The Great Bar Soap Experiment

I have a confession to make.  For the better part of the last 17 years (that’s more than half of my life), I’ve been using fancy-pants body wash instead of good old fashioned bar soap in the shower.  And when Mr. PoP and I moved in together, he started using it too.

I swear, I wasn’t always this wasteful.  But when I was thirteen two things happened.

  1. I had disposable income.  With a few reliable babysitting gigs in my day planner, I was rolling in dough in ways that I had never dreamed about as a kid with no allowance.
  2. My 15-year-old brother (with whom I shared a shower – and soap!) started smelling like a 15-year-old boy.  You know, the way you might imagine Marjory, the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock, smelling after a day ripening in the sun.  Who wants to share a bar of soap with that?

Enter trips to the mall and Bath and Body Works with a group of giggling middle-school girls.  I did eventually mature beyond the scented body washes that (in the words of an old friend) smelled like I had “f***ed a fruit farmer”.  And thankfully for Mr. PoP, that happened before he started using my soap.  =)

So when this summer I found 10 or so bars of soap that had been accumulating in our bathroom cabinets for the past four years, I realized how wasteful it was of me to keep going out and buying body wash while perfectly good soap was sitting there unused.  Thus began the Great Bar Soap Experiment of 2012.

Rules of the Experiment

  1. I couldn’t buy any more liquid body wash until all the bar soap was used up.
  2. The only purchase I could make was a soap holder with some nice drain holes since I can’t stand it when soap gets slimy from sitting in undrained water.

Easy enough, right?


How Did The Experiment Go?

I started with some of the more fancy-pants soaps first, figuring they would be the closest approximation to the body wash to which I had grown accustomed.  These were nice hand-made scented glycerine soaps that were made by friends.  I have vague recollections of one smelling of lavender, and another that smelled like MAN.  Okay, technically I think it’s called “musk” , but it was definitely a masculine scent.  We moved on to the bars of  Dove that had been following us around since Mr. PoP’s last bachelor apartment (that he hadn’t lived in for at least 4 years), and eventually closed out the experiment with some smaller bars of soap that had been gifted to me in various gift baskets over the years.

And it was fine.  I guess I shouldn’t be shocked by this.  But it was absolutely fine.  Turns out a bar of Dove functions just as well as a bottle of Dove body wash.  My hats are off to you, Body Wash Marketing Professionals, for a job well done oh these many years.

In hindsight, it seems as though I’ve spent the better part of the last seventeen years paying a huge mark-up for water… and for plastic.  The plastic is probably the part of this experiment that I’ve been the most cognizant of, since the waste associated with a bar of soap is noticeably less than a bottle of body wash, even if both containers end up in the recycling bin.


What Did Mr. PoP Think?

Over the holidays, I was unwrapping the last bar of soap from the stash I had uncovered nearly 6 months before, and was curious as to whether Mr. PoP wanted to switch back to body wash or to keep the bar soap up.  Here’s the conversation.

Mrs: “Hey babe, how do you think the bar soap experiment has gone?”

Mr: “The what?  What are you talking about?”

Mrs: “The experiment we’ve been doing of using only bar soap the last six months.”

Mr: “We only had bar soap?  It was fine, I guess.  I didn’t notice.”  

Mrs: “How could you not notice?  Do you even use soap?  Eww!  That’s gross!”*

So I guess it’s safe to say that I was the only one concerned with what was in the shower in the first place, and it turns out that it doesn’t matter to me as much as I originally thought.


What Else Am I Missing?

I don’t think the savings from using bar soap are going to be earth shattering, especially since I had tended to get pretty good deals on body wash between stock-up sales and coupons.  But it does make me wonder what other quality assumptions that I should be questioning in the name of cost (and environment!) savings.

  • Bar shampoo and conditioner?
  • Detergents other than Tide?  (apparently I’m not the only one who insists on Tide since it’s now become a black market currency…)
  • Single ply toilet paper?
  • Seriously… what else is up for grabs here?


What are some of the things that you’ve switched from for a cost or environmental savings that you haven’t noticed a negative effect quality-wise?


* Lest you get the wrong idea, Mr. PoP is one of the cleanest guys I’ve ever known, so the whole idea of him not using soap in his twice-daily showers is a bit of a reductio ad absurdum.

52 comments to The Great Bar Soap Experiment

  • I made a similar switch to bar soap last year and I haven’t noticed a difference. Another item I downgraded quality on is coffee. Most people tell me that the taste of cheaper coffee is different. I guess my palate just isn’t that sophisticated because it all tastes the same to me…

    • I’m not a coffee person, but Mr. PoP is. For him, he says the key is the consistency of the coffee since he doesn’t want to have to redial all of his machines with every new bag of beans.

  • I have a stockpile of soap from my couponing days. Does bar soap ever expire? Once it’s gone, I’ll probably start buying body wash again. I like it better.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Our Credit Card Churning Plans for 2013My Profile

  • Brian

    I just use whatever is in the shower which I pretty sure my wife just buys on clearance. I’m guessing that how many married guys operate…

  • My wife likes to use body wash, but I usually use bar soap. I had used Ivory for years, but they have been decreasing the bar sizes so much the last few years that all you really get is a wafer. I switched to Irish Spring a few months ago and that’s fancy enough for me. :)
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..5 Fun and Frugal Super Bowl Party IdeasMy Profile

    • I did notice on Dove bars when I went to buy them (after using up all the ones that we started with!) that some were 4 oz, and some 4.2 oz. Maybe all the brands are shrinking?

  • BF only uses dove soap (refuses to use body wash). So when we moved in together I started using soap (I’d been a body wash only girl for many years). Truth be told I actually like the soap. Strangely I can never find a great deal on dove soap (once in a while there’s a dollar off coupon for a 6pack). I can however get body wash for free all the time with coupons, go figure.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..My Finances, His Finances, Our Finances?My Profile

    • Coupons for bars seem a little harder to come by than body wash, but I’ll work on it.

    • shalyn

      We like Dove in our house but have noticed the bars shrinking in the middle, meaning the bar breaks in half before it is used up. So, I started buying the generic brands of Dove. (Walmart’s is very nice). The bars are thicker in the middle and the soap is cheaper.

  • we use body wash, but we use the whole foods brand, it’s like $6 for a giant bottle and it lasts us well over a month. i don’t know if thats good or bad. i just find the idea of bar soap icky…like i don’t want to use the bar that my husband used for his private parts, you know? even though granted we share bodily stuff anyway (tmi?) but i don’t know…i want to come out of the shower feeling clean! maybe if we each had our own bar…

    • Haha, I can sympathize with sharing the bar being icky. Sharing with my stinky brother was what turned me off of it in the first place. But I use a loofa with the bar and Mr. PoP is a washcloth guy (TMI x2?), so I’m not all that worried about it these days.

  • We use Dove bar soap exclusively. I never experimented with body wash as I have (had?) sensitive skin and never wanted to deviate from what I knew worked. One thing I did “downgrade” was shaving cream/gel, which like you I started using as a young teenager. Turns out bar soap works great for that purpose, too! I think I just ran out at some point and was too lazy to buy more.
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Don’t Call Them the Top 20%My Profile

  • I think Mr Pop has been showering with shampoo :).
    We use bar soap, and also bar detergent to wash the dishes and hand wash our clothes. The only problem I have had was with the dishes one, I have to use more water or the soap will leave a smell on the dish and it is disgusting to eat a steak that tastes like soap.
    The other two are great.
    Pauline recently posted..A golden mistakeMy Profile

  • My husband just uses shampoo! I actually prefer bar soap. I think it lasts longer too. For the TP question, Try Charmin basic. It’s one ply but I don’t notice a difference. We have a septic tank and 1 ply is recommended anyway. I also used to use a very expensive conditioner for my dry hair but I found that Dove makes and intensive repair version that costs around $5/bottle. Works just the same. I think we get into habits and don’t think to see if something else cheaper works just the same.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Work Less, Live More-Transition to Part Time WorkMy Profile

  • Hmmm, failing on all of these? I don’t like the mess that bar soap makes, so have body wash and hand pump dispensers only. I also have a growing stash of random bars. I should donate them to the food bank *note to self. I love the point about doing experiments and spouses not noticing, haha. A recent example was we went a week without having any cheese in the house. Yes, my spouse asked me to put it on the grocery list for this week, but neither of us went out and bought any this past week. Much healthier if we don’t have unlimited access to the stuff, because we eat way too much of it.
    We have a sears brand of laundry detergent that my spouse isn’t allergic to. I have seen crappy laundry detergent wreck clothes though, so has my Mom. It is usually when she is lending a hand at a friends house, she has come home lamenting how it doesn’t work and has wrecked the clothes. She’s even bought good stuff and used it to put life back into friends clothes. (Okay, this reads weirdly, but my parents have helped out families where one spouse has gone back to school by spending half a day a month helping out around the house.)
    Toilet paper quality is sacred to my spouse. We’re talking someone who was a complete and utter cheap hobo in university, but always bought good toilet paper. I think my spouse would give up beer before good toilet paper.
    Anne @ Unique Gifter recently posted..Valentine’s Card Ideas – Frugal and RomanticMy Profile

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who seemed to have a stash of random bars of soap. As for the experiments without the other noticing, I think this one was unintentional, but sometimes the best ones are intentional. =)

      Toilet paper quality has been one of my “sacred cows” for a while now, but your comment totally made me think of that old beer commercial where the guy only has enough money for beer or toilet paper, not both. They choose beer, but then grab at the receipt and ask for paper bags for the beer… wish I could find it on youtube!

  • Karen

    Bar soap kinda grosses me out as Newlyweds on a Budget said. Although, I don’t have the issue of sharing it at the moment. Even if it does drain, it just seems icky. But I am fine with Suave body wash. And prefer it as others are too creamy/thick. Bars also don’t seem to suds up as much.

    I don’t use Tide as they do animal testing (at least they did) and I am aware of it. I don’t check my current brand to see if they do, though.

    • Eh, I still use a loofah, so I’m not too weirded out by it. But I definitely sympathize with the ick factor since that was one of the reasons I got away from it in the first place.

  • I had the opposite effect on my wife. She used body wash for years before we were married. However, something changed and she started using bar soap. I think body wash is too slimy and don’t like loofahs. You make a good point about the plastic and paying for water. And small changes add up.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Special Sunday Link LoveMy Profile

    • I’m not sure how ‘big’ of a small change this is yet, since I’ve only actually gone out and purchased soap once. But I think for me it was more a mental victory that I have way more than I sometimes think about in our house already. =)

  • Twice daily showers?! I hope they are 3 minutes each, or you might have a money saving opportunity right there.

    I use bar soap, it works great. I need to switch to really cheap shampoo again, but I can’t quite admit yet that the fancy salon stuff isn’t helping prevent my receding hairline…
    Kudy recently posted..Internet Marketing for Your Side Hustle Business IdeaMy Profile

    • Yeah, they’re probably only a few minutes each. He just likes being clean before jumping into bed, so he’ll pretty much always do a quick rinse off before bed. And really, it’s hard for me to complain about my husband being clean when he comes to bed. (TMI?)

    • Yeah…this is a luxury I don’t plan on giving up any time soon. For some reason my sense of smell is A+, which makes me a clean freak about personal hygiene.
      Mr PoP recently posted..The Great Bar Soap ExperimentMy Profile

  • That conversation w/ Mr. PoP is so C and I. “What did you think of that outfit XXXX was wearing at the party.” Me: “XXXX was at the party?”
    AverageJoe recently posted..5 Lies Bad Advisors Tell ClientsMy Profile

  • We too have abandonded body wash for bar soap, and not that big of a deal. We also traded in our Tide for Arm & Hammer detergent and it does just fine for us. It’s much cheaper, and you can often find it on sale, cutting the price down even further. The one area that I’ve found where quality is key is in shampoo and conditioner. We use the cheap stuff now, but we’ll go back to spendy stuff once we’ve reached our debt payoff goal. Funny about Mr. PoP not noticing that you’d switched. Gotta love those guys of ours. :-)
    Laurie @ The Frugal Farmer recently posted..Fire!My Profile

    • Yeah, I know Mr. PoP would have noticed being without soap – but a different brand or a different type… no impact on his psyche whatsoever. =)
      I agree that shampoo/conditioner can be tougher, but I find that since I don’t do much to my hair (no heat, no coloring), the mid-tier brands (dove, pantene, etc) are pretty good at keeping my hair looking nice.

  • I started using bar soap a few years ago it lasts twice as long and cost half the price! I only use Dove or Oil of Olay bar soap but I like it just fine. I only use pump hand soap though at my sinks mostly b/c of germs and mess and I too am a bit of a laundry soap snob. Tide is #1 but if it isn’t on sale (without it being on sale it cost about 8.99 for the 25 load size here) if I can`t get Tide I don’t mind Sunlight but pretty much late everything else.
    Catherine recently posted..Why I’m Glad We Have a ‘Starter’ HomeMy Profile

    • I haven’t tried the Oil of Olay bar – but that’s on my list of things to try for my face. Our tide regular price is pretty expensive, but I tend to get it when Target has good sales combined with gift cards back. But I’ll keep my eyes open for Sunlight in a pinch!

  • Good for you.. And you are dead-on. There are actually a lot of perfumes and dyes in the “fancy pants body soap” that can actually cause you to have skin irritation and issues..

    Most dermatologists would recommend simply bar soap isntead.
    jefferson @SeeDebtRun recently posted..What if You Fell Off the Roof?My Profile

  • Ivy

    I love bar soap and really don’t like body wash. To everybody his own thing (or must be my European upbringing again:-)
    We are in the middle of something similar, though I didn’t think of calling it an experiment. Our dentist hands out small travel size toothpaste every time we go for a cleaning (so 6 a year for all of us). And I fly often for business overnight to Europe and you get toothpaste in each night baggie they give you. So, a couple of months ago I noticed the box where I keep this toothpaste is overflowing – and we decided to use it up before getting more. I am actually surprised we lasted 2 months and we probably have another 2 to go. A nice freebie :-)

    • Yeah, I have a tendency to call a lot of things experiments when making a change. I think it’s a mental reframing thing.
      If it’s an experiment and my hypothesis is disproven, no big deal. It happens. It’s science. =)
      But if I tell myself I’m going to make a change and then I don’t… well, I’ve failed. And that’s not nearly as fun as science.

  • Aside from price, right or wrong, I feel like bar soap has less STUFF in it. And the fewer chemicals that go on my body, the better.
    eemusings recently posted..Three reasons why I want to buy a house (and reasons why I won’t)My Profile

    • I know that was definitely true of the handmade bars we used. I was present when some of those were made and they were simply glycerine and a little bit of essential oil for fragrance. As for Dove bars being different chemically than Dove body wash, I have no idea.

  • I can get behind bar soap over body wash, but single ply TP is one change I will never make! :)
    The First Million is the Hardest recently posted..Finding The True Value Of Free TimeMy Profile

  • At least with shower gels you don’t end up with soap scum on your shower walls.

    That is probably the biggest reason why my wife uses gels over bar soap.
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..How Much Does it Cost to Have a Baby?My Profile

  • […] CBB over at Canadian Budget Binder shared our post, The Great Bar Soap Experiment with his readers in the Mr. CBB’s Personal Finance Reading List this […]

  • shalyn

    I feel the need to chime in again re: laundry detergent. When I was a young mama and the in-laws would visit, they would bring bags of groceries (loved it!) and always TIDE detergent (liked that, too!). I believe I have purchased Tide twice in my life. It is always rated highest in Consumer Reports but my budget and sense of economy had me going for the next best. Recently, Wisk was rated either above or equal to Tide and one year, a Walmart brand was rated second best. Then, WM discontinued that particular type (idiots) so we switched back to Arm and Hammer and Purex. According to Consumer Reports, many of the others do very little to get clothes clean. I also tried making homemade laundry detg. but it left a weird film in our washer and didn’t get the clothes as clean as I’d hoped. We have really, really hard water even with our water softener so maybe that’s the problem. When I lived in another state, I was known as the laundry queen because I could get everything super-clean. So, I’m blaming the water:) Anyway, there’s my two pennies.

  • Sonya

    This was interesting to read. I’ve always used bar soap because I’m kind of frugal, but I prefer body wash because it makes my shower so much quicker. Maybe I’m trying to get too many suds from the bar soap and that’s why it takes me longer to use? Anyway, I’ve been debating spending the extra money for body wash, so I found this post and it’s been fun to read.