Like any ecologically concerned young person, I am extremely susceptible to any and all sorts of ‘green’ fads. Yes, I realize that bringing my own bags to the grocery store or foregoing a plastic straw are small gestures that do more to simply make me feel better about me than they are actions that actually make a demonstrable impact on the environment. Yet, despite my awareness of this futility, I still carry on doing these things because it's better than not doing anything at all, right? Anyway, this is why I’ve been washing my dishes with bar soap.
Unlike liquid dish soaps that come in plastic containers, solid dish soaps can easily be found in little to no packaging, often wrapped in recycled paper, cardboard, or nothing at all. For this reason, solid soap is popular among the zero waste lifestyle set. In fact, it took being traumatized by those Youtube videos of perky people showing off how they can fit five years of their trash into a small mason jar for me to switch to the solid stuff.
I was expecting this to be a sort of “good enough” replacement. You know, that I would be offering some sort of penance for the sake of producing slightly less plastic waste. Liquid dish soap has been the preferred choice for dishwashing for nearly a century at this point, so wouldn’t forfeiting it mean giving up some convenience of modernity?
I was pleasantly proven wrong.
A little solid dish soap goes a long way: I only have to swipe the bar across my sponge a couple of times to get it sudsy enough to wash several pots and pans. The suds also rinse away very fast, whereas an overzealous amount of concentrated liquid soap can leave you rinsing and repeating, thus using more water. More than anything though, my dishes just feel cleaner.
Hear me out. Have you ever used an old fashioned bar soap, like Dr. Bronner’s or something equally bare bones that shears away the oil from your skin so efficiently that your skin squeaks like a playground slide? On your body perhaps it is a bit harsh, but that surfactant power is very effective when it comes to getting dishes squeaky (and I mean squeaky) clean. My plates and bowls looked absolutely polished after they were washed with solid soap.
Perhaps the greatest gift solid dish soap gave me was the solution to one of my most frustrating dishwashing dilemmas: plastic storage containers that absorb smells and stay greasy even after rigorous hand washing. In my anecdotal experience, liquid dish soap is inadequate at getting all the grease and smell out of plastic storage containers without long term soaking. Meanwhile, the solid soap I use seems to get the job done much faster.
This is not to say that solid soap is conclusively better than liquid soap, as quality of soap will vary regardless of which state of matter it takes. And to be clear, not just any bar soap will do. Solid dish soap users on the internet recommend simple vegetable-based soaps, like castile soaps, for dishwashing. They also shouldn’t contain any cosmetic additives or fragrances formulated for use on your body, as they tend to be stronger and linger for longer in comparison to scented dish soaps. I use unscented Aleppo style olive oil soap, which is similar to Savon de Marseillles, a French olive oil soap that several zero waste enthusiasts have recommended for dishwashing. Dr. Bronner’s unscented bar soap is popular as well.
Sure there are some advantages to using liquid dish soap over solid. For one, it’s the better choice for soaking dishes, as it is immediately soluble in water, and some liquid soapscontain additional detergents that do a superior job at breaking down grease that’s built-up over time. However, excluding my glass bakeware, I rarely find the need to soak my dishes. For regular dishwashing with a soaped up scrubber, solid dish soap is not just an environmentally conscious alternative, but actually a practical tool in your cleaning salvo.