Columnist comes clean over the vagaries of soap

February 03, 2012 04:26 pm

Here it is February already. How about checking to see if we made a clean start last month to the New Year of 2012.

Take the lowly bar of soap.

At least some folks saw it as such, so they changed it into different shapes and sizes and colors. They even packaged it in pretty wrappings, tied with a bow or colorful bottles and boxes assuring you of its cleanliness powers and fragrance.

I'm so old-fashioned that I haven't changed over the years and neither has my soap. If it ever decides to become modern, I don't know how I'll keep myself clean.

Now, I'm not a press-agent for the soap company. I'm simply telling it like it is because of the way I grew up.

The soap came in two sizes, one for hands and one for bathing, but they looked alike except for size, and they had the same printing on the wrapper.

The bar was oblong and fit into the hand well. That is, the hand soap did, for I used the hand soap instead of the bath size for bathing just because of its smaller size. Otherwise, I don't think the bath size would get me any cleaner and would be harder to hold.

Of course, I could be wrong. I just feel that men would prefer the bath size because it would make them feel more manly and the bar wouldn't slip away so easily.

Perhaps I should write the company to see if I am getting clean enough by using the hand soap on my body as well as on my hands.

I started using this particular bar of soap brand when I was just a child sitting in the galvanized round tub we used as a bathtub on the kitchen floor and then later in the claw-footed bathtub hooked up to water flowing from a faucet in the bathroom.

My mom figured that I could find and use the soap better if it didn't sink to the bottom of the tub, so she got the kind that floats. It was fun to see if this was really true. It was, more or less.

After marriage, I found that my husband liked the curved yellow soap attached to a string that could be hung within reach. However, I kept to my own and, mostly, he used it too, and so did the children.

Anyway, now that I have shower preference rather than spending quality time in a tub, I have no way to find out if soap still floats, but it doesn't seem quite as important anymore, either.

The looks of the outside wrapper has changed only slightly over the years and hardly perceptible at first sight. In my memory it seems to have always had a white slick paper cover with large blue lettering giving its name.

Maybe small print saying that it was pure or something like that, but it was the big letters that caught my eye, for I knew that inside the package the same name would appear impressed into the bar of soap.

When I go shopping for hand/bathing soap, I always look for the familiar outer wrapper, usually in packs of 4 or 8 or family-size 10. Sealed at each end, each bar is easy to open and slides out in a protective inner paper cover. Off with it and into the shower.

In use, it lasts a reasonable length of time for a bar of soap with slight sudsy-ings (my word). I like it.

When it diminishes in size that it becomes hard to hold, it has a way of knowing when its life span is over. It slips from your hand and breaks into two pieces onto the shower floor or just simply comes apart in your hand.

I've never measured the broken pieces, but they always seem to come apart in the same place as though I have uncovered break-away dotted lines.

I don't believe that for a moment, but it certainly is curious.

Sometimes I am clever. When the bar gets small enough, I get a new fresh one for the shower and put the smaller element in my soap dish at the bathroom counter sink. That way there is no waste.

This morning, though, the bar broke mid-way through my shower, so I gathered the two pieces into the washcloth and made-do. Afterward I tossed the soap remains into the waste basket. My mother immediately appeared over my left shoulder in angel form reminding me that what I had done was wasteful. She was right, but I had entered the modern "throw-away" age in this respect for just this moment.

We had always kept a glass jar beside our sinks and when the soap bar turned into pieces, we would toss them into the jar.  With the soap in the jar, we filled it with hot water, shook it and then poured out the soapy suds into our hands or washbowl for the next cleansing.

This way nothing was wasted — soap or money — and our cleanliness was not compromised.

This morning, from under the sink, I took another bar of soap from the pack and unwrapped the bar from its inner, but marked, wrapper. It no longer needed the heavier, outer layer in selling by multiples rather than singly, a clever way to keep loyal users well-supplied.

If hand soap cleans as well as bath soap, then I would be ready to appear in public after my next cleansing.

I ran my fingers over the indented ivory lettering and placed the bar on the shower rack.

I just got to wondering. If there is a difference in hand and bath soap, is there also a soap just for showering?

Oh, dear, something else to worry about.


Veteran newspaperwoman Dorothy Swart Fleshman is a La Grande native. Reach her at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it