Last updated on October 23, 2022.
Bar Soap is usually plastic-free
Switching to bar soap is one big change you can make right away to avoid plastic waste. It also embraces the zero-waste effort! Stop buying liquid soap that comes in plastic bottles, even the large refill bottles. Those bottles are recyclable but please know that recycling isn’t what we think it is. If those items make it to the recycling center, they will be down-cycled (the chemical composition of plastic changes when heated) and cannot be a soap bottle again. Also, only about 9% of plastics are actually recycled. So the answer is almost always to refuse plastic. Just stay away from it.
Unfortunately, many soaps at local supermarkets are plastic wrapped. I try to only buy brands that have no plastic packaging for hand soap, body bars, and shampoo. Plastic packaging for these just isn’t necessary.
Microbeads in body wash (liquid soap)
If you are or were using body wash with “exfoliating” features, please know that what you were most likely using to scrub your skin was little, tiny plastic beads. And those beads are now found in the ocean and the Great Lakes.1 When microbeads go down the drain, they pass unfiltered through sewage treatment plants and end up in rivers and canals, and eventually the ocean. The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 was passed in December 2015, and it amended the “Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to ban rinse-off cosmetics that contain intentionally-added plastic microbeads beginning on January 1, 2018, and to ban the manufacturing of these cosmetics beginning on July 1, 2017. These bans are delayed by one year for cosmetics that are over-the-counter drugs.”2 It was a fight to get rid of them, so congrats to everyone who contributed to that cause!
Is bar soap hygienic?
Some believe that bar soap is less hygienic than liquid soap. Large companies have promoted this myth to consumers in order to make a higher profit. But bar soap is clean and safe. The fact is, most liquid soap dispensers, in the places your fingers and hands touch, are not clean. Think about that – do you sanitize your dispensers? If you do, congratulations on being so hygienic! But public restroom soap dispensers are often not sanitary. Have you ever noticed that most hotels provide bar soap and not liquid soap in the rooms? I imagine that has a lot more to do with cost than sanitation, but I’ll give them credit for both! I’ve also read that hotels take the leftover bar soap and melt it down to remake it into new soap bars.
The questions about germs on bar soap are common, but most articles I’ve found indicate that the risk is low, and perhaps lower than liquid soap in a dispenser. Many articles and posts cite a 1988 study done by the Dial Corporation, which found that bacteria did not spread through washing with bar soap.3 But sometimes companies drive profit up through fear. Regardless of that study, many companies encouraged the idea that using liquid soap was more hygienic and sanitary, and the idea stuck.
“Liquid soap requires about five times more energy to produce than a bar of soap, and it is almost always sold in a plastic bottle.” -Brigette Allen and Christine Wong, authors of Living Without Plastic: More Than 100 Easy Swaps for Home4
Take care of your bar soap
So make the switch. But take care of your bar soap. First, let your bar soap dry in the open (as opposed to a closed soap dish). Second, if the soap is moist, run the bar under the water for a few seconds to rinse off the outside “slime.” Third, if you are sharing bar soap, you’re likely only sharing it with family members, and you share many microorganisms with them anyway. Last, if you are washing your hands the right way and for the amount of time you’re supposed to, you’re washing any residual germs away anyway.
Bar soap is significantly less expensive when compared to liquid soap because the amount of uses from bar soap is higher than with liquid soap. It just lasts longer. With liquid soap, you’re paying for the water in it, and you get less use than with a bar. We have saved money by switching to bar soap.
There are many bad ingredients in soaps, both bar and liquid. But they seem to be more prevalent in liquid soaps. Always check products through the Environmental Working Group‘s (EWG) website. They are a non-profit dedicated to being a consumer advocate, testing and reviewing products so that people can look up and understand what’s really in their products. They have guides to cosmetics, sunscreens, cleaners, food, personal care products, and even tap water! They’ll be able to show you what ingredients are really in many major products.
Although I have not ventured into soap-making much, there are hundreds of ideas online for DIY soap. Making your own soap could be a new hobby, a family project, or a challenge among friends to see who makes the best soaps. Get your creativity on with different shapes, scents, and colors. I imagine Pinterest is bursting with ideas on soap-making!
I hope this post has been helpful to you. If you have questions or ideas, I’d love to hear them! Please leave me a comment below! Thank you for reading.
Article, “Solid Plastic-Free Shower Gel and Body Wash? What Do You Think?’ myplasticfreelife.com, June 3, 2018.
- Video, “Tiny plastic microbeads pile up into problems for the Great Lakes,” PBS NewsHour, July 30, 2014.
- Page, “H.R.1321 – Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015,” congress.gov, accessed October 23, 2022.
- Page, “Q&A”: Safe Soap,” The New York Times, July 10, 2007.
- Book, Living Without Plastic: More Than 100 Easy Swaps for Home, Travel, Dining, Holidays, and Beyond, by Brigette Allen and Christine Wong, Artisan Books, New York, 2020.