Field and wind turbine

Are Bar Soaps More Environmentally Friendly than Liquid Soaps?

What's the Difference?

Up till recently, I associated soap with that "thing" we used when I was a kid and now that replaced by liquid soap. I falsely assumed that just because liquid soap was a more recent invention, it must be better.

Solid bar soaps are an ancient invention dating as far back as 2800BC. They were used by ancient civilisations such as the Babylonians, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Liquid soaps on the other hand only came into existence in 1865 where it was only used for industrial purposes. It wasn’t until the 1980s where liquid soap was first mass-produced for the average consumer.

What made liquid soap really convenient was the pump dispenser. Some people saw this to more hygienic way to handle soap. In fact, this is still a running argument against bar soaps today. Rather than "share" a bar of soap, you can instead just pump away, not having any contact with soap someone else has used. But this concern has been washed away by medical professionals. "Technically speaking, bars of soap can harbour bacteria and viruses but these organisms are washed away as soon as you combine the soap with water and lather" says Dr Rachel Nazarian of of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York.

One misconception that I personally had was that liquid soap is better at cleaning. I personally became used to the pattern of a product being invented and then a year later a better product being invented to replace that first product. Take TVs for example, every year they just get bigger and better. The idea of liquid soap being better than bar soaps is simply not true and is yet another misconception that can be easily blown away. Dr Anjali Mahto , a consultant dermatologist says "There isn't a great deal of evidence to suggest that a bar of soap is any better or worse than using liquid soap. Good old-fashioned soap and water for 20 seconds is a good option for washing your hands".

As from a hygienic and cleanliness capability there really isn’t much of a difference, these factors can be excluded when deciding which type of soap to use.

Which is more Environmentally Friendly?

Measuring how environmentally friendly something is, isn’t a simple feat. Aside from just the packaging other factors such as storage, transportation, wastage to name a few need to be carefully considered. And of course, two different products of the same type can have completely differently impact on an environment. The same can be said for two identical products that you may order online. For example, if you live in the UK and you order a soap from Australia, that would naturally be must less environmentally friendly than ordering from somewhere in the UK in terms of the carbon footprint left via the transportation. To make this comparison easier, we will imagine both the bar and liquid soaps are made in the same place.

Let’s start with production. Studies have found that liquid soap require five times more energy than bar soaps in production. This is excluding the energy required to package the soaps, that figure is even more shocking and is coming up soon. When comparing which type of soap requires less energy, it is a clear winner - soap bars.

Onto packaging. Solid soap bars often come packaged in recyclable cardboard boxes or thin plastics wrapping whereas liquid soaps are always packed in plastic bottles. The recyclable cardboard boxes option is ideal as if it is recycled it would not reach the landfill sites. But, even if you were to buy solid soap bars wrapped in plastic, the plastic used weigh near nothing in comparison to the plastic bottles used for the liquid soaps. What about how much energy is needed to package bar soap vs liquid soap? Research has found that nearly 20 times more energy is needed to package liquid soap in comparison to bar soap. That is an astonishing amount of energy. From a packaging point of view, once again bar soaps are more environmentally friendly.

Due to the heavier packaging and the heavy water content in the liquid soap, liquid soaps are much heavier than soap bars. This might not mean much during your trip from the front door to the bathroom but remember that supermarkets receive their products in bulk and in huge trucks. This means that these heavier liquid soaps require more energy to transport to the supermarkets equating in a higher carbon footprint.

How long do soap soaps last vs liquid soaps? Research has found that we use more than six times the amount of liquid soap (by weight) than bar soap . That is a lot of soap! This means that for every £1 we spend on liquid soap, we could be saving £5 by buying bar soap instead. Or the way I like to call it, buy 1 get 5 free! Touching back onto the environmental implications, as we use more liquid soap per wash, we would need to purchase soap more often. That would mean more plastics being produced, and more deliveries equating to a higher carbon footprint. Now we're not saying that we want to stop companies from delivering products to stores. That's essentially how a businesses work. But we do acknowledge that higher soap usages require more restocking which does require more transportation.

Liquid soaps are not all bad. By reading this article you would probably now be aware that we do use much more liquid soap per wash than bar soap. One immediate remedy you can make is being conscious how much soap you pump into your hands. As for the plastic wastage, perhaps consider buying soap in bulk and refilling your soap dispenser rather than replacing it with an entirely new bottle. This may even proof to be more cost effective as often products purchased in larger quantities are cheaper.

But, if you really want to be more environmentally friendly, then switch to bar soaps. Using bar soaps does not provide a lesser cleaning experience and generally there is plenty research to suggest that bar soaps are just as effective as liquid soaps. Bar soaps require less energy to produce, package and transport, are more cost effective and use less (or none) plastics in their packaging.

To explore more blog posts, click here.