Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Dope on Soap

There is a difference between soap and detergent. Many people I know use detergent to clean their bodies rather than soap.

The big difference is that soaps are made from animal or vegetable fats, while detergents are made from petroleum products.

Many of the “sports bars” people buy are actually detergent bars—and if you look carefully at the packaging of your “soap”, you’ll see that often it doesn’t say “soap” at all—it says “bath bar” or “body bar”—and that usually means it is detergent.

Natural soap is a more environmentally friendly choice, since soap is made from renewable resources and is less toxic to fish and wildlife since soap does not use the chemical builders (like phosphates) which detergents use and which are not very biodegradable.

The drawback of using real soap is that soap is more reactive to minerals, and it is this reaction that leads to soap scum—the harder your water, the worse the scum.

But I do love real soap, and I love the way it makes my skin feel.

When we switched to using soap in the shower (rather than a deodorant body bar), our skin showed an immediate difference—it was softer and less dry.

There is an aesthetic pleasure in using nicely crafted and subtely scented traditional soap.

There is also the feeling that we are supporting smaller producers rather than the Colgate-Palmolive Industrial Complex which pollutes our lives with heavy advertising and heavy petroleum use.

I sometimes buy locally made soaps from artisans—you can find these at farmers’ markets, craft shows, local co-ops.

There are also some good online sources. One special source is The Enterprising Kitchen, a nonprofit social enterprise located in Chicago which enables lower-income women who have been unemployed and underemployed to sustainable employment after 6-12 months.

In producing natural soaps and spa products, female workers receive intensive workforce preparation and skills development including paid employment, work and life skills training, individualized career planning, high school equivalency preparation, technology training, financial planning and a variety of other support services.

I first bought their product in bulk from, but they now successfully manage their own store from their own web site. Each product includes the mission statement on its label and is signed by the woman who packages it; I have given these soaps as gifts (along with my own hand-knitted cotton chenille washcloths).

When I’m feeling thrifty, I buy good soap in bulk from, such as Olivella Face and Body Soap, All-Natural 100% Virgin Olive Oil from Italy, 5.29-Ounce Bars (Pack of 12). For liquid soap. I look for a vegetable castile soap and try to buy it in bulk, such as the excellent Dr. Bronner - Pure-Castile Soap Peppermint, 1 gallon, which I dilute for liquid hand soap and also use to make my own shampoo.

A longevitiy tip: if you dry out bar soap, it lasts longer. I unwrap my fancy bar soaps as soon as I buy them and put them in my clothing drawers. They make my clothes smell great, and when I need a new bar of soap, they ar sufficiently dry so that they last a good, long while.


Stephanie said...

Ah, this makes a lot of sense about my tub.

We've also found that deoderant bars dry out our skin soooo much that we can't actually function.

At the moment, we use soap from Trader Joe's with tea tree oil, which is supposedly drying, but seems conditioning.

Elizabeth said...

I am still researching soap scum and constructing an answer to your original soap scum question. I'm trying different techniques on my shower and am not completely satisfied yet. I think I need a scrub brush with stiffer bristles...

Stephanie said...

Have you heard of Kaboom? I was reading about it. It's supposedly "all natural," whatever that means....

In any case, I think you're right about the combination of hard water and real soap.

It's pretty gross.

Elizabeth said...

I have, but I'd like to come up with a non-commercial solution (Have you seen Kaboom's web site? Scary: --"As seen on TV....").

I'm working with borax, vinegar and baking soda at the moment--and experimenting with different squeegees and scrub brushes.

Ms. Theologian said...

Perhaps I'll take a photo....