Photo: Jersey Walz for Mater Soap
When it comes to liquid dish soap, I have a heavy hand. I like to see lots of bubbles so I know it’s working, but also, when I’m rushing to complete a task I dislike as much as washing dishes, I’m not about to slow down to squeeze out just a little bit of Dawn or Mrs. Meyer’s. I don’t know how long a bottle of dish soap is supposed to last, but at my house we’re lucky to make it a month. Even though we recycle, that still means going through a dozen plastic bottles a year just for dish soap.
I never really thought about all those empty bottles until my favorite local soap brand, Mater Soap, came out with a container-free soap bar for dishes. I got to know Mater Soap’s founder, Addison Walz, through our parents, who were friends when they were all art students together at Pratt Institute in the 1970s. But I got to know the brand’s hand soap while using it in the bathroom at Dimes café and the body soap from a slew of cool Brooklyn shops like Lolo, Salter House, and Sounds, where it was often one of the most beautiful objects on display.
The body bars’ serene colors and deep-exhale-inducing scents — my favorite is geranium — make taking a shower feel like visiting a spa, so I thought the kitchen block might help me with my disdain for washing dishes. (And I wasn’t upset at finding an excuse to buy another Mater Soap bar, along with a way to reduce the amount of plastic I use.)
The bar is made with natural plant oils like coconut, olive, and castor seed as well as kaolin clay in place of harsh detergents, so it’s nondrying, biodegradable, and truly zero waste since it comes wrapped in a compostable envelope. After using it for over a month on plates, glasses, greasy pans, the top of my stove, and even a cashmere sweater I wore while cutting beets, I can say that washing dishes with it is decidedly more enjoyable. It feels good knowing the soap I’m using is gentle on both the environment and my hands, which used to end up dry and cracked after most dishwashing sessions. And I actually find the routine of rubbing my sponge on the chunky bar, then using it to methodically clean a cup, calming. The scent doesn’t hurt either: a subtle mix of lavender, eucalyptus, and cedarwood.
Plus, the multipurpose kitchen block is just as nice to look at as Mater’s other products. I have a very ugly fake-marble countertop in my narrow Brooklyn apartment kitchen, and adding the chunky green bar with its bamboo soap tray has made the whole situation less depressing — and a little more like the sink in an imperfect but charming artist’s studio.
It takes a bit of practice to get the best results. I like wetting my sponge with warm water and then massaging the block with the sponge’s scrubby side until I get a good lather. If I’m cleaning plates and glasses, I go straight to it, but if I have something that needs to soak (like a pot, pan, or bowl), I first fill it with hot water and then lather my sponge and squeeze all the soap into the water. For extra-hard jobs, I’ll repeat that a few times. I have cleaned some very dirty, greasy, and crusty things with the Mater bar, and it’s just as effective as liquid soap. And no matter how hard I scrub it to get that lather or how many times I go back for more, I doubt I will ever use up the whole bar. It’s been more than a month, and I can still barely see a dent in the top.
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