If you find a mysterious wire mesh item with a long handle in your attic, it's possible it just might be an antique soap saver. While they look a little like some kind of kitchen utensil, these were actually cleaning devices for the frugal housewife. You'll find soap savers at flea markets and antique shops, and some are even worth a fair amount to collectors.
How an Antique Soap Saver Works
A soap saver is a device with a very specific and very frugal purpose. When you use up a bar of soap, there is often a small sliver left. Today, you might throw that away, but when soap was more costly or required time to make, throwing away that last sliver was considered a waste. Instead, you could use a soap saver to get every last bit of cleaning power out of that little piece of soap. Housewives would put slivers of used-up soap inside the basket to save for laundry day. When they washed the clothes in a wringer washer or by hand, they could swirl the soap saver in the water, using up every last bit of the soap. It's not uncommon to find an antique soap saver still containing some slivers of decades-old soap.
Antique Soap Saver Styles
Soap savers had the same basic design, but they came in a variety of styles. Collectors enjoy finding several styles to create a display.
Rectangular Basket With Wire Clasp
Some soap savers have a rectangular basket for the pieces of soap. The basket is made of wire mesh, and a sliding wire clasp allows you to open and close the basket. These feature a wood or wire handle, often less than a foot in length.
Squeeze-to-Open Soap Savers
Some soap savers have a design allowing one-handed operation. You press the wire handles together, and the tension opens the basket so you can put soap inside. Since there's no clasp, these may have been a more practical option that kept the soap saver from opening inadvertently in the washing tub.
Round Basket Soap Savers
A bit less common than their rectangular counterparts, round soap savers offer another way to show off some vintage charm. These usually feature a squeeze-to-open handle, but some also have a clasp. A few have the added feature of being able to rotate in the water, but these are quite rare.
How Much Antique Soap Savers Are Worth
While they are a bit obscure, soap savers are an affordable item to collect. It's easy to find them for under $20 in antique stores, flea markets, and online.
How Condition Affects Value
Because soap savers are rarely used today, their value lies in being display pieces. Condition affects value a bit, but collectors also like a patina on the metal. Some tarnish and chipping paint do not detract from the value. If there are structural problems or the soap saver is worn in a way that is not attractive, it may be worth less. Repairs and restoration can reduce value as well.
Example Values for Soap Savers
If you have a soap saver or are considering buying one, the best way to find out what it is worth is by comparing recently sold items in the same style and condition. Avoid comparing with things that are still for sale, since sellers can ask any price. The actual sold price is much more helpful in determining value. These are some examples:
- A rectangular basket soap saver in excellent condition sold for about $25 on eBay. The metal had a nice patina, and there were no repairs.
- A round soap saver is very good condition sold for about $20 in 2020. It had a great patina and displayed nicely.
- A tension handle soap saver sold for about $10 and was in very good condition. There was no breakage to the handles or mesh and the tension feature still worked well.
Other Vintage Soap Devices
While soap savers are technically the mesh baskets for saving soap slivers to use in laundry, there are some other devices you may encounter when looking for them. There is a brand of antique washboard called the "Soap Saver." Some people also call soap baskets for holding a bar of soap near the sink or bathtub a "soap saver basket." These items are actually soap dishes, not soap savers.
Add an Antique Touch to Your Decor
If you want to add an antique touch to your interior decor, a soap saver is a great, affordable option. Antique soap savers are fun to collect, and they look great hanging on the wall in your kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room.