fully biodegradable. Bring some when you go to the cottage or camping this summer! You can use it when you wash up in the lake or rinse out your coffee mug.


To shop terra20's full line of Castile soap products click here.


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