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Bar Soap vs. Liquid Soap

By Kim Robson:

In our house, we use bar soap. But for a while, the question of bar soap vs. liquid soap was a matter of debate. I was a fan of liquid soap, and hubby wanted bar soap. For bathing, we both like bar soap because there are so many options for people with eczema or dry, sensitive skin (looking at you, Dove and Aveeno). Liquid soap can be very drying by comparison. For hand soap, we splurge on handmade organic soaps in a variety of delightful scents.

Overall, though, the sales of bar soap are on the decline, according to a study by the research group Mintel.

  • Sales of bar soap fell 2.2% (compared with overall market growth of 2.7%) in 2014-2015.
  • Households using bar soap dropped 5% (from 89% to 84% between 2010-15).
  • 55% of consumers think bar soap is inconvenient compared to liquid soap.
  • 60% of consumers aged between 18 – 24 think bar soaps are covered in germs after use.
  • 31% of consumers aged over 65 also think bar soaps are contaminated after use.

Many people simply find bar soap inconvenient. Bar soaps are slippery and can easily go flying, and they also require a soap dish. We have a dish like this one here with a hidden chamber underneath the drainage holes that can be tipped out to empty the collected soapy water. It does a great job of allowing the soap to dry.

One of the best reasons to ditch liquid soap is its wastefulness. Overall, the carbon footprint of liquid soap is about 25% greater than that of bar soap, according to a cradle-to-grave life-cycle analysis of household cleansers, including personal body products, by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Why is this? It’s simple: we use much more liquid soap than is required. In a typical handwashing, we use about SEVEN times more liquid soap than bar soap, 2.3 grams of liquid to 0.35 grams of bar soap. All that extra soap ends up in our waterways, and that’s not even taking into account the prevalence of wildlife-killing microbeads in many body washes. It also means more production, packaging, transportation, and disposal in landfills of all those plastic bottles.

Consumers in the U.S. spent $2.7 billion in 2015 on liquid soaps. At roughly $10 a bottle, that’s 270 million plastic pump bottles going to the landfills. Even if you get a reusable pump and refill it with liquid soap, there’s still the plastic packaging of refill bottles, certainly more than the paper or cardboard wrappers most bar soaps come in.

Personally, I’d never heard of this “bar soap is covered in germs” business. But clearly it’s enough of a concern to many people, so let’s address it. We’ve so overused disinfectants and antibiotics in recent years that we’ve created resistant “supergerms.” Parents nowadays are so afraid of germs that their kids never get to play outside and get dirty, inoculating themselves and strengthening their immune systems naturally with microbes.

So, here’s the “real dirt”: in a study, researchers deliberately contaminated bar soap with bacteria, and found that the bacteria did not transfer to users’ hands during hand washing. The CDC says that, for healthcare workers (with the exception of dental care), “Liquid, bar, leaflet, or powdered forms of plain soap are acceptable when washing hands with a non-antimicrobial soap and water.”

For non-healthcare workers, the CDC says both bar and liquid soap are equally effective in killing germs, and in fact shows both types in their hand-washing guideline illustrations. The Mayo Clinic concurs. And they’re the experts on disease.

So if you’re still using liquid soap, please reconsider. I’ve conceded that hubby was right — bar soaps are just better. And we’re loving on Earth Dance Botanical BodyCare’s hand soaps. They smell amazing — a delightful encouragement to wash often! We’re trying all their scents: Lime Clay Detox; Lavender, Oatmeal & Shea Butter; Lemon & Calendula; and Coconut Mandarin are all in our cabinet.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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