Monday, March 24, 2008

Use Bar Soap: Save Money, Smell Good

Off to Germany (A Little Story)
A few years ago, I traveled over the ocean to spend a year living in Berlin. Of course, along with a few shirts and pairs of pants, the baggage I carried with me included all my many habits from the old country, including my daily use of bar soap.

Now, you wouldn't think bar soap would be a big deal. I mean, it's just soap, not white gym shoes or khaki shorts. Why would anyone notice?

I don't know, but notice they did.

I can say this because two of my German friends quickly realized that I used bar soap and asked, Um, why do you use bar soap?" (said in German with some distate, if I can recall)

My response: "Um, because it's cheap and effective and smells just fine."

Their response: "But, don't you think it makes you smell like an old Turkish woman?"

My response: "Um, no. Also, I don't know what an old Turkish woman smells like."

Their response: "Bar soap, obviously."

Ach du lieber!

If the only people in Deutschland using bar soap were the old (and smart) Turkish women, what was the rest of Germany using to get themselves clean?

Body wash, according to my friends.

What? Germans using body wash? Why? It's so wasteful and expensive, and Germans are usually so eco-friendly!

Well, as much as I wanted to fit in while I was living in Germany, I definitely wasn't going to start using body wash. So I wore scarves and funky shoes and spoke German 24/7 (some people said I barely had an accent), but still used soap in solid form. Yep, I continued to use it despite what my friends thought. I mean, anything else is just silly!

Back in the United States and Saving Money
A few years later, I'm back in the U.S. now and still using bar soap. I'm on to my current favorite brand, Kiss My Face, which I love because it lasts FOREVER. I started using the bar I have now (pictured right) in the beginning of November and it's not nearly gone yet. I paid about $3.00 for it, which means I'll probably end up spending about $6.00 on soap this year.

And Smelling Good
My bar soap leaves me smelling really nice, which makes sense because most bar soap smells great. Also, it comes in a huge variety of scents, everything from light and flowery to strong and masculine.

And Creating Less Waste
Not only does bar soap smell good, you can find it with very little packaging, which obviously means it creates less garbage to send to the landfill.

Random Questions

So if it saves you money, smells good, and is better for the environment, where did Germans get the idea that body wash is better than soap? Is body wash, called Duschgel in German, really so prevelent? Warum? Any Germans out there who can provide some enlightenment?


arduous said...

I dunno but I have heard many Germans mock the American love for baby carrots so I think it cuts both ways. ;)

I miss body wash sometimes. But I've gotten used to bar soap, and it sure is cheaper!

LifeLessPlastic said...

Ha! That's so funny! Baby carrots weren't such a phenomenom yet when I was in Germany so I didn't know that.

That's true. There is definitely lots of mocking both ways. :)

BTW, I'm not sure if it's still exactly the same, but when I was there they had this awesome deposit program for all soda and beer bottles, which I know we used to do in the states, but have abandoned. Anyways, all bottles were returned and then reused. It was a bit of work to collect your bottles, but in the end it probably saved tons of resources!

Reenie Beanie said...

I love the IDEA of a deposit program on bottles. In Oregon, we have a deposit (currently 5 cents) on carbonated beverages including beer that started in 1971 with the passing of the Oregon Bottle Bill. However, things were different then, and a good-intentioned program has had enormous, unforseen impacts in my area.

We do our returns at grocery stores here. Not only are the bottles filthy making them horribly unsanitary and unfit for handling at a food store, but the majority of those handling the returns are 16 year olds who are too young to really question the risks of their jobs. Anyhow, bottles come back with all kinds of nasty stuff in them including hypodermic needles since a large number of returned bottles in my area come from drug addicts who rummage through your trash looking for bottles. In my opinion, all of this makes the job of processing the bottles fairly dangerous for the unskilled youths normally performing the job.

On the other hand, our recycling rate is probably larger than the national average so that's good. However, I don't think that the average person is persuaded highly enough by a nickel to actually return the bottles thus leaving them either unreturned or left as a income source for the area's drug addicts.

I don't want to seem insensitive to the issue of homelessness and addiction because nothing could be further from the truth. People with addictions do what they have to do out of desperation and need. I have been the victim of property crime three times in nine years in an otherwise safe neighborhood because of this. Additionally, on a number of occasions, I have personally seen people buy 12 packs of soda on food stamps. They go into the parking lot of the store, dump out the soda, and then return the cans for the cash. It makes me so sad that people would be so desperate for a few bucks for drugs. I don't hate homeless or drug addicted people by any means; I wish more positive programs were available to help.

I realize this is a complicated issue. I love the Oregon Bottle Bill for the good it set out to do, but just like with many goverment programs, I feel that it has some serious, unintended flaws. I would love to see the deposit rate increase so that people would actually return the bottles themselves (although this easy for me to say since I don't drink soda...).

If nothing else, specialized recycling centers with well- trained, adult workers are desperately needed in Oregon! And ideally I would love to see more resources put toward both assistance with and prevention of homelessness and drug-addition (specifically meth) here. It's such a horrible life for those who get sucked into taking that path, and it's a problem for all of society not just those with the problems themselves.

So that's my huge rant about bottle refund programs. The program increases recycling and reduces litter so it's pretty cool. But it also supplies addicts with income which is great if they use it for food or other life necessities, but not so good if they use it to feed their habit. I want to love the program, but I am kind of torn...

LLP, how were bottles collected in Germany and did they have the same drug problems that you see in Oregon?

LifeLessPlastic said...


While I was in Germany, the recycling program worked as such. You collected bottles for a few weeks and then brought them to a nearby grocery store. There you would send them through a machine that would tally the amount of money you would get for the bottles. I have the idea that these machines somewhat reduced the amount of contact workers actually had with the bottles (although obviously not completey) and also that people living on the street did sometimes use the bottle program as a way to earn money. Still, the deposits on bottles were HUGE--something like 50 cents per bottle--so people weren't so keen on just tossing bottles into the trash.

As for Oregon, I have to admit that I obviously don't have any solutions. It's sad that 16 year-olds have to deal with bottles that may or may not have hypodermic needles in them and that people take desperate measures to get drugs, including using their food stamps up to get just a little money towards buying them.

An interesting yet sad question can come of this: Is it worth having deposits that seriously reduce the amount of waste we create when it promotes drug use and provides a living for people living on the street?

Most people would definitely say no, but, as strange as it may sound, I don't know the answer to this...

Reenie Beanie said...

LLP, I think 50 cents would be a much better deposit value. Of course, it would never happen since the soft-drink lobbyists would NEVER let that type of legislation pass.

Oh, and only large grocery stores have bottle machines here. The average mom and pop store or older chain store still generally hand count bottles. And the bottle machines require quite a bit of attention from dumping glass and plastic to cleaning up trash often full of hazardous items.

And as far as bottle recycling providing a living for those on the street...this is a life noone would choose for themselves. I am sure that those in the firm grasp of addiction would wish they could go back to the day that they first used and do things differently. Additionally, a huge percentage of homeless people have some form of mental illness.

Anyhow, offering these individuals a source of income in terms of returning bottles is not nearly enough to lend a hand sufficiently...

jennconspiracy said...

Great conversation about bottles and recycling - I think that a high deposit on glass bottles would not be the right direction (they break) but on recyclable aluminum and plastic, it might encourage a lot more consideration.

However, there's a serious consideration in the Bay Area: roving homeless folk with shopping carts. Now, they just walk right up people's driveways and back yards to rummage through trash cans (I have told them to leave my own driveway even if they then asked "please" once caught - telling them they do not have the right to trespass on private property at all).

It's a real security issue, honestly. Unless we go through the extra step of locking the recycling bins, we'll have more folks looking in our driveways, back yards and garages for higher valued containers since most folks won't go through the extra effort of taking them into the store.

Even with the Strauss dairy recyclable bottles ($1 deposit!) - most grocery stores don't know what to do with them, and they're the folks who sold the milk.

Anonymous said...

According to the NY Times, body wash accounts for 67% of the soap market in Western Europe. In the US, body wash is at 43%, followed by bar soap at 37%, with liquid hand soap accounting for the remainder.

I seems that we've got the same problem on both sides of the pond. My theories:

Bar soap is seen as functional -- it gets you clean. It also has a bad rap for drying out the skin. Body Wash is seen as a beauty product. It's luxurious and promises beautiful, youthful, fragrant skin. In our society, the quest for personal beauty is valued above most other things, even among some of the environmentally-conscious.

Also, bar soap is seen as unsanitary. Would you ever use bar soap in a public bathroom? Not me (although I exclusively use bar soap in my house).

It seems that bar soap is quickly going out of style.

Cara said...

Thanks for the great information, especially the plastic statistics, I used much of your information on a video my school's envrionmental club is producing to show to our high school on Earth day.

Keep up the good work!

LifeLessPlastic said...

Thanks for the interesting comments and statistics, Anonymous! Your theories sound very plausible.

I remember thinking that things like body wash were very luxurious and fancy, maybe because of stores like Bath & Body Works.

These days, I personally think of bar soap as more luxurious in a lot of ways because you can find it from artisan soap makers and at farmers markets.

Body wash, on the other hand, reminds me of the 90's :)

LifeLessPlastic said...

Also, I agree I probably wouldn't use bar soap in public bathrooms, although I can't even remember the last time I even saw it.

In general, I've heard that hand wash may be slightly more sanitary than bar soap, but I ALWAYS used bar soap when I was growing up, and, as I've said before, I was never sick.

That said, I think I would only use liquid soap if I was sick and had a compromised immune system. Then it would probably make sense.

LifeLessPlastic said...

JennCon, It sounds like those of you living in deposit states see a different view of it, although I think that part of it must be the small deposit. In Germany, deposits were so high that people pretty much had to participate in the program, which seemed to prevent most bottles from going into the trash. As for those $1 milk bottles, I know what you mean. I think the workers just aren't familiar with those bottles because not many people are actually purchasing that kind of milk, especially in comparison to regular milk.

pink dogwood said...

I also use Kiss My Face bar soap - nice post.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just happened upon your blog while looking up ways to be more green in my daily life. I used to use bar soap all the time when I lived with my parents, but in college, I made the switch to liquid soap because it creates less of a mess and there's no need to leave the soap out to dry in the bathroom, where 5 other people can touch it.

My question is, how do you keep your soap clean and dry and ready to use? Do you have a special soap dish, and what's it made of? (My parents had stainless steel ones, but they aren't made in this country).

LifeLessPlastic said...

Anonymous, For the soap you keep in the shower, I think the key is just keeping it up high. Right now, I have one of those metal shower storage things that hangs down from the base of the shower head and that works really well for keeping the soap dry. For the soap on my bathroom sink, I have a nice soap dish I found at a thrift store for $1. I think it's pretty common to just have a ceramic soap dish on your sink. Or maybe you can even make one out of chopsticks like the blogger from It's a Green, Green, Green World did. :)

Diane said...

I actually prefer bar soap (unless it's Dr.Bronner's), because body wash leaves a weird film and I never feel clean.

shadowedreamer said...

I *would* use bar soap in public bathrooms. The whole point is that the soap molecules encapsulate the germs and carry them away - if it were visibly filthy, I might have to rub the bar of soap for a few moments longer than usual just to be sure there were sufficient "clean" suds. But otherwise, the soap is still soap, and it'll still get the germs off your skin.

As with so many "scary" things, learning a bit about germs (and soap, cleaning, etc) does a lot to make you less scared.

Unless you're a girl I used to live with, who was utterly distraught to find out that soap didn't actually kill the germs. But she was the one who bought the swiffer, too.

jennconspiracy said...

OMG - LMFAO shadowedreamer - is it possible we had the same roommate?

Anonymous said...

I was watching an old film with my parents and it had a scene with a soap vendor and I remembered this post.

Anyway, the soap bars are about 18 inches long, and a family would have to cut the soap into 3 inch bars to use, according to my father (this was about 50 years prior, in India). The bar of soap was used until it became a tiny sliver, after which it became fused onto a newer bar while wet.

So now, I think I understand where people are coming from when they say bar soap is unsanitary. I think it's from how Americans (and I'm guessing also Europeans) use soap. In India, an entire family uses a single bar of soap. This is how the bathing process works: wet body and hands, wet soap, lather the soap in your hands, and rub your lathered hands onto whatever part you need to clean. Once you are finished, rinse the bar and replace on the dish.

It seems the majority of Americans rub the soap directly onto their skin. Your dead skin cells get trapped onto the top and that's why people think liquid soap is more sanitary. Well, I say they're just using their soap incorrectly.

I love unwrapping a new bar of soap and fusing the old one onto it, because if the soap has any design cut into it, the design slowly gets revealed as you use it.