Monday, 15 October 2012

Living on the edge - a thrifty hint

Warning: the following post contains items of extreme thrift which delicate souls might find disturbing.

I felt that I should preface this post with a public health notice because I know that there are different types of frugal mindset, and while some go for the buy one, get one free, others are quite willing to explore the farthest reaches of soap recycling.

Which is where we are going today, so if a shiver of horror went down your spine at the words 'soap recycling', then please look away now. If, on the other hand, it was a shiver of excitement at the thought of a bit of cheeseparing (or, rather, soap paring, as you will see), then do stay with me.

These cakes are not for eating

How much you will save by recycling your soap depends, as with most thrifty hints, on how extravagant you have been in the first place. It is one of life's little ironies that the super-frugal have to be satisfied with saving pennies as their tight budget has already been slimmed down to the minimum, but the lucky old spendthrift can save lots more with much less effort.

My own first forays into soap recycling saved me lots of money - it started when I was given a set of Penhaligon's violet soap for Christmas many years ago. The bars came in a little set of drawers, and were really almost too nice to use, but I decided to prolong the experience of violet-scented soap by saving the soap ends and stretching them a little further. (The idea first came from reading The Penny Pincher's Book by John and Irma Mustoe, I think.)


So first catch your soap - every time a bar of soap gets down to the teeny-tiny bit which is too small to use, I let that little piece dry and pop it into a small jam jar. When the jar is full, I know it is time to get grating. Grate all those little pieces - thick or thin doesn't really matter.


Line a couple of ramekins (or any small container which you have to hand) with clingfilm (reused, of course).

Then fill the ramekins with the grated soap.

Press down and smooth
Add a few drops of warm water and pack down - this is where you need to go gently. You don't want a ramekin of water with soap gratings floating in it - aim for a ramekin of grated soap moistened enough to stick together. I do it gradually - add a few drops of water, press the soap down, add a little more grated soap, press down and smooth with the teaspoon. It needs to feel reasonably firm and not at all sloppy - just moist enough for it all to stick together and not crumble.

Aim for about an inch, or a couple of centimetres, deep of dampened and packed down grated soap (these are quite shallow ramekins so I fill them half full). Finish off by pressing down firmly and smoothing the top and then put the containers in a warm place - I keep mine on the shelf above the Aga, but an airing cupboard would do.

Check after a day that it is all sticking together - you can add more soap if it is too wet, or a drop or two of water if it is too dry, but when you have made it once you will get a feel for the consistency.

After a couple of days you can peel off the clingfilm, and turn the bars up the other way to dry further. I leave it for a couple of weeks at least before using, checking and turning occasionally so that the soap completely dries out.


And hey presto! you have made two new bars of soap out of little pieces that would otherwise have been thrown away. Perhaps not quite up to the standard of Penhaligon's triple-milled, but that warm glow of frugality makes all the difference. And the more you spend on soap to start with, the more you will save - isn't that a fun thought?


This post is dedicated to those two Queens of Thrift, before whom I feel quite humble: Angela at Tracing Rainbows and Mrs Thrifty Household. Do visit them for a continuous stream of Thrifty Hints and Tips and ways to elasticize your budget.


And tell me, which are your favourite thrifty books?  I am always on the lookout for books that will save you the cover price - I find it an infallible justification for the purchase.


Angela said...

I feel deeply honoured to have been named in this post. I have the John and Irma Mustoe book too - mine is full of scribbled notes in the margin. Many of which are not very complimentary, that pair are thrifty to the point of meanness sometimes [and despite threats, I never succumbed to their suggestion of making my children's underwear from old curtain linings]

But soap recycling is a great idea - esp if you can combine fancy perfumed stuff with plain.

blessings xx

ted and bunny said...

my thriftiest tip is not to buy books!
oops, perhaps I wasn't supposed to say that ;)

I always use the dog-ends of soap to scent my undies drawer, but did you know if you unwrap a fresh bar of soap and keep it for a year it gets much much harder and lasts twice as long when you go to use it?

marigold jam said...

IO put soap in the airing cupboard to scent my linen for ages before using it as apparently it lasts longer than when new. Dare I tell you I have a couple of bars of soap which were my mother's and she died 11 years ago and they are perfectly useable once I get tired of having them tumbling through the slats in the airing cupboard. Years ago we used to save the slivers of soap in a jar and add a little water to them and then put the lot into a little wire basket gadget with handles and use it swished through the water for washing or washing up. The old ways were often the best and certainly more frugal and you now have some lovely Penhaligan soap for next to nothing haven't you?

Tangled Sweetpea said...

What an interesting post Pomona! Think I must be behind the times - never heard of soap recycling, don't tend to use bar soaps much.
Victoria xx

Mama Smith said...

Very cool, this would be a dun way to mix and match favorite soaps too :) We use liquid soap these days but if I ever go back to bars I'll consider some recycling!

Madelief said...

Such a good idea Pomona! I may follow your example. It even looks sort of stylish, your own home-made soap :-)

Happy new week,

Madelief x

KC'sCourt! said...

That brought back memories! Not quite like that though. My mum for some reason known only to herself, never had a washing machine until the late seventies and always did the washing by hand, she would save the soap ends and then melt the soap in a saucepan until it liquified, this took ages, then she would tip the liquid into a container till it set then cut it with a knife and used the soap-bars for washing collars and cuffs in the old fashioned way!
Me - I just stick the last bit of soap to the next bar of soap, but I have a go that way now!
Julie xxxxxxx

Inthesky said...

Great tip. The photograph looked like a delicious four cheese pizza! I once tried eating soap when I was a looked like a smelled delicious like a sure did not taste like lemon! Bleurghhh!

...Tabiboo... said...

I love this kind of thriftiness though I've never heard of this method before.

I wonder if I could pull it off with the kids - they go through stacks off soap.....just from playing with it instead of cleaning their hands - at least they are clean I guess.

Nina x

Susan Standen said...

I remember my mum doing something similar to recycle soap. I just use that sliver until it is so small it goes down the drain. We are thrifty in our own ways.

VintageVicki said...

Love this idea - I shall start saving those sliver of soap - normally they get mushed into the new bar!!

ALoadofOldTat said...

Great idea. We tend to use the dried out ends of soap in our drawers to scent our clothes.

Gigibird said...

this reminds me of my Granny - she used to have a jar where all the soap ends went with some water where it turned into a kind of early precursor to liquid soap....I believe she used it to wash up with....she never used washing up liquid.

...I am Nora..... said...

I remember doing that with my Nanny!! Memories....!

Nowadays...the soap becomes so small and see-thru that there is nothing worth saving!

Have to say what sent a shiver down my back was the non-bar soapers!!! Think of all those plastic bottles of liquid soap! *shudder*

Thanks for the smile, memories...and reminder that I have some posh soap knocking around in my knicker drawer!! Hahaha!


Amy Friend said...

This is unrelated to the soap...but I had to tell you that I used your sauce recipe and LOVED it! I made a bunch for the freezer only because I didn't have canning supplies. I will make more next year for sure. Thank you!

Gene Black said...

I have saved soap ends for years. LOL.. I also make my own soap. (yes it does use lye.)
I don't have any "thrifty hints" books because I get my thrifty hints on the internet or from friendly discussion with likeminded people.

Frances said...

Pomona, I've saved the ends of soap bars to dissolve in a jar with some water and use to wash the brushes I use for oil painting.

(Mind you, this was back when I was still actually doing some oil painting!)


Olallieberry said...

Love this post! I am a soap maker (from scratch) and therefore enthralled by anything soap related...particularly when it's paired with thrifting! I thrift a lot of my books at second-hand stores and garage sales. Mostly I use the public library however, as my thrifting tends to pile up and quickly defeat the purpose!

I am now off to catch up on your previous posts (I've taken a quick scroll through and they look very enticing) as I've been shamefully absent from the blogging realm of late!

Janine xox

Mrs. Micawber said...

Gosh, think of the fun you could have with add-ins - herbs and such. You could then sell it as hand-crafted soap. :)

gilly said...

Great tutorial -thanks! I usually just squish the end bits to the new bar, but this sounds like way more fun :-)

Little Blue Mouse said...

That's a good idea for using up the soap bits, although I'm another one who sticks the last bit of soap onto the next bar.
I'm not one for buying books, I usually borrow them from the library or get information from the internet.

A good blog for frugal living is Life After Money.

diegoagogo said...

I remember doing this as a child & also making our own liquid soap by putting the pieces in a jar with lots of water & letting it get squidgy. That is of course the technical term. We also had the soap cage thingy.
You may be interested in this site, I have been reading & using their ideas for years.

Gillian said...

I love this idea! I do use my soap until you can practically read through it, but then I do throw it out. But, in my defence, I always buy Pears soap which is very thrifty, so does that count for something?

Sarah Jane said...

A very interesting post!

Barbara said...

Interesting to see the soap grated (hope your knuckles are still intact!). I made soap many years ago but not grated. That looks much more ideal and less mess than boiling it up into a sticky goo.

saffa said...

These soaps are brilliant Pomona, what a brilliant idea! I may have a go at this as I think these soaps look really good too and if they help save the pennies I'm all for it! Lovely to see what you've been making lately, safxxx

melanie said...

Fantastic idea, one I shall definitely be using :) I love the book The Country Housewife by Simone Sekers, it is full of little thrifty tips :) I hope you are having a lovely day :) x

Thrifty Household said...

Oh, I love it! I've squeezed grated soap in muslin to create spheres but love the idea of cling-film & ramekins...I'm now inspired & am going off to gather soap shards!
Thank you!

Faith said...

Great idea, you can definitely warrant more expensive soap, but then that's probably the opposite of being thrifty!

I like mrs micawber's idea of mixing in herbs, or you could add in some seeds to make a scrubby sort of bar.

Annie @ knitsofacto said...

At first glance I took that 'Grate' picture for an exuberantly topped pizza, oops.

Somewhere I have a little gadget expressly for the purpose of recycling soap. Unfortunately almost all of ours comes in bottles these days!

Sarajan (Jan to friends!) said...

I'm shocked - at how easy and efficient it is to recycle soap! Another tip I found a few years back: if you're like me, you put out a new bar of soap, still in the wrapper, for guests. After the guests leave it's kind of off-putting to use their bar of soap (which is usually barely used.) Microwave it! Seriously, microwave it for about 10 seconds and it will zap any germs on the bar of soap. Grating it down and making a new cake of soap sounds like an even better second step. Thanks for explaining it so simply and having the great photos, too. -- Jan

Sue said...

My favourite thrifty book is The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. Not all of it is relevant to the UK and some of it is a bit dated now, but still a really good read and full of creative ideas- including ways to prolong the life of a bar of soap.

Enjoying the Epiphany said...

I love your blog and am your newest follower. I was hoping that you would stop by my blog and return the favor!!


Elizabeth Musgrave said...

We have an ongoing debate in our house as to who is the greener: me with my plastic dispensers which are refilled (so no waste plastic) with liquid soap or him with his bars of soap which are squidged into the next one. Mine seem to last way longer before needing a refill but his bars all came in a wooden box from his father's house so are probably all about forty years old. I suspect he wins but it smells foul!

Sue said...

A brilliant idea, but I have no little slivers of soap :-(

As I get to the last little sliver that is hardly large enough to hold between my fingers I tuck it lovingly into the heart of my bath puff and dunk it in the water, after a rub or three it fills the puff up with soap suds and all at once the soap has vanished used to the very last millimetre.

But your idea is brilliant for those normal people out there that just can't be bothered to use up the teeny tiny bits.

Fantastic blog by the way I've not called by for ages, but I will be back much're going on my sidebar!!

Sue xx

Anonymous said...

I love thrifting! I have never tried this, though. I don't usually have special soaps; I think the most special usually is goat's milk soap. I do save all the ends, though, even of different types. I put them in a pint glass jar with a lid, fill at least half full with water and let sit, adding as I use up soaps. this is an ongoing thing and takes a certain amount of time. The water gets soap-slimy and can be used for hand-washing delicate laundry. I will have to try your cake method, too, though.
My favourite thrifty books are a set of autobiographical books by Helen and Scott Nearing: Living the Good Life, Continuing the Good Life and Loving and Leaving the Good Life. They have been on my hero list for many years. It's more a philosophical type of approach than an individual tips and tricks one, but I learned a lot from them.

GardenofDaisies said...

A very clever way to save a few dollars every year... and that can really add up over time. I think our grandparents who lived through the depression and war years would approve of this money saving tip.

Barbara said...

Hope you are OK as you have not posted for so long!

momof3girls said...

First of all...I think this is a wonderful idea! I hate being wasteful! I always pack the soap from hotels when we travel and could use that. The idea of saving a few pennies sounds delightful! One question-what's an airing cupboard? :)

Homeandfood said...

Certainly a very interesting post!
Great tips and ideas, I did some soap making at Christmas but not quite as recycly as yours!
All the best in the new year :) xx

Maa said...

I think it's a great idea. We just add our little scrap to the new piece so no waste for us either. Sue

CTMOM said...

I've been saving and reforming my soap sivers into soap cakes for years. Here's a post from my blog:


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