The Slippery Slope of Soap

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Soap seems like a pretty straightforward substance with a basic goal- cleaning. In today’s world, there are hundreds of varieties of soaps for many different purposes. Soap for dishes, soap for laundry, soap for skin… the list goes on. There are antibacterial soaps, scented soaps, vegan soaps, animal based soaps, hypoallergenic soaps, etc.

In general, soap seems like a good thing… after all, cleanliness is next to Godliness, but in our germ-afraid society, have we gone too far? Unfortunately, many of the things we use as “soap” are actually harsh detergents or chemical cocktails. Rather than the gentle action of true soaps that pulls dirt and grime off the skin, these detergents can strip the skin (or other surfaces) of healthy oils. Most laundry detergents, for example, contain no soap at all, but are just a chemical detergent mix. This is also true of many body wash products that don’t contain any soap but just a mix of chemicals. Certain natural soaps can be beneficial to the skin, but most commercial versions are more detergent than soap and strip the skin of vital oils. So how does a person decipher the dirty details of soap? Let’s look at the options.

Antibacterial Soaps

Antibacterial soaps and sanitizers have taken center stage lately with all the scares about various types of flu viruses originating from various animals. Certainly, I can see the appeal of a sanitizer that claims to “kill 99.9% of germs” when you have small children at home and illness for one usually means illness for all. The antibacterial label is popping up on all kinds of soaps, especially kids soaps, cleansing wipes, and even adult bath soaps. While I can understand the appeal of the antibacterial label, we don’t use these kind of soaps for several reasons:

  • Antibacterial soaps kill bacteria but not viruses. The antibacterial agents are actually a form of antibiotic, so while they wipe out most bacteria, good and bad, they don’t do a thing for the viruses many people use them to prevent.
  • Because they only kill 99.9% of germs (seems like a lot!) that .1% is the most potentially harmful anyway, because it has the ability to resist that antibacterial agent. This small percentage that survives then breeds and passes on its antibiotic resistance to its offspring, creating lines of “super bugs” that resist antibiotic use. Some even speculate that overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial agents has led to the dramatic increase in strains like MRSA.
  • Triclosan, the chemical in most antibacterial soaps has been shown to interact with chlorine in the water to form chloroform gas. On top of that, it has been shown to be a hormone disruptor, especially in children.
  • Bacteria isn’t all bad! We purposely ferment our food to add good bacteria (Probiotics) and there is even evidence showing the benefits of dirt and exposure to some bacteria. When we use, and especially overuse, antibacterial soaps, we literally throw out the baby with the bathwater.
  • Some evidence shows that kids who grow up in an overly sterile environment actually have higher rates of allergies and asthma than kids who don’t use antibacterial products as much. The reasoning is that exposure to different types of bacteria, especially early in life, actually helps kids immune systems to develop more strongly.

My strategy when it comes to bacteria is to make sure my kids immune systems are strong by feeding them healthy foods, probiotics and vitamin D and letting them get plenty of exposure to dirt during the day (an important part of childhood). I use handmade bar soaps or homemade foaming hand soap for all of our hand washing needs, and we made it through flu season with no cases of the flu. Coincidence…. maybe, but I certainly don’t see the need to use harsh chemicals to sanitize my house daily.

Scented Soaps and Washes

Most commercially available bar soaps and body washes are artificially scented. Shocked? I hope not! There is no essential oil of Irish Springs or green apple, or pomegranate. These scents come from chemicals, and most of these products are laden with detergents, preservatives and questionable ingredients. Ever wonder why there is a growing need for moisturizing body washes, lotions, and other forms of skin nourishment? Aside from the fact that many people are deficient in saturated fats and have dry skin from the inside out, most bar soaps and body washes are also stripped of the glycerin made in the soap making process. This leads to an unbalanced soap that pulls moisture out of the skin. While we think we are nourishing our skin with a lovely infusion of pomegranate and green tea, we are usually just stripping our skins natural oils and exposing our largest organ to hundreds of chemicals. In fact, the average person is exposed to over 100 chemicals before even leaving the bathroom in the morning! There are soaps that are healthy and beneficial to the skin, but you aren’t usually going to be able to find them in Wal-Mart of your grocery store. The best types of bar soaps are made from vegetable (not mineral) oil blends and have the glycerin put back in so they clean without drying skin. For liquid and foaming soaps, liquid castile soap is best, and often cheaper than the scented, antibacterial options anyway.

Laundry Soaps

You’ve heard my rant about Laundry Soaps before, so I’ll spare you to long details. In short: making your own laundry soap is easy and much cheaper so there aren’t really any excuses on this one. Most commercially available laundry detergent is just that, a harsh detergent that isn’t good for you or your clothes!

What to Do?

  • Don’t be afraid of a little bacteria! In fact, make sure to get some good bacteria in your foods and drinks!
  • Opt for high quality bar soaps and liquid castile soap in place of harsh antibacterial and scented options
  • Make your own laundry soap, and all-purpose cleaner . You’ll save money and provide healthier options for your family.
  • Avoid using antibacterial soaps, sprays and sanitizers, at least most of the time. It will give your immune system a boost and reduce your exposure to chemicals.

What kind of soap do you use? Antibacterial or scented? Natural and homemade?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


73 responses to “The Slippery Slope of Soap”

  1. meade Avatar

    I would love to make my own soap for my family, have you posted a recipe for homemade soap?

  2. Rosie Avatar

    Me too! Me too! Homemade soap bar recipes would be warmly welcomed in our home! Yes please!

  3. Kim De Jong Avatar
    Kim De Jong

    I would love to try homemade soap! I’ve thought of making my own, but it seems a bit too overwhelming right now with 2 toddlers 🙂
    I am LOVING your posts too!! I’m going to the health food store to pick up some ingredients to make some of these products, like the toothpaste and hair spray and deodorant bar and, and, and, LOL:)
    Thanks so much!

  4. Jen Avatar

    I am very interested in learning to make my own bar soaps. I used to buy shampoo bars, a shaving bar and wonderfully sented body bars from a friend…but have since moved away ): I so miss them and havent found a local place. I know it would be much more fun to make my own…plus I have four eager helpers! I’m sure they would get a kick out of making their own soap!

  5. Kerry Avatar

    Or learn to make your own soap and cosmetics at Plush Folly

  6. Kerry Avatar

    Or learn to make your own soap and cosmetics at Plush Folly

  7. Hackett Avatar

    Have you put up a recipe for making your own natural homemade bar soap? If not I would be very interested!! Thanks 🙂

  8. keziago Avatar

    I love your site! I have been wanting to start making homemade soap, but have no idea where to start.

  9. lois Avatar

    I am confused regarding soap. If using soap has decreased disease then what is soap doing? If regular soap doesn’t kill bacteria then what is it doing that is decreasing disease. Is it only killing bad bacteria?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      Regular soap is capable of removing most bacteria without creating a
      sterile/antibacterial environment. Natural soaps remove bacteria and
      viruses from the surface of the skin without needing the harsh
      chemicals that actually kill the bacteria.

  10. Susan Avatar

    Such good advice.  I am a natural soapmaker from UK and I just love it when people use my soaps and come back to tell me how lovely they are.  Natural soaps don’t leave your skin feeling tight and dry, they also last a lot longer than shop bought detergent versions!!

  11. Jenvet Avatar

    I’ve made olive oil/goat milk soap for years, first as an alternative for my cousin with horrific skin issues, then as a business, now as a safe product for my husband and three little blessings. We won’t use anything else, and the leftovers/rejects can be used to make laundry soap! 

  12. Kat Avatar

    Soap nuts are great for doing laundry. I’ve been doing all my laundry with soap nuts for about 2 years and they work great. Contrary to what the instructions say on some websites that sell them, they can be used in cold water, and they last longer when used in cold water. For an extra boost oxygen bleach powder can be used & adding some essential oils adds a fresh sent to your clothes & your washing machine.

  13. Mati Avatar

     I’d love to try some interesting new soaps.  We use diluted Dr. Bronner’s in re-used foam pumps as hand soap.  I’m also a huge fan of Orange Fuzz soaps, sold at our farmers’ market and on Etsy.  We’ve been trying different natural laundry detergents, but I haven’t been truly happy with any of them.

  14. Maria V. Arnold Avatar
    Maria V. Arnold

     This is actually a very timely post for me cause as I have changed for the better what goes into my body, I haven’t really changed much about what goes on the outside.  
    I recently found a local supplier of hand made soaps and will likely be giving hers a try. She makes ones that can used as shampoo as well as just bar soap, I found this very intriguing!  But was wondering what about conditioner? I have very fine, curly hair that needs lots of moisture, so I was wondering if you had any suggestions for that.
    My other question is about the homemade laundry detergent. We have a new high efficiency washer that requires you to use the detergents marked with HE. And my roommate is very strict about this (I live in her house). Any idea how the homemade ones would qualify?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      You might have trouble with the soap bar if your hair is curly, as it
      causes mine to tangle. If you are able to use the shampoo bar though,
      maybe try apple cider vinegar for conditioner. Surprisingly, it works
      really well and is very nourishing for the hair also. I’ve also in
      the past used avocado, yogurt and a mixture of coconut based oils/
      creams and they all seem to work well.
      For the laundry detergent, you should be fine with a HE washer.
      Several readers have commented that they use this in their HE washers
      and it works great (with no problems) I don’t have one personally,
      but from what I understand, it is the bubbles and suds that are bad
      for the HE washer, and this homemade version is non-foaming, so it
      should be fine.

  15. Leslie Avatar

    I want to try natural soaps!!  I’m also dying to try your water kefir soda suggestions– just need to order my grains.  Thanks for your excellent posts–LOVE the info! 

  16. Joelle Avatar

     I just started making soap, and I’m addicted!  I haven’t had the time yet to foray into the full-blown cold-processed soap making.  But, my husband found a great local source for all natural coconut based melt & pour soap to get me started.  It has been amazing!  It’s great fun to mix in different carrier oils and essential oils and other beneficial additives. My latest batch was with oatmeal and honey … my skin is sooo liking real soap instead of those detergents that I used to use.  Even my elbows are soft now!  The best part is that since my skin feel so much better, I feel so much more confident and beautiful.. My latest batch was with oatmeal and honey … my skin is sooo liking real soap instead of those detergents that I used to use.  Even my elbows are soft now!  The best part is that since my skin feel so much better, I feel so much more confident and beautiful.

  17. Patience Avatar

     I have been using a lot of Seventh Generation brand products, which are supposed to be more natural.  At first my boyfriend made fun of me, but now that he is accustomed to them, I want to simplfy even more and try making my own with just the basic, tried and true ingredients.  I would love to try some natural soaps!  I’m gradually phasing out as many chemicals as I can, as well as wasteful products that go with them like paper towels and commercial sponges.

  18. Kortney bewley Avatar
    Kortney bewley

    I use home made laundry soap with fels-naptha but had just bought a Mexican kind called Lirio at the local international foods store…the ingredients are:coconut oil and tallow soap, sodium silicate, sodium hidroxide, abietic acid, sodium chloride, sodium lautyl ether sulphate, coconut fatty acid, diethanolamide, perfume, and dye. I haven’t used it yet so I have no idea how it compares or what all the ingredients means lol!

    For batheing soap i use dead sea mud soap made by one with nature. I’m not sure if this is good soap or not but the ingredients are at least recognizable to e lol. they are:

    Palm and Palm Kernel Oils, Dead Sea Mud, Vegetable Glycerin, Citric
    Acid, Shea Butter, Dead Sea Salt, Cinnamon, Salt and Vitamin E

  19. Christy Avatar

    Hi! I clicked over from your comment on The Healthy Home Economist. I’m hoping you have your remineralizing toothpaste recipe on here somewhere. I’m going to subscribe and look around!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      I do have one recipe up that works well, but I’ll be posting another
      one soon that I like much better. I actually sent this second one to
      a holistic dentist and he gave it an A+. Thanks for dropping by an
      I’ll try to let you know when I get that recipe up!

      1. Joni Avatar

        I too popped on over here from the Healthy Home Economis to look for the remineralizing toothpaste recipe. Glad to hear that is has been improved upon. Hope to be getting an email about the new toothpaste recipe soon. Thanks!

  20. Arica Avatar

    I’m new to all this and have enjoyed every post. Thank you!! Where is the best place to get high-quality bar soap and liquid castille soap? I will try making my own laundry detergent this summer!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      You can get liquid castille soap from several places including
      Mountain Rose Herbs, Dr. Bronner’s and even at most grocery stores in
      the natural section. Quality bar soaps can be hard to find, but stay
      posted… I might be able to help with that- more info soon 🙂

      1. Heather Hudson Griffin Avatar
        Heather Hudson Griffin

        Hi! I was wondering if you ever were able to post a recipe for the homemade soap?? I’ve been looking everywhere for a good natural recipe… :/

      2. anita Avatar

        I am curious about the quality soaps. Have you written more on where to get those or make them?

    2. Bonnie Avatar


      I make homemade 100% raw goat’s milk soap! My ingredients are:
      Olive oil
      100% raw Goat’s milk
      Palm oil
      Coconut oil
      Shea butter
      I have essential oils, fragrance oil, and fragrance free.
      My bars are 4 1/2 -5/12 oz
      Bonnie Tesone

      1. Brian Avatar

        One of the absolute best tooth cleanser is to combine salt/baking soda and rinse your mouth with hydrogen peroxide. It will condition your gums, clean your teeth and remove much of the bacteria that lends to bad breath and gum/teeth problems., Best to use a natural baking soda and real salt brand salt or pink himalayen salt. We keep a glass jar like is used in the pizza restraunts to hold cheese and such filled with this mix. I like to add dry mint from the herb bed and include that in the mix for that minty fresh taste.

      2. regina Avatar

        I don’t think this is the appropriate place to try and sell your stuff.. just sayin

        1. Lilian Avatar

          Hi Regina,

          I believe Bonnie was just listing the ingredients of her soap to help the rest of the Wellness Mama Community.

          Thank you for your time.

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