Thursday, 4 March 2010

Washing up

Dish washing is one of those jobs that most people avoid.  It's rather thankless, in that the dishes don't remain clean for long and there's a certain frustration in that.  I also think of it as a health issue...  dishes that one is to eat from need to be free of anything that might cause disease...  and really,  there's no reason to treat the task as any less important than many other health care measures that are treated with much more respect.   I suspect that this has something to do with the fact that "housewives" are usually responsible for this task,  and their status is just about as low as it can be.

I have had several requests for information about how to wash dishes with soap,  rather than detergent.  Detergents are a relatively new invention,  being based on cheap oil and all that that implies.
People have used soap for cleaning for hundreds of years... it's an easily manufactured product derived from left over fat (from animal or vegetable origins)  that is saponified by a chemical reaction with a strong alkali...  in to "olden days"  this was lye water produced from wood ash,  and nowadays sodium hydroxide (lye)  that con be purchased from the hardware shop as a drain cleaner. 

When I was a child,  detergents were quite unusual.  When I worked in a biochemistry laboratory,  the cheapest detergent (for laboratory glassware cleaning)  was "Tepol",  a nasty chemical produced by the Shell company,  from memory.  Later, we had "Pyroneg"  that was an improvement because there was no need for bubbles... it could strip protein or fat from glass without any scrubbing and without any "froth" required. (I suppose that this is where the "non-foaming"  front-loader detergents originated.)
At the time,  housewives that I knew were just switching from soap to detergents.  The fact that these detergents were able to sterilise laboratory glassware made me wonder how healthy these chemicals might be.  Any time I've used detergents on household dishes,  I've rinsed them very well.  I've usually avoided them.

Washing up with soap....
The difference with this process is that the fat in the soap seems to amalgamate with any fat on the dishes and even seems to "de-saponify"  (if there is any such word) the soap.   
I use a bar of yellow laundry soap (though I have made my own soap when I've had free fat available) and a cloth that is rough.  A piece of old towel is good for this, but years ago,  people used to knit dishcloths that were fit for purpose here... lumpy, and with a rough surface,  often the producton of children learning to knit with scraps of cotton.  (How good for the self esteem of children to realise that they were producing an item that was absolutely necessary to the household... a whole other issue!))
Rubbing the soap onto the cloth until there are plenty of suds makes the dishwashing water.   Soap suds are needed here,  unlike detergent.   Dishes are soaked (if a bit dry) and washed with the cloth,  rinsed in a second bowl and drained as usual.   (I use the sink for the washing and a bowl to rinse as I have a "single bowl" sink.

Rinsing is required as the dishes will feel slippery until all the soap is removed.   The slippery feel goes when the soap is all gone.
If you have ever washed your hair with soap instead of detergent,   you'll know that you have to rinse until your fingers can make your hair "squeak".... hence the term,  "squeaky" clean.  The hair squeak is only audible to the grower of the hair... when washing children's hair it's necessary to ask them when it is squeaking...  this was usual when I was a child.  It has never occured to me that people don't know this any more!  (I'm not that old!.... am I?)
Once the soap is removed your hair or the plate will feel different.

All of the water saved goes into the bucket and out to the garden....
... the bucket is the "frytol' bucket by the sink,  and it is emptied daily into the potato patch.

When the soap piece wears down,  it can be used in a couple of ways.  A collection of pieces can be boiled up with a little bit of water to make a soap solution... a kind of liquid soap that I would use for washing woolen clothing.   I'd also add that soap is necessary for washing the socks that I knit.

An alternative is to use the "soap saver" to keep washing up water frothy while washing up.  I found this one some time ago,  in a shop where the proprietor didn't know what it was!  Here it is with random scraps of soap in it.... m mleft overs from the process described above.

Soap can be made from animal fat,  vegetable oil (castile soap is tradidtionally made from olive oil) saponified in a reaction with lye or lye water (from wood ash) and may well be more sustainable than detergent that is based on the oil industry.  It is necessary to get used to the different way of doing things,  but remember that people were able to do this for many years more than they have been using oil based detergents.


Cherie Wilkinson said...

Thanks for this! Good to know, I plan to start making my own soap in the next couple of months and would love for it to be able to replace as many things in the house that come in plastic containers as it can :)

John L said...

Wow, Cherie! How do you get time to read all those blogs? And Morris Dancing as well!

Fiona (posts by her mum and dad) said...

Can I use soap in the dishwasher?
Just checking. :)

Fiona (posts by her mum and dad) said...

OK so I looked it up myself:

Jane said...

... and you can buy the Fels Naptha soap at the hardware shop near Safeway!

karenpetney said...

My mum uses a soap saver, I'd forgotten till she moved to Kapunda at Christmas and I saw it on her sink again... I'm keeping an eye out for one myself. I've been experimenting with making dishwashing 'detergent' not quite perfected yet. My laundry liquid rocks though - I really must drop you round some. PS I haven't forgotten our 'date' just thought I'd wait till the election was out the way. Hope all is going well :) kp

John L said...

I wish you luck Karen. Soap savers are as rare as honest polititians.

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