Keeping Clean — Bar Soap vs. Liquid Soap

Bar Soap and Liquid Soap“When did we stop using a simple bar of soap to clean our hands and bodies?” That thought struck me recently while refilling the plastic kitchen soap dispenser with liquid soap from a bigger plastic container. I decided to investigate and write about the topic.

Bar soap has been around for centuries. Liquid soap was first patented in the 1860’s but didn’t become a mass market item until around the 1970’s. Is one better than the other?

Bar Soap vs. Liquid Soap

Cleansing / Additives

Both bar and liquid soap are effective for washing hands and bodies and are available with moisturizers, antibacterial agents, scents, etc.

Size and Shape

Bar soap is usually oval or rectangular shaped and sized to fit in one’s hand. Liquid soap is sold in a variety of bottle sizes and shapes from travel size to giant economy size.

Price

Plain bar soap is likely a more cost-effective choice than liquid soap. However, use for use, a luxury handmade bar of soap may cost more than a store brand bottle of liquid soap.

Packaging

Bar soap is usually packaged in a paper or plastic wrapper and often a cardboard box too. Liquid soap typically comes in a plastic bottle and may have a pump to make dispensing easier. Multi-packs of bar soap or liquid soap are usually wrapped in plastic or packaged in a box.

Transportation

This is where bar soap and liquid soap part ways. Bar soap is small, compact, and lightweight. The first ingredient in liquid soap is water and water is heavy and uses a lot more energy for transportation from the manufacturer to the store.

Waste / Recycling

At the end of the life of a bar of soap, there is nothing left or maybe a small sliver to throw away or attach to the next bar of soap. At the end of the life of a bottle of liquid soap, there is an empty plastic bottle. The bottle can be refilled and reused or recycled.

How Many Liquid Soap Containers and Dispensers Does One Household Need?

I decided to survey my own household to see what was in use.

  • Kitchen – plastic bottle of liquid soap
  • Laundry Room – nothing (whew)
  • Bathrooms – plastic dispensers with liquid soap and non-refillable bottles of various body washes. We also had a collection of plastic bottles/tubes containing facial cleansers, shampoos, and conditioners (but that’s a topic for another post).

When did I buy the first plastic liquid soap bottle or dispenser? I don’t remember but perhaps it all started years ago when I purchased our first bathroom accessory set with matching toothbrush holder, cup, liquid soap dispenser, facial tissue holder, and wastebasket. Who decreed we needed these decorative items in our bathrooms I do not know but I succumbed. Once we started using liquid soap for hand washing it was only a matter of time before it found its way into our showers.

So What

When you think about it, transporting water around in the form of liquid soap doesn’t make economic or environmental sense. Both bar and liquid soap often come with unnecessary packaging. And then there are all the plastic dispensers and bottles.

Stack of Bar SoapWe refill the dispensers and recycle the plastic bottles but that’s still a lot of water being transported and plastic uses energy during recycling. So what could/should we do next? We decided to try bar soap in the shower again and move on from there.

Think about what you use in your household and could / should you make a change?

Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

One thought on “Keeping Clean — Bar Soap vs. Liquid Soap”

  1. It is amazing how much longer a bar lasts than a bottle of liquid. Not sure if it is because with liquid it is easy to over use/dispense… or if the bar is that much more concentrated?

    Also I seem to vaguely remember marketing claims that bars were dirty, messy and unsanitary, however I find that a simple pattern of wetting your hands with the bar, scrub up some suds, place bar under running water while rinsing hands, then replace the bar results in a “self-cleaning” bar without spending any additional time or effort. Then every once in a while also rinse off/out the soap dish… easier than cleaning and re-filling an empty pump dispenser. IMO

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