Today’s consumers have the ability to replace single-use plastic in many areas of their lives, from reusable water bottles and straws to beeswax food wraps and bamboo toothbrushes. Now, many consumers are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint in their hygiene routines, and shampoo bars are becoming a popular item to reconsider. Shampoo bars tend to offer gentler cleansing power than liquid shampoo while delivering concentrated, effective ingredients that are made with less water and zero plastic.
Why switch to shampoo bars?
Zero-waste shampoo bars ship in plastic-free packaging made from paper or recyclable and compostable materials. Since over 500 million shampoo bottles end up in landfills each year in the U.S. alone — and each shampoo bar is estimated to replace about three shampoo bottles — switching to shampoo bars is a good place to start reducing individual waste.
Plastic-free shampoo also saves water in multiple ways. Producing a single plastic 350-milliliter bottle requires twice that volume of water. And ditching the bottle isn’t the only way zero-waste shampoo reduces water usage. Solid shampoo bars tend to be more concentrated than liquid shampoo, which is diluted with roughly 60-80 percent water. This concentration makes shampoo bars a better value, too.
Bar shampoos are also great for travel or camping because they’re less messy and can be packed in your carry-on or your luggage without worrying about packing restrictions or leaks. Plus, since many bar shampoos are formulated to be biodegradable, the runoff will have no environmental impact on the place you’re visiting.
How to use a shampoo bar
One way to use a shampoo bar is to work up a lather in your hands, then massage the lather into your hair. Alternatively, wet your hair and the shampoo bar and rub the bar as if you were drawing stripes from your hairline to the back of your head.
For many people, switching from liquid shampoo to a shampoo bar requires a transition period that could last up to a few weeks. Give your hair and scalp about a month to adjust to your new bar shampoo. Depending on your hair type, you may find that the ingredients in bar shampoo are so nourishing that you no longer need to follow with conditioner. If, after using your shampoo bar for several weeks, you feel like your hair is being weighed down with buildup, try an apple cider vinegar rinse to clarify your hair and rebalance its pH.
Best zero-waste shampoo bars
HiBAR Maintain Solid Shampoo: available at Amazon
With shapes inspired by lakeshore rocks, HiBAR formulates its shampoo bars without sulfates, phthalates, parabens or silicone. Their everyday shampoo bar, Maintain, contains shea butter and honey quat (a conditioning agent derived from honey), to remove buildup and add shine.
Ethique Frizz Wrangler Shampoo Bar: available at Amazon
New Zealand-based Ethique makes concentrated shampoo bars and offsets 120% of their carbon emissions. One of their most popular bars, Frizz Wrangler, is formulated with sustainably sourced cocoa butter and coconut oil to deliver lightweight hydration to curly or dry hair. If you're not sure which shampoo is best for your hair and scalp, a variety packcontaining five sample sizes (three shampoos and two conditioners) is available.
Bossman's 4-in-1 Bar Soap: available at Amazon
Bossman’s soap can be used as shampoo, beard wash, body soap and shaving salve, allowing you to buy fewer products. It’s made in the USA with 100-percent organic coconut oil, shea butter and palm oil to protect your scalp’s (and your beard’s) natural oils. The 4.5-ounce bar also features essential oils like rosemary and vanilla for fragrance.
Aspen Kay Rosemary-Peppermint Shampoo Bar: available at Amazon
Aspen Kay bar shampoos are formulated with organic botanicals like nettle, hibiscus, horsetail and argan oil to nourish and strengthen hair. The long-lasting 3-ounce bars, both scented with essential oils, are also available in sweet orange and lemongrass.
J. R. Liggett's Original Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo: available at Amazon
Handmade in New England using a vintage recipe, J. R. Liggett's is sulfate-free and contains olive, coconut and castor oils. The Original Formula is scented with rose, lavender and spearmint essential oils. Other J. R. Liggett's bars address concerns like dandruff and damage. If you can't decide on a scent or want a smaller size for travel, a sampler pack of all six varieties is also available.
For those struggling with oily hair, Acure's long-lasting, 5-ounce bar is formulated with coconut and argan oil, cupuaçu butter and superfruits açai and goji for gentle cleansing. It's cruelty-free, vegan and free of parabens, sulfates and other harmful chemicals.
Rainwater Botanicals Nourishing Shampoo Bar: available at Etsy
Rainwater Botanicals bar shampoos, like the Nourishing Shampoo, are sulfate-free and made with organic coconut oil, shea butter, quinoa protein and essential oils. Each 3.5-ounce bar can last up to 100 washes and ships in either paper packaging or a reusable tin. A 1-ounce trial size is also available.
The Better Soap Company Better Shampoo Bar: available at Etsy
Those nostalgic for the convenience of “soap on a rope” will appreciate the twine-tied, 3.5-ounce shampoo bars from The Better Soap Company. They are formulated with wild and homegrown herbs like lemon balm (for rebalancing oil production) and lavender (for moisturizing) as well as nourishing coconut oil, shea butter, jojoba oil and more.
Apothecary Muse We of the Mountain Shampoo Bar: available at Etsy
Apothecary Muse’s 95-percent organic shampoo bar contains coconut, avocado and tea tree oils for a big dose of nourishment, plus marshmallow root extract for shine. Its forest-inspired fragrance comes from cedarwood oil and litsea cubeba, or may chang, an aromatic shrub native to Southeast Asia.
NMJ Handmade Creations Zero Waste Shampoo: available at Etsy
NMJ Handmade Creations’ colorful shampoo bars are available in 11 scents, with formulas tailored for five different hair types. The vegan and sulfate-free bars contain nourishing ingredients like coconut oil, cocoa butter and green tea extract. Each bar is 2 ounces and lasts up to 65 washes.
EcoRootsShop Fresh Mint Shampoo Bar: available at Etsy
EcoRootsShop, based in Colorado, blends coconut oil and cocoa butter with vitamins and lemon peel in their handmade soaps. Revitalize hair with the Fresh Mint Shampoo Bar, which includes tea tree oil and peppermint essential oil. Each 2.25-ounce bar lasts about 50 washes.