What is castile soap, and why should I care?

People in the US are becoming increasingly more discerning and aware of the ingredients in everything from food to beauty products to cleansers to clothing. This is a material society, and we have been conditioned to think we need to buy a million products to be truly clean. We need shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, face wash, hand wash, body wash, and bar soap to clean our bodies plus laundry soap, fabric softener, scent beads, liquid bleach, and stain remover to clean our clothes. We need toilet cleaner, surface cleaner, glass and window cleaner, antibacterial cleaner, dusting and furniture polish, dish soap, dishwasher soap packets, scouring powder, and carpet cleaner to clean our homes. AND we need air fresheners, aerosol sprays, fabric refreshers, candles, and wall plug-ins so our houses smell clean. The list is dizzying. The cost is staggering. And if you stop to think about every ingredient in each one of those products, you might really start to question what you’re spritzing, spraying, and scrubbing on every surface of your home and yourself every single day.

Now with the “Why should I care?” question answered, what is castile soap?  

What is castile soap?

Castile soap (pronounced cast-eel not “tile” like the tile on your kitchen floor) is a type of soap that is

  • vegan (vegetable-oil based and contains NO animal products)
  • nontoxic
  • biodegradable
  • natural (meaning it doesn’t contain synthetic ingredients)
  • versatile
  • most commonly liquid (but can also be found in a bar soap)

A Brief History of Castile Soap

Castile soap originates from the Castile region (central) Spain and the Mediterranean as far back as the year 300. This type of soap was made primarily from olive oil and laurel oil (laurel leaves are commonly called bay leaves and are used as seasoning for soups and stews). See there. I told you it would be brief. 

How Does Castile Soap Clean?

The principal of how exactly soap cleans stuff (chemically speaking) is largely the same over most different types of soap, castile soap included.

Soap molecules have one end that is attracted to water and one end that repels water (but is attracted to dirt, grease, or other non-water soluble atoms or molecules). Think of the molecule as a tug-of-war: one side trying to get to the water, and one side trying to get to the grime. This “pulling” action is what loosens and removes grease and dirt from surfaces (clothing, skin, countertops, dishes, etc.) Once the grime has been removed from the surface, it is trapped in the soap molecule (like a snow globe). Since the tension on one side of the tug-of-war has stopped, the end that’s attracted to water takes over and joins together with H2O molecules. Now the grime is suspended in water and can be easily washed away. 

Understanding the principal of how soap works will make it clear why using antibacterial products is unnecessary and may give you more confidence in using milder cleansers.  Soap REMOVES grime, grease, dirt, and germs. Killing something that is going to be removed is redundant and unnecessary in many cases. I agree that there may be a time and place for bleach and harsh cleansers, but I don’t think it’s nearly as often as we are lead to believe. 

What can I clean with castile soap?

  • hands and body
  • hair (with a caveat to not use castile soap on color-treated hair or without conditioner)
  • clothing
  • produce (washing your fruits & veggies)
  • dishes (also effective on greasy things: stovetops, microwaves, mechanic’s hands)
  • pets and all of their stuff (beds, toys, harnesses, etc.)
  • sinks, bathtubs, toilets, floors, surfaces
  • minor cuts and scrapes
  • makeup brushes, soft-bristled hair and beard brushes

What NOT to do with castile soap:

Don’t combine castile soap with vinegar or lemon. Even though there are many recipes on Pinterest for “castile soap this that and the other,” do your homework before deciding to use someone’s recipe! You should never directly mix castile soap with an acidic agent because it leaves a very stubborn, noticeable white residue. Castile soap newbies often fall into this trap set by well-meaning yet uninformed authors and then fall off the castile soap bandwagon for life thinking its a bunch of crunchy hoopla. I repeat: don’t mix castile soap with vinegar or lemon (or lemon essential oil), or you will end up making more work for yourself! 

Don’t ignore the type of tap water you have (hard or soft). Hard water contains minerals that leave a white residue when combined with castile soap. Know your water first so you can better understand how to use castile soap most effectively in your home. 

Is castile soap baby-safe?

Yes. Castile soap is baby safe. The nontoxic and mild nature of castile soap makes it a good choice for sensitive skin. Almost all castile soap brands offer an unscented option. Unscented is a smart choice for babies since some scent agents (usually essential oils) can cause irritation for some little ones. Dr. Bronner’s offers a line of castile soap especially for babies

Castile soap use in hospitals

Many hospitals purchase individual castile soap packets and provide them in patients’ bathrooms for use during their hospital stay. Unscented castile soap is hypoallergenic, nontoxic, extremely versatile, and cost-effective. It’s the perfect choice to for an inexpensive, gentle clean. To me, this is a huge vote of confidence for the safety and effectiveness of castile soap use on the body. 

Castile soap, kids, and mom life

I never gave much thought to the cleaning products in my house until I had kids. Once I had a tiny human to care for, I started to wonder if spraying his high chair down with harsh chemicals was a great idea. That was the very beginning of my product and ingredient awareness. Since then, I have made many changes regarding what kind of products I use in my home and around my children. 

You can’t beat the peace of mind that comes with using nontoxic products. Plus, the list of products I spend my hard-earned money on has really dwindled. Finding safe products that serve many purposes is common sense! It helps my budget and relieves the aggravation of fitting 59 bottles of cleansers in the cabinet under my kitchen sink.

Another amazing benefit that never occurred to me until my son was older is that I have no worries about letting my kids help me clean! I know the products I’m using are safe for me, my kids, and my pets.  So yes, my child, grab that rag and help momma clean!


Alright time for me to get off my soap box. Oh my gosh I ended with a soap joke!!!

Mom on!



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