The liquid came first – Peppermint to be exact. Bar soap meandered in a few decades later. While there are hardliners in both camps, the difference between liquid and bar is mostly a matter of personal preference. However, there are some differences between the two.
Here are the ingredients side by side for the Baby Unscented Pure-Castile Soap. I chose our simplest soap, which lacks any essential oils, so that the differences are easier to see.
- Liquid contains more water.
- Why: There is just enough water in the liquid soaps to keep them liquid. Any less water and the soap begins to solidify. To test this, leave the cap off your bottle for a day, and you’ll notice the soap’s starting to gel. You can reliquify it with a bit of water. (The thickness, or thinness, of the soap is not due to high water content, but to the consistency of the various oils.)
- Effect on Performance: None
- Liquid uses potassium hydroxide to saponify oils; bar uses sodium hydroxide.
- Why: Hardness – sodium hydroxide produces a harder soap than potassium hydroxide. The purpose of these strong alkalis is to blast apart the oil molecules, separating the glycerin from the fatty acids. The fatty acids then reattach to the sodium or potassium ion, leaving the glycerin and water (hydroxide) free-floating. (Just a sidenote – soap cannot be made any other way. None of these alkalis are left in the soap. Check out the link at the bottom about soapmaking.)
- Effect on Performance: None
- Liquid contains palm kernel oil; bar contains palm oil.
- Why: Saponified palm oil solidifies into a harder bar soap than palm kernel oil is able to.
- Effect on Performance: Bar soap is slightly more moisturizing. Palm oil contains stearic acid, which some people find to be less drying than the lauric acid found in palm kernel oil.
- Bar contains salt (NaCl – sodium chloride or table salt).
- Why: Also serves as a hardener.
- Effect on Performance: Bar soap is slightly more moisturizing. Since our bodies are slightly salty, salt water is gentler on our skin than pure water. Salty soap is, too.
Other differences in formulation
- How the hemp seed and jojoba oils are added:
- In the liquid soaps, the hemp seed and jojoba oils are saponified, i.e. turned into soap, along with the coconut and olive oils. However, in the bar soaps, these two oils are added unaltered after the saponification process. This is called “superfatting” the soaps. A while back my brothers tried superfatting the liquids with the hemp seed and jojoba oils, but found that the oils separated out and floated to the top.
- Effect on performance: Bar soaps produce a creamier lather and are slightly more moisturizing.
- Amount of essential oils:
- This is only relevant to the scented soaps (everything except the Baby Unscented). The liquid soap have a higher percentage of the essential oils than do the bar soaps. Once again, the issue at stake is hardness. The bar soaps would soften with that high a concentration of the essential oils.
- Effect on performance: This is entirely a matter of personal preference. Those who like an intense whiff of scent, and those who are looking for the specific benefits of the particular essential oils, should opt for the liquids. Those who like a little scent, but not too much, the bar soap would be better.
Differences in usage
For all body applications, they are entirely interchangeable – from washing face, hair, or body, or shaving. For around the house purposes, you would need to take the extra step of dissolving the bar soaps in water before using them in a spray bottle solution, but they are equally effective. Also, the bar soap can be grated to achieve a kind of powdered soap for laundry, although the liquid works just as well.
Volume of actual soap
I don’t know how to de-math this, but people who put together their own recipes for cleaners might want to know this. Bar soaps are 5% water; liquids are 61%. The chemistry is a little different for both, but considering that a bar of soap weighs 5 oz, and thus 4.75 oz of it is soap, you would need 12.18 ounces (a little over 1 ½ c.) of liquid soap to equal the soap content of a 5 oz bar. Doing the math the other way, 1 cup of liquid soap equals approximately 2/3 of a bar (or 3.64 oz.) of Dr. B’s bar soap.
The Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Bar and Pure-Castile Liquid Soaps are interchangeable. However, the bars are slightly more moisturizing. The liquids are slightly more scented.
If you want more info on the process of soapmaking, check out this article, Making the Best Soap. And here’s a video tour of our Liquid Soap Production Factory.
If you have any other questions about what is in the soap and why or where it is sourced and why or anything else, let me know!
Wondering how to use the Pure-Castile Liquid & Bar Soaps for personal care and house care? You may find these blog posts helpful.
Hi Susan – I’m so sorry to hear about your fingernails! They are often the first telltale that our body doesn’t like something. Purifying your bodycare products will definitely help. I also find that rubbing pure coconut oil into my nails strengthens them.
All the best,
Hi Annie – Great idea! I’ll do that.
Hi Stephanie – I’ll share as much as I know! It’s pretty common for Dr. Bronner’s to release new scents in smaller markets to test them out on customers. There is a really controlled distrubition of Dr. Bronner’s in Japan so it is easier to monitor reaction and such. This is how the Citrus and Rose scents started, as well. I can’t promise anything about wider distribution of the Cherry Blossom and Green Tea (and should I say Sandalwood Jasmine?) but they’re doing really well.
As far as history goes (and I’m feeling a whole post about this, but here’s a summary) – The Peppermint was the first and only for a long time. It is still by far our biggest seller overall. The exact order of the next ones is a bit of a guess, but here goes: Eucalyptus, Lavender, Almond. These were developed before my time, so I don’t know how or why. The unscented Baby Mild came next. It was developed specifically for the maternity ward at UCLA medical center. They wanted a simple, unscented castile soap. It was so well received and there was such demand for it that my grandfather released it nationally. The Tea Tree was next, and I think my dad, Jim Bronner, developed that. If you recall, there was a big tea tree craze in the 90’s, and while some of it was overblown, the oil became widely known and available, and was especially helpful for people with troubled skin (acne, psoriasis, ezcema, rosacea). The Citrus came next, and is only about 5 years old. My brother Mike Bronner developed that one. When it came out in liquid and bar, it replaced the Lemon Bar that we had before. The Rose came at or nearly at the same time as the Citrus. Mike also worked on that one. We had had a Rose bar for a long time, so this added the liquid, but the floral blend changed a bit as well in both forms.
Whew! Hope that was interesting! I’ll pass your comments along to Mike, as well.
All the best,
I tried to turn the bar soap into a liquid as posted above but, after it cooled over night, it turned into a bowl of thick slime. I tried to add more water and ended up with 2 bowls of thick slime. Could someone who has done this please let me know how much water to grated soap to use to avoid it turning into slime? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!!!
How would you recomend turning the bar soap into shampoo?
I have been having problems with my fingernails “de-laminating” as the dermatologist called it. I have always used Ivory bar soap. Today, after my shower I took a good look at them and was horrified! I have tried a Burt’s Bees bar for a week now (but not for a shower) and am also considering other soaps. This site has been a very large help since the natural food store near me carries quite a few Bronner varieties. So I think a couple of bars and a liquid for the shower will be on my list. (My mother always used Castile soap for her hair and it was beautiful.)
By the way, here’s another use for the liquid soap: FEDCO, the Maine mail order co-operative for trees and plants, recommends using it as a spray used to kill the Red African Lily Beetle which has become such a damaging pest. What better and safer pest management could you ask for??
I just learned that Dr. Bronner’s sells Cherry Blossom and Green Tea scented soaps in Asia and the U.K. but not in the U.S. In addition to being both incredibly excited and incredibly disappointed about this (I wish Dr. B’s offered these scents in the U.S. or at least offered them in limited quantities or as “special edition” items on its website), it got me wondering about the history of Dr. B’s scents and whether Dr. B’s has any intention of expanding its line of scents in the U.S. (I think that the 8 scents are great, but that the Green Tea and Cherry Blossom scents would be the perfect additions to round out the collection to 10 varieties, with the only possible exception of a woodsy-smelling scent like Cedarwood, Sandalwood or Vetiver, a fresh tropical scent like Coconut or Pineapple, or a fruity/spicy scent like “Pear Ginger” or “Peach Ginger”). Although I have been using Dr. B’s for over 10 years, I do not know the “scent history” and was wondering if you could share the history of when the scents were introduced, which ones were discontinued, how the company finally arrived at the 8 available in the U.S. today and the 2 additional scents available in Asia, and whether there are any plans to add new scents in the future. Thanks and keep up the great work– love this blog!
Very interesting, . Would you please do one on the Shikakai vs. Liquid.
I just bought a little house that has gray water diverted to water garden and landscaping. I was searching on line for products that would not hurt the environment or animals that wander through the area. I found your product, then remembered that my sister had given me a pottle of 18 in 1 Hemp Peppermint liquid soap. The manufacturer code on the label is 18787 76516 and a code printed lightly at the bottom is 6013 285. The product smells fine and quite pepperminty. Thought I would keep it for cleaning….but get another bottle to use for personal care (shampoo etc.) Neither code translates as you had replied to another question. What do you think?
HI Sharon – The lightly printed code is the key to the age. Your bottle was made January 13, 2006. It is a bit old for the soap, but I have certainly heard of much older bottles that are still completely effective. If it smells good and does a good job (wash something dirty in your house), then it is very fine.
All the best,
I really appreciate your column! This may be a dumb question, but does either of the forms (liquid or bar) retain any glycerine? I did read the soap making process on the website which said the products are soap, glycerine and water, but I was unclear if they are all separate products or if perhaps they are the reason the liquid is liquid…
Many thanks, in advance, for beating a dead horse and elaborating for me!
Hi, I am just getting into the natural side of healing my aiments. I have very bad eczema on my hands and over my body. You say the bar soaps are more moisturising but I do prefer liquid soaps. Would they be moisturising enough for my very dry, damaged skin?
Hi Diane – You could liquify the bar soap by heating some water to simmering in a pan. Then grate the bar soap into the water and stir until dissolved. You may want to use soft or distilled water so that the soap doesn’t react with the minerals in the water. This won’t create exactly Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, for reasons mentioned in the blog post above. However, it will still work. As far as amounts, I’ve never done this, but I would start with 1 cup of water and add the soap. Add more if needed.
Let me know if you have further questions.
All the best,
Can I turn my castile bar into liquid?
Hi Myra and Stephanie – It is the castile soap itself that does the most good for our skin, so you’ll find that any of the varieties do well on the skin, especially on the face. Tea Tree can bump its effectiveness up a notch because it is antibacterial and resolves certain skin blemish. The thing about Tea Tree is that very few people use it because they like the scent; for the most part, they (including me) use it because of the antibacterial qualities. I would say that all the other Dr. B castile options – peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, citrus, rose, almond, and even unscented – are selected both because of how they smell (or don’t), and also for the particular benefits of the oil.
The bottom line is that you should use what works for you and what you like best! And that may change from day to day. My norm is almond in the shower, tea tree at the sink. However, on swelteringly hot summer days, peppermint is what I reach for in the shower.
All the best,
Lisa- To follow up on Myra’s point/questions, I thought that Lavender had similar antiseptic and healing properties as Tea Tree, though perhaps not as strong. And the Citrus and Peppermint soaps act as astringents. I agree, however, that the other Dr. B’s scents are for fragrance or other therapeutic benefits but not necessarily for the skin per se.
Very nice of you to have this blog and responding to questions readily.
You mentioned that only Tea Tree has a particular benefit for skin…so I am
wondering about Almond (my favorite) because I thought Almond Oil benefits skin.
I have used both Tea Tree and Almond and personally get better results with my chronic rash with Dr. Bronner’s Almond.
I have read elsewhere that Rose Oil contains ethanol and not to use Rose Soap which seemed odd to me since through all my years I have never heard/read that before. Do you have information if ethanol is in Rose Oil used in Rose Soap?
Lisa- thanks!!! I’ll be sure to let my mother know 🙂
Hi Annette – We officially give our castile soaps a shelf life of about 3 years, but they can last much longer than that especially if they are kept in a cool, dark, dry location. After the three year mark, you may notice a decrease in the strength of the scent, but the soap will still be effective. If anything smells wrong, toss it. You can determine the manufacture date by looking for the lot code on the packaging. It is a Julian date, which means the first number is the year (2=2012) and the next three numbers indicate the day of the year (001=January 1 and 365=December 31). Feel free to send me the lot code and I can translate it for you. I don’t know how much you bought, but you may not need to vacuum seal it.
Hi Jen – Personally I would prefer the Lavender, but it comes down to personal preference. The Baby Mild has no essential oils and more olive oil, but I really miss a scent. The Lavender smells great, but it doesn’t have a particular benefit for the skin. Tea Tree really is the only one where the oil has a particular benefit for the skin.
Hi Lisa – Great to hear you’ve been with us for so long! I hope you enjoy the newer scents. Officially, I still need to caution people against using the soap in a traditional pump dispenser because of clogging and squirting, although it certainly sounds like you and your husband have found a good strategy for coping with it. When I was trying it once, long ago, I found that my family knew the trick, but I had a guest who got a good squirt on her shirt because she didn’t know the key.
Let me know if I can be of further help!
Just found this site and I want to say that I have been using the Almond liquid full strength in my kitchen dispenser for several years. This is a dispenser that came with the faucet set. My husband and I close our hand around the end and “tap” the pump so we only get a tiny squirt (a few drops really because that is all that’s needed) and I’ve never noticed any clogging. If anything, the soap may dry right on the very tip but if it is wiped off, or scraped with a fingernail, there is no problem. I’ve also diluted the Lavendar to use on my dogs. I don’t have any particular ratio I use but I know I’ve had a diluted version stay in large squirt bottles (like an old dish detergent bottle) for months with no strange smells ever! I have used the peppermint also, for many years, and love it. I am going to try the citrus scent and tea tree next.
I am undecided between Lavender or Baby Mild as a facial cleanser for my combination skin. I’m in my 30s.Which would you recommend? I’ll be trying for the first time.
Thanks for your reply.
Can you tell me the shelf live of your hemp citrus orange castile bar soap and how to prolong its life? We just purchased a bunch and my husband thinks we should vacuum seal some in plastic.
Hi Terri – A common question, and unfortunately, diluting the soap will not help the pump issue. Although this may take longer to happen, the soap will still gradually coat the inside of the pump, causing the contents to shoot out faster and be diverted into unexpected directions, such as up into your face.
Hi Danielle – The tocopherols (vitamin E) in the Dr. Bronner’s products are all derived from sunflower oils. There is no soy in the products.
Please let me know if I can be of further help!
All the best,
Hi Lisa, I had another question. My mom is allergic to soy and has been told not to use products with vitamin E, since it is sometimes derived from soy. Does the tocopherol in Dr. Bronner’s soap and other products come from soy?
This is a great post! I have an important question. I know the liquid soap is not to be put into a pump bottle because it will clog it. If the liquid is diluted 50/50, would that be ok for a pump bottle? Or if I put 1/3 soap to 2/3 water?
Hi Kelly – I prefer the liquid. When my youngest was a baby, we dealt with a lot of redness, baby acne, dry spots, etc. I used the liquid and it worked great. But I’m also partial to it, for no scientific reason. It is a slightly simpler soap, though. Try it first, taking care to keep it out of his eyes. The unscented Baby Mild is by far our gentlest. However, I’ve had a lot of feedback from eczema sufferers that the Tea Tree is the way to go. Maybe start gentle and work your way up.
All the best,
what is better for my 2 1/2 year olds eczema condition, the bar or the liquid?
He is miserable and we have tried everything.
Hi Steph – Wow! Sounds fabulous! The liquid soap will turn cloudy below 60 F, but it will still work fine. How cold are we talking here? I don’t know the freezing point, but I will find out. I think the liquid would be a better option in general – less water to activate, and less hassle.
I’ll let you know when I find out the freezing point.
All the best,
Im going trekking in Nepal for three weeks and I think this will be a great product to bring since I think it will pretty much cover all my cleaning needs whilst i’m there: face/body wash, shampoo, washing my clothes.
I was debating whether to bring liquid or a bar of soap.
I would like to bring the liquid, but I am concerned that it may solidify/separate out in the cold temperatures – what do you think?
Hi Kim – Good question! I went to look for a post I’d written about castile soap in the laundry, and I realized I hadn’t done one specifically on that. The closest I’ve come is this one on washing bedding: http://lisa.drbronner.com/?p=815. The ingredient measurements are the same, but if you have an HE machine, cut everything in half. Also, with clothes, you can use baking soda for additional deodorizing – 1/2 c. in with the wash water and soap, or half that for an HE machine. The Sal Suds would be a better option for wick away materials, since it is crucial for their effectiveness that there be no residue on the material. The Sal Suds are slightly more clean rinsing, which is why they don’t need the vinegar in the rinse water.
Hi Dianna – I’m glad you tried again! I, and probably other readers, am curious about the clay pack. Can you give some more info about that?
All the best,
Hi Lisa. I have used the liquid soap in the past for hair washing even with an acidic rinse and hated the results. A few years I tried again with the bar soaps and got a much better result but didn’t keep using them for some reason. Recently after doing a bentonite clay pack to get rid of residue from other bar soap – I used the baby mild bar with a very weak ACV rinse (1 teaspoon/1liter water) and got a great result! I am thinking that my water isn’t as hard as I though and my problem was my too strong acidic rinse! Also I am sure that it helped that I started after using the clay mask because before when I tried the bar soaps I had been washing with a soap that definitely left residue in my hair. I also made sure to suds the soap up really well since I’ve found that the soap that hasn’t sudsed up is more likely not not rinse away and sticks to my hair… 🙂 So glad that there are still real Bronner’s involved in the soap business! And I also miss the food products. Especially the Cheezos…
Lisa, I am new to Dr. Bronner’s products and love them. I was hoping you could tell me how to use the liquid Castile Soap for my laundry. Also, is it safe for wick away materials? I wasn’t sure since the soap contains oil. Do you use it undiluted for dishes? Any info would be great!! Thanks. Kim
Thank you for answering my question Lisa.
Yes, like your soap batches, ours also last about a month, some of them a little longer. My ratio tends to be more like 1:3 though. I too wash out the dispensers thouroughly, using water as hot as I can take. Also, when I refill, I use filtered water that has been boiled and allowed to cool to dilute the soap with. Maybe that is being slightly OTT but I just feel better taking as many measures against the potential of bacteria growth as I can, and it can do no harm.
Sympathies about the ants, they aren’t too much of a problem for me at the moment, but then I’m in rainy old England!
Keep up the great work you do on this blog, you are clearly an inspiration to lots of people incuding myself.
Hi Melanie – Great question! You’re right – I do use the liquid soap diluted in foaming dispensers (ratio of 1:4), and each “batch” lasts about a month. I also have my Castile soap spray that I use in my bathrooms and on ants (especially these days). Both these solutions work fine without turning.
So, in contrast to my answer above, let me say, follow your nose. If the solution smells different, don’t use it. I also make a point of rinsing out my foaming dispensers and spray bottles thoroughly before refilling them so that there’s no build up of old stuff.
Thanks for another interesting and informative article.
My daughter and I both have eczema and Dr Bronner’s soaps are obviously much better for washing with than detergent-based hand and body washes. I buy the baby mild soaps.
After reading your recommendation to use diluted, dissolved bar soap within a week, due to the preservative also being diluted, I am curious as to whether this also applies to the liquid soap when diluted in foaming soap dispensers.
As a family we use these all around the house, as I know you do too, but they will usually last for quite a bit longer than a week – is this safe?
Loved this article!
I am new to using these soaps and I had a question about the bar soap. You mentioned earlier that if you wanted to use bar soap for home cleaning, etc. you would need to dissolve the soap. If you grate and dissolve the soap and then use it, does it make is less moisturizing in its liquid form than in the bar form?
Hi Marie – I hadn’t thought of this, but no, it would not be less moisturizing, because the moisturizing elements – the salt, stearic acid, and superfatted oils – would still be present. If you dissolve it, you are also diluting it. The dilution would not have a long shelf life because the preservative Dr. Bronner’s adds to the soap (tocopherols, or Vitamin E) would not be concentrated enough in the diluted solution. All that to say, use it within a week or so.
Let me know if I can answer anything else!
After 4 years of searching for the perfect 100% natural soap I finally found Dr Bronner magic soap last year and felt in love with it. I’m so in love with it that I want to start selling it around my place. I’ve bought small bottle and give them away for sample so people can try it.
Like your blogs….continue the good work…
Janet, when you say you use it to clean your nostrils, do you mean washing, or irrigation, like dilute in a neti pot?
I Got to meet Dr. Bronner, and several times sat on the roof, with him, listening to the story of his life… ( eating Bronner chips, yum). That was 1968… and I have used the liquid ever sence then… For just about every thing… I use it during allergy season to cleanse by nostrals, to clean by body and by pets, to clean my vegis… I like the idea of the bar, but I guess I am a old dog… why change a good thing. Ps.. I do miss his vegi broth… I understand it clumped, but I got a lot of people to eat vegi’s with that stuff, who thought they never would…..
Hi Janet – What great memories! My grandfather was someone who was hard to forget. I well remember those roof get-togethers. We miss his food products too, especially the chips and Cheezons. Unfortunately, he didn’t pass that knowledge on to the rest of us, like he did the soap know-how. I prefer the liquid, too. We’ll be old dogs together.
All the best,
Thanks for this. I’ve been using the liquid soap for some time, but recently considered the bar for travel and because it seems a better practise to ship a solid product rather than water. I could really use the moisturizing so will be sure to give it a try.
Thanks Lisa for the great explanation. I will use it on my website and when I conduct natural beauty workshops for various local churches and community groups.
I still love the liquid peppermint Dr Bronner’s soaps for laundry, for cleaning and for making shampoo suitable for dry ethnic (aka a 5 inch afro) hair like mine. I love sharing with my readers when and where Dr. Bronner’s products are on sale. (www.thetakebacktour.com)
I’m glad this explanation is helping to clarify things!
Many years ago I was using a detergent that left enough residue on the diapers and it caused such a problem on my girls they had what looked like a bad burn with open sores in some places. I never tested the absorbency but the cloth was softer and did rinse cleaner. I did have to follow that with a soak in a diluted vinegar which was left on the diapers to change the environment of the wet diapers. Urine does have a way of turning into ammonia which can burn the skin. After this, I was ordered by the doctor to use soap. Now, the choices are limited more than years ago. The only soap I see on the market regularly enough is Bonner’s.
A side note…diapers available today are super absorbent but it is harder to train the toddlers to a toilet if they don’t even feel the wetness.
I’ll have to try the bar soap on my hair! The stickiness of the liquid on my frizzy hair is relieved with your citrus rinse, but its too strong to use everyday.
Can we get a bar of soap by pounds? I have visions of using soap flakes for laundry more regularly since it is impossible to find a commercial such a product anymore. The only soap I have seen for about fourty years is Ivory Flakes but that is gone now. Soap rinses out of laundry clean leaving the clothes without residue from overdosing with detergent. When using cloth diapers for my twins, I HAD to use soap. I can now only imagine how nice it would be to use soap on cashmere and how nice it would rinse.
@Mary – The bar soap only comes in solid bars, no flakes. I have not used cloth diapers, but I have heard that pure castile soap can make them less absorbent. Perhaps other readers can weigh in on this.
All the best,
Interesting 🙂 I’ve been using the soaps for years now (prefer the original peppermint above all else of course) and have been wondering about this.
However, there’s one thing that doesn’t get mentioned on here: for me at least, the liquid is much more cost effective. Even out here where it’s jacked up to over $15 for the big bottle, it takes me almost 3 months of daily showers, shampoos, and shaving as needed to consume a bottle. The bar soap disappeared within a couple of weeks.
The nice thing about bar soap is travel. There is not 2 oz limit for air travel.
i’m interested in the salt issue too.
i LOVE the liquid soap, but not on my hair.
also i’ve used the liquid soap to wash my “babies” – kittens and puppies that come into our shelter. it works well as long they don’t have raw bottoms; but the salinity of the bar soap may fix that.
i do love the liquid soap so much i hadnt even considered the bar soap. i know what i want in my next care package!!
(as an aside, how i wish there was dr bronner’s sold in thailand!)
Thanks, Lisa! One more question: What explains the fact that I have more success with the bar soap as shampoo than the liquid (the bar soap rinses clean while the liquid leaves a greasy residue)? Perhaps the salt in the bar soap acts as a water softener? Any other idea why?
@Stephanie – I think you’ve got it exactly. The salt in the bar soap probably is acting as a water softener. I’ve noticed the same thing with my son’s hair. It’s much softer after the bar soap.
All the best,
Glad this clears things up!
@ Stephanie – Both the bar and the liquid have a higher concentration of olive oil, but it is saponified in both of them.
All the best,
Great post– thanks so much for the thorough explanation! Love both the bar soap and the liquid! One question– I think you mentioned that the “Baby Mild” soap had extra olive oil– is that in the bar soap only, since the liquid can’t be “superfatted”? Just curious. Thanks!
Interesting and informative…very well written! Thank you for writing this…LOVE LOVE LOVE these soaps!!
That was both interesting and educational! I will share this info with my children. It’s fun and good for them to learn about why I choose to use certain products in our home. Thanks!