Have you ever considered using a bar of soap to wash your hair? Treat laundry stains? Scrub your dishes or give your dog a bath? No? You should.
With the rise in concern over plastic consumption, bar soaps are becoming an excellent—and accessible—alternative to liquid bath and body products. But substituting your daily face wash or hand soap is just the beginning. A simple concentrated bar soap can replace everything from shaving cream to an exfoliator and even—if you dare—toothpaste.
“Castile bar soaps such as Aleppo and Savon de Marseille have been around for centuries and were to wash dishes, laundry, skin, hair and more,” says Lily Cameron, owner of the package-free shop Wild Minimalist and author of the book, Simply Sustainable: Moving Toward Plastic-Free, Low-Waste Living. “Back then, soap wasn't marketed as a specialized cleanser for different parts of the body or home—soap was soap.”
Reaching for that bar over a bottle may feel like an uncomfortable change, but consider the environmental benefits. “Starting with the packaging, bar soap can be purchased in a cardboard box or package-free whereas liquid soap typically comes with a plastic bottle and pump,” says Cameron. “Liquid soap also is heavier than bar soap because the main ingredient is water and creates more carbon emissions during transport.”
Okay, but can a bar of soap really wash your hair? While plenty of all-in-one soaps are still on the market, more brands are beginning to formulate soaps for specific uses, from washing dishes to pets, shampoos and yes, even conditioner. “We've been conditioned to use liquid soap which seems more convenient than bar soap,” she says. “With bar soap you have to take that extra step to create a lather whereas liquid soap produces instant suds. Most often, those suds are a by-product of synthetic ingredients but in our minds, more suds equates to more cleanliness.”
Seeing as shampooing is likely the major bar soap hurdle, we asked Judith Jones, founder of Good JuJu Herbal, for tips on hair washing. “The best way to apply bar soap to hair is to lather lightly in hands and then apply the bar straight onto the hair,” she says. “Evenly apply, place the soap in a well-draining spot, lather throughout the hair, and rinse." She adds:
Jones’ favorite soaps for washing hair are made with ingredients like lemongrass, rosemary and tea tree oil, and eucalyptus and bergamot, saying: "The benefit to our bar soap as shampoo is that it is free from sulfates which can dry out the scalp and flare up conditions like scalp eczema.” “From my own personal experience and according to feedback from customers, a bar of our soap at minimum matches the number of washes they get from a bottle of shampoo and most times provide more washes because you need less product," Jones adds.
Lisa Bronner, granddaughter of Dr. Bronner’s founder Emanuel Heilbronner, says the company is seeing a surge of interest in bar soap due to rising concern for packaging. To address the growing popularity, she wrote a bar soap dilution cheat sheet for the brand’s blog Going Green.
It includes a multi-step process for storage-friendly soap cream, which can be applied as a shaving cream or diluted into several types of bath and body products, as well as cleaner. She also recommends rubbing a toothbrush directly in a hunk of soap and using as toothpaste.
She points out that not only do the bars rival the versatility of their liquid, but customers have also come to recognize the cost savings and convenience. “They are so excited to tell us about how they’ve returned from a month-long backpacking trip using just one bar of soap for washing themselves and all their gear, or that they’ve washed their chicken or sheep or hair or floor mats or how one square of soap tucked in a drawer kept the moths at bay.”
And if you, like me, have always wondered what to do with those small, seemingly useless (and annoying) last bits of soap, Jones suggests piggybacking the old bar onto a new bar, so nothing goes to waste. Here are a few other ideas for putting those remnant pieces of soap to good use:
Stash them in the laundry room and use as a concentrated stain stick.
Shred hunks and use as laundry detergent in non-HE or high efficiency washing machines.
Collect and save pieces in a soap case to use while traveling.
Dissolve into water and use as an all-purpose cleaner.
A Few Of Our Favorites
Ready to make the switch to bar soap? We rounded-up a handful to address everyone in the family.
Dr. Squatch Pine Tar Face and Beard Soap, $9.95
There was a time when shaving a thick layer of cream away felt super satisfying but the waste cancels that out now. Try this small-batch, handmade bar instead, with a natural woodsy scent.
Dog Soap, $7
Not just for dogs, this bar of critter soap works well on other animals like backyard chickens. It’s crafted from a blend of essential oils such as rosemary, lavender, and eucalyptus for a fresh, clean coat (or feathers!) which can also help keep pests away like fleas, ticks, and mosquitos.
Conditioning Bar, $15
For people with short hair, skipping the conditioner may not be an issue. But we’re relieved that By Human Kind came out with a companion conditioning bar designed to moisturize and help comb out those tangles.
Kid’s Detangling Shampoo Bar, $18.50
Switching from a bottle to a bar may seem like a challenge but kids may be swayed by this blue, bubblegum-scented bar. Make a challenge out of it and see how many suds they can lather up with the bar.
All-purpose French soap, $24
As beautiful as it is practical, these squares of French milled soap are mild of sensitive skin but effective on everything from laundry to a pile of dishes. Don’t ditch the slivers. Repurpose as a stain remover.