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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I hate bod wash. I don’t understand the appeal at all. Although I am a faithful recycler, everyone isn’t. Many of those plastic body wash bottles wilI end up in landfills or even worse, the oceans. **shudders**. I love bar soaps. In fact, I plan to start making my own soaps in the very near future.


My name is Beverly. Switching to bar to gels(liquids) soap is a lifstyle choice and your boyfriend Isaiah Mustafa 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. I would like to get feed back from you. Thanks for the discussion.


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… Read more »


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.


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.


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.


Amen. Dude! i agree 💯%


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.


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.


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… Read more »

Beth Terry

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


“Personally, I want my man to smell like a man it’s part of what makes him attractive. But what do you think?” UMMMM … NO. 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… Read more »


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.


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… Read more »


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


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… Read more »

Amy K.

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

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?


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.


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

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:

Dave@Sodium Benzoate and Other Food Additives

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…


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.

Sandra Lee

I cannot stand the smell of Old Spice on men. I can’t believe how men are not being sucked into all the male fragrance and toiletry marketing hype. I only use unscented bar soap myself. Unscented soaps are a small kindness you can offer to people with chemical sensitivity.


I’ve recently switched to Rhassoul Clay for washing, and it’s great.

Elizabeth B

Piper, ugh, that’s disgusting. I’d have demanded a refund!

Great discussion, Beth. My husband and I buy handmade bar soap from our favorite B&B in Ashland, but we’re still using shampoo. Maybe next month on my summer vacation I’ll experiment with alternate ways of getting my hair clean. (I’ve tried shampoo bars and they left a nasty residue on my scalp. Blech.)


I used body wash as a teen and for a couple of years in college. I had gross idea about soap, mostly because the soap I pictured was the dirty slivers of Ivory soap found in neglected soap dishes around my parents’ house. Body wash smelled good and wasn’t Ivory. Then, I began to think about animal testing and started on my path to hippiedom, which became a lot more sudden when I became painfully allergic to nearly all of my body products. Bye bye, SLS! I switched to soaps from Indigo Wild and Burt’s Bees, both of which smell… Read more »

Helen Kennedy

Actually, our bodies don’t really need soap to be clean. Just rinse in the shower and go. Perhaps scrub a little with a wash cloth or loofa. And it is cheap and non-toxic as well! Try it for a month.


About half a year ago I switched from using liquid handsoap to using bars (thanks to you and your blog). Those bars take forever to be used up, and unfortunately I haven’t found one yet that doesn’t dry my hands. At the moment I’ve got an olive soap that leaves a weird feeling on my hands. Since I believe in using up things that I’ve got I’m not going to throw it away though. I love liquid shower gels. I especially have a huge weak spot for the Bodyhsop Mango one. However I’ve decided once my current stash of liquid… Read more »


I’ve used a lot of different soaps/body washes, both in bar and bottle form, and I’ve found that bar soap universally (at least, every type I’ve ever used) leaves a dry, waxy, filmy feeling on my skin, like it’s too tight. Usually, I buy a large jug of liquid body wash and use it to fill up a more manageable bottle. I use bar soap on vacations or trips on which I can’t take a checked bag, since I’d feel absolutely awful buying a travel size bottle, but my favorite part of getting home is always the fact that my… Read more »


Over the years I’ve tried many different bar soaps and shower gels of the “natural” variety. I’ve been unsatisfied with almost all of them. Bar soaps always seem to be either drying or leave a weird texture on your skin. Shikai shower gel is the only thing that really works for me, and every time I try something different I wonder why I bothered. I’m surprised that no one mentioned refilling your plastic bottles. Maybe it’s not that common in other places, but I have at least 3 local stores where I can and do refill my bottles. I plan… Read more »


Another bad thing about bottled body wash is that most people usually end up using a plastic loofah or sponge of some sort with it. There are a ton of excellent, all-natural scented and unscented bar soaps at places like Whole Foods. For my husband, I prefer the ones that have warm scents like cinnamon or cedar. Tea tree oil or peppermint are two other nice scents for men. I think bar soaps travel better too. I just wrap one of in a washcloth instead of using a plastic container. And I don’t have to worry about the airline rules… Read more »


This is a great dicussionand I don’t have too much to add except that Avenno oatmeal based soap leaves no hard to remove residue and isn’t too drying. And I second that washclothes are great – easy to knit too if you’re into that sort of thing!


We use bar soap in the shower and bath at home, but both of us prefer liquid soap in a gym shower situation, for convenience coming, going and washing as well as safety in the shower and cleanliness in the gym bag. Not essential I agree but most of this useage is from stuff we already have and aren’t buying more of.
We also use diluted liquid hand soap (which we buy in bulk) at home, my partner prefers it, its easier with complicated dirty hands, and not as messy.


I have incredibly sensitive and dry skin, and I am highly allergic to coconut and palm oils, and the chemicals derived from them, which basically includes everything in most soaps. The only “commercial” brand of soap I can use is Grandmas’s Old Fashioned Lye soap. It is wrapped in plastic, but one bar lasts my family a good six months, and I’ve been able to give up lotion most months out of the year by using it. This allergy has forced me to really look at the ingredients in all of the products out there – soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and… Read more »

Sarah "Angry Butterfly" Schumm

I was just about to do a post about how fabulous my hair looks since I started using bar shampoo. My ex husband had a thing for body wash, he wouldn’t even use bar soap when I bought it. I switched to bar because of the plastic, but now find bar soap much less irritating to my skin. One time after surfing I took a shower at a friends house and all he had was old spice bodywash and I felt so totally weird smelling like him I had to take a second shower. It does smell good, but not… Read more »


I started using liquid soap because it didn’t leave soap scum in the shower. I switched back to bar soap because of the plastic. It’s hard to find bar soap that’s not in plastic now. I went with Dove for a while, but it started coming in plastic. I tried some from Trader Joes but that’s in plastic, too. Next I’m going to try some Coconut Castille I got for 99 cents. I hope it’s really wrapped in paper. Sometimes even the paper fools you. I have no idea why men would choose what they choose but I’m reminded of… Read more »


We like bar soap for the shower. It is easy to find ones that are all natural that smell nice and don’t irritate sensitive skin. I find bar soap for regular handwashing leaves too much of a mess to clean even if using a dish and especially with kids, so I put Dr. Woods Castile Soap diluted in a foam pump dispenser. The kids use this in the shower too. Next I plan to make my own, I found a huge glass bottle of olive oil at an ethnic grocer for a really good price.

Steven S.

I used liquid soap in college, with the dorm showers. Otherwise, I would get a mushy mess of a bar of soap.

At home, we use bar soap. Neither of them made me feel much different, however I do have a bottle of body wash for when I am at the gym, for teh same reasons.


Never had a thing for bath gels, but I’m not really a great fan of bar soap, either, despite growing up with it–don’t care for the scummy residue or the skin drying. Because of a lifelong problem with seborrheic dermatitis, I’m pretty much addicted to washing my hair with dandruff shampoos daily. Since I’ve got all of that lather going on on top of my head anyway, I just go ahead and steal some of it and move it to other areas of my bod as I shower. Works just fine. Not proud of the plastic, but it sounds like… Read more »


My husband uses bar soap.

And I have to say, I have totally mixed feelings about this campaign. Especially it’s current iteration on Twitter and YouTube. The marketing and the response videos are BRILLIANT. But I wish that it were for a better product.


Intelligent response Jessica. If we don’t buy it they won’t produce it. Buying liquid soap in a plastic bottle is a simple discretionary item that we can easily forgo for something more responsible like a good bar of handmade, cold processed soap. If we can’t do it there we’re not really making a good effort. At least make a commitment to use bar soap in one bathroom ~ that’s a good place to start.

outlaw farmer

I make my own soap from all natural ingredients including milk from my goats. I sell it too and would be happy to ship some to any interested parties. I don’t package it in plastic. After many long brainstorming sessions, I decided the naked bar is the way to go. I label each one using two straight pins and a tiny slip of paper. It lathers perfectly and rinses off easily leaving absolutely no residue. There is really no comparison to how wonderful this soap feels and leaves your skin feeling afterward. Store bought soaps are different from homemade for… Read more »


i must admit, I can’t use bar soap. I’ve tried, but I have super dry skin and it just left me insanely itchy. I mean, painfully so. I still try periodically, but so far haven’t found any that work–I wish that I could find the kind of shower gel I need (usually the kind with added moisturizer dumped into it, which is followed by the Lush bar moisturizer in the shower, then body butter after just to stop it from being painful when I get out of the shower) but so far no luck. Makes me wonder if there couldn’t… Read more »


I just want to let you know local soap makers make better soap than. Stores now. Stores add chemicals to there bars if soap now. Plus they remove the glycerin from the soap which is a byproduct of cooking and mixing fatty oils with lye. They’ve been using a new preservative to witch a lot of poeple have been alergicic to. I cant buy store bought liquid, or bars of soap with out getting Ichy. Or with out breaking out in rash.


I think its like the equivalent of the Lynx affect ads with bodywash. perhaps guys think they will be more diserable to women if they use it. In a sense, I reckon it is true that women are more attracted to men that smell good as a men to women who smell good. But I think there is also a difference between smelling good as in clean. and over the top scented which is obviously trying to overcompensate/mask stuff. I think with the body wash trend too there is also a misconception that using bodywash is a actually “cleaner” than… Read more »


Like most people we never used anything except bar soap growing up. I only got into my loofah + shower gel phase because it was super cool as a high school girl to shop at Bath & Body Works (aka the over-whelming smells store). It was taken for granted that you used their shower gel and also gave it as gifts to all of your girlfriends for birthdays, etc. Since then, I’ve moved into a ‘cheap phase’ and only bought the bar that was on sales, and then moved to what i am in right now, which is the good,… Read more »

Rebecca The Greeniac

Wow! Well, reading this post and all of the comments I think I realize how far I have traveled away from the “American norm”. I lived in Norway 25 years ago… before American standards of “cleanliness” (AKA “toxicity”) had made it to the land of the fjords. My host family bathed about once a month, and they actually did an “intervention” on me because they thought my daily shower was incredibly unhealthy! I promptly took up swimming so that I could bathe on a regular basis, but nevertheless, it forever cured me of the morning shower that most Americans take… Read more »

Frugal Kiwi

Consumers have been hornswoggled into thinking suds= clean. Suds don’t do the cleaning. Manufacturers are selling illusion as much as anything else and most consumers are now convinced that no suds equals no cleaning.

Personally, I make my own soap. Not hard to do and I know exactly what is in it at the end.


Leanne, I love you.
<3 Zenith


Shower gels are a brilliant example of yet another product we never needed a decade ago, yet now we can’t do without. Welcome to the world of sucker consumerism! We don’t buy them. If people have dry skin, I’m not surprised: the first few ingredients in those shower gels are all salt-based. They’re basically rubbing different versions of salt on their skin. They’ll feel clean, and with the added chemical stinks (brand name: “fragrance”) they’ll smell like a factory walking past, but the gels will strip their skin of natural oils, send their skin pH off balance, and – as… Read more »


I forgot to add this: as far as the hairy bars go, washcloths do wonders. Works up a great lather plus no hair from rubbing the bar on your body. Just sayin’.


I was a body wash fan for a long time- but I was always having to change brands because after a week or two my skin would start to dry out & itch. So I learned how to make my own. I really liked it – no itching, etc. – and even started selling it. With our recent focus on reducing plastics use, the liquid had to go. There is no good way to package liquid soap that does not include plastic. So now, I am making the most wonderful bar soaps. I am a total convert. Since using just… Read more »


This is a good discussion! I clean for others sometime, and the showers with gels usually have a fragrance that seems synthetic. I open the windows to air the room out. I’m guessing that many gel and bar soaps must have animal fat in them, because that fat creates soap scum, something that takes time to clean. I sometimes use Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap, always diluted as it is a concentrate; mostly though I use Chandrika bar soap which is very refreshingly cleansing to me, esp. in this summer’s steamy heat. Here’s a description of the soap: It’s is… Read more »