One small step: Swap plastic bottles of soap for bars (plus a DIY liquid soap recipe)

One Small Step toward sustainability: swap plastic bottles of soap for bars.

Last week my 12 year old daughter and I jotted down a list of over 50 small, simple steps we all can take to change the world. We wrote down ideas for kitchen and bathroom, travel and housekeeping, dining out and gardening. So many fun, simple ideas to empower us all to make positive change.

But where should we begin this journey? Well, that was easy. Because our family runs a small, organic soap company. So why not start with the place that is nearest and dearest to our hearts?

With soap.

Nearly all of us have soap (or something like it) at our bathroom and kitchen sinks; in our showers or at our bathtubs. But have we given much thought to the type that we’ve chosen?

Because all soaps and cleansing washes are not created equal, and upping our sustainability game while we’re cleaning up is one small step toward a healthier planet.

Are you ready to dive in with our first small step? Me, too. Let’s get started.

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Kick the bottle

If your soap/body wash/facial cleanser comes in a plastic bottle, the first thing to question is that packaging.

Just 9% of plastic is recycled world-wide. That’s a tiny fraction of plastic produced, with the bulk ending up in landfills, and a smaller percentage either being incinerated or ending as litter in our communities, country sides, oceans and waterways.

Is recycling a better option? Absolutely. But even much of the plastic that we toss in the recycling bin (trusting that it won’t end up in the waste stream) ends up dumped in landfills anyway.

Recycling, the go-to environmental action of the 1990’s, is certainly a small step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Reducing our frivolous use of plastic needs to come first.

But there’s more to it than the impact of that bottle. Soap, body wash, and other bubbles sold in plastic bottles are made mostly of water. This adds to shipping weight, overall carbon footprint, and even the cost per use for you, the consumer.

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Bars are better

Doesn’t soap need to come in a bottle? No way. High quality bar soaps are gentle on the skin, long-lasting, and in most cases involve no plastic waste. What would your great grandma have used? Simple, natural bar soap, of course.  No bottle, no waste, no fuss.

Here at LüSa Organics, we even offer our bar soaps “naked”. These zero-waste bars come without any packaging at all. (A 100% post-consumer recycled paper box is a second option for most varieties.)

We also sell the scraps, end cuts, and imperfect bars instead of landfilling them, making for a soap that truly is zero-waste.

Not all bars are created equal

Before you head to the corner store to stock up on bar soap, be aware: many of the things we refer to as “soap” isn’t. They are actually synthetic detergent bars. So read those ingredients, lists, won’t you? If possible, avoid synthetic preservatives, fragrances, colorants, and added alcohol which wreaks havoc on sensitive skin. While these synthetic bars do lack the bottle, they can be harsh for your skin and the environment.

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Photo by Alyson Morgan

What about kids?

We hear a lot of concerns from adults about children mangling bar soaps at the sink. “We need liquid soap,” they reason. “Or my kid will trash a bar of soap in one washing!”

We hear you. We had a pint-sized soap-strangler in the house for years. (Yes, they outgrow it.) And while our solution was to provide them with a smaller scratch-and-dent bar of their own, our friend Alyson took things one step further for her littles. She cuts a full-sized bar into tiny cubes, just right for small hands.

These cute little bars stand up to poking and prodding, and create less soap waste than handing your toddler a full-sized bar in the bath.

Natural bar soaps like LüSa are a breeze to cut with a sturdy kitchen knife, but mass produced detergent bars as well as more heavily processed bar soaps can crumble under the knife. Test the bar you use to see if it’s a match.

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DIY Liquid Soap

Okay, so I haven’t convinced you to kick the soap bottle for good? Then how about you refill the bottle you already own with your homemade? All it takes is a scrap of good soap, some water, and a few minutes of your time.

Full disclosure: this liquid won’t lather like the store-bought kind, nor will the texture be what you’re accustom to from a liquid (it’s more viscous). But it will be a safe, healthy, plastic-free liquid option for those who want one–and if you use high quality soap like LüSa, it won’t dry your skin.

Ready to dive in? Here’s my how-to!

DIY Liquid Soap Recipe

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients

  • 1 oz high quality bar soap (scraps or Scratch-and-Dent bars are great)
  • 4 cups of water

Equipment

  • Box grater or heavy duty kitchen knife
  • Cooking pot
  • Whisk

Instructions

  1. Grate or mince your bar soap. Weigh out 1 ounce of shreds. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, aim for 1/4 of a full-sized bar.
  2. Add soap shreds to a cooking pot with 4 cups of water.
  3. Place over medium heat, whisking occasionally until all of your soap chunks are dissolved. (I hurried this process along with a submersible blender, but a whisk alone will suffice.) Do not whip into a froth (though some bubbles are to be expected).
  4. Your soap solution will be very thin and milky in appearance. Cover and allow to cool overnight, or until the mixture reaches room temperature.
  5. The next morning, your soap mixture will have thickened considerably and will now resemble a pet jellyfish. Don’t despair! Grab your trusty whisk, and give it another vigorous whisking. Do not use an electric whisk unless you want to make roughly a gallon of shaving foam that you will never be able to convince to become a liquid again. Ask me how I know.
  6. Transfer your liquid to a repurposed soap bottle, and store the rest in a quart-sized mason jar until needed.

Note: you may need to shake your liquid on occasion, as some separation is normal. Add additional water if desired for a thinner soap, or dissolve in more grated soap for a thicker mix.

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How we make it

Just for fun, I wanted to share a peek into how we make our bar soaps here at LüSa Organics.

Because I think where the goods we use come from matters. And going back to how our great-grandparents did things (in some regards) is a step in the right direction.

Our process is low-tech, and begins with just organic, pressed oils (normally sunflower, olive, and coconut–never palm oil) and a carefully measured sodium hydroxide solution. These are combined, then gently stirred until the mixture begins to thicken. When it reached the consistency of pudding, it’s ready to pour.

If the soap is a scented one, now is when we stir in our essential oils, then the soap is poured into a butcher paper-lined soap mold. The bars are set to rest in an insulated room for three days.

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Here the soap continues to work its magic (aka: chemistry!) and it goes through a series of stages of exothermic heating, becoming a gel-like liquid, then solidifying. This moment is when it’s time to unmold the soap and cut the blocks into bars (by hand with our people-powered soap cutter) before it becomes to hard to easily slice.

The finished soaps are carefully shelved in our soap curing room where they mellow and harden for one month before heading out the door to sinks, tubs, and showers everywhere.

The whole process is simple, organic, and low-tech. What’s not to love about that?

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P.S. If you’d like to try LüSa bar soap for the first time (or if you already love us and would simply enjoy a little bonus bar), add a note of “kicking the soap bottle” to any LüSa Organics order and we’ll throw in a 2 to 3 oz. sample scratch-and-dent bar when we ship your order! With our thanks (offer valid through 12/31/19).

Have you already made the switch from bottles to bars? Was it challenging for your family? What do you love most about bars instead of bottles?  Leave a comment below sharing your experience.

Explore more statistics about plastic production, use, recycling, and waste here.

Scroll below to the green signup box, then add your email address. When I add more posts to the blog and the One Small Step series, I’ll drop you a note.

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Photos 2, 3, 6, and 9-13 by Ray + Kelly Photography.

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13 thoughts on “One small step: Swap plastic bottles of soap for bars (plus a DIY liquid soap recipe)

  1. sustainablemum says:

    We make our own liquid soap here too from bars that we buy from the local farmers market, zero packaging and locally made. Some of the bars are used as bars some are made into liquid using old bottles that used have bought liquid soap in them many moons ago.

  2. Genie says:

    This is an easy one to start with, thanks Rachel!
    I always cut our full-sized bars in half for daily use (because, in our family, it isn’t only pint-sized folks that squeeze the soap!).

    And just to make the most of every bar, use tiny cotton bags to hold the slippery slivers that are left at the end. This is another way to contain the squish, and everyone can have their own if they want.

  3. Charlotte says:

    Great post Rachel, and I LOVE bar soap but my sink wastepipe doesn’t 🙁
    I live in the UK so I haven’t tried LuSa soaps but the organic bar soaps I’ve used here tend to clog my drain after a while. I think it may be the coconut oil solidifying? Does anyone have any tips on how to prevent/deal with this? Or perhaps the brands I’ve used have too large a % of coconut oil, I’m not sure… If anyone could shed any light on this I’d be grateful!
    Wish LuSa Organics was local to me, but we have some good ethical small companies here too 🙂

    Oh and I haven’t tried this but I’ve heard that felting your bar of soap makes it last a lot longer and survive little soap-strangler hands better… and fun to do!

    • Genie says:

      Charlotte, we have a similar challenge with our drain and pipes. Once a month or so, we pour some baking soda down the drain and flush it with white vinegar we have boiled in our tea kettle. It fizzes up spectacularly, and does a nice job of loosening the fatty deposits in the drain. Bonus: boiling the vinegar in the tea kettle clears out the mineral buildup from our hard water!

      • Charlotte says:

        Thanks so much for that tip Genie, we have very hard water here too so I love the thought of dealing with two problems in one go! Also interested in the answer to Sarah’s question…

        • Genie says:

          We fill our whistling tea kettle with undiluted white vinegar. Usually one kettle’s worth is enough to clear the sink gunge, but we will often follow with a kettle of plain boiling water just to rinse it all clear and enjoy the happy gurgle of a free-flowing drainpipe!

  4. Brett Elizabeth says:

    Your bar soaps are amazing! Two years ago we bought a few of them for my son to use as Christmas gifts for his 4 cousins. He cut them into small cubes and rewrapped each one with upcycled brown paper with new strange soap names on them like Mystic Fog. Then he put them in a small reusable or recyclable paper box and labeled them with his homemade “Alien Soap Company” logo. (Don’t worry. LUSA got all the soap making credit by including a LUSA business card in each package.) The girls loves receiving their own little packages of soap. My son and I enjoyed the project together. It was a win win all around. Thank you for selling such a great product!

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