The most numerous stain removal recipes I examined were for using a soap ball. It doesn’t appear that this was a detergent for the entire wash like we use modernly, but just used to remove stains, especially grease or oil stains.
The most common ingredients in these recipes was soap, egg and alum but additional ingredients also included lemon, orris root, ashes, wine lees, beet juice, ox gall, salt peter, fenugreek, and lye.
The recipe I choose to recreate is “To make a Sope that taketh out all spottes” from the 1578 text The Third and Last Part of the The Secretes of the Reuerend Maister Alexis of Piemont.
To make a Sope that taketh out all spottes.
Take a pound of rock alum, beat it into [a] powder; the roots of [the] Iris of Florence made in[to] a powder, half a pound of new laid eggs, two pound and a half of Spanish soap, braye the said powders with the eggs and soap, and make thereof round balls. If one egg be not enough take as many as you shall think good. And when you will take out any spot of grease, wash the place of the spot on both sides of the cloth with fair water, then rub it with the said balls and cloth upon cloth. This done, wash out the odure with clean water, and wring the cloth to make the grease or filth come out the better. Then wash it still with clean water, and it will be clean.
1 oz Alum (powdered)
1/8 oz Orris root (powdered)*
½ – 1oz egg (beaten)
2 ½ oz soap (grated)
All of the ingredients were mixed together, formed into balls and left to cure for a few weeks. I started out with ½ oz of egg but I ended up having to add more and I probably should have even added a bit more, some of the last balls I formed were kind of dry. Note: this mixture becomes very sticky and glue-like so I suggest using gloves when forming the balls.
* Note: Orris root is my educated guess to the “rootes of Iris of Florence”. There is another soap ball recipe that also calls for “rootes cald flames of florance”. The iris has been a symbol of Florence since 1251 and the orris is a type fragrant iris root used in many other various period recipes as well.
The sample was first soaked in water only. The soapball was scrubbed over the stains both on the front and back of the fabric and rinsed in clean water.
I was not particularly thrilled with the results of this experiment. I don’t know if the recipe is a bit of a dud or it could very well be my recreation. I want to recreate some of the other soapball recipes to see if I have any better luck with the others.
A. Olive Oil – Gone
B. Red Wine – Not Good
C. Mustard Sauce – Not Good
D. Green Sauce – Not Good
E. Blood – OK
F. Mud – Not Good
G. Beeswax – Not Good
H. Iron Gall Ink – Not Good
|Gone||No noticeable trace of stain remaining|
|Mostly gone||The stain has mostly been removed but there is a slight discoloration|
|OK||The stain has been lightened but there is still a noticeable discoloration.|
|Not Good||No change or the stain is still very noticeable.|