You have seen those lists before...the ones that are titled "You know when you have been in Mexico a long time if"... and then they go on to list a bunch of silly stuff. Well, I would like to add an item that really isn't so silly. When I got married a little over a year ago I first noticed that my wife Gina uses a pink bar of soap for washing her clothes as well as for bathing. She smells so good after bathing that one day I grabbed a bar of that soap and showered with it and I have been hooked ever since. It is called "Zote" (ZOE-teh) and it has been manufactured and sold in Mexico for about forty years. This is the soap that you see Mexican ladies use when they wash their clothes on a corrugated washboard or "tallador" (tabla de lavandera). It generally comes in a big bar of 400 grams and it comes in several colors, pink, blue, and white but the colors are just dyes and all three colors supposedly work the same. Here in Irapuato all we have is pink and white. I have never seen a blue bar so they must use that in some other regions of the country. The name "Zote" comes from the size of the bar. If you add the suffix "zote" to the word "jabón" (ha-BOHN) which means "soap", you get "jabonzote" or "big bar of soap" just like "favorzote" means "big favor".
There is method to this madness. Although Zote is a little stronger than generic bath soap it is still mild enough to be used by most people. It is made from from beef tallow and coconut oil that are neutralized with caustic soda during the soap making process. It also contains salt (sodium chloride), glycerin, oil of citronella, optical brightener and dye. It contains no abrasives. It is the oil of citronella that makes it smell a bit lemony but not overpowering. It is said that the oil of citronella also acts as a bug repellent but I am not so sure about that. I haven't repelled any bugs with it yet. For washing clothes, especially things like sweaters, delicate garments, and underwear, this stuff can't be beat. It works very well on tough to clean spots like shirt collars and cuffs and it can also be used as a spot remover. You dissolve half a bar in two quarts of water and boil it down into a paste. You then put the paste over the stubborn spot or stain and put it out in the sun to harden. Then you just lift off the paste and the stain will come with it. Save what you didn't use for the next time or use it in your washer.
This soap has other uses as well. It seems to be the "WD-40" and "duct tape" of the soap world. Some people also use it to wash dishes. They even say that the pink Zote makes excellent catfish bait. I don't intend to try fishing with it but I do intend to keep bathing with it at least until something falls off. Anyway, if you've never tried it you ought to give it shot. It comes in two sizes, 400 grams and 250 grams but most people just buy the 400 gram bar and cut it in half if they need to. When the bar becomes too small to grasp comfortably you save it and when you have a bunch of pieces like this you can dissolve them in water to make liquid soap. You can also use Zote in your washing machine by grating it. Clothes washed with Zote seem to stay fresh longer. You can really brighten dingy clothes by soaping them up and then putting them in the sun for awhile before rinsing them. Maybe we should have a contest to see how many things we can do with Zote. In any case I'll bet that the winner will come out squeaky clean.
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