Sunday, January 15, 2012

The thrill of finding Octagon soap

I wonder occasionally how women accomplished tasks around the home 75 years ago. Like, what did they do before kitty litter? Sand and baking soda. That got me thinking about baking soda, and also vinegar. Those two items are safe, inexpensive and have dozens of useful purposes around the home. Here is a list of 60 uses for baking soda. Here are 131 uses for vinegar.

I found 20 Mule Team Borax at my local grocery store too. Thrilled to discover this old timey, stalwart item that has so many uses.

Now I have discovered "Octagon All Purpose Soap by Colgate". As the product description states, Octagon is more economical to use than liquid soap as it lasts longer. Easily cuts through grease and grime Removes stubborn stains. Great for your laundry, dishes, hands, and more.

This is a soap that has been in continuous production for 100 years. The Department Of American Studies at the University of Maryland reports, "Octagon Soap is a lye soap intended primarily for laundry purposes, but often used as an all-purpose soap. When used as a laundry soap, soap shavings are usually added to the water in a wash tub and laundry is hand washed using a corrugated washboard. Another way of using soaps of this kind is to put a whole soap bar in a water-filled tub containing the items to be washed. Heated from below by a fire, the contents of the tub would be stirred with a paddle. Until the 1940's, this was a common way of washing bedclothes which people wanted white and spot free. But Octagon soap is mild enough to be used as a hand soap if one is not very concerned about skin softness."

"Octagon soap was first sold early in the 1900's. During its most popular period, in the 1930's, it was a brown, roughly-cut, extruded bar of soap with coupons printed on the wrappers which could be collected and exchanged for various kinds of merchandise."

My bar of Octagon soap is the same- large, brown, heavy with 1930s wrapping.

"Until 1928 Octagon Soap was manufactured by the Colgate Company. Colgate & Company was started in 1806 by William Colgate when he opened up a starch, soap, and candle business on Dutch Street in New York City. Colgate & Company became the first great soap making concern in the United States. The first Colgate advertisement (for "Soap, Mould & Dipt Candles") appeared in a New York newspaper in 1817. It was not until the 1830's that the company began selling individual bars in uniform weights."

"Colgate introduced perfumed soap and began the manufacture of perfumes and essences during 1866. In 1872 Colgate began to produce the first milled perfumed toilet soap, Cashmere Bouquet. In this same year the Peet Brothers (William, Robert and James) started a soap company in Kansas City, Kansas."

"In 1898, in the western United States, the B. J. Johnson Soap Company began to make a soap entirely of palm and olive oil. The advertised advantage of this soap was that it floated. The soap was popular enough that in 1916 the Johnson brothers renamed their company after it - Palmolive. In 1926 the Peet Brothers' soap company merged with Palmolive to become Palmolive-Peet. In 1928, Palmolive-Peet merged with the Colgate Company to create the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Company. For many years after 1928 Octagon Soap was produced by Colgate-Palmolive-Peet."

It floated. Huge inducement to buy the soap. Can you imagine the aggravation of leaning over a washtub in the hot sun, scrubbing your husband's farm shirt, and the soap slips and falls to the bottom of the tub. Having to root around for it a billion times must have been irksome in the extreme, not to mention a time waster.

"In 1953 Peet was dropped from the company's title, resulting in the company's present name, Colgate-Palmolive. Octagon soap was still in limited production at the time of this writing in 1999."

That is why I was surprised to find this throwback on the shelf at the store. Not that I knew what Octagon soap was at the time. I just was looking for a bar of soap that was less than $1. It cost 79 cents. It does last a good long time. I cut it in half and I use half at the bathroom sink and half at the shower.

Other uses I've read about are that it is wonderful for bug bites. Here is a list of applications Octagon soap is good for.
Dish soap
Hand soap
Clothing stain remover
Acne remedy
Bug bite/poison oak and ivy remedy
Grease remover
Cabinet/woodwork cleaner
Stove cleaner
Bathtub/tile cleaner
Tick repellent
Deer and rabbit garden repellent

"A single bar of simply packaged, long-lasting Octagon Soap can perform several tasks so you don’t have to worry about buying multiple targeted products in oversized plastic bottles, tubs, and what have you."

To use as a bug bite salve, simply lather up and put it on the affected area. Let dry in place.

I really like not having to resort to lots of different chemical items for household tasks. I really like having low-tech items available to do my usual jobs. I really like being able to buy inexpensive but quality items. Look for Borax and Octagon soap at the store, and buy lots of vinegar and baking soda while you're there. You can't go wrong.


Anonymous said...

I am trying to find this soap in my area, I live in Grand Island, NE. I have a recipe to make laundry poder detergent and liquid dish detergent with this soap, it would be so much cheaper than buying them already made at the store. if anyone can help please e mail me at

Elizabeth Prata said...

Hi Delores,

I looked up stores in your area and there is a Sam's Club and a Walmart. Maybe they have it? If not then Amazon'com sells it, both thru Amazon and thru other sellers (which have better prices.) The problem is shipping. In my store it is 80 cents. But thru online purchase the shipping will make buiying hte soap uneconomical, unless your'e already buying other things and use super saver free shipping.

The other alternative, after checking Sam's & Walmart etc, and looking at online websites, is to find a mom & pop small grocery store in your area. That is where I found mine. They carry traditional items like 20 Mule Team Borax and Colgate's Octagon Soap. If the mom & pop store does not carry Octagon soap quite often they will accommodate a customer by ordering it.

Good luck. It's worth the search.

Anonymous said...

I recently found this soap at the local BIG LOTS for $.40 a bar. Can't go wrong at that price!

Anonymous said...

ShopRite has it in the laundry detergent isle, near the clothing dyes.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Can you pls let me know the complete ingredient list of Octagon soap. Are the ingredients written on the label?

Elizabeth Prata said...

this website claims that the ingredients are:
Colgate's Octagon Soap contains a mixture of coconut oil, olive oil, lye, and other natural cleansing agents, Colgate's Octagon Soap also contains large amounts of anti-bacterial ingredients.

the site said Colgate's Octagon Soap can also be used as a laundry detergent and dish detergent. We keep a bar on our sink. When we wash dishes, we place the bar in the basin and run water. The suds work beautifully to remove stains from food, as well as bacteria and other germs from our dishes. We follow the same guidelines when we wash clothes. Put a section of a bar in the washing machine, and then let it fill with water and add clothes. And that it is good for acne and poison ivy, poison oak, etc. No guarantees, it's just a website. You can google too...

Anonymous said...

I remember having to use Octagon Dish soap a lot when I was a girl in the 1980's. My turn for dishes was every three days or so..(I had 2 sisters and we all took turns.) Well, every time it was my turn I always had red itchy burning bumps from my wrists to my elbows. I wonder what ingredient is in Octagon that Dawn and Ivory doesn't have. Looking back I believe I have an allergy to this particular soap.
As far as finding this soap now, I would think Dollar General or maybe the bottom shelf of a grocery store would probably carry it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, happy to read of Octagon Soap, Thank you for the research. Octagon was always around in my house and and my grandparents in the 50's through the '70's. When I was bit in the behind by a dog on the way home from school, Doc Long across the street from us in Elmhurst NYC took a look at the injury and told my mother to keep applying Octagon soap to it. It would keep it antispetic and also dry it out.

john.spencer.paul said...

Colgate no longer makes this soap, since 2005.
I have used it all my life to wash artist's brushes.
Is there any hope of finding any remaining odd lots
anywhere? I will pay for shipping

JP 11215

Anonymous said...

gerThis soap does work efficiently. My mom uses it all the time for years. It is a low cost way of cleaning everything, and it lasts for a long time. However, I am having trouble finding it in Bronx, NY. Pioneer supermarket used to carry it for $ .69 cents! If anyone knows where I can find Colgates Octagon Soap in the Bronx, please post it.

Bronx hunter

Elizabeth Prata said...

Hi Bronx Hunter, Key Food Stores may carry Octagon soap. I believe they have a location in the West Bronx?Also maybe Shoprite has it. I think there's a Shoprite in Yonkers. There's always ebay and buying it online at other outlets.

March Hare said...

This stuff costs a small fortune now!! It better be d*** good because I could have paid my utilities bill for what I just spent on this.

Italia Vin said...

I have been looking for Brown soap for about ten years. I had it in my kitchen at all times. I used it for poison ivy and shampoo and dish soap when I ran out. It was the household remedy for poison ivy exposure. I am heartbroken I cannot find it anymore.

Italia Vin said...

I have been looking for Brown soap for about ten years. I had it in my kitchen at all times. I used it for poison ivy and shampoo and dish soap when I ran out. It was the household remedy for poison ivy exposure. I am heartbroken I cannot find it anymore.

petral said...

I've had a few bars from time to time that I have been able to sell in my little vintage shop and once I sold a few on Etsy, so yesterday when I went to an auction of the contents that had been a General Store and Candy store 75 years ago, I scored a whole case of very old Octagon soap bars and a few other brands. I finally decided I should research the soap, I was under impression the value was in the advertising itself. I am delighted to learn more,I may have to time capsule a few of these.Thank you for having shared your insight of the product.

Debbie Allen

Elizabeth Prata said...

Wow, Debbie! Now THAT'S a thrill! Good score. Italia Vin I feel your heartbreak. It's sad when a great product goes away. Have you seen this on Amazon, it's a brown soap that says it's a natural remedy fr poison ivy?

All Terrain Natural Poison Ivy Oak Bar Soap

N4QNXI said...

My cousin told me that they used to put turpintine in Octagon soap. Somewhere along the line they must have changed the formula. I used to buy it too. Even sent some to friends in Vietnam back in 2007.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately the Colgate-Palmolive company no longer makes this wonderful soap any longer! My Gramd Mother introduced this product to me and was used to cleaning my whole house with it! Even the inside of my cars! I really wish that Colgate would bring it back! I had to purchase Ocatgon from Amazon and I payed a lot of money for 3 bars!

Unknown said...

Do you think that all big lots sale it