Plastic-Free Personal Care: Soap

or How I Gave Up the Bar and Learned to Love Flakes.

But first, the recipe that will get you off the plastic-packaged liquid soap train:

DIY Plastic-Free Soap Flakes

DIY Soap Flakes That Work – No Plastic, No Petrochemicals

  • 1 5-oz bar natural soap in a paper wrapper
  • 1 glass jar with tight lid; a 26-oz pasta sauce jar or the like will be the right size.
  • 1 jar with holes in the lid, just the size and shape that works in your family’s wet hands
  • 1 metal grater
  • 1 large bowl
  1. Set your grater over or in your bowl.
  2. Grate your bar of soap using whichever part of your grater is easiest on your arm muscles. You can use a food processor, but you’ll likely regret it when it comes time to rinse the soap off of the plastic bowl, and you’ll end up with little chunks instead of melty, ethereal flakes. It will only take a few minutes to grate it by hand.
  3. Use your dry hands to break the grated soap up into a fine powder.
  4. Fill your small shaker jar with soap flakes and set it by your sink.
  5. Store the extra flakes in the larger jar.
  6. Wet your hands, sprinkle on a light dusting of soap flakes, lather up with the water off, then rinse clean.
  7. Do this because it’s easy, it’s fast, it’s economical (1 bar of soap lasts us a few months this way), and it’s just as good as liquid soap, really it is. Maybe even better.

DIY soap flakes in action


When I got serious about reducing the amount of new plastic that comes into my house, I knew I’d have to tackle hundreds (and then some) of mundane details. Soap is one of those. Ever since I discovered Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap All One! during my first year as a summer camp counselor, I’ve had a thing for Dr. B’s liquid castile soap. I made it through a whole camp season with one small bottle of icily invigorating peppermint soap, and not just because I only got to shower a couple of times each session – As the intriguing and slightly unsettling label on my first bottle told me, “Dilute! Dilute!” – this stuff is concentrated.  I moved on from peppermint to almond and then to baby mild when I had my own babies to wash. When my kids started washing their own hands, I let them pick a fragrance for our family soap which meant alternating between lavender and rose.  I’d buy one 32 oz bottle and pour a bit of that into our glass soap dispensers, filling the rest with water to create a liquid hand and dish soap.

For our first Month Less Plastic, we had a large plastic bottle of organic, fair trade, natural liquid castile soap in a 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle. During our second Month Less Plastic, our liquid castile bottle ran dry and we needed to find new soap for our hands, bodies, and dishes. Since Dr. Bronner’s is using a recycled and technically recyclable plastic bottle, I felt OK with buying a new bottle. But then I thought about the plastic caps, which are neither recycled nor recyclable (at least not where I live, although that may be changing now). I wondered if there might be a plastic-free soap solution, one that would bring no plastic of any kind into my house.

I found old-fashioned answers to my question: baking soda for our kitchen sink dishes, and a bar of soap for our hands and other skin. That was easy enough.

The downside is that bars of soap are beautiful at first, but not lovely at all after a few days of being tumbled over and over by small hands. We host our Sunday school in our home every other week during the school year, so our bar of bathroom soap saw a lot of action. I had been storing it in a small jelly jar, but that resulted in slimy soap soup that no one wanted to touch. I turned the jar over, set it on an old saucer, and perched the soap on top where it could dry out a bit between washings.This helped, but it still didn’t look very inviting.

bars of soap, not so beautiful as they age

One night, after scrubbing soap slime off of the jelly jar and saucer in an attempt to make our bar of soap look like something that might leave you clean, not covered in mysterious germs and gunk, I had a flash of inspiration.

Why not grate a bar of soap the same way I do for my DIY laundry detergent? Wouldn’t those little flakes of soap be like that powdered pink grit that came out of the soap dispensers of my childhood school, only better? Much, much better?

I used my cheese grater to turn a bar of soap into tiny flakes, tipped some into a jam jar with holes hammered into its lid, and dusted my hands with some for an experimental washing up.

It worked! Very well! My plastic-free heart was flipping around like a happy fish inside of me. Yes, this is the sort of thing that counts as thrilling for me these days. I’m sure my younger self would be mortified.

I’ve discovered that it works best if I wet my hands first, lather up outside of the flow, then rinse clean, and that it only takes a small shake of soap flakes – Too much, and you get a crust of soap all over your hands and your sink. But get it right, and you’ll have a rich, creamy lather that rinses off easily, with no gunk, goo, or slime anywhere to be seen or felt.

Best of all for me, I can get my new favorite Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap scent, citrus, in bar form and grate it up to keep my love affair with these soaps going strong, in a slightly new form. This works with any bar of soap, so use your own favorite.

If you have a local bulk buying opportunity to refill your own containers with liquid soap, that’s another option to get away from single-use plastic soap bottles. I’ve fallen for flakes because I suspect that there is less plastic waste upstream from me in the production, packaging, and transport of paper-wrapped bars of soap than for liquid soaps. If you haven’t watched Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, it has an illuminating analysis of waste streams that you might find useful to frame your thinking about this.

Do you have a favorite plastic-free, zero waste soap? A favorite dispenser made of reused materials? I’d love know about what works for you.

9 comments on “Plastic-Free Personal Care: Soap

  1. […] and Dr. Bronner’s!  If you’re interested, you can read her entire post here… Soap Directions. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. […] liquid soap and its plastic packaging – Fill your jars with soap flakes for clean hands with no goo, or go with a classic bar of soap. DIY Zero Waste Soap Flakes in […]

  3. Thanks for this great idea! I am going to try this today 🙂

  4. […] By Rebecca Rockefeller (Originally published at Rock Farmer) […]

  5. Thank you for a great idea! I was pondering how to avoid the soap bar slime and the plastic bottles, and you have it! Hats off to you.

  6. I have a slight improvement for your method of dispensing soap flakes. Even though i much prefer the soap grater contraption found on the internet, unfortunately they’re just concept ideas and are not for sale. So i came upon your post and thought there should be a better way to increase ease of dispensing the flakes to control amount used, instead of shaking a glass jar. Heres a link to a nonbattery operated, one-button pepper/ salt dispenser. Small as a flashlight. At $4 i think it could slightly improve on your dispensing method. http://m.ebay.com/itm/201123158991

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: