A lot of us don’t think about the environmental impact of liquid soaps. Bar soap gets a bad rap because those who swear by liquid soap insist that bar soap dries their skin. However, it’s not specifically bar soap that dries out skin, it’s soap with a high pH level that dries out skin. When comparing liquid soap and bar soap with similar pH levels, bar soap is much more gentle for the environment for the following reasons.
Less plastic waste
The biggest reason to switch from liquid soap to bar soap is because of the packaging. Liquid soap is almost always packaged in plastic and the majority of bar soap is packaged in cardboard. While some people make an effort to refill their containers to create less waste, that’s still more plastic compared to bar soap.
Lower environmental impact
Firstly, transporting liquid soap consumes more gas compared to bar soap because of the additional water weight. Since bar soap doesn’t contain any water, they are transported at their condensed state. For the same reason, big juice corporations remove 80% of the water content to ship their juice as a concentrate first. They’re able to ship more “juice” with less gas. Secondly, bar soap is easier to transport than liquid soap because bar soap is easier to stack. Thirdly, from starting point to the store, liquid soap’s raw material production requires five times more energy than bar soap.
How bar soap is made
Bar soap is traditionally produced by mixing a fat and with an alkali solution, specifically a sodium hydroxide lye. The fat can be animal or plant-based and the alkali solution is typically lye or sodium hydroxide. This reaction is called saponification and it creates soap, glycerin, and water. The glycerin is usually removed, but some are sometimes left in as a moisturizer. In fact, glycerin can be very therapeutic for dry skin and eczema sensitivities.
Liquid soap backers usually argue that bar soap dries skin out due to a higher pH level. While it is true that a higher pH level will dry out your skin, there exists both high pH liquid soap and low pH bar soap. It’s more a matter of finding a soap that is produced with a lower a pH level.
How liquid soap is made
Commercial liquid soap, on the other hand, is usually a synthetic compound made of a mix of chemicals. These chemical compounds can vary widely from dioxides, phosphates, surfactants, preservatives to citric acid. In fact, the wrong shampoo can cause hair loss and stunt hair growth.
While commercial liquid soap should be avoided, handmade liquid soap is made similarly to bar soap except that the sodium hydroxide lye is replaced with a potassium hydroxide lye. While handmade bar soap and handmade liquid soap have a similar footprint when it comes to raw materials, you still need to consider that we use six times more liquid soap than bar soap on average.
To leave an even smaller carbon footprint, you can skip soap when washing your face. In fact, soap can cause damage to your face since it is highly alkaline. I am a huge supporter of the Caveman Regimen. I’ve used this method all my life and have always received comments on how soft my skin is. All you need is water. Let the natural probiotics and sebum in your face do all the work.
Overall environmental impact of soaps
When all things are equal, bar soap always beats liquid soap in environmental impact. However, you would still need to do your research on determining how the soap you are using is being produced. If it’s an establishment that is passionate of their craft, they will disclose their method and ingredients.