Cheap and Natural Handsoap–and a rant

This is just a quick tip. If your family prefers liquid soap to bar soap, one easy way to avoid all the creepy, expensive, colored, perfumed, anti-bacterial liquid soaps on the market  (and all the plastic they come in) is to just use liquid castile soap to wash your hands.  Ah, but yes–liquid castile soap is runny. Indeed. I can hear the complaints already. 
The way around that problem is to use one of them fancy-schmancy foaming soap pumps. You can buy them at specialty retailers, but it’s probably cheaper to buy one at the supermarket, use up the soap and then start refilling with liquid castile soap. The one in our bathroom is an old Method pump and is still working fine after three years.
The secret of the soap formula used in foaming pumps is that it’s super-diluted. It has to to diluted because full strength soap clogs the pump.  It’s kind of a scam, when you think about it, that when you buy a foaming pump you pay as much or more for diluted soap than regular liquid soap. However, the dilution factor works perfectly with castile soap. As Dr. Bronner says:  Dilute! Dilute! Dilute!
Dilute your castile soap quite a bit for use in a foam pump. Start by filling the dispenser no more than 1/4 full of soap and then filling it the rest of the way with water. See how that works for you. You may prefer it a little stronger or a little weaker. 
In any case, you’ll pay less for each full dispenser of soap, and you’ll have the comfort of knowing your soap is all-natural, safe and free of additives.
Rant Warning:
Speaking of which, I saw the most appalling thing in the grocery store today and I had to rant about it: The Lysol® Healthy Touch® No-Touch Hand Soap System.
This is a twelve dollar, battery operated (4 AA) soap pump fitted with an electric eye, so it spits out soap when you pass your hand under the nozzle. It dispenses Lysol anti-bacterial soap, which comes packed into special cartridges–meaning you can’t fill the dispenser with whatever soap you like. The tagline for this product is, “Never touch a germy soap pump again!” 
I love the double-speak of Healthy Touch/No-Touch. Is the underlying logic that no touch is healthy? Time to evacuate to our plastic bubbles!
Three cranky thoughts on this product:
1) First, the obvious. When you touch a soap dispenser, you are about to wash your hands. When you wash you hands, you kill all the germs. It doesn’t matter how “germy” the dispenser is–unless you plan to suck on it. This device is about as needful as evening wear for hogs.
2) In 2002, at the urging of the AMA, the FDA evaluated anti-bacterial soaps. The AMA was concerned that these anti-bacterial soaps (i.e. Triclosan-based products*) may be breeding super-bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. The FDA’s findings were, as reported at American Medical News:
“Soaps and lotions that include antibacterial agents have no benefit over ordinary soap and water, but more research is needed to allay or substantiate concern that these substances may be leading to increased rates of antibiotic resistance.”
So anti-bacterial soaps are proven to be no better than regular soap and water and maybe, just maybe–there’s still research to be done–they could be disastrously worse. Why roll the dice on this one? It just doesn’t make any sense. For me, this makes anti-bacterial soaps about as needful as evening wear for hogs accessorized with a doomsday device.
3) And finally, the wastefulness of it all makes me cry. Note the the cheap plastic shell and electronic innards assembled in Chinese factories–not to mention the big-ass clamshell package it all comes in. How long will the average unit be employed? A year? If does last more than a year, how long will Lysol keep making those plastic cartridges?  Oh, and joy! We’ll have more toxic batteries to figure out how to dispose of–all so we can wash our hands.
Arggghhhh! I’ve got to go visit the chickens or something. My knickers are all in a twist.
Thanks for listening.
*I know I have alcohol gel fans in the readership and I don’t believe those were part of the AMA’s concerns. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

Leave a comment


  1. Brilliant! Who knew that foamy soap was simply watered down? I do go out of my way to buy soap that is NOT antimicrobial. Now I can simply buy castile. Thanks

  2. You are correct – bacteria have no way of becoming “resistant” to alcohol. A concentration of at least 70% damages the cell wall of the bacterium beyond repair.

  3. Thanks for the great tip – I’m sold.

    Once I bought a trio of pretty washrags advertised as being “antibacterial”. (I didn’t buy them because of that.) Anyway, when I read the fine print it said that washing them in a load of wash with a cup of bleach would “activate” the antibacterial ability of the washrags. A total rip off.

    I’ve never allowed “antibacterial” anything into our house, having known about the cleansing action of soap since I was just a wee thing.

    Love the rant!

  4. Oh my, thank you! I keep shuttering every time my husband wants to buy new soap. All he wants is the foaming kind. Now we can have that and never buy hand soap again!!

  5. Totally agree with your rant. The conundrum of a germy soap dispenser–and the fact that such marketing apparently works on my fellow humans–makes me very cranky.

    I’d like to share my liquid soap method: I use a foaming pump (a method one too, actually) and then just drop a small sliver of soap in there occasionally and refill with water. I use the funny scraps and shavings from my homemade olive oil soap, as well as the very last sliver of each bar. It is very satisfying to use up my homemade stuff completely!

  6. I hold my breath when walking down the cleaning supply aisle because I hate the smell of all those “clean” chemicals. Weird? Maybe. But I also use liquid Castile soap but in just a regular dispenser with a note posted next to it that says “Dear Friend, please press on soap dispenser slowly and gently or you will get squirted.” this works for my household for now but this is a good tip. Thanks!

  7. Thanks for sharing. I always wondered about the foaming soap and how to get it with my handmade stuff. I’d grate my handmade hard bars but it never worked well in the bottles. Gotta love Dr. Bronner’s!

    Newest follower and I’m looking forward to reading more as my chickens help me when my panties are bunched due to my inability to get WHY folks think the world would be a better place germ free.

    Lovely post!

  8. In microbiology class last semester we actually did test hand washing and alcohol. The handwashing removed the bacteria. The alcohol removed the bacteria. The handwashing was done with non antibacterial soap. you dont need that crap, you just need to wash your hands properly.

  9. Hey! We’ve been refilling those method pumps around here too. They’re still working and we got them in 2007. 🙂 Especially great for little kids who’d otherwise pump half a bottle of straight soap into their hands and then promptly wash it down the drain otherwise.

    As for the antibacterial stuff, it’s too compatible with our culture of “if some if good, more is awesome!” Which is why “maximum strength” always sells better than a lower dosage that does the same job, or why people take a higher than recommended dosage despite the risks, and why we practically clean house with chemical weapons lest it not *really* be clean. If a laundry detergent recommends 4 pumps of a product per load of wash, most people will use 6, even if all it gets them is a soapy residue. I was genuinely floored when 2 pumps got the laundry just as clean -it was as if I’d found my same detergent for half the price. And when I tried washing my hair with a bar of soap and apple cider vinegar for the first time, it was only your note about “no really, dilute this stuff. At best more will just make your hair limp and at worst fry it completely” that stopped me from thinking “well, if 1 T in 2 cups of water is good, 2 straight cups of vinegar will be amazing!”
    On a related note, why apple cider vinegar for hair? The ingredients in Making It are so carefully streamlined, I figure there’s a reason for not just using distilled white vinegar or that they’re not interchangeable. Just curious.

    • About a decade ago, we called an appliance repairman about a problem with our washing machine and one of the first questions he asked me was how much detergent I used for a load. He said that unless you’re washing extremely dirty clothing (think auto-mechanic dirty), you should never use more than half of the amount the manufacturer recommends. He said overuse of detergent is not good for the machine itself. Last year (I think) there was an article on Yahoo by some consumer group that found no difference in cleanliness between lightly-soiled clothing washed with detergent and without any detergent at all. The agitation of the machine was sufficient to get the clothes clean. Less really is more.

  10. Love your rant – first time I came across the ad I laughed out loud. Working in a hospital kitchen as a teen – 50 years ago, but the information is still good today – washing your hands with soap, water as hot as you can tolerate and briskly rubbing them together then thoroughly rinsing with clean water will get rid of the majority of bacteria.

    The only time we have had antibacterial cleansers in the house was after my husband’s open heart surgery and post-surgery major infection (from the hospital). For a total of 8 weeks we washed our hands with the stuff whenever doing anything that involved touching him. We had a home-care nurse tell us ‘it was protocol’ but she was a firm believer in the 20 second soap and water hand wash more.

  11. I clicked on the Lysol link and it turns out you can leave comments. I read the “1 star” comments – apparently the thing is cheap and breaks pretty quickly. One person actually bought four of them and three leaked. It must be tough to design a piece of junk in such a way that it lasts long enough to get people hooked on using it, but not so long that they’ll never need to buy a replacement.

    It also occurs to me that one reason the middle class feels like they’re being clobbered and can barely make ends meet is that they so often fall for nonsense like this.

    Unfortunately, in order to leave a comment Lysol either wants you to sign in via Facebook or register your email address so they can harass you with advertising. Argh.

  12. Yes, love it! Great idea. I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with handsoap. We import our castile soap (we’re in Mexico), and haven’t been able to ‘waste’ the precious stuff on our hands. If I can find a foam dispenser, we’ll be in business. Thanks. 🙂

    And as per comments about hair, I just recently switched to water-only for ‘washing’ my hair. I use vinegar (diluted) once a week or so. I’ve seen no difference in the health of my hair or my scalp with the switch. I used to use diluted castile.


  13. Thank you, folks. It’s good to be supported in my self-righteousness.

    @Jessieimproved: Thanks for the info–that’s what I thought!

    @KC: Erik has the same fixation. He likes liquid soap, and particularly foamy soap, which is why I started doing this. If I had my druthers I’d just have a bar of soap by the sink.

    @Magdalena: Yes! Thank you for reminding me! I’ve tried that, too, and it works pretty well. I forgot to include that as an option. It’s very thrifty indeed–because castile is expensive.

    @Kelly: We did the same thing for years–it works perfectly well, but yes, as your note warns, there’s sometimes some spillage. Foam, I think, is particularly good for houses with kids.

    @Joss: I think apple cider vinegar is a little less acidic and it smells better, but you should give white a try if you’re curious. It’s all about experimentation.

    @Kathy P.: Ha! Figures. I knew it had to be a cheap piece of junk.

    @Marie: See Magdalena’s comment above. If you can find a foam dispenser, you could use bar slivers instead of your liquid castile.

    • @Kelly: I forgot to say that I am also wierded-out in the cleaning aisle. Those things are full of toxins, like synthetic perfumes, so you’re right to look at them askance. It’s sort of surreal to walk down that aisle and see it as the hallucinatory circus it really is–and it’s also pleasing to know that you don’t need any of it.

    • I hate the smell of the cleaning stuff too. I found a mostly used bottle of Fairy washing up liquid in a cupboard (well known UK brand- bright green).
      I used to use this all the time, but after 10 or more years of eco-friendly washing up liquid, and even using a tiny amount at a time to use it up, the smell is overpowering.

  14. SOOO happy I am not the only existing human who realizes how stupid that no-touch thing is. Somedays I just feel so lost among the crazies.
    We use almond castile soap and love it, but we have found that it does clog up our soap dispenser, so we need to warn guests, which is frustrating. Thanks for the tip.

  15. Good tip on the foaming soap. I switched over when my son was old enough to begin attempting to wash his own hands. These are SOOOOO much less mess than a bar.

    We dilute at 20:1 water to liquid soap. Works really well, and I have been using the same gallon bottle of liquid soap for over five years. It’s less than half gone.

  16. Love the rant! Love Dr. Bronner’s soap! Thanks for the foam pump info. I’ve been saving the pumps from my face wash for “when I get around to re-filling”

  17. I was absolutely horrified when I saw the “no-hands” dispenser, so your rant was well accepted. I had all the same objections you did and one more–how well sealed is the battery compartment? You just know that some kid is going to have it submerged in the sink, accidentally or on purpose, rendering it useless.

    When Softsoap first came out, I had to have a bottle but resisted for about two years. I still have a very old bottle that is refilled with shampoo that I no longer like or shampoo gotten for free.

    Strong scents are not tolerated well, so I am still picky about what goes in it.

    A bar of soap suits me just fine, but I had someone who regularly either left the soap dirty, in the sink soaking, or on the floor. The pump soap was purely in self-defense, not because I was dying to have one.

  18. Gosh, we always add water to our Dr. B. so it doesn’t clog up the nozzle. Runny? Of course we are able to lift the bottle and pour the desired amount onto our hand instead of using a pump. It is our exercise for the day. We always check your blog for the good tips. Thanks.

  19. I hate things like the no-touch soap dispenser, and I’ve also seen a device for the home that dispenses a towelette for drying, so that God forbid, you can avoid the dreaded bathroom towel that evidently is responsible for the plagues of the middle ages. I detest the way these advertisers play upon the fears of the germophobes to sell yet more junk and generate yet more trash.

  20. I dilute my Dr. B and just use a spray bottle – hands, fruits & vegs, etc. I always smile when I use it too because of something I read somewhere on the bottle about it being delivered with a blessing (I could be wrong – if I am – please don’t tell me because I like smiling everytime) …

  21. No touch dispensers are good for stadium bathrooms, but seriously, I wish people understood how crazy it is to be afraid of the germs on their soap! This is a perfect for my kids who LOVE to wash their hands. I have one soap dispenser that doesn’t gush out soap, but I can still only dilute a little. Thanks!!
    ps-gardenbre, LOVE the spray bottle idea for produce!

  22. A bit of vegetable glycerine added to the diluted Dr. Bronner’s makes a great hand soap. The glycerine thickens it up and makes for a nice foamy lather.
    I am going to try the foaming pump/bar soap scraps too. Although my husband loves the glycerine/Bronner mix…”it really cuts grease.”

  23. My friend uses these – she DOES refill them, just use a cork as a stopper and put a small hole in the top. Works great for when you do come in with muddy hands and don’t want to rinse off your soap dispenser afterwards.

    • Could you please clarify which letter this refers to? I am confused as to what your friend uses and where the cork comes into it. Thank you ^_^

  24. Thank you! I was searching for how to use my Dr. Bronners in a foamer and this “recipe” works perfect. I’m in total agreement with that electric, no touch hand soap machine, too. What’s worse is now you can buy them from specialty stores for like, $40. Seriously, I’m not sure it gets lazier than not wanting to pump the soap dispenser XD

  25. In dental hygiene school we learned, like the nurse mentioned, that the antibacterial soap is part of the ‘protocol’. This is literally true, as many places have codified it into their infection control procedures. However,the evidence doesn’t show it to be any more effective and the hypersensitivity reactions (flakey skin) it can cause probably traps more germs. And anyhow, what is a good idea for a hospital or other medical office (or sickroom) is not what is necessarily appropriate at home. I have to wear gloves if I touch a child’s face, but what mother is going to do or should do that?
    What is really important is thoroughly washing your hands, including the backs, for a lot longer than almost anyone does. 🙂

    Alcohol sanitizers, we were taught, are only for sanitizing hands that are already clean (washed), but may have been contaminated. They don’t cause immunity and have the added benefit of killing some viruses, like cold viruses. We use them when we have to reglove. Outside of medical applications I would say they are most useful for situations like if you have a cold and have to keep blowing your nose, but washing your hands twice every minute would be too chapping. Helps keep you from spreading the cold to everyone else. Adding a little alcohol sanitizing a few times a day for healthy folks might also help prevent spreading minor sicknesses around at work and at home.

  26. I will admit I have one of those no touch systems, but I take a syringe and refill the cartridge every time it runs out. I also have had it for three years and haven’t changed the batteries. Just saying. It dispenses a small amount, so it takes me longer to go through a full bottle of soap, in fact, I have not bought new soap once in the three years since I bought it and started filling it myself with my own soap.

  27. Many times I make my own liquid hand soap! This sounds relatively easy, very safe, and super inexpensive!Here are my favorite ingredients : glycerine and essential oils.

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