Appalachia

Soap Saver – Dish Switcher

Antique Soap Saver

Last week my friend Belva Jean Mooner (best name ever) sent the girls and me a box of goodies. Just odds and ends she had picked up over the years and more recently.

My favorite thing from the box was the soap saver in the photo above. Belva Jean said “I want you to have the little dish switcher that you put a bar of soap in when doing dishes. Mamie Atkinson from Sumter SC gave it to me. Mary and I rented two rooms from her the fall-spring of 1960-61. We were living in WI and I wanted a warmer winter for Mary so we visited Mary’s father’s family a month in KY and then on to SC. We have so many happy memories from that time.”

These days Belva Jean lives in Arizona with her daughter and I always love hearing from her. Especially when she shares memories of living with her husband in Kentucky among his family.

A quick search turned up this information about the little dish switcher Belva Jean sent.

“All soap savers have a very frugal and very specific purpose. Whenever you make use of a bar of soap, there is usually a little sliver remaining. Nowadays, you would probably throw that out; however, when soap was more expensive or took a lot of time to make, throwing out that final sliver was viewed as being wasteful.

Instead of throwing it away, you could make use of a soap saver to obtain every final bit of cleaning quality out of that small piece of soap. Housewives would place little bits of almost-finished soap into the basket to keep it for laundry day.” (Source)

As soon as I read Belva Jean’s lines about Mamie using the utensil for making soap suds to wash her dishes I was reminded of a story Miss Cindy told me about her mother Bonnie.

Bonnie worked as a lifeguard at the Canton YMCA from when she was 55 years old until she retired at 76. I’ve often heard people say Bonnie taught most of Canton to swim in those days.

She was a very frugal person who believed in the old adage waste not want not. The YMCA supplied soap, in the form of little brown bars, for the patrons to use. After showering most folks left the bar laying in the stall only having been used once.

Bonnie collected the soap instead of throwing it away. After placing it in a mesh produce bag, she used the soap to wash clothes and dishes by holding the bag under running water.

After receiving Belva Jean’s generous gift I figure Bonnie had likely seen soap savers before and made do with a mesh bag since at that time she didn’t have one.

I never throw away soap slivers, I continue to use them until they are no more, but now I can utilize them in more ways by using Belva Jean’s gift.

Do you ever recall seeing the soap saver/dish switcher?

Last night’s video: The Only Macaroni & Cheese Recipe You’ll Ever Need!

Tipper

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32 Comments

  • Reply
    Irontomflint
    May 6, 2022 at 6:27 pm

    When our soaps turned into slivers, we always stuck them into my dads shaving mug. I didn’t know that you could buy shaving soap- only shaving cream- until I was much, much older.

  • Reply
    DonInKansas
    May 5, 2022 at 9:12 pm

    My grandma would save soap slivers and when she had enough, she would melt them with a little bit of water and then would use it as a kind of soft soap for handwashing. I loved using it. When was around 5-6 years old, she still made lye soap. I remember she used it for laundry and things like that, but for bathing, we all used Dial bar soap.

  • Reply
    Betsy Willson
    May 5, 2022 at 5:47 pm

    My grandmother made a little crocheted green turtle to hold soap slivers. He lived in the soap dish above the bathtub….

  • Reply
    Shirley Morris
    May 5, 2022 at 1:40 am

    Tipper,
    I truly enjoy your blog, and your youtube channel. Listening to you speak, and watching you share recipes bring back so many memories of my beloved Gramdma. I called her Shorty as I was almost 12 inches taller than her. She taught me so much about cooking, and above all not wasting. She was born in Cow Creek, Owlsley County Kentucky. She often told me they used all the pig but it’s squeal. Again. Thank you for bringing my childhood memories back to me. God bless you and your famiky! ✌️❤️

  • Reply
    Jim Kennington
    May 5, 2022 at 12:26 am

    I bought a small, square cotton mesh bag at my mother’s suggestion about 30 years ago when I was visiting my parents in Charlotte, NC. It was similar to the one she had when we three boys were growing up. Still have it; still use it. She also suggested the hanging “sock” I keep plastic produce bags in. Stuff them in the top to store. When you need one, just pull it out of the bottom of the “sock,” which has a drawstring to keep the bottom narrow. She often reminded us “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.” She was a farmer’s youngest child with 15 older siblings.

  • Reply
    Chris
    May 4, 2022 at 6:20 pm

    Thanks Tipper! I never saw a soap saver either! Our family would just “glue” the sliver to the next cake of soap with a little of the lather. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. And with that cake of soap, you’d never go down if your ship ever sank! Just wash yourself ashore!

  • Reply
    Regina
    May 4, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    Tipper, I’ve never seen a soap saver before but I really enjoyed today’s post. We were raised hard and Mommy tried to teach us every trick in the book when it came to being frugal. Waste was a literal sin at our house. 🙂 We were never allowed to throw anything away that could be used for anything else. Whatever it was it had to be used up and worn plum out before we were allowed to get rid of it.

    We ate leftovers until there wasn’t anything left and cleaned our plates. When a bottle was empty no matter what it was we would have to put water in and shake it up to make sure we got every last drop out. Our tubes of toothpaste were cut open and we used our toothbrush to scrape out every last bit. Our empty butter bowls became Tupperware. 🙂 Reading today’s post brought so much joy to my heart. My Mommy and Daddy both are gone now, but I’m thankful for my raising. Thank you for bringing back some wonderful sweet memories. 🙂

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 4, 2022 at 2:25 pm

    My mother just couldn’t stand to see the soap wasted so she found a use for it.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    May 4, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    I wrap the sliver in a wash cloth and use it. Speaking of names that fit – My first colonoscopy was done by Doctor Andrew Hiener

  • Reply
    Kate
    May 4, 2022 at 1:13 pm

    I’ve never seen a soap saver but what a great idea’ I do try to be careful not to waste soap. I’ll have to make a little basket with a handle just like your one.
    The name Belva Jean Mooner made me smile because a girl I was at school with was called Sunniva (shortened to Sunny) Smith. Well, didn’t she go and marry a man whose surname is Mooney, so now she’s Sunny Mooney!! I just love that.
    Love and blessings to you Tipper and to all your loved ones x

  • Reply
    Betty Jo Eason Benedict
    May 4, 2022 at 11:54 am

    I don’t recall seeing a switcher but we try to use up the slivers too…….my husband squeezes it into the new bar…….it sticks pretty good, but I’m seeing some much better ideas here! 🙂

    My Mom had a saying I’ve never heard anyone else use……..she would say something was as “Ugly as Homemade Soap”. Their lye soap must have been pretty ugly!!!

  • Reply
    Gloria Hayes
    May 4, 2022 at 11:50 am

    I have never seen a soap saver until today. We did use our share of soap slivers though. What a great idea and invention!
    Thanks Tipper!!

  • Reply
    Christine
    May 4, 2022 at 10:19 am

    I’ve not seen a soap saver like the one in your picture. However, I have always saved mine and put them in wash clothes sewn together to bath with. One time many year back I bought this little box that would press soap slithers together to make a new bar of soap. It was very handy, but after a while it broke so I went back to putting them in wash clothes. I’ve never used them to wash dishes or laundry, but that’s a smart idea.

  • Reply
    Angelyn McLain
    May 4, 2022 at 9:39 am

    My Aunt Mae had one of those. Her house was beautiful and full of antiques. I was always just mesmerized by all if the fun things that she had to look at and some of them I was allowed to play with. She kept her soap saver hanging in the tub.
    To this day when I smell Este Lauder Youth Dew, I am taken right back to her and being in that wonderful house.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 4, 2022 at 9:39 am

    Mommy worked as a maid at Nantahala Village for several years. Part of her duties was to clean the bathrooms in the rooms and cabins. She had to replace all those little bars of soap whether it had been used or not. She didn’t throw it away though, she brought it home. Some of it was still wrapped and some was lightly used. We bathed with the fresh bars. Mommy would finely chop up the used bars and wash our clothes with them.
    I usually unwrap my soap when I buy it . I find it lasts twice as long if it is allowed to “cure” for a few days before I use it.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    May 4, 2022 at 9:35 am

    After years of being raised to not waste, it is deeply ingrained. Those slivers have always been problematic, and I can remember bathing with just a sliver. I now add them to a plastic pint jar of water I keep under the sink. It comes in handy for messy jobs.
    I enjoy guessing what some of the old gadgets are used for. Your friend knew you would like that gift. I save those mesh bags some of your commenters mentioned. They make good scrubbers, but I also sometimes remove produce such as onions or potatoes from plastic bags to the more airy mesh bag to hang in the basement.

  • Reply
    Sallie the apple doll lady
    May 4, 2022 at 9:30 am

    I don’t remember having a soap saver at home but we used up the slivers. I have had 3 different soap savers in my collection of soap-related items from years of demonstrating lye soap making at festivals and events all over Tn. I never heard one called a switcher but that sounds appropriate. It’s interesting that nowadays lots of the younger generation don’t use bar soap. I recently offered to give an extra handmade pottery soap dish to a young relative and she thanked me but said she only used liquid soap. I still use the years-old brown bars of homemade (ugly) lye soap that for some reason didn’t look pretty enough to sell. It’s a cold water soap using canned lye (sodium hydroxide), lard and water as my mother made years ago and is very gentle although it didn’t mix as it was supposed to and wasn’t the pretty white bars of most. I have noticed the many places that now only use liquid soap.
    I couldn’t help notice the age Miss Cindy’s mother was when she worked as a lifeguard! Wow! I have a cousin who is 74 and still teaching swimming at the Y in Chattanooga. And I love the story Margie G shared of the lazy man. Now that’s really LAZY!

  • Reply
    Shirl
    May 4, 2022 at 9:12 am

    I don’ recall ever seeing one of the soap savers when I was growing up or at any of the junk stores I have shopped. Mom cut a piece of mesh from one of our old can-cans and sewed a pouch to hold slivers of her homemade lye soap. She had a small knife she used to shave the slivers into the wringer washing machine. The same soap was used for dishes, bathing, and laundry. I don’t remember if we used homemade soap to wash our hair.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 4, 2022 at 8:33 am

    Now that you mention it – I do not recall what went with “slivers” of soap at our house growing up. I do not think they were thrown away. Myself I use bar soap until it disappears wherever it is that soap disappears to. Never saw one of those metal mesh soap savers or at least don’t recall ever having done so. I’m surprised by that.

    Your friend did what I may start doing before long – passing things on to those who can and will appreciate them best. She cannot pass on her own memories associated but she knows you will always associate memories of her with that ‘dish swisher’. The sentimental value far exceeds its practical value; it is just extra.

    Somebody sent me an article the other day about natural suds-makers. Yucca root was one. Another was “soapwort” a pink-flowered plant likely to be found around field edges or road banks. The article suggested those natural sources were good mild soaps for delicate fabrics.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    May 4, 2022 at 8:23 am

    I love the soap saver myself as it’s found it’s new, perfect home at the Pressley homestead. The idea of Miss Cindy’s mother being so frugal with soap was also wonderful. I’m using high priced bars of 5$ a piece but it’s wayyyyy better than cheap soap you get OTC. Also yesterday’s story of lazy made me think of a tale my granny told. ( MRS. NEESE would be about 120 now.) “ There was an old feller in a town so lazy he had to be dealt with. He was lifted into the back of a wagon for burial and paraded through town on his final trip. One woman feeling sorry hollered out she had a bushel or two of corn she would give him. He raised up and asked if it was shucked and she said no. He throwed himself back down and proclaimed to the driver to DRIVE ON to the grave yard… lol

  • Reply
    Jane ODell
    May 4, 2022 at 8:16 am

    As a history teacher, I love this! I have never seen one or heard of them. I know that during the Depression and the War years, people were very conscious about saving/not wasting and substituting things. This is very clever and I will share it with my teacher friends. I love showing my students artifacts and having them guess how they were used.

  • Reply
    Mary W
    May 4, 2022 at 8:10 am

    Really fun post today, Tipper, Thanks

  • Reply
    Gene Smith
    May 4, 2022 at 8:08 am

    I was raised by parents and grandparents who had experienced the Depression and WW II. Our motto was, “Use it up, wear it out; make it do or do without.” We usually saved slivers of soap in a little bag or sometimes in a sock toe. Not long ago, I started using Coast brand bath soap, and discovered that a sliver pressed against a fresh bar when both are wet will form a permanent bond. Voila! Not one gram of Coast goes to waste. Grandma would be proud of me. I’ve wondered if other brands will stick together like Coast, but I’ve never tried to find out.

  • Reply
    Mint2Bee
    May 4, 2022 at 7:54 am

    When I saw the picture it reminded me of a basket that restaurants make french fries in but on a much smaller scale. What a neat gift that she gave you; I’ve never seen one of these. This dish switcher will also be good in the shower to just put cold pressed soap in since it melts away so easily if you don’t keep it in something to drain after using.

  • Reply
    Brad Byers
    May 4, 2022 at 7:44 am

    This is a new one on me. I totally get it, but this is the first one of these I’ve ever seen. Just goes to show you; you’re never too old to learn.

  • Reply
    Jimk
    May 4, 2022 at 7:44 am

    I had one for years that came from my grandmother’s house and I never knew what it was for. Thanks !

  • Reply
    Becky
    May 4, 2022 at 7:25 am

    momma and granny would both put all small soap pieces into a jar and when it was about 3/4 full would add enough water to soften them into what they called “soft soap”

  • Reply
    Judi Vertefeuille
    May 4, 2022 at 7:08 am

    We always had one or two around the house when we were kids. My Mom used one when she washed the dishes. I remember using one with ivory soap in it to makes some suds when giving the baby a bath in the kitchen sink. Great memory of the good old days!

  • Reply
    JC
    May 4, 2022 at 7:03 am

    Oh yes. We had them. Ours rusted after many years of use. These days we keep those mesh bags from produce and use them in the same way. Those mesh bags make good “scrubbers” too.

    • Reply
      Mary W
      May 4, 2022 at 8:09 am

      I love those colorful mesh bags that produce comes in – save them to rip up into tiny strips to decorate cards and other Christmas decorations. Why didn’t I think to use them as scrubbers? Thank you commenter, JC, for giving me another useful tip. I’ve also heard of people grating the soap slivers up to make soft soap and it is a great idea, especially for the little ones as mine never seem to get enough soap on their hands to do any good.

  • Reply
    Sheryl O Paul
    May 4, 2022 at 6:10 am

    One of my mothers friends would sew 2 wash cloths yogether on 3 sides and then put her luttle pieces of soap in them. She had one for bathing and one for dishes. I can think of many more uses for them too

    • Reply
      Sara
      May 4, 2022 at 9:08 am

      Yes, I remember the wash cloths trick!!

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