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Bar Soap Vs Liquid Soap

This Shopkeeping Life: Musings from the Shop Floor

There has been a little chat recently about the value of bar soaps over liquid body and hand wash. While we’re not opposed to the lovely liquid varieties (we do have some favourites in our gift and souvenir ranges) there are some pretty compelling arguments for the use of an old fashioned bar of soap. Your nana may be right, but perhaps it’s not all clean cut?

At Melbournalia we certainly noticed a change in customer awareness of eco issues around packaging and plastic waste after the 2017/18 screenings of ABC TV's War on Waste and the Victorian ban on plastic bags in late 2019. This trend has not abated since and in recent more introspective times notions of personal responsibility have possibly been more prevalent. Of concern is the ecological footprint of bar soap vs liquid soap in a plastic bottle.

Choosing a bar of soap may work to reduce your consumption of plastic packaging as well as emissions on transportation. A 2009 Swiss report* indicates that more energy is used in raw material for production of liquid soap, while bar soaps and their paper based packaging have a lower environmental impact when it comes to carbon footprint and ecotoxicity (ie. nasty plastic leaching). But since bar soaps contain ingredients derived from oil producing crops they have a larger impact on land use and in some cases the destruction of endangered wildlife habitats. More water is used per wash with bar soaps as we need to lather it into our hands or washcloth. But what about the product waste with all the teeny slithers of mooshy bar soap you get when you’re nearing the end of that bar? On the other hand, if you’ll pardon the pun, more product is used per wash when we happily sloosh the convenient liquid soap out of it’s handy bottle. 

Although the old fashioned bar is looking good for reducing plastic waste, how you use it may be something to be mindful of! Here are some of our staff tips…

  • If hand washing with a bar, try lathering up with the tap off.

  • Use a well draining soap dish that keeps the bar from becoming a soapy mess, you’ll use less cleaning product too. For lovely locally available soap holders try The Panton Store or Hub General Store, or this flash brass one available from Sydney retailer Oliver Thom. We love these Melbourne made ceramics from Est and Fazeek too.

  • Use a sponge or cloth in the shower in conjunction with a good soap dish, this will avoid too much body and hand contact with the soap (if that bothers you). Try Cottage Industry or make your own with a free pattern from Crochet Love Melbourne.

If you have a high traffic bathroom and you’re worried about hand hygiene (who isn't these days?) don’t stress about bar soap germs, why not use a good liquid soap for hands and a bar in the shower? Make sure to recycle the plastic bottle, buy in bulk, or find a good low waste subscription service like the new eco warrior kids Zero Co!

Whatever soap you choose you’ll make a big difference to the environment, the local economy and your own feelings of well being if you buy local!

A selection of Melbournalia's bar soap

Here is some fun stuff and further reading :

Crochet at The Thread Den

Ethical Soap, Ethical Consumer UK

Goats milk soap with no goats milk? Confusing labels on cosmetics, Choice Magazine

Soap Making for Beginners at CERES

How traditional Palestinian olive oil soap is made in Nablus

*You can read the comprehensive scientific report if you’re game! Or this lay-person's summary is good too

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