Is Bar Soap More Eco-Friendly? Here are the Facts

Dish with soap bars and bottle of shampoo on table near brick wall

Photo by Olga Yastremska @

It’s becoming more and more important to make eco-friendly decisions as we continue to see how our actions impact the planet. Luckily, it is easy to make earth-minded decisions in our homes once we know of affordable and effective alternatives.

Is bar soap more eco-friendly? One of the reasons bar soap is eco-friendlier than body wash is due to packaging. By using bar soap, you are not going through the amount of plastic packaging as you are with liquid soaps. However, it is important to note that bar soap relies on more land use as they often contain vegetable oils from farmed crops.

While bar soap is generally considered more eco-friendly than liquid soap, it is important to remember that neither option is perfect as we are still using resources and processing materials which have their repercussions. In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of each option and why bar soap may be the better way to go for those looking to live more sustainably.

Why Bar Soap is More Sustainable

One of the most obvious differences between bar soap and liquid soap is packaging. While bar soap is generally packaged in a small box or wrapped in a bit of plastic, usually the packaging for liquid soap is a large plastic bottle. These bottles are generally tossed once used up, and even to refill a bottle you are forced to buy a bigger plastic bottle of soap.

The trail of plastic goes on and on when it comes to liquid soap, and that’s not where it stops. With this larger packaging, it is not only that it causes increased plastic pollution in our world, but it also uses more energy and produces more carbon emissions to create this packaging. Along with making this plastic packaging comes energy input and greenhouse gas extraction.

Along with the increased emissions comes ecotoxicity and the potential for further ozone depletion and contribution towards our already changing climate. In part, this is because there is simply a higher energy requirement for producing the materials and packaging for liquid soap.

Research has found that from start to finish liquid soap requires five times the energy simply for raw material production, and upwards of 20 times the energy for packaging production than bar soap. It’s also important here to note that by weight, consumers will use about six times the amount of liquid soap per use than bar soap.

Therefore, for the amount of soap used and the emissions created to make the soap and packaging, bar soap outweighs liquid soap in sustainability. This is not to say that there are no cons to bar soap or that all are created equal, as there are many considerations to still think about when purchasing bar soap.

Potential Cons of Bar Soap

When using any soap, it is extremely important to look at the ingredients! Many bar soaps use unsustainable ingredients such as palm oil that can be farmed in destructive ways. In fact, since bar soap uses vegetable oils, it relies heavily on farming of crops. The agriculture of crops plays a huge roll in deforestation and has major implications on the environment.

This is an unfortunate con of bar soap but can often be avoided by paying attention to the kinds of soaps you are buying. While all bar soaps are going to contain a vegetable oil of some kind, it is important to pay attention to what kind of vegetable oil is in the soap and where the oil is coming from.

By getting an idea of the farming methods used to farm the oil in the soap you are buying, you can identify if you are supporting sustainable practices that will not have negative implications on the planet. Most bar soaps do have palm oil in them, which is a leading cause for deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The issue around palm oil is a major reason why species like orangutans are going extinct as natural habitats for wildlife are being burned to the ground to plant palm oil to make products such as bar soap. While unsustainable methods of palm oil farming are wreaking havoc on the earth, there are some farmers using better methods.

If you are buying bar soap that has palm oil in it, be sure to check for a sustainable palm oil certification on the packaging. Most natural soap brands will use only sustainable palm oil; however, this is worth double checking as your soap is significantly less eco-friendly if the palm oil is not certified sustainable.

If it is certified sustainable, this simply means that farmers are not using slash and burn farming and destroying habitats in order to grow their palm oil trees. This does not mean the agriculture is not occurring and the land is not being taken away from wildlife, rather simply that it is being done in a less destructive way.

Note that since you may not be able to find a bar soap that does not contain palm oil, it is extremely important to support those farmers that are working to conserve the earth as much as they can. By consuming their products, you are advocating for a change in farming methods and giving hope to a changed method of farming for those who are unsustainable.

Water Usage

It has also been noted that users of bar soap are likely to consume more water during use than those using liquid soap. Since we need water to create suds from a bar of soap, more water is needed in order to get enough soap to wash ourselves especially when being used in the shower rather than just for handwashing.

Therefore, with the land usage and water usage that bar soap is responsible for, it is not a black and white choice between these two products. It is simply a discussion more about which issue you are more passionate about and what you want to work toward solving in our world today.

For those who are looking to cut back on waste and emissions, liquid soap is not going to be the best choice. However, if you are more passionate about not contributing to the spread of land destruction and agriculture around the world and conserving water, you may prefer to use liquid soap.

Although bar soap is still considered the lesser of the two when it comes to environmental impact, all impacts had by the products we consume build on each other and cause long term impacts on the earth. To figure out exactly which environmental issues you feel more strongly about, we will discuss each more in depth and how the soap industry impacts them.

Impact of Land Usage

We are using so much of the land we have on our planet for agriculture. Whether it be to farm for fruits and vegetables or to raise animals for food. We continue expanding agriculture operations and because of this, we are rapidly losing habitat for wildlife and for ourselves!

Unfortunately, we need agriculture to survive and produce food. What is important to remember is that every purchase we make makes a statement as to the farming practices we are in support of. For example, if we are buying tons and tons of meat products, we should expect more natural lands to be destroyed to produce meat products.

The same goes for all of our beauty products and cleaning products. As the world shifts more towards organic and natural products, they reduce the toxins being put back into the earth.  It is also important to realize that the ingredients being used have to also be farmed. As we continue farming for products like vegetable oils we are leaving less room for animals.

The most invasive animal, humans, are quickly running out of places to expand farms and create new farms. When we are buying products that rely on large quantities of farm grown ingredients, we are increasing the demand and therefore causing these operations to grow and use up more land.

As previously mentioned, the most important consideration here is understanding the farming practices being used for the materials you are consuming. By paying attention to the certifications (or lack thereof) on beauty products, we can better understand how much the farmers prioritize sustainability and being aware of their environmental impact.

By continuing to purchase soaps that have unsustainable palm oil and other vegetable oils, we are supporting the farmers that are burning land, contributing to killing millions of animals. Instead, opting to buy the bar soap that has a sustainability badge or is registered with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, we can be sure to keep sustainable farmers in business.

With an issue such as land use, foregoing monetary support to those who are not prioritizing being eco-friendly can make a huge difference. Not knowing that bar soap is eco-friendlier is not enough if consumers are not discerning between which brands are aiming to change the way the world farms.

As consumers, we can decide the kinds of industries we want to see thriving. Therefore, next time you are buying a new bar of soap, look for certifications such as The Rainforest Alliance, The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and Fair-Trade certifications to ensure that the earth is being taken into consideration, and that employees are being treated and paid fairly!

Impact of Energy Usage

When it comes to any product we buy, it is important to remember that everything takes energy to make. With every product that gets made, there is a certain amount of greenhouse gas that is released. With both the packaging and making of the product, there is a high footprint being left behind by liquid soap.

Whether your packaging is recyclable or not, it is important to be conscious of the materials going into your products. For example, glass is easier to recycle but uses more energy to make. Therefore, you are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions if your soap is in a glass bottle, but you are also more likely to reuse the bottle.

If you do not use the bottle, it is more easily recycled than plastic. Plastic takes less energy to create but is less likely to actually be recycled. Since there are so many types of plastic and the majority of consumers do not recycle properly, the vast majority of what gets put into the recycling bin ends up simply in a landfill rather than being used again.

The more energy we are responsible for, the larger our personal carbon footprint is and therefore the more we are contributing to effects of climate change like a depleting ozone and ocean warming. It is important to consider how you are contributing to the health of the planet when you are buying your liquid soaps.

Although these purchases can often feel small and like they could have no impact on the planet, they do! Every purchase counts, and by buying a more eco-friendly option like sustainably sourced bar soap, you could be making a difference even in your most basic purchase.

Cost Difference

Market researchers have seen that Americans spend significantly more money on liquid soap than they do bar soap. When the price is broken down by gram, bar soap is about 1.2 cents per gram of soap while liquid soap is about 1.5 cents per gram of soap. So, beyond being better for the environment in multiple ways, bar soap is likely to save you so money in the long run.

There is going to be differences in pricing based on the quality of the soaps you are buying. Unfortunately, soaps that use sustainable ingredients and are eco-conscious are more expensive than their less eco-friendly competition. Here is an estimated price breakdown of a few popular brands in relation to how eco-friendly they are.

  • Dove: $3.50 for 2 bars (3.75 oz)
    • Paraben and aluminum free. No other certifications and ingredients are primarily chemical based.
  • Bronner’s: $5 for 1 bar (5 oz)
    • Cruelty free, fair trade, vegan, non-GMO, and organic. Packaging is made with 100% post-consumer recycled materials to relieve stress on the forests and printed with water-based ink. Ingredients are all natural.
  • Shea Moisture: $4 for one bar (3.5 oz)
    • All clean and natural ingredients, cruelty-free, fair trade, organic, non-GMO, family owned and operated, and sustainable.

From these three examples you can see that the pricing is not significantly different when considering the ounces of soap in each bar, as many are larger than others. Additionally, all of this information was found simply by looking at the packaging on the soap. There was no additional research needed to learn about the ethics and sustainability of these brands.

Therefore, just by going to the store and looking at the different packaging of bar soaps you can learn so much about where the soap is being sourced from and what is important to the brand you are considering supporting.

How to Best Store your Bar Soap

The downside to bar soap is that it can end up slimy and quickly wear down if you are not storing it well. For example, if it is being stored in a spot that constantly has water running on it, it will continue releasing soap and therefore shrinking every time anyone has the water running.

To optimize the lifespan of your soap, consider these tips:

  • Store your soap in a high and dry location. If you do not have a high and dry shelf in your shower where your soap can avoid getting wet when not in use, get a soap holder where it can stay enclosed until you are ready to use the bar.
  • Keep your soap on a surface with drainage. Whether you have a shower shelf that allows drainage or you have a soap dish, be sure it is slatted so that any water that is on the bar of soap will be able to fall through the drainage so your bar of soap can actually dry instead of constantly sitting in a pool of water.
  • Try to buy harder soaps. If you are purchasing soaps that are a bit harder, they won’t melt as quickly as softer soaps. Look for triple milled or French milled soaps that are made at high pressure as they will be harder and denser which will in turn last for a longer time due to a decreased amount of air in the bar.
  • Use a washcloth or loofah. If you use a sponge, loofah, or washcloth you are less likely to use an abundance of soap while you shower since you will not be wasting soap on your hands.
  • Cure your soap. When you buy a new bar of soap, keep it in a drawer or closet in between your linens. This will ensure your soap is not in a humid spot where it will soak in any water. By keeping your soap dry, it will maintain its harder form so that it won’t melt as quickly once you get it into the water.
  • Allow your soap to dry completely between uses.
  • Cut your soap bar into pieces. By using a smaller area of soap, less soap is touching water consistently and can make your bar last longer. The idea behind this one is that when you start with less, you have less to waste!

These tips are a few ways that you can maximize each purchase of bar soap so that you do not find yourself going through a bar of soap too quickly. Simply by letting your bar dry out between uses you can nearly double the amount of time it lasts, saving you money and saving the planet just a little bit!

If you Want to be Really Eco-Friendly…

Finally, potentially one of the best options if you are looking to maximize your soap and want to know exactly where all the ingredients are coming from, is making your own soap! Whether you want liquid soap or bar soap, you can make these at home and forgo a lot of the packaging you would otherwise get at the store.

In addition, when you make your own products you can pick and choose the best and most sustainable ingredients to go into your soap. In buying ingredients you will be buying packaging, however, since you are able to buy ingredients in bulk it is likely that you’ll be able to make multiple rounds of soap with the same ingredients therefore cutting back on packaging.

Recipe 1

If you are looking to make a liquid soap, all you need is an empty hand soap dispenser (you can either use a plastic one that has been used up or buy a fancier one). You will need to fill up your soap dispenser about 1/5 of the way with liquid castile soap, then fill it the rest of the way with water. This is one of the easiest and simplest soap recipes!

If you want to add scent, you can put a few drops of an essential oil of your choice into the dispenser. If you want the soap to be foaming, you just need to put the mixture in a foaming dispenser. You can buy large bottles of castile soap that can be used dozens of times to refill your soap dispenser for an extremely simple hand soap!

Recipe 2

If you are looking to make more of a shower gel, you can cut back on huge plastic bottles by using an at home recipe! All you need for a simple shower gel is raw honey, a natural oil (like olive or castor), liquid castile soap, and an essential oil of your choosing for scent (if desired).

All you have to do is mix about 3 tablespoons of castile soap (you can use the same castile soap you used for recipe 1 above), 3 tablespoons raw honey, 2 tablespoons of an oil, and about 10 drops of an essential oil if you are choosing to scent your body wash.

Mix these together then pour them into your bottle for an all-natural and effective body wash! This recipe can last you for several months and should be kept at room temperature. This is a simple and super easy way to cut back on your plastic use and be sure you are only using the most natural ingredients for your body soap.

Recipe 3

If you are looking to make your own bar soap, this is a bit of a longer process because you have to allow for your bar soap to harden and cool before it can be used. By following recipes such as this one, you can make your own soap at home with the ingredients and scent of your choice. This can be fun to make at home and can cut back on the impacts your current soap has.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to remember that everything we buy, whether it be food, beauty products, or something else, has a carbon footprint and impacts the planet it one way or another. Whenever we are making a decision between products, we are really deciding what to prioritize for our planet.

No product is absolutely perfect, everything carries its own footprint and it is up to us to decide how we want to add to our own footprint. Bar soap is eco-friendlier than liquid soap all things considered but remember that even bar soap has its downfalls. The only way to be completely aware of the origin of your products and how they are made is to make them yourself!

However, for most, making their own soap (especially bar soap) feels like a huge commitment. If you are looking to make small changes today, be sure to first use up all of the products you currently have! Don’t waste anything that has already been purchased. Once you have used up your current products, switch to a more sustainable bar soap.

You can find great options at every grocery store. Simply look at the packaging and see which brands have certifications and value being eco-friendly, and which ones put no care into being conscious of their footprint. Once you have found a more eco-friendly brand, continue using that bar soap!

If you want to continue using liquid soap for your hand soaps around your house or work, try making your own. All you need is castile soap and water. This is so much cheaper than buying premade soaps from the store and the castile soap you buy in bulk will last you dozens of refills, if not more!

Once your hand soap is used up, start using the water and castile soap mixture and save on packaging, and money. By making these simple switches you will contribute to a healthier planet with less pollution and environmental impact. Cut back on your personal carbon footprint and live a more low-waste lifestyle with these simple changes and tips.

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