Savon de Marseille

Savon De Marseille

Friends, I KNOW the laundry is far from an engaging topic of conversation for most of you…but may I ask you to indulge me a tad today?; after all the title of this post sounds rather highbrow – that should be enough, no??  Okay, okay; i’ll work a little harder after today, i swear! Sheesh, you’re a tough crowd couple of people to please.  Back to today’s topic; Soap…yes you heard correctly; do you need me to spell it out for you? S-O-A-P.  Not just any soap…but Marseille soap. Go on readers…ask it; you know you want to. Alright i’ll cut you a little slack and just say it – Marseille soap or Savon de Marseille is a pure vegetable oil based soap.  It’s a very old and traditionally made soap that is fabulous for sensitive skins and washing delicate garments/fabrics etc. It whitens whites because it has no animal oils/fats in it – soaps with animal fats and oils turn white/light fabrics a sad grey colour  😥

Traditional authentic Marseille soap is made from olive oil; 72% olive oil in fact with 28% humidity. You can and will find soaps that are stated to be Marseille soap but they are not the traditional authentic Marseille soap. If you want to know more about the history and modern production of Marseille soap you might want to have a squizz at Marie-Helene Blackmoore’s post ‘From Marseille to the Sunshine Coast, the journey of a small block of soap…’ it’s worth the short time it will take you to read.

 I know you’re being patient folks and definitely wondering why i’m banging on about soap and what soap has to do with sewing…well…we sew with fabrics and fabrics need to be washed…now do you see where i’m leading you??? I knew you’d get it readers; you’re such an intellectual bunch pair – at times it’s hard for me to keep up with you.

Y’all know I collect vintage baby gowns that are made from the sheerest of fabrics. They often arrive yellowed from age and with stains. Most of the gowns I buy are white natural fabrics and while it seems logical to bleach them since I don’t have to worry about colour bleeding and non-natural fabrics, it isn’t a good idea to use bleach.  Here’s why: chlorine bleach is incredibly harsh on fabrics – especially old and fine fabrics.  For the few coloured garments I have, soaking in chlorine bleach would be disastrous…And do I even need to discuss how bad chlorine bleach is for the environment?? No, I think not – you dear readers are as sharp as tacks.

 I have used oxy bleach which doesn’t have chlorine in it and can be used with colours and non-natural fabrics, but I haven’t always had fabulous results. When I use oxy bleach to whiten/brighten garments I sometimes have to soak for weeks and weeks to get just-okay results and sometimes I haven’t been able to get old stains out.  Take, for example, my own christening gown; it’s 47 years old, has a nylon lining and English Lace netting overskirt. It’s been used 3 times in 47 years; the last time was 20 years ago when Miss20 was baptised and although it’s been wrapped in acid free paper and stored in a cardboard box the bodice was stained yellow from age. Even though it had been thoroughly cleaned prior to storage, age stains were very evident – this, by the way, is very normal for an old garment. I soaked the gown in oxy clean for about 6 weeks and changed the water every couple of days to get a result I was relatively happy with. I don’t really want garments in water for that long as it’s not good for the stability of the fabric and plus who’s got the room for buckets and basins in their laundry (some people don’t even have a room dedicated to laundry)???


Enter the laundry hero: Marseille soap.  One of the recent vintage baby gowns I purchased had been soaked in oxy clean for a week – it certainly brightened the white to an acceptable degree, but there was still a dirty great big yellow stain on the front. I made up a paste of grated Marseille soap & bicarbonate soda and dissolved it in hot water to soak the gown. Before I immersed it, I very gently used a little of an un-disolved soap clump to rub the stain – and I mean GENTLY RUBBED. A few days later, the stain was noticeably lighter. So I repeated the process. A few days later and voila – the stain was gone – not a hint of yellow.

There are still a few French soap factories (Savonnerie) that make genuine traditional Marseille soap and you can get it in Australia – darn there goes that trip to France! The yellow block of soap in the first picture is a 1 kg block of pure authentic 72% olive oil  Le Sérail Marseille soap and the jar of grated Marseille soap is from L’Occitane – a sustainably sourced palm oil version. I bought two bars of the L’Occitane soap and grated them to fill the preserve jar. The L’Occitane Marseille soap is not the ‘real deal’, but it did work better than the oxy clean. I have yet had the opportunity to compare the genuine article with the non-genuine soap – the next time a vintage gown arrives, i’ll be documenting the process to share with you.

So far friends, I’ve only discussed hand washing/soaking garments to whiten, brighten and remove stains using Marseille soap…But this soap is gentle on the skin as it has a pH level of  9.5 – perfect for the bathroom too.  Marie-Helene Blackmore from Savons eBoutique (where I purchased my Le Sérail Marseille soap), very kindly shared her recipe for a home made liquid laundry soap using Marseille soap. So machine washing with Marseille soap is definitely an option too 😀

Savon de Marseille Home made Liquid Laundry Soap

1– Grate 50g of Savon de Marseille (Marseille Soap), and add it to 1 litre of boiling water.

2– Mix well until complete dissolution of the soap flakes (about 2-3mns)

3– Pour the mixture into a 2-litre plastic bottle with a wide opening and let it cool. If you wish, you may now add 5 drops of lavender or lemon essential oil. The mixture will thicken to the consistency of a paste.

4– Shake well before each use.

5– Use a small glass (200ml) of liquid laundry soap per wash*.

* This Savon de Marseille liquid laundry soap is suitable for front and top load washing machines, at any temperatures.


Genuine Savon de Marseille is 100% pure vegetable soap. It contains no colouring, no fragrance, no additives, and is biodegradable and is a low suds washing agent. With its pH of 9.5, Savon de Marseille does not irritate the skin, and is ideal for sensitive skin. It is a pure antibacterial soap containing no allergenic substance, and is gentle enough to wash delicate items like baby clothes. By using this liquid laundry soap, your laundry will be washed in a natural and efficient way, while protecting the environment. Highly recommended for all your clothes, fine linens, silks and woollens.

In the latest batch I made, I put more than 5 drops of Lavender oil – I sprinkled it in liberally…and be warned when this stuff matures it turns into a thick mucus consistency; think really bad winter flu nose gunk and you’re right on track  😆 I make my liquid Marseille soap in 5L batches which is stored in a large plastic container. Hefting a 5L container up to the machine detergent dispensing drawer is difficult so I fill a 1L drink jar and use that for the day-to-day use. To make sure I was adding 200mL to my washing machine, I made a marker with a Sharpie pen on an old plastic iron water-jug that I had hanging around. This little plastic iron water jug sits next to the bottle of liquid soap so that MrSW and Miss20 have no problems following the new laundry procedure if they put in a load of washing.


My first 1L batch of liquid Marseille soap had no lavender oil added. I wasn’t expecting much of an aroma; to my surprise the aroma from the soap was clean and fresh on the newly washed and dried clothes. It was really pleasant. Even more surprising is such a strong fresh aroma coming from indoor-dried clothes. It’s winter here so all of our clothes are dried on a rack in the spare room.  The second time I made the liquid soap, I made a 5L batch that was lightly scented with lavender oil; the lavender scent was lost in the clean fresh aroma of the soap. Last night I made a second 5L batch and I added much more lavender; i’ll let you know if there’s any difference once a load of washing is dry.

I don’t know how much I was spending per wash on our commercial laundry detergent – so I can’t do a cost comparison analysis. But I can tell you our clothes smell great and have no stains.  I have noticed one significant change since changing over to Marseille liquid soap…when I used to do a load of t-shirts (especially ones worn at the gym) they would come out of the machine still smelling awful under the armpit seams. The high-end commercial brand of laundry soap powder that I was using couldn’t get the odours out, but the Marseille liquid soap does handle the odours.

The cost factor isn’t the most important factor for me; what is important for me is that I’m not adding a ton of suds and other unnecessary chemicals to the environment, I’m not contributing to any skin irritations that both MrSW and Miss20 suffer from and our clothes are being cleaned really well in an efficient manner.

My next trial with liquid Marseille soap is seeing how it handles being used in an automatic hand-soap dispenser; i’ll let you know how it turns out. I’m hoping it works well because it will mean that I can do away with buying liquid hand soap too.

Until next time we meet, go forth and soapafy  😉

* Readers, I want you to know I finance my website myself: i don’t put up ads and banners etc or  accept product samples or endorse products in return for favourable recommendations – I like transparency and the ability to be unbiased in what I write about. Any website, product or company that I might mention on my blog is simply me letting you know the product I used and where it was sourced in case you would like to know. So when I tell you I bought my  Le Sérail savon de Marseille from Savon d’ailleurs , an Australian  soap eBoutique, I am not endorsing this company due to any private or commercial agreement. They sell some amazing soaps from around the world. I want you to know, that I purchased my Marseille soap as a full paying customer. The soap arrived wrapped in brown tissue with a pretty ribbon embossed with the company’s name and they generously included a complimentary guest sized block of Aleppo soap in the first order and  a lavender guest soap on a second order. They didn’t know I was going to mention them in a blog post when I purchased the soap and the inclusion of the soap freebies was simply given as a part of their customer service. I like internet shopping folks – I do it a lot – I hate having to deal with apathetic sales staff and now shop with my finger wherever possible and I can honestly say, i’ll be using this company again as they were quick and efficient with filling the order and packed it well; buttering me up with a practical freebie is fabulous customer service 😀

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