Two years ago, I purchased some bars of washing soap. The white more expensive one disappeared in a month. The yellow bar lasted well two years! I wash only my undergarments, lungis/mundus and the occasional blanket. Still, it is good value for money. If I had used detergents (made from petroleum), I would have gone through two dozen bars and it would have been more expensive too. So, the judgement is in favour of soaps on all counts.
IMPORTANT: Washing soaps need to be stored in an air-tight container. They seem to lose their softness if left out like detergents.
In a previous blog post titled How to make lye soap, I had mentioned that bathing soaps can be made at home. Recently, while shopping in a moffusil area in Kerala, I stumbled upon laundry soap brands.
When I was very young, most households used laundry soaps. Detergent cakes and powders were just growing in popularity. Karsanbhai’s Nirma revolution (inexpensive detergents made out of by-products of IPCL) was yet to take off. Soaps such as the famous 555 came in one long bar, which could be broken off into handy smaller pieces.
What’s the difference? Aren’t detergents and soaps the same? No. Soap is made out of natural oils while detergents are made from petrochemicals.
Washing with soaps involved considerable physical effort – heavy rinsing and beating the clothes over a flat stone surface. Unlike soaps, detergents came with huge mixture of additives that eliminated all that. You just soak the clothes for 15 minutes and with some light rinsing everything became clean. It did not form scum like soap and worked well with hard water. Vegetable oils are anyway expensive while petroleum byproducts was dirt-cheap. Over time, detergents replaced soaps in popular use. However, detergents are not environmental friendly. The by-products of detergents washing cannot be broken down. It pollutes the groundwater. Many detergents come with protein-dissolving enzymes which will destroy skin & tissues if used for manual washing that is not in a washing machine. Perfumes used in detergents are also harmful.
Laundry soaps are still being manufactured as a cottage industry by Khadi and rural self-help groups. They are not expensive either. Don’t be a baby if you don’t see bubbles. These soaps can clean clothes all right.
Recently, I have been watching The Beverly Hillbillies episodes from Archive.org (https://archive.org/details/classic_tv?and%5B%5D=subject%3A%22Beverly+Hillbillies%22). In its first episode, there was a reference to home-made “lye” soap. Apparently, Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), a base, is called lye. Mixed with a limited quantity of water, it becomes an extremely hot and reactive state called lye water. Lye water when mixed with a combination of oils (base + acid) becomes a more stable form that can be used as a soap. In Western countries, they use animal fat such as lard for the oil part. Coconut oil is the best choice to make soap. Most companies use cheaper palm oil.