Saturday, January 21, 2012

Castile Soap

A couple of weeks ago, I made a Castile soap.

So, what the heck is Castile soap?

Traditionally, the oil used to make Castile soap consists entirely of olive oil. Oftentimes, soaps are made with a blend of oils. I tend to use a high percentage of olive oil in my soaps, but I also typically use coconut oil, palm oil, avocado oil, and/or shea butter in every batch, too.

My Castile soap
Castile soap in its purest form is simply olive oil, sodium hydroxide (lye), and water. That's it. No other oils, no fragrance, no colorants. This simple formulation creates a creamy, white bar with many reported benefits - it is gentle on the skin, naturally moisturizes, and supposedly helps combat acne, dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis.

So where did this "Queen of Soaps" come from? Castile soap enjoys a long, rich history. It was first made sometime around the 13th century in Castilla, a medieval kingdom in modern-day Spain named after the large number of castles in the region. Most soaps at the time were made with animal lard or tallow, but because Castilla had such a vast abundance of olive groves, they used olive oil instead. This luxurious soap quickly became a favorite among royalty and the wealthy in Europe. In fact, Louis XIV of France was so enamored of Castile soap that he demanded in 1688 that all Marseille soapmakers exclusively use olive oil in their soaps.

I've never used pure Castile soap before, and my interest was piqued after reading some discussions about it on a couple of soapmaking forums I belong to. I decided to take a stab at making my own. I did veer a bit from tradition, though - I am a total fragrance junkie and I just couldn't stand to leave it unscented. I kept things natural by using lavender and tea tree essential oils to lightly scent the soap. Honestly, I don't like tea tree on its own (I think it kinda smells like motor oil) but it is wonderful when used sparingly with other essential oils. Lavender and tea tree is one of my new favorites.

Sadly, this soap is nowhere near ready to use, so I must exercise patience. I normally let my soaps cure for about six weeks before I use them. (During the curing time, the water in the soap evaporates, creating a harder, longer-lasting bar. The soap also becomes milder as it cures.) Castile soap can be used after 4-6 weeks, but it benefits greatly from a much longer cure time. Ideally, Castile soap should be cured for at least four months, and it is even better after a year.

It seems like people either love Castile soap or hate it. I've heard some folks say that they don't care for it because it can feel slimy. I am told not to expect a fluffy, bubbly lather - Castile's bubbles are small, creamy, and slippery. Other folks love this about Castile, praising how it leaves their skin feeling soft and nourished. I hear more positives than negatives about Castile, so I have high hopes and I am excited to try it. I guess I'll just have to wait a few months to see if this soap lives up to my expectations!

Until next time ...


  1. Pretty soap and I enjoyed the history lesson! You'll have to write another blog about your Castile soap in May and let us know how it turned out!

    1. Thanks for the compliments! The story behind Castile soap is interesting. I do plan to follow up with a blog post in a few months - waiting so long for it to cure properly is going to be difficult! I hope that I will like it as much as Louis XIV did!


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