The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
July 15, 2010

Why are body washes in plastic bottles more popular than bar soap?

While I love my boyfriend Isaiah Mustafa’s hot and funny Old Spice commercial, I do not love the product he is selling: Old Spice Scented Body Wash.

Isaiah Mustafa Old Spice Commercial

But according to a recent NPR story on men switching to bath gels, more and more men seem to think that body wash gels work better than bar soap. As a woman, I find bar soap to work fine, if not better than bodywash. So why the sudden unfortunate switch among men?

Why unfortunate? Because first of all, the ingredients suck:


The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database gives the product a score of 5: Moderate Hazard.

And second, of course, is the plastic bottle. The NPR story ends with a brief mention of the environmental impact:

Mr. John Kalkowski (Editorial director, Packaging Digest): It does have an environmental impact. People who are considering making that change from bar soap to body washes, may want to consider what that impact is.

GRAF: Kalkowski says the bottles can be recycled. But if they go into the trash can instead, those bottles create more waste than the small paper or cardboard packages bar soaps come in. And all that trash could add up to be body wash’s dirty little secret.

So what’s the deal? Guys, if you’re reading, what do you think? Do body washes actually work better for you than bar soap? Or are men just so influenced by advertising and convinced that all natural human body smells are bad that we have to cover them up with strong, probably toxic, fragrances?

Personally, I want my man to smell like a man — it’s part of what makes him attractive. But what do you think?

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92 Comments on "Why are body washes in plastic bottles more popular than bar soap?"

6 months 23 days ago

My name is Beverly. Switching to bar to gels(liquids) soap is a lifstyle choice and  your boyfriend Isaiah Mustafa’s should use a product like Semina-turals. This product is 100% natural African Liquid Black Soap or Aloe Black Soap. The ingredients is very simple (promise you). I would love to send you and your boyfriend free samples. My company name is SANKOFA CREATIONS is based in New York City. If you are interested please send me a email at . I would lik
e to get feed back from you. Thanks for the discussion.

1 year 3 months ago

i’ve used bar soaps, tried body wash liquids, and switched back to bars.     
i found that using liquid soap was both inconvenient and wasteful – i had to pick up the bottle, open it, squirt soap on my hand, then rub it around.   in the process, a lot of soap would get wasted – i had to repeat this process several times each shower.   it worked slightly better using a shower-wall-mounted liquid soap dispenser.   i also tried using one those spongy-scrubber thingies.   this worked and seemed to allow me to make more efficient use of the soap, however it took extra effort to wet the sponge, apply soap, squish it into the sponge, and rinse the sponge afterwards.
contrast to using a bar – you just hold it in your hand, do a little rubbing around and you end up getting the soap where you need it with little waste.  
as an aside: i like a soap that leaves my skin squeaky clean.  i’m not a fan of any kind of film left behind – moisturizers, oils, aloe, etc. nor of any strong fragrance.  it seems like 99% of cleaners these days try to compete based on how many different kinds of stuff i don’t like they can pack in (moisturizers, especially), so its kind of hard for me to find soap i like.  
i currently use basic/cheap safeguard bar soap.  it comes in bulk packs in cellophane-wrapped recyclable paper boxes (vs. plastic bottles).  it doesn’t seem to leave much residue in my shower, either (which some people seem to complain about with other bar soaps).  

the only slight problem of bar soap is storing it.  if you leave it sitting on a shelf in the shower or in an enclosed dish, it can make a mess.   i use a soap dish that has a little drain spout that hangs over the shelf in the shower and works great.   also of course, when the bar gets too small to use, just open another one and squish them together – easy and nothing gets wasted;  you get to skip the ordeal of eeking the last bit of product out of a plastic bottle.
body wash: expensive, wasteful application, harder to use, takes extra time, wasteful packaging.
soap: requires you have a proper soap dish/tray, otherwise it can be a little messy.

1 year 9 months ago

I’ve always used bar soap growing up and I still do. I’ve tried body wash along the way and… meh… I don’t really like it. It SMELLS nice but… I always see that they are trying to moisturize my skin or something and maybe that’s why but it never feels …Clean. I want me skin to be squeaky clean. Body wash leaves a bit of… slipperiness in my opinion.

2 years 3 months ago

the fact is I won’t use body washes.  I hate them.  yes, I think they smell ok jut it seems like you use more, they cost more, and they don’t do as good a job.  They just cover up and don’t clean up.  To be honest, I didn’t think about the environmental impact, but now that it’s been brought to my attention that just one more reason I won’t use them.

2 years 3 months ago

And it’s sad that almost everybody is fooled into thinking that body wash is more effective than bar soap when it really isn’t. Sure they usually bring up the argument about how bars dry out their skin but I counter with telling them to use a brand made with moisturizing creams and apply some lotion after showering.

2 years 8 months ago

As Flava Flav once “Don’t believe the hype” i’ve made the switch to bar soap about a year ago and I haven’t looked back since also with the invention of the soap saver mesh pouch I can extend the longevity of each bar I use. Also body wash seems to take longer to rinse off my skin than bar soap which means i’m wasting more water and I still don’t feel all that clean after the shower.

2 years 8 months ago

As Flava Flav once “Don’t believe the hype” i’ve made the switch to bar soap about a year ago and I haven’t looked back since also with the invention of the soap saver mesh pouch I can extend the longevity of each bar I use. 

2 years 11 months ago

My husband and I are in the process of moving towards a 90% reduction of plastic consumption in our household. He has followed my lead and is only using bar soap now… and smells exactly the same!  I also want to thank you for your inspirational Ted Talk.  I have been wanting to experiment using soap nuts as my laundry detergent (given that the only waste is a nut shell!) and I stumbled upon a company – NatruOli – that sells some wonderful soap nut products.  I was turned off by them, however, because they package their “green” laundry detergent and other soap products in plastic bottles.  I did what you advised – I wrote into them and encouraged them to check out plastic free websites and to consider that they are negating their green movement by their choice in packaging.   Thanks again for your inspiration and wisdom!

2 years 9 months ago

Thanks for writing the company, Steph.  Did you get a response from them yet?  If they won’t switch, check out Laundrytree:

3 years 5 months ago

“Personally, I want my man to smell like a man — it’s part of what makes him attractive. But what do you think?”


I think you might be one of the few girls on this planet who isn’t bothered too much by people’s body odors.

But as a man, I can tell you that 99% of women DON’T WANT YOU TO SMELL BAD. I’ve been in embarrassing situations before where girls have told me I needed to brush my teeth before we made out because my breath wasn’t very fresh or that I needed to use a stronger deodorant.

These were my younger high school and early college years so I was kind of stupid when it came to hygiene and I didn’t realize just how important hygiene is when you are dating or in a relationship.

Now that I’m in my late 20s I’m older and wiser and I’ve learned from those embarrassing situations. You need to find a balance between having good hygiene and using harsh possibly toxic chemicals like SLS (SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE or SODIUM LAURYTH SULFATE) which are actually carcinogenic chemicals that are used in toothpastes, shampoos, and body washes to create a stronger foam or lather.

There are many body washes out there that are much more natural and some are even completely organic and they come in very masculine scents or at least clean fresh gender neutral scents. Frankly, soap bars tend to be a little gross because they collect dead skin cells and bacteria. And if dropped on the floor or sink most people feel gross using it again. This is why body washes are becoming so popular amongst both women and men. They are just easier, faster, and cleaner to use. Not too mention that many of them come with exfoliating agents such as micro beads.

Body washes are the way to go, but finding a more natural one is important. Old Spice Scented Body Wash is just another low-quality commercial product loaded with toxic chemicals but packaged in a nice bottle and nicely advertised on TV.

4 years 5 months ago

Well, I am the nonconformist on this forum.

We use nothing but body wash in the bathroom primarily because it doesn’t leave soap scum. Although there is a residue, it is soft and washes off easily. Bar soap may be more environmentally-friendly but the chemicals you need to remove the scum aren’t. We use a wall-mounted soap dispenser and that probably cuts down on the waste; a bottle lasts us *months*. (I also itch less than with bar soap.)

As fo the EWG ratings, they are bogus if you have any respect for the FDA.

4 years 9 months ago

Not only do plastic bottles end up in landfills, but there is also the cost to the environment in manufacture of these bottles, and shipping them around to retail stores so that we can buy them. I switched to natural olive oil based bars from bottles a few years back, and am very happy. I buy local so that less oil is used or pollution created in the shipping process. Easy to find local, there are soapmakers everywhere. Shop around, find one with good, earth loving ingredients.

Not only is bar soap better for the environment, but less chemicals is better for us too. The soap I buy is about $5 a bar, good quality, and if I take care of it properly by using a soap dish that drains, it lasts for well over a month. It doesn’t leave a film on my skin or in the shower, and I would assume that the poster who claims all bar soap does is probably using a commercial bar that is full of chemicals and made from tallow.

I use bar soap for my face, body, and hair. I also find that using bar soaps, esp. those made with natural oils and essential oils for scent, to be a much more luxurious and sensual way to get clean.

So, lots of benefits. I try to include a nice, delicious smelling bar of pretty, natural soap with every gift I give, to turn everyone on to or back to the benefits of using bar soap.

4 years 10 months ago

i recently switched to bar soap and couldn’t be happier. i rub it on a loofah (i think mine is a mix of recycled plastic and bamboo… know any good natural loofahs?) and it lathers infinitely better than shower gel. i have heard people talk about the film left from bar soaps, but my “out of africa” brand soap made with organic shea butter smells sooo good and doesn’t leave any residue for me at all. i’ll never buy another body wash gel

4 years 10 months ago

Fascinating discussion! But are we having too much fun scrubbing each other down? I didn’t have time to read every entry, but one thing… “If we don’t buy it, they won”t make it”… maybe, but it’s better if we tell them why, lest they be confused and think we don’t like the smell or the color.
I want natural, sustainable, not wrapped in a ton of plastic kinds of products, and I can’t make everything myself. I want AB 1998 to pass the Cal. Senate and become law. I want schoools to teach the truth about recycling.
Many plastics cannot be reused or remanufactured. Virgin plastic is cheaper. They are thus landfilled and eventually end up in the ocean! The chasing arrows are meaningless. Doing my best to reduce plastic in my life. Thank you, Beth, for this forum.

Amy K.
4 years 10 months ago

I keep vowing to switch to bar soap once my supply of bodywash runs out, but I’ve also been making an effort to use as little as possible. We bought one Sams Club package (~half gallon) 3 years ago, and I’m only half way through!

My husband technically uses bar soap, but most of the time he just sudses up with his shampoo and washes with the bubbles that run down rather than a separate step.

I guess I’m saying we’re of the “use only enough” camp, rather than embracing a particular flavor.

Lynne MacDonald
4 years 10 months ago

I use Dr. Bronner’s peppermint for my hair, but I use a lemon verbena bar soap for my body. I like the lemon smell. Dr. bronners makes a lemon bar soap but I haven’t seen the liquid version yet, or I would probably buy it. A few posters mentioned refilling their Dr. Bronner’s. Are you talking about refiliing the 5 gallon jugs? I would love to be able to do that. Anybody know of anyplace in the Bremerton, kitsap area of washginton state that does that?

4 years 10 months ago

I just switched to bar soap from body wash to reduce my plastic consumption. My husband on the other hand likes using the body wash so he can use the poof and scrub his skin.

4 years 10 months ago

I used to body wash all the time but then I switched to wonderful bar soap — it’s locally made and all natural. It costs more than bar soap in the store but I also found that it lasts longer and has a wonderful lather.

Plus it comes post recycled cardboard that can be recycled again. I get it at the Farmer’s market.

Elizabeth Brunner
4 years 10 months ago

Off-topic from plastic, but folks following this blog & amused by the Old Spice commercials might be interested. Wonderful video for a college library that uses same format as the Old Spice commercials and a handsome student with quite similar voice:

I use Dr. Bronner’s soap. I don’t like the film that the bar soaps leave on my skin. I think that there are WAY too many chemicals being emitted into the environment. There is no emphasis on the long-term effects of what the corporations do to the planet. Their only consideration is the profit of particular actions. What good will it do us if the corporations make record profits, but end up killing us all off? Or worse yet, if they end up maiming, crippling and sickening all the people here? It is not on the corporate list of priorities…

4 years 10 months ago

I have recently gone to using bar soap, lily de valle made right here near seattle, Ballard Organics made in Ballard, a seattle community, or Dr. Bonner’s all in one bar soap

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