Bar soaps – plastic free and pretty! But do they work?

Some of the challenges to reduce plastic in our everyday lives can feel pretty difficult to overcome, but swapping out the plastic bottles of soap for a plastic-free bar soap seems like pretty simple task really, don’t you think?

For some reason though, when I suggest to people I meet that they make the switch to bar soap, I am most often greeted with a slightly quizzical expression, followed by phrases like “But they aren’t hygienic”, “They are gross and slimy” or “They will make my skin dry”. This is what the majority of us now think, and credit where credit is due to the marketing teams of all these big soap brands, they have done a great job at convincing us of this. 

The thing is, in the majority of cases, these statements simply aren’t true! And I will go on to explain why in a minute.

Before I do that though, I think what is equally important to get across is the reason why it is so important to make the switch in the first place. I mean, if plastic bottles are recyclable, what is the big deal, right?

First of all, ask yourself the following questions, you may not be able to answer them precisely but you will get the idea I’m sure:

  1. How many plastic bottles of hand-wash do you have around the house right now?
  2. How many bottles of shower gel do you have in the bathroom?
  3. How long does each bottle last/have a use?

You get where I’m going with this I’m sure, and whilst you consider those numbers, remember you are just one of many millions of households….gulp!

And the hard-hitting truth is that even if these make it to your recycling bin, the majority of our plastic recycling never actually gets to be recycled (not your fault I know, but it’s true). Some people don’t have access to recycling facilities for a start of course, but where they do, much of it is sent away to other, less developed countries where we have no real say or knowledge of what happens to it. Some will undoubtedly make it to landfill sites or will be incinerated and for the lucky few that do make it to the recycling plants, we shouldn’t forget that this entire process uses a lot of energy, which is pretty unnecessary when you realise there is a perfectly good and plastic-free alternative out there. 

The other thing to consider is that for some people (I used to be one of them), the plastic bottle is only ever useful as a storage container between the shop and the house, where it is dispensed into a much prettier bottle that matches the bathroom colour scheme. They look nice I know, but what a colossal waste of what is a very precious and non-renewable resource!

So, is arming yourself with this information enough to entice you away from the massive range of brands, bottle shapes, colours, scents and additional properties that are designed to make us not only want to fill our baskets as we walk down the colourful aisles, but also feel like we need to (we all want to feel clean of course!).

Probably not, and that brings me back to those statements I mentioned at the beginning, the ones that really put people off making the change.

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What makes bar soap better?

  • For starters it can be bought plastic free. In supermarkets you can find plenty of options in cardboard (do check inside for sneaky plastic films) and if you don’t mind buying your soaps elsewhere, shops like Lush, or even a local market, will have plenty of options that you can buy free of packaging.
  • They are way cheaper! Seriously, unless you go for something particularly fancy, the average bar of soap will cost a lot less – win!
  • They last longer too. Often with liquids you end up pumping a large amount of soap onto your hands, most of which you don’t even need. You literally flush those pennies down the drain. With bar soap, a few turns in the hand is all you need to get a good lather and clean. No waste, just exactly what you need to do the job!
  • They look pretty all by themselves. With a nice soap dish or stand (I recommend these wooden ladders to prevent soap slime), your soap will never look ugly or out of place in the bathroom – quite the contrary!
  • They take up way less space – no more knocking over a million bottles when you step in the shower.
  • They are way easier to transport on holidays, no chance of them exploding all over your clothes or been told they exceed the 100ml limit on liquids. (Check out more tips for plastic free travels)
  • Despite apparent concerns that it will constantly slip out of of your fingers and down the drain…I really haven’t found this to be a daily occurance. It happens once in a blue moon and really, is that a good enough reason to buy plastic instead? I don’t think so.

Will I really be as clean if I use bar soap?

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From what I can gather, this is one of the biggest barriers to people using bar soap…hopefully I can put you at ease!

At the end of the day, we buy soap to be clean, and considering how many adverts push the presence of antibacterial properties whenever possible, especially with hand-soap, I’m not surprised people find themselves wondering if barsoap will have the same cleaning power. Then there’s the issue of sharing a bar of soap after someone else has had their hands all over it…gross, right?

Wrong!!

You can rest assured that as far as I can tell from the studies I have read, the use of bar soap will not contaminate your hands with bacteria. There isn’t a great deal of research out there on this, as far as I can tell from my Google Scholar searches, but there is one very comprehensive study from 1988 that is cited time and time again by more recent research. This study didn’t just investigate regular regular bar soap either, they went the extra mile and contaminated bars of soap with 70% more bacteria than is normal (that’s a lot of germs!) and guess what they found? Zero transfer of bacteria to peoples hands after washing!

Despite this I have seen a couple of articles pop up that have claimed the opposite, one of which was in a recent BBC article titled ‘The dangers that lurk in your bathroom‘. Despite my suprise at such an aticle making the ‘top stories’ section, I gave it a browse and saw that Prof John Oxford, a professor of virology at Queen Mary’s University, London, does indeed state that bar soap might spread bacteria from person to person. It would have been great if there was a link to the research that supported this view but nothing was mentioned, so I did my best to find some evidence to support this view and found only this study from 2006, which looked into the use of bar soap in dental surgeries. The study found that bacteria was more abundant on the surface of soaps after use, especially if moist, and determined from this that they would transmit this bacteria to hands after use. The problem I have with this study is that they didnt actually go on to test if the bacteria did indeed spread to peoples hands after use. Their study only proves that the bar soap itself will be contaminated with bacteria after use, not that it will then contaminate your hands. As the 1988 study did in fact test for this, and found that bacteria did not contaminate hands, I will continue to use bar soap with the recomendations that you run the soap under the water with your hands as you use it and make sure to wash your hands with the recommended routine.

The study in the dental surgery did highlight that moist soap is more likely to host more bacteria (it likes moist places to live) so another recommendation from me is to keep that soap dry! These wooden ladder soap stands are perfect as they allow air to circualte all the way around and underneath – zero soap scum!!! Oh and it makes the soap last a lot longer too!!


Will it feel different?

The only thing I would say about bar soaps that give the advantage to the liquid stuff is the feel of them. Bar soaps can sometimes feel a lot more drying on your skin, especially when you first make the switch, and even more so if you have hard water.

Bear in mind though that this probably won’t last. For us (and most people judging by other online comments), this dry feeling only lasts about a week before it feels no different to before, and even when it might feel dry, it is only noticeable for the few minutes after showering, so I wouldn’t let it put you off.

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If you have particularly dry skin, there are even bar soaps designed for people who suffer with things like Eczema, you just might need to look a little further than the local supermarket to find them.


Bear in mind….

This blog is focused on reducing plastic waste, due to it’s atrocious effects on the environment. Wanting to care for the environment undoubtedly also raises many other questions when it comes to buying products, and one of these is the presence of palm oil.

Lot’s of bar soaps sadly contain palm oil, so you may want to bear this in mind when buying your plastic free soaps. The deforestation of palm forests can be devastating to the wildlife that calls them home, the most well known of which is the beautiful Orangutan. If you want to look out for palm oil in products so as to avoid it, there is a very comprehensive list of ingredients here that signify its presence (beware…it is long!)

It would be lovely to be 100% ethical all of the time, but the ability to be so often comes down to many things like cost, availability, transport of goods and personal requirements. Meeting all of these needs can be difficult at times, so don’t feel so bad if you can’t.

Decide what is most important to you, if it’s palm oil, then try and find a plastic free option and if you can’t, just make sure to recycle what you use.


Don’t forget to also check out these fabulous (and thrifty) plastic free exfoliating scrubs

4 thoughts on “Bar soaps – plastic free and pretty! But do they work?

  1. littleplasticfootprint says:

    We’ve starting using soap bars and honestly can’t really tell the difference. Our kids also absolutely LOVE using soap! I’m not sure if it’s the novelty of something different but it’s made bath time so much easier! It’s inspired us to look at DIY soap recipes that we can involve the kids in as well. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • eedutton says:

      That’s so great to hear! And it will be great to get creative and make your own, especially if you get the kids involved as you said. Make sure to post back if you manage this, would be lovely to see! I think I might have to have a go myself!

      Liked by 1 person

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