Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lemon Castile Soap and Colonial Bathing Habits

Susan F. Craft
Award-winning author of historical suspense novels The Chamomile and Laurel

Centuries ago, Arab people in and around Europe often used animal fat as the fatty acid to make soap. Meanwhile, people in the Mediterranean found it most convenient to use the abundance of olive trees in their vicinity.

Specifically, many Mediterranean people used olive oil (fatty acid) and the ashes of the barilla tree (base) to make soap. One of the places to do this was the Castile region of Spain, so the soap from this area was called Castile soap, one of the first examples of hard, white soap to appear.

Some say it was reserved almost exclusively for the Spanish royalty; and later sought by a variety of European royalty for its mildness.

American immigrants brought cases of soap with them from Europe, and when their supplies ran out, they learned to make their own soap.

Like their European ancestors, colonists feared that bathing would destroy their natural oils and leave them open to the ravages of diseases, so getting clean meant sponging off. More affluent people had chinaware washbasins.

If masters desired a full bath, their servants would heat buckets of water in the kitchen and haul them to the bedroom. There were no towels to dry with, so they used large pieces of cloth or blankets. Full baths were considered a luxury not done more than a couple of times a year.

In my post-Revolutionary War suspense Laurel, my heroine, Lilyan, watches her husband bathe with lemon soap their hostess makes from goat's milk. It brings back a sweet memory before their daughter was kidnapped.

         The last time she saw him bathe, he had been sitting in the bathtub in front of the fire in their cabin with Laurel balanced on his chest. Laurel slapped her hands against the water and splashed it into his eyes. His comical faces sent their little girl into a fit of giggles. How she longed for those special family times. And to look upon her husband again with a desire free from the burden of grief and loss and guilt.

Join Susan F. Craft in the celebration of the release of her newest inspirational historical suspense, Laurel. The Online Book Launch Party will be on FaceBook Saturday, Jan. 17 from 2-4 p.m. EST. Come by, chat, and leave a comment for a chance to win some really great prizes. The party will be on Susan's author page, Susan F. Craft, at this link:


  1. I bathe twice a day. Bathing twice a year would be unbearable & unthinkable.

  2. I agree completely, Mary. Ee-ew! I guess that's why people carried around perfumed handkerchiefs and nosegays.

  3. I love baths! They warm my soul. Laurel is a great read, I know!

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  4. Thanks, Melanie. Baths that warm the soul ... sounds relaxing.

  5. I haven't taken a bath in years. I almost stopped there with the comment. lol I take showers because it's too hard to get in and out of the tub--bad knees. Great post.

    1. Ha! Patricia, I almost posted the same thing. Showers for me too. I wonder if "swimmin' in the 'crick'" counted for a colonial bath?