I've heard from many customers lately looking to use my soaps for natural household cleaning. Not only does soap contain a short list of natural ingredients but it is easy to make, ship and use without the use of plastic.
The soap I recommend for these tasks is my Tallow Household Soap (formerly Tallow Laundry Soap). The name change reflects the myriad of uses this soap can be put to around the house, the ingredients remain the same, just tallow, water and lye, or if you prefer the list of ingredients post saponification (the chemical reaction that creates soap) simply sodium tallowate.
How is this soap different from soap for your skin? The big difference is the ratios of ingredients I use when developing my soap recipe. Soaps for hands, face, skin and scalp are made with a higher amount of fats and oils, this means that after cleaning, the soap leaves behind a thin layer of these oils on your skin to prevent it from drying out. Skin does best with a protective layer of oils on it! Think about the last time your lips or hands felt "chapped" or "wind-burned", this is what happens to unprotected skin!
Soap meant for cleaning things rather than skin is made with a higher ratio of lye (sodium hydroxide). When cleaning clothes or dishes you don't really want even a thin layer of oils left behind once you're done! For that reason, I don't recommend you use Household Soap on your skin, as it can be quite drying. On the flip side, that is part of what makes it so good at lifting dirt, oils, and grease off of surfaces!
There is a rising trend of using a solid soap bar to wash dishes! Simply keep the soap bar in a small dish by the sink with a dish brush. When you want to do dishes, scrub the brush across the soap and then clean your dishes as usual, revisiting the bar of soap as needed. Remember that suds does not reflect cleaning power! Animal fats tend to have a creamier, less fluffy lather than plant-based soaps but that does not mean that they clean any less. It just means that they last longer since you're not washing as much down the drain with each use!
For really greasy items, I will often add baking soda or washing soda to the wash water (you'll want to wear gloves for this!). It really kills the suds but it also really strips grease and helps keep your pipes flowing! (but don't feel the need to chase it with vinegar! That creates a chemical reaction the just results in....water, not a very effective drain cleaner. Hot water and a mild base like washing soda or baking soda will do the trick just fine!)
I use this soap routinely as a stain stick. For dirt and oil-based stains there really is nothing better! (You will want to look up specific methods of stain treatment for things like blood, red wine and other difficult, non-oily staining). I have several aprons that I use for rendering lard and tallow and I don't think you'll find a greasier task (unless you're working the fryer in a commercial kitchen, perhaps!). At laundry time I wet the apron and soap bar and rub the soap anywhere I see grease, wash with my normal laundry detergent (in warm to hot water) and they come out looking great every time!
When not making soap or rendering fat, I am typically found taking care of the farm, so I can vouch that this method also works quite well on a wide variety of animal manures, sweat and general grime.
Of course you will need to use your judgement when dealing with more delicate fabrics like silks, woolens, rayon, etc.
What about homemade laundry detergent?
So here's the deal, I went through a phase of using first soap nuts and then homemade laundry detergent. On lightly worn clothing (probably a large percentage of what most people wear!) or clothing that just sees sweat, not real dirt, these methods seem to work just fine. Heck, my husband often washes his delicate synthetic cycling gear in just water and I can confirm it does not stink! However, once you get into real dirt (farming, kitchen work, anything outdoors, anything near young children...) these methods are not enough.
As I watched my farming clothes get dingier and dingier (and our towels and wool socks get stiffer and less absorbent...), I ran out of homemade laundry detergent one day and used some store brand "free and clear" type stuff that I had laying around and was astounded at the difference. Stuff just got...clean. I haven't made a batch of homemade detergent since.
To top it off, I started doing some research into WHY my DIY detergent just didn't work as well as the store-bought stuff. At the end of the day, I love cutting down on things I need to buy at the store and giving up homemade, pennies per load laundry detergent was a little disheartening... I fell down the rabbit hole and started reading blog posts like this, this and this. That's how I discovered that homemade laundry detergent is not, of course, actually detergent. It's soap. Modern washing machines are not made to be used with soap, since soap tends to leave residues (soap scum) that can clog washing machines over time and get stuck in the fibers of your clothes.
What about the stain stick? Isn't that also bad for washing machines then?
Well, not if you're using actual laundry detergent! As the stain stick does its job helping to dissolve the dirt in a stain, the detergents will do their job of getting soap residue out of the fibers of your clothes and out of the washing machine and down the drain where it belongs! If you aren't using a detergent though, the extra soap will just add to the potential build up in your machine.
Household soap can also be used to clean various non-porous surfaces. Scrub some onto the cloth or sponge that you usually use to clean counters and stove-top and scrub away. If the suds get out of hand, just go back over it with a clean cloth dipped in warm water and that will wipe away any remaining soap.
Use with caution on porous surfaces like wood, especially cutting boards, as they can soak up the soapy aroma and even taste if you lather it up too enthusiastically! I usually rinse wooden cutting boards in the sink with just a bit of soap on a scrub brush and very hot water, so I am sure the residue is rinsed away.
I'm sure there are many uses for household soap that I haven't mentioned here! If you're finding success with it, feel free to comment or send me an email to tell me about it!