Monday, November 3, 2008


The more that I get into green living ... the more I see that it's about everything. It's about what we do and what we think ... it's about everything we touch and everything that touches us. That's good news because it means that there are all kinds of opportunities for each and every one of us to do something which will benefit the earth. It doesn't matter what one's economic situation is or where one lives ... regardless of which government, religion or lifestyle oversees one's life ... there is something ... big things and little things ...that each one of us can do to reduce our footprint. If we each do one little thing ... they will add up to become big things. And the earth will smile.

With all of that in mind, I started looking around at every little thing I touch. And that brought me to soap ... body soap.

There seems to be an endless variety of body soaps in the world today. There are bars, liquids, gels ... which come in various colors, fragrances and packages ... which contain ingredients professing to condition, soften and remove wrinkles. There are natural products ... there are not so natural products. There are expensive products ... cheap products ... products just for men ... products just for women. The choices seem endless.

While there are many environmental considerations (ingredients to name one), the aspect which I really started thinking about was bar soap versus liquid soap ... and which was kinder to the earth while still being effective. Here's how they stack up:

Both varieties of soap clean as well as kill germs. Liquid soap significantly reduces any exchange of germs between users, which is a plus. However, the risk of transmitting disease from bar soap is pretty remote. Studies have found that bar soap (even when you share it with others) keeps you just as clean as liquid. So, in terms of how well they do the job ... no clear winner.

How about the stuff that goes down the drain? Most mass produced soaps, bars as well as liquids, contain laboratory-generated chemicals and detergents. There are Eco-friendly soaps on the market which don't contribute any toxins to the waste stream and if those are available to you, I recommend them. But if your choice is one of the soaps in most retail stores, which is less toxic to the waste stream? Again ... no clear winner.

What about the stuff that sits on the shower shelf? Bar soap turns slimy or mushy in standing water (and most bar soap holders collect water) ... liquid soap sits nicely in a container and never gets mushy. The degraded bar soap represents a waste. The winner on this issue ... liquid soap.

Now here's one that I've never thought about ... liquid soap typically contains moisturizers which leave a residue that requires extra rinse time to remove (rinse time equals water used). Bar soap, on the other hand, typically does not contain moisturizers so there is less rinse time involved. The winner here ... bar soap.

While we're on the subject of water use, think about this: liquid soap requires a two-handed process of opening the cap to a container, inverting it, squeezing out the right amount of product, closing the cap, and then ... putting the container back on the shelf. Even the pump varieties seem to require two hands. Doesn't seem important ... except ... every minute spent working the dispenser is another 5 gallons of water down the drain. On the subject of water conservation ... the winner is bar soap.

Since liquid soaps come in a dispenser, it's often hard to tell if enough soap has been dispensed to do the job. With bar soap, it’s pretty easy to tell when you’ve got enough suds. Consequently, three 4-ounce bars will outlast a 12-ounce container of liquid. The economic winner ... bar soap.

Let's move on to packaging. Liquid soaps come in fancy bottles ... plastic containers with some kind of dispensing device. Even the bottles of refill soap are plastic. Bar soap typically comes in a paper or cardboard wrapper which is more easily recycled. The packaging winner ... bar soap.

Now ... the verdict? Bar soap is the environmental favorite.

Here are a few tips to maximize it's use:
  • Use a wire dish to keep it from degrading in water.
  • Worried about germ transmission (even in that rare case) ... give it a rinse before and after use.
  • Try using natural, locally produced, environmentally friendly varieties.
As always ... I'd love to hear from you!