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What is Biodegradable Soap?

By S. Gonzales
Updated May 21, 2024
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A biodegradable soap is a cleaning agent that can decompose naturally over time. These soaps can help reduce environmental impact when hikers, backpackers, and campers need to bathe or clean their belongings. Depending on the formulation of soap that is purchased, it can be used on the body, face, hair, hands and objects such as dishes and clothes.

Non-toxic soaps can be made with organic oils so as to remain environmentally friendly. Oils can be used in soap formulations not only to provide a nice fragrance, but also as part of a therapeutic bathing experience. For example, lavender and peppermint oils can help relax a tense hiker. Tree oil, eucalyptus and pumice ingredients can help soothe aching feet. Jojoba, castor and almond oils are other common oils used in soap formulations.

A biodegradable soap can come in special formulations. Individuals might be able to purchase these soaps for babies or those with special skin conditions. They can be created so that they are unscented and free of additives that would otherwise dry or irritate sensitive skin or skin prone to allergic reactions.

Natural soap can come in form of a standard bar or a liquid. Liquid soaps can make bathing easier for hikers or backpackers who have limited supplies of bathing water with which to work. Shampoo and conditioners can be marketed as biodegradable as well, and hikers and backpackers might be interested in these products if they feel that they aren't able to wash their hair properly with a bar of soap. These products can come in liquid or cream forms.

In addition, a biodegradable soap can be used to wash objects. Natural soaps that help clean dishes or clothes can be employed instead of their harsher, chemical alternatives. Formulations might also include ingredients, such as citronella, that naturally deter insects.

It is important for individuals to realize that using a biodegradable soap does not necessarily mean that the soap is safe to use around all water sources. These soaps degrade over time, but they require contact with soil to do so. If it isn't used at least 200 feet (60.96 m) from water sources, it can pollute them and make them unsuitable for other uses. Campers, hikers, and backpackers are encouraged to keep this in mind and use the soaps wisely so as to lessen any potential effects on the environment.

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Discussion Comments
By anon333268 — On May 03, 2013

Have you ever tried using a paste of gram flour, water and milk for bathing? Just apply the paste over your body, and rub it off after little drying, using water. You will get wonderfully clean and shiny skin, without polluting the environment. Use rose water thereafter for a nice fragrance.

By andee — On Dec 01, 2012

I use a biodegradable hand and shower soap that has peppermint essential oil in it. I love the smell of this soap and find it quite invigorating -- just the thing I need to get me going in the morning. I am glad more people are becoming aware of the benefits of using biodegradable soap. Not only are they safer for us to use, but better for the environment too.

By honeybees — On Dec 01, 2012

@myharley -- I have been using biodegradable soap and laundry detergent for several years now. There are a lot more choices available today than there were when I first started doing this. You should have no trouble finding a different brand to use that will give you good results.

One thing I have noticed since I started using these products in my home is how much more sensitive I am to the chemicals they put in most of the soaps on the market.

Now when I walk down the detergent aisle in the store, all the scents are almost overwhelming to me. If I stay there very long I start sneezing and find myself having some kind of reaction to them.

I think that is one reason why people who have allergies or sensitive skin have such good results using biodegradable soap.

By myharley — On Nov 30, 2012

@FirstViolin -- I am glad you had such good results using a biodegradable laundry detergent. I have only tried this one time, but was disappointed with how it cleaned my clothes. I felt like this didn't clean my clothes nearly as well as the other detergent I had been using.

I am interested in using biodegradable products, but also want them to work well. I am not ready to give up just yet, but maybe just need to try a different brand.

By sunshined — On Nov 29, 2012

@rallenwriter -- I know that many people think that just because a soap is biodegradable, it is completely safe for the environment. While these products are usually much more environmentally friendly than other products, it is still important to know they still have an impact.

One thing I really like about using a biodegradable soap when we go camping is I only have to pack one soap for many different things. I use a multi-purpose biodegradable soap. I can bathe in this, wash my hair, hands, clothes and even do the dishes with it.

When space is really limited, this is the way to go. Because the soap is concentrated, one small bottle will last me a long time. This is not only great when it comes to packing, but also budget friendly as well.

By rallenwriter — On Sep 17, 2010

Good article -- I'm glad how you mentioned that biodegradable camp soap is not completely pure, and can still cause contamination.

A lot of campers think that just because it says "biodegradable" on it you could basically dissolve it in a stream with no side effects, but unfortunately, that's rarely true.

Good for you for promoting responsible camping.

By FirstViolin — On Sep 17, 2010

I recently found out about all the effects laundry detergent has on the environment, so I switched over to using biodegradable liquid laundry soap -- it really does work just as well without all the byproducts.

I heard that there's one biodegradable laundry product called soap nuts -- I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I have a friend that swears by them, so I'm going to check it out next time I'm in need of laundry detergent.

By pleats — On Sep 17, 2010

Biodegradable soap is becoming increasingly popular for use in everyday life. Apparently it's a little different than the biodegradable soap used for camping, but it still has the safe purpose in protecting the environment.

Many people say that biodegradable soap and shampoo is easier on their pipes too. I would recommend people to try out an organic biodegradable soap just to see what it's like.

Many of them are quite nice, and not at noticeably "camp soap".

The best place to find biodegradable hand soap (or biodegradable dish soap, for that matter) is at natural food stores like Whole Foods or Earthfare, or at the organic section in your grocery store or pharmacy.

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