Soap Bars v. Liquid Soap. A Dermatologist's analysis


The consumer cost of a soap bar shower is considerably less than the cost of a liquid soap shower.


Bars last about 6x longer (based on weight) than liquids. This is one of the major reasons manufacturers are moving toward liquid soap.


Liquids soaps require 5x more energy to manufacture.
Liquid soap packaging (plastic jugs) requires 20x more energy to manufacture.
Liquid soap requires 9x more energy to transport because it’s much heavier.


Bars simply vanish once used. The wrapper is usually bio-degradable. Plastic liquid soap containers end up in landfills and recycling stations.  The plastic containers can be recycled no more than 2-3x times. Both liquid and bar soaps themselves can potentially contaminate lakes and rivers. There is a service that re-cycles and re-manufactures those partially used, mini-sized hotel bars.


Bars are small, lightweight, and take up little space.  Liquids are stored in large plastic jugs that don’t fit in shower enclosures, or easily on shelves.  They waste storage space, especially when less than full. Those liquids, that are sold in in smaller personal sizes, are packaged in pump containers, almost all of which are eco-unfriendly plastic.


Large plastic jugs of liquid soap must be transferred to smaller dispensers before using. Liquid soap dispensers are used more commonly on sink countertops, and less often in shower and tub.  They may be attached to the wall, or in a simple pump container resting on a bathtub corner, a shower shelf or floor.  Soap bars will potentially slide-away, and require a soap dish and a shelf upon which to rest.


Millions have switched from soap bars to liquid soap for two basic reasons.
1.They feel that soap bars might harbor  bacteria (That’s been proven false…more about that later)  
  1. They know that soap bars, in contact with water, will develop an unpleasant slippery surface slime.
Historically, society has failed to keep the soap bar dry, when it’s not being used.  Simple dishes, without drains, are a sure way to create a messy scum and promote bacterial growth. Small fragments dissolve away to a gooey mass within hours of sitting in the puddled water.  The trick to soap bar preservation is minimizing the bar’s contact with a wet/flat surface. So… it’s not surprising that various soap bar holders have evolved. The dish with drain holes or slots was the earliest attempt.  A good start, but still, too much surface contact.
The wire frame basket, offers less surface contact while promoting good aeration and drainage. However, soap scum often rubs off on the narrow wires, and it unwelcomely protrudes from the wall into the shower enclosure. The basket’s surrounding wall will prevent bar slide-away, but predictably, the smaller pieces of soap will always slip out through the spaces.
Then there’s a category of devices called “soap-savers.”  These gadgets, (usually cheap plastic- about the size of a soap bar) are placed between the bar and a horizontal surface (like the shelf or soap dish). They are intended to lift the bar up and out of water that might have collected beneath; and are usually ribbed or pronged.  Unfortunately, the soap saver and bar can easily slide off a shelf or soap dish.  That’s because the soap saver does not surround and immobilize the bar, like a wire frame basket.   And although soap savers elevate and aerate the bar -- regardless of their design, the soapy drippings from the bar (and even more so, from the bather’s hand) will always collect beneath the bar -- on the soap-saver itself, or the surface beneath the soap-saver.
Liquid soaps (which are actually detergents) contain chemicals to keep the solution stable and separating into phases.  And because they are predominately water, they require preservatives.  Bars are dry and require no preservatives. Because liquids contain preservatives and heavier fragrances, they are considerably more allergenic.
Bacteria love moisture, not soap.  They grow in moist environments like a gooey soap dish, or on a persistently wet bar.  Studies show that simply rinsing the bar removes the bacteria.  The same studies also show that bacteria on the bar is not transferred to skin -- if the bar has been rinsed before using.  It’s a medical fact that bacteria will not grow on a dry bar. However, bacteria can grow on moist wash clothes, sponges, and loofas; these items should be regularly washed in hot water when using either liquid or bar soap.
Liquid soap is less likely to become contaminated, but is not free of contamination. Contamination can occur when bacteria grow on the moist pump surface of a liquid soap dispenser.  As a general rule, most folks are reluctant to share a bar with strangers and prefer liquid soaps in those situations.  This is certainly the case in public rest rooms and gyms. But putting things into broader perspective, cell phones are more contaminated with bacteria than public toilet seats.
Statistically nearly half of all U.S. consumers — and 60 percent of those 18 to 24 — believe bar soap (wet or dry) has more germs than a bottle of liquid soap.  This is untrue and only pertains to wet bars.  Only 31 percent of those 65-plus said they were bothered by the thought of germs on their bar soap. Germs live in the damp “slime” of bar soap, say several epidemiologists; but they’re unlikely to make you sick, and rinsing the soap under running water before lathering should solve the problem.  Also consider that bacteria have been reported in some shower gels and even hand sanitizer.
Liquid soaps, in general, produce a more luxurious lather than bar soaps; they also contain more fragrances.  It’s difficult to find a liquid without a fragrance.  It’s much easier to find a fragrance-free bar.
Bars, because they are soap, have a high pH. Their alkalinity has a tendency to strip the skin of its natural oils. An exception is Neutragena, and a few others, that contain glycerin and a neutral pH.  Almost all liquid soaps have a neutral pH.
Almost all liquid soaps contain moisturizers of one sort or another.  Popular industry bars like Dove, Caress, and Dr Bronner contain moisturizers; most other industry bars do not.  Many hand-made bars, by small vendors have significant moisturizers.
The use of bar soap dates back to at least 2800 B.C. Animal or vegetable fats are converted into soap when they reacts with alkali (usually lye). The friction created by rubbing your hands with bar soap is a bonus in hand hygiene, as it might remove debris better.
Regardless of whether you use liquid soap or bar soap, if the product is not thoroughly rinsed off of the skin, the soap might leave an unpleasant, drying residue.  Many dermatologists suggest rinsing by gently rubbing with a wet, soap-free washcloth, in addition to the shower spray.
Liquid soaps in plastic containers are generally manufactured by large corporations. Popular bars are made by the same guys. However, many soap bars are hand-made with natural, organic oils and fragrances.  Using hand-made soap bars supports small businesses.
According to a new report from market research firm Mintel, sales of bar soap are slipping because a growing number of consumers — especially women and younger adults — think a dispenser of liquid soap is easier to use, less messy (no slimy soap dish to clean) and more hygienic. Men are also more willing to use bar soap than women.
The report reflects both a generational and a gender divide. The traditional bar of soap is most popular among older adults, with as many as 60 percent of those age 65-plus happy to use it to wash their face, compared with just 33 percent of those ages 25 to 34, according to the Washington Post.
Clearly soap bars are much more eco-friendly than liquid soap.
Replace your soap dish with SoapAnchor.
Use bar soap instead of liquid soap.
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