The Unexpected Versatility of Bar Soap

I am a keeper of lists.  They’re a primary mode of communication to myself and to others.  (Knowing nods from my nearest and dearest.)  Lists make me feel better when I’m anxious, overwhelmed, frustratedor sleepless.  But also when I’m excited, ambitiousor simply practical. 

I write To-Do lists and Ta-Da lists (highly recommended for celebrating what you’ve actually done).  I write lists of books to read, books I’ve read, movies to watch, places to visit, recipes to try, gifts to buy, people to call, emails to write, inspirational quotes, and blog topics.   

I must remind myself that inexplicably, not everyone loves lists as much as I do, but I hope you’ll indulge me one here today. 

One ever-growing list I have is for the many “off-label” uses for Dr. Bronner’s products.  My list for the Pure-Castile Bar soap has reached a critical mass that I felt it ripe to share with you. 

I hope to hear you say, “I never thought of that” as you read.  Even as an old trusted standby, bar soap still has some tricks up its sleeve.  

Benefits of Bar Soap 

  • No plastic packaging.  While the plastic in Dr. Bronner’s bottles is 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic and recyclable, the bar soap avoids plastic altogether with its 100% PCR, recyclable paper wrappers. 
  • More concentrated.  Saves space.  Saves weight.  Better deal.   
  • No running through your fingers in the shower.
  • Easier to use less.  Just a bit is all you need.  Great for kids.  
  • Easier to control.  Good for keeping soap off baby’s face.  
  • Not spillable.  Not in your shower, not in your luggage, not in your gym bag, not in your child’s bath. 
  • Not meltable.  Not in a hot car, hot backpack, or hot airplane luggage compartment. 
  • No TSA compliance concerns.  They have yet to limit the amount of bar soap you may carry on an airplane.
  • Slightly more moisturizing than the liquid 
  • Cuts easily into smaller bars.  Good for splitting up a bar of soap for multiple people or different uses, especially while traveling. 
  • Organic plant oils and biodegradability make it best for body and earth. 
  • It’s nostalgic and stylishly retro these days. 

Uses of Bar Soap 

  • Wash head to toe – hair, face, body, feet and hands.  (To start with the obvious.) 
  • Wash clothes – in a hotel sink or in your campsite – wet both bar soap and clothing, rub bar soap to a lather on fabric, rub and rinse. 
  • As a shaving cake at the bottom of your shaving cup.  Makes a creamy lather. 
  • With a fingernail brush – rub the brush over the bar. 
  • Keep nails clean while gardening.  Before gardening, rub dry bar soap under nails to keep dirt out.   
  • Wash dishes – rub your dish brush over the bar.  
  • Grate it for powdered laundry soap.  (Works best with hot water.) 

Non-Washing Uses – For Some Real Innovation 

  • Grease door hinges. 
  • Lubricate wooden window sashes. 
  • Loosen sticky wood drawers.   
  • Coat threads of screws to ease screwing in. 
  • Keep clothes in luggage fresh-smelling while traveling, or even in your drawers, by placing an unwrapped dry bar of soap among them. 
  • Keep dirty clothes fresh-smelling on the way home with that same unwrapped dry bar placed in them. 
  • Freshen stinky shoes by placing the unwrapped, dry bar in them.   
  • Make hand-sewing easier.  Stick the tip of the needle into a bar of dry soap ahead of sewing so it glides through tough fabrics easily. 
  • Practice whittling.  Soap is softer than wood, easier to cut.  And you can use it for something afterwards. 
  • Temporarily fill in nail holes in the wall until it’s time to spackle the hole and repaint.  

Before I wrap this up, let me alleviate any remaining bar soap anxiety with another very brief list: 

  • Bars of soap do not harbor germs.  Both the CDC and the Mayo Clinic recommend bar and liquid soap equally as the most effective prevention against sickness.  Furthermore, those blessed scientists whose work it is to answer all our obscure “what if” questions actually contaminated bars of soaps with nasty germs and still found no transference on to the next hand washer.  One set did this in 1965 and another set repeated it a different way in 1988. 
  • When your bar of soap is down to that last tiny sliver, stick it on to your next full bar of soap when both are wet.  That way, you can utilize every last bit of soapy goodness.  No loss.  No waste. 

As I contemplate these 29 – Yes, 29! – perks and uses of good ol’ bar soapI find that the bar has made its way on to my list of “stranded on a deserted island” products – a common question I get in interviews.   

And there’s something quite satisfying about unwrapping a brand new bar of soap.  That unmarred surface and crisp “All-One!” stamp.  So much cleaning potential!  It’s like getting a present, without having to write a thank-you note.  Unless the bar of soap was a present.  Then you should write a thank-you note.  Include this list. 

38 thoughts on “The Unexpected Versatility of Bar Soap

  1. I would like to grate the bar soap to use for laundry. How much would I need to grate? What would be the grated equivalent of the liquid soap needed for laundry? Thanks!

    • Hi Ash- You can definitely use grated bar soap for laundry, but I don’t have a recipe to share. There are many available online though. I can tell you that one bar of soap comes out to about 3 1/2 cups when grated.

  2. Found this post entertaining and educational. It also makes a great gift.
    “Thanks for having me over. Hey, I was at Whole Foods buying soap and I thought of you and bought two. So here’s yours.”
    Oh the smiles you will see!

    • Excellent! Yes! It’s a great housewarming, host, or “just because” gift!

  3. During World War Two, manufacturers ran ads in Life Magazine about how to make domestic items last longer (soap, towels, etc.) and one of them was to unwrap bars of soap to let them dry out so they would last longer. Perhaps this is where Janet’s mother learned this. You might check Life Magazines from 1942 to 1945 and read the ads. There might be additional hints that we can use that you could publicize! Take care!

    • Hi Ellen – That is very interesting! I definitely want to look into that. Times of scarcity certainly instigate great resourcefulness.

  4. This convinced me to start using the soap bars more. I still will keep some liquid soap around for household cleaning though. One thing I like about using the soap bars is because I get bored with scents and like changing them up, and it’s easier to have multiple bars than multiple bottles.

  5. I always keep a bar of your soap at my kitchen sink. Great !!! I love the tip for keeping nails clean while gardening
    by putting the soap under your nails before you start. Will try that soon. I will have to say that using a nail brush with your soap nails come clean in a flash..

    • Hi Sonja – I was just out in the garden myself this morning and took full advantage of this!

    • Hi Summa – You’re very welcome! A huge thank you to you for your support!

  6. To eliminate wasted soap slivers AND make it easier to hang onto soap in the shower, I bought some mesh soap bags with drawstrings from Amazon for about $6, but you could also make your own. The bag hangs on the faucet, allowing it to dry in between showers. NO more mushy soap!! It’s MUCH easier to hang onto the mesh bag than a slippery soap bar. And I can add a new bar to the bag whenever needed.

  7. Very intriguing! How do the bar and liquid compare to each other in terms of cost-effectiveness. My guess is that the bar soap would deplete more quickly than an equivalently priced amount of liquid soap, i.e., one $4-5 bar would last fewer showers than a similarly priced 4-oz bottle of liquid version. I’m interested in trying the bar but am interested in knowing I would be ultimately spending more in the long run. Anyone test this hypothesis?

    • Hi Pala – I’m stealing the math from a post I put up in 2012, but the soaps haven’t changed: “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.”

      You’ve brought up the additional consideration that we use bar soap and liquid soap differently. I haven’t studied that. Perhaps another reader can weigh in???

    • Would be interesting to also do that math with liquid soap in a foamer. I use my large bottle of Dr Bronner’s in a foamer with about a 3:1 ratio of water to soap.

  8. Thanks for the list of 29 uses for bar soap. That section on non-washing uses was interesting (and made me chuckle.) I really like the liquid soap but I’m thinking I’ll try some old favorites in the bar form. I’m also thinking of introducing it to a few unsuspecting family members. 😉🙃

    • Hi Eleanor – In reference to unwrapping bars of soap for freshening shoes/drawers/luggage, you certainly can still use the soap afterwards. The essential oils may dissipate some once opened, but the soap is still just as effective.

  9. My new favorite use is next to my kitchen sink with a dish brush. Really does an amazing job of cleaning the dishes after a meal.

  10. There is another use for slivers of soap. I use them to mark fabric for cutting, buttonhole placement, etc. The soap brushes or washes off whereas grafite pencils and colored pencils sometimes will never wash out. Blessings

    • Ooh, that’s a good one, too! Thanks, Janet!

  11. Great ideas! I have also been known to pre treat a stain or two, with bar soap. Especially if it is oil based!

  12. I have a cup in the bathroom for the scraps: when I accumulate enough, I melt them down in a pan on the stove (add a little water, and let it simmer) and remold them into new bars.

  13. Thank you for the great ideas Ms. Bronner.
    I have been looking for ways to stop using plastic – it is literally helping to kill our Earth and so many wonderful sea creatures.
    I use bar soap for drawer scents.
    Thank you for your great products.

  14. I still prefer bar soap too – & consider it a personal challenge to see how thin a sliver I can get a bar down to before “pasting” it onto a new bar. In some cases, I’ve had slivers of soap I could READ through – not one whit of waste! I like the control you have with bar soap too, as you stated. No running over all things, no dribbling etc. Here’s a hint I didn’t see mentioned. My Mom always told me to store bars UNWRAPPED so it could “dry out” – she said it made the soap last longer. We were a family of 8 [6 kids!!] so we had a linen closet stacked with unwrapped soap bars at all times. Now I’m constitutionally unable to store wrapped bars – GOTTA unwrap them!

    • Hi Janet- I haven’t heard that tip before. Thanks!

    • You brought back a childhood memory. A linen closet of unwrapped soap!

  15. Thank you for this post! I love bar soap and always use Dr. Bronner’s. It never occurred to me to cut a smaller piece of bar soap to pack for traveling. What a great idea! There were several other uses here I wasn’t aware of, so thanks again for so many good ideas!

    • Hi Bobbie- I was hoping you’d find some new uses for it!

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