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Ancient suds, modern miracle: Replace every product under your sink with Castile soap


What if you could replace a whole cupboard of cleaning products with one simple, environmentally preferable, animal friendly soap? Lucia Holding looks at the wonders of Castile soap.

A couple of weeks ago I took the first steps on my journey towards a home with no nasty, harsh products. Everyday household cleaners, beauty and self-care products can be quite toxic, and without even knowing it we could be polluting the planet. But don’t panic! There is a way to avoid the damage. The answer is simple: Castile soap.

A lot of the stuff we wash down our drains or throw out with the garbage pollutes air, land and water resources, causing damage to natural systems that have never had to deal with these substances before. We tend to think of our sewage, industrial waste and grey water as ‘out of sight, out of mind’, but sometimes the consequences can be too small to ignore.


But how much can our shampoo, dishwashing liquid and cleaning products contribute, given the impact of factories, farms and other industrial polluters? It’s easy to look at one sink full of dishwater, or one bucket of bleach, and not think too much of it. It’s much more difficult to be consciously aware that millions, perhaps billions, of other people are doing exactly the same thing!

In Australia, most water waste goes from your sink to a treatment plant where the solids are removed.  Then the bio-solids are isolated for later use as fertiliser, and the remaining liquid is discharged into rivers or the ocean. Sounds pretty good, right? The ugly truth is that some of the chemicals that live under your sink aren’t so easy to remove from wastewater, and can hang around causing waterway problems for years.

Castile soap: for you and the planet


So what can we do to reduce our avoidable impact? My solution was Castile soap, and now I wonder how I ever cleaned my house without it.

Castile soap is one of the oldest soaps around, having been in use more or less continuously since Jesus was around. Originally developed in the Eastern Mediterranean, some early versions were made with laurel oil. But after the Crusades, when inter-cultural contact popularised vegetable soap in Europe, soap makers in the Castilla region in Spain began to use olive oil, which was easier to come by.


The reason Castile soap has hung around for thousands of years is because it has a lot of good things going for it! Sure, Castillian soapmakers in the 16th century probably weren’t overly concerned about synthetic detergents in their wastewater, but they certainly used Castile soap because it works. Castile soap is:

  • 100% vegan, unlike many beef tallow-based supermarket soaps
  • Excellent at cutting through grease and lifting dusty, due to serious surfactant properties
  • Readily biodegradeable because of its simple ingredients
  • Sustainable — no petroleum or fossil fuel byproducts

I buy Dr. Bronner’s Organic Castile Soap, which is available online and in health grocery shops. At around $20 per bottle it’s a little bit pricey, but keep in mind only a tiny amount is needed for most applications.

Let’s get hands-on


Castile soap is quite the multi-tasker, and I’ve found it easy to replace the majority of my nasty cleaning products with different Castile-based concoctions. Here’s what you’ll need to get your house sparkling from floor to ceiling:

  • Castile soap (I use liquid, but it’s easy to cut up and dissolve a solid bar in a jarful of hot water to make your own liquid)
  • Tea tree oil
  • Baking soda (Bicarb soda)
  • Essential oils like lavender or eucalyptus (optional)


Don’t mix Castile soap with vinegar! The vinegar will cause a curdle-like process to occur in your soap, leaving you with a sludgy, fatty mess. It’s okay to rinse with vinegar after using Castile soap to clean, but don’t put them in the same mixture.

From this small ingredients list, you can make almost any cleaning product you like. Here are a few recipes:

Surface/multi-purpose cleaner

Mix a teaspoon of Castile soap with two cups of warm water and a drop of essential oil. Using a sponge or a rag (old t-shirts work perfectly), wipe your surfaces down and rinse.

Bathroom cleaner

For bathrooms, use a teaspoon of Castile soap, two cups of warm water, and a drop of Tea Tree oil for extra disinfecting power and a fresh, clean smell.

Toilet scrub

Mix ¼ of a cup of Castile soap with 2 cups of warm water, a drop of Tea Tree oil and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Let it sit in the toilet for 15 minutes, then scrub and flush.

Dishwashing liquid

Instead of detergent, add a drop of Castile soap to your washing up water.

Floor cleaner

In a bucket or spray bottle, mix one tablespoon of Castile soap per litre of water and use as you would normal floor cleaner.

Photo credits:
Castile soap courtesy of Fran Jorgensen
Wanton Disregard Vince Alongi (CC)
Soap Bubble Mike Haller (CC)
Making homemade soap Kim (CC)

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7 Responses to Ancient suds, modern miracle: Replace every product under your sink with Castile soap

  1. Holly July 4, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Where can you buy the castile soap across Sydney NSW

  2. Kell March 3, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    Do you mean “too much” ?

    We tend to think of our sewage, industrial waste and grey water as ‘out of sight, out of mind’, but sometimes the consequences can be too small to ignore.

  3. Gordon March 27, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

    Here is a stockists list across Australia:

  4. Gordon March 27, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

    Thanks for the comment. Not entirely sure which phrase you are querying.
    Otter staff

  5. Helen L March 14, 2016 at 11:52 am #

    Thank you for writing about Castile soap ….. keeping things natural and we all benefit!

  6. Claudia Glas July 17, 2016 at 8:47 am #

    Here is the name of another stockist in australia

  7. Jane July 24, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    I was interested until I heard the term “Dr Bonners”. Does anyone read labels? On the Dr Bonners website, the ingredients list is:

    Water, Organic Coconut Oil*, Potassium Hydroxide**, Organic Palm Kernel Oil*, Organic Olive Oil*, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Citric Acid, Tocopherol;

    so taking those in order of their listing, the stuff is primarily made of coconut oil, with much smaller amounts of other oils.

    Castile soap is made of olive or laurel oil. So I think they’re stretching the definition to call it Castile soap. Traditional Spanish Castile soap is made by an ancient process using 100% olive oil then cured and hardened for years in underground caves.

    Dr Bonners seems to have their search engine optimisation sorted, but I’m seeing a brand’s marketing hype here: it seems to be a vegetable soap but not Castile.

    If anyone is interested I suggest searching “Spanish Castile soap”. It seems to be easy to make it yourself, if you follow the safety recommendations.

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