With disinfecting and sanitizing on everyone's mind, good old-fashioned bar soap has never been more necessary.
We've all seen the pictures on Twitter (or experienced firsthand) the empty grocery shelves where hand soap and portable sanitizers and all kinds of disinfectant once lived. The panic-shopping due to the coronavirus pandemic is real, and will probably not slow down anytime soon.
It's that herd mentality that kicks in whenever a bad storm or hurricane is predicted. And when we humans feel out of control, stocking up on essential needs gives us a sense of control. Depending on where you get your news, the spread and severity of COVID-19 remains uncertain, and that kind of uncertainty can make people resort to extreme measures.
While hand-washing is of the utmost importance, I can't help but wince at all those single-use plastic bottles flying off the shelves. At best, they might be recycled — even though we know recycling is broken. At worst, they'll be tossed in the garbage, living another thousand fossil fuel byproduct-years in an already overflowing landfill.
Keep clean and carry on
So, how do we keep clean and stay healthy while not contributing to the plastic crisis? If you've haven't already, it's time to embrace the humble bar soap yet again. Four years ago, Treehugger's (TH) Melissa feared that bar soaps might be banished due to misguided fears and convenience. She wrote about what this pivot away from bar soap meant in terms of plastic pollution:
If we consider that $2.7 billion was spent on liquid body wash alone in 2015 — even if we randomly (and generously) assign a cost of $10 per bottle — that’s 270,000,000 plastic bottles with pump parts that end up in the waste cycle. And remember that’s just body wash. While some people refill their dispensers and create less waste, it’s still decidedly more plastic than the paper wrapper of a soap bar.
But, there is good news. Bar soap sales have been been slowly increasing as more people try to go plastic-free. The Telegraph reported in 2019 that "it comes amid a major consumer backlash against unnecessary plastic waste, as households are searching for more eco-friendly versions of everyday items like bags for life instead of plastic carriers, reusable coffee cups instead of paper ones, loose fruit and vegetables instead of those wrapped in plastic, and now bars of soap instead of plastic pumpers."
The bar is back
if you haven't used bar soap by choice in several years, welcome back! There's never been a better time to stay clean and cut back on unnecessary packaging. Below are some TH staff favorites and other zero-waste advocates' pro tips on their best bars for washing every bit of your body (plus a bonus one for home).
Rebecca Rottman, one of the founders of the zero-waste company Utility Refill and Reuse, suggests the made-in-Oregon brand Sappo Hills: "It's small-batch, kettle-made, and the oatmeal soap is amazing." TH alumnus Tarrant says, "I buy all of my soaps from a friend who also makes pottery." Though based in Florida, you can shop her wide variety of soaps on Haldecraft's site (pottery too!) TH Lloyd, on the other hand, sticks to the classics: "We just use Ivory."
TH Katherine says shampoo bars and conditioner from Canadian company Unwrapped Life "are great." Their hair bars are color-safe, vegan, and cruelty-free. She's also had good luck with Lush shampoo bars in the past.
I go back and forth between cleansing my face with oil, but when I travel, I like to cut out most liquids to make TSA happy. Lush's Sleepy Face bar basically melts right into your skin. Massage it in, then wipe clean with a damp cloth. The organic cocoa butter and lavender oil will put you right to sleep.
This shaving bar, made in Portland, Oregon, is made from 100% olive oil, so it won't give you that big fluffy foam you might be used to. However, the fact that it's biodegradable and free from palm oil, parabens, or sulfates should make up for lost lather.
Still stuck on liquid hand soap? Katherine also recommends Blueland, which offers "forever bottles" and various cleaning tablets: "This is a nice foaming hand soap with a refill tablet that's wrapped in paper." You can also buy the tablets for glass, bathroom, and multi-surface. If you're feeling fancy, I sometimes treat myself to Bell Mountain Naturals, a small-batch soapmaker based in Austin, Texas. Their "morning ritual" soap is made with ethically and sustainably sourced unrefined shea butter, and it smells like coffee and grapefruit.
When in doubt, keep this multitasker soap close at hand. Katherine writes, "When it come to versatility, castile soap wins the day. It can be used for personal care, as well as house cleaning purposes, which makes it a smart investment." Just look at what castile soap can be used for: face wash, makeup remover, laundry, pet shampoo, and plant care!
After her 2020 resolution to give up plastic bottles of dish soap, TH Melissa wrote, "I am not sure how many plastic bottles of dish soap I used to go through for my hand-wash-only items, but after getting a dishwashing block from the wonderful, zero-waste shop, Well Earth Goods, I am never going back."
They say once you go bar, you never go back. Of course, if you're able to, check out your local farmers market or shop to find a soapmaker in your own town. Let us know in the comments what your favorite bar is (we more than welcome DIY recipes, too!).