The 8 Best Eco-Friendly Soaps of 2021

A squeaky, sustainable clean is just a bar away

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When you’re in the shower, you’re probably not thinking much about the soap itself. You just want to get pleasantly clean. But it’s worth looking closer at what touches your skin. Many popular soaps contain ingredients that can be harsh on our skin and harmful to the environment, and come in plastic packaging that may not be easy to recycle.

Even if our soapy rise water goes to a septic system or municipal water treatment facility, some of it will eventually make its way to soil, groundwater, rivers, or oceans. That's where ingredients like antibacterial agents, surfactants, and other concerning chemicals can harm animals and even whole ecosystems.

However, there are many soap options available for sustainably-minded shoppers, including old-fashioned bar soaps that come in minimal packaging. If the first one you try isn’t a good fit, move on to the next until you find what’s right for you.

Here are the best eco-friendly soaps.

The Rundown
USDA-Certified organic soap that's hand-poured in California.
A fair-trade, “18-uses-in-one” soap with truly natural ingredients safe for your dishes and the environment.
A foaming soap that's certified cruelty-free and vegan, and also mild enough for those with skin sensitivities.
All of the benefits of avocados and goat’s milk in one bar.
Pure, simple, long-lasting soap filled with vitamins that makes a rich lather.
Made from just four simple ingredients, this olive oil soap is safe for the most sensitive skin.
Reduce pore size and get a healthy clean from this charcoal-based luxury soap.
Save plastic and money with reusable glass bottles and refill tablets in compostable packaging.

Best Overall: Makes 3 Organics Organic Bar Soap

Makes 3 Organics Organic Soap

Fragrance, even from some essential oils or other natural sources, can trigger allergies for some. If that’s you, you’ll want to stick to unscented soaps.

Makes 3 Organics Unscented Super Shea soap bar is made with a blend of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified organic safflower, sunflower, coconut palm fruit oils and shea butter that will leave your skin feeling clean and nourished. The palm fruit oil is Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified sustainable. Shea butter contains natural ingredients that balance oils on your skin. It also contains vitamins A, D, E, and F , which include antioxidants that promote circulation and healthy skin cell growth. Other ingredients include rosemary extract, and sodium hydroxide, a high-pH agent that helps remove dead skin cells.

Each bar is 100% handmade and hand-poured by a family owned business in Santa Barbara, California. Customers love that it is EWG Verified and that it leaves their skin feeling soft and smooth.

If you prefer a scented soap, Makes 3 offers several perfumed with essential oils, like coriander ginger oatmeal, lavender vanilla, sandalwood black pepper, eucalyptus cedarwood, and orange blossom. You can even order “Waste Not Want Not” scraps by the pound directly from Makes 3 for a fraction of the bar soap cost.

Best Liquid: Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap

Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap

Dr. Bronner’s is an eco-friendly soap beloved by Treehugger staffers, who have used it to wash our faces, hair, bodies, pets, dishes, laundry, and even teeth (although we don't really recommend that one unless it's an emergency). Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap has been the top seller since the company was founded in 1948. Still family-owned and run, Dr. Bronner’s brand makes socially- and environmentally-responsible products based on the founder's Cosmic Principles.

If you’re new to castile soap, you’ll find that it a wealth of benefits including affordability and eco-friendliness. The skin-softening plant-based ingredients haven’t changed much over the years and include vitamin E and palm kernel, olive, coconut, hemp seed, and jojoba seed oils.

These simple ingredients have earned this dish soap an “A” from EWG as well as certifications from Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, Leaping Bunny, Vegan.org and the Non-GMO Project. At least 70% of the ingredients have been certified Fair for Life by IMO.

If you shop online, you might notice that the unscented variety is sold with “baby” in the name. That’s because it’s mild enough for even the most sensitive skin. You can also try the scented options made from hemp oil combined with natural plant oils like citrus, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, rose, tea tree, and almond.

Because any soap you use while camping may be discharged directly to the water or soil without treatment, this soap is also a top choice among campers thanks to its mild ingredients (but never use soap directly in a lake).

Best Hand Soap: Sally B's Skin Yummies Foaming Hand Soap

Sally B’s Skin Yummies Foaming Hand Soap

Four varieties of Sally B’s Skin Yummies Foaming Hand Soap are EWG Verified: unscented, lemongrass, lavender, and citrus vanilla. Each contains certified organic ingredients that are 100% free of GMOs, artificial ingredients, and parabens. They are also gluten-free, and certified cruelty-free and vegan byLeaping Bunny.

This soap works well for many people struggling with eczema, psoriasis and other skin sensitivities. That’s likely due to the few mild yet effective ingredients: organic coconut, olive and jojoba oils, organic aloe vera, and rosemary extract. For the scented soaps, the scent is achieved with essential oils and no synthetic fragrances. 

It comes in an eight-ounce pump, but you can reduce plastic headed to the landfill by ordering the gallon sized refill after your first purchase.

Foam Facts

Did you know that foaming hand soap is better for the environment compared to the non-foaming liquid soap with the same ingredients? Foaming soaps typically biodegrade faster than traditional soaps, partly due to the forced air that causes natural lathering. When you use foaming hand soap, a smaller volume of soap is pumped onto your hand. That means you also use less water to rinse it away, and less soap ends up down the drain which is better for our environment.

Best Face Soap: Honey Sweetie Acres Goat Milk Avocado Facial Bar Soap

Honey Sweetie Acres Goat Milk Avocado Facial Bar Soap

Some soaps that work just fine for the body do not work for our delicate, thin facial skin. For the face, many people need something that doesn’t completely strip the natural oils yet removes dirt and dead skin without drying.

Honey Sweetie Acres Goat Milk Avocado Facial bar soap is made from organic avocado puree and oil. We know avocados are healthy to eat, but they also have benefits for your skin. Avocados contain vitamins A, D and E, oleic acid, and omega 3 fatty acids that strengthen cell membranes and protein that builds collagen. Avocado oil also contains sterolin, which softens the skin and reduces the appearance of age spots. 

Honey Sweet Acres uses “cold-pressed, unrefined, dark-hued extra virgin organic avocado oil” that is extracted from the pulp of the fruit and not the seed. The lecithin in avocado oil helps boost collagen production, which helps the skin stay firm.

This soap is also EWG Verified and made with milk from Nigerian dwarf dairy goats, plus organic coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and organic shea and cocoa butter, as well as honey and Spirulina extract. Goat’s milk contains vitamin A, C, E, several B vitamins, amino acids, and natural enzymes to nourish your skin. It also has alpha hydroxy acids that help remove dead skin. Not that this soap is not vegan.

Best Body Soap: Beekman Pure Goat Milk Body Bar Soap

Beekman 1802 Pure Goat Milk Body Soap

When searching for an all over body soap, you need something that is tough on dirt and removes dead skin without drying out the surface, leaving you clean and naturally moisturized. We like Beekman 1802 Pure Goat Milk body soap because it contains just nine simple ingredients plus water. Each ingredient scores the best rating of “1” from EWG making this soap an EWG Verified product.

This soap is made in the United States with a vegetable base and cruelty-free goat milk. Goat’s milk contains vitamin A, C, E, several B vitamins, amino acids, and natural enzymes to nourish the skin. It also has alpha hydroxy acids that help remove dead skin. Antioxidant peptides are also formed during the fermentation of goat’s milk.

The soap has a fine texture because it is triple-milled during the manufacturing process, resulting in a smoother feel on the skin and a richer lather. It also makes soap harder, so a bar lasts longer.

Best for Babies & Kids: Soap for Goodness Sake Lavender Baby Soap

Soap for Goodness Sake Lavender Baby Soap

To protect baby’s and children’s delicate, sometimes sensitive skin, you want a soap with a few mild ingredients, and nothing more. Soap for Goodness Sake’s Lavender Baby soap fits the bill. It is EWG Verified and contains only organic saponified extra virgin olive oil, cinnamon leaf oil, French lavender essential oil, and water.

Because this soap contains no extra ingredients to make it hard or keep it dryer, the manufacturer notes that this soap must be handled according to instructions to keep it from getting too soft and being used up too quickly. That includes keeping it dry between uses.

Soap for Goodness Sake offers a variety of other EWG Verified soaps and they’re available as either a labeled bar that is hand-wrapped in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-Certified Vellum Paper or unlabeled in a biodegradable glassine bag.

Best Luxury: Beautycounter Counter+ Charcoal Cleansing Bar

Beautycounter Counter+ Charcoal Cleansing Bar

Whether you want to give special soap as a gift or you want only the best for yourself, you might like Beauty Counter’s Counter+ Charcoal cleansing bar. This palm-free, glycerin-based soap is EWG Verified and contains natural ingredients you’ll recognize like witch hazel leaf extract, sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, and green tea leaf extract.

Its main draw is the Binchotan charcoal powder that is meant to help detoxify and absorb impurities in skin without drying it out. In general, charcoal has been added to soaps because its large surface area allows it to absorb toxins, theoretically binding to dirt and oil on the skin to help clear out pores. The soap is also vegan and Leaping Bunny certified.

If you’re looking for a more affordable charcoal-based bar soap, check out Beekman 1802 Charcoal Milk Bar (view at Beekman1802.com), which is also EWG Verified.

Best Packaging: Blueland Hand Soap Duo

Blueland Foaming Hand Soap

Blueland is one of several companies whose focus is on reducing plastic waste. Blueland Hand Soap is one of many products the company offers as a kit or as individual pieces. Each kit comes with a reusable glass (not plastic) dispenser and foaming hand soap tablets that you rehydrate at home with water. The tablets are packaged in biodegradable paper packaging that are recyclable. By shipping compact tablets instead of fully diluted liquids, this soap weighs less and therefore requires fewer fossil fuels during transport.

One other benefit of the refill system is that although you’ll spend a little upfront for the reusable bottle, refill tablets are as low as $2 each, saving you money and plastic long-term. The foaming hand soap itself has not been evaluated by EWG, but we searched each ingredient and found that most got good marks of “1” or “2” for toxicity. All are natural ingredients except for polyethylene glycol, which is used to keep the tablet from crumbling during transport.

That means the soap is made without parabens, phosphates, ammonia, VOCs, chlorine bleach, or phthalates, and it is sourced from ingredients that are vegan, and free of gluten, soy, and nuts. The soap is also Leaping Bunny cruelty-free certified, Cradle to Cradle Certified, and U.S. EPA Safer Choice Certified (learn more about sustainable certifications here).

If you like the foaming hand soap, you can also try Blueland's kits and refills for bathroom, multi-surface and glass cleaners, dish soap, laundry detergent, or dishwasher detergent.

Final Verdict

If you’re just trying out eco-friendly soap for the first time, the Best Overall Makes 3 Organics Unscented Super Shea soap is a great place to start (view on Amazon). Or you can try something new with one of the goat milk soaps known for their smooth lather that leaves your skin feeling soft and vibrant, like the Beekman Pure Goat Milk Body Bar (view at Beeekman1802.com).

FAQs

Is bar soap more eco-friendly than liquid soap?

Although both bar and liquid soaps are roughly equally effective at killing bacteria and viruses, there are pros and cons to both soap types. As mentioned above, because liquid soaps contain a high percentage of water, they cost more to package and ship. In addition, packaging for bar soaps is often more eco-friendly than for liquid soaps. Bars often come in boxes made of thin cardboard or thick paper whereas liquid soap is often sold in thick plastic that can require up to 20 times more energy to produce.

Among liquid soaps, foaming soaps are considered more eco-friendly than non-foaming soaps because you use less and need comparatively less water to wash off the soap residue.

What ingredients should I avoid when shopping for eco-friendly soap?

The full list of ingredients to avoid is much too long to include here. But in general, watch for and avoid artificial fragrance and colors, phosphate, parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (SLS and SLES), and antimicrobial chemicals.

Artificial fragrances and colors—sometimes made of a combination of many synthetic chemicals—can cause allergies, hormone disruption and in some cases are known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

There are a number of reasons to make sure all soaps in your household, including your dish soap and laundry detergent, are phosphate-free. The primary concern is that excess phosphate in our oceans and streams can cause harmful algal blooms that disrupt the natural cycle of water bodies.

Parabens are preservatives commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. They act as endocrine (or hormone) disruptors in the body. SLS and SLES are surfactants that can cause skin irritation or trigger allergies. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable human carcinogen and byproduct of a petrochemical process, which is used to make other chemicals less harsh.

Unless you absolutely need antimicrobial soap, avoid those that use synthetic antimicrobials like triclosan and triclocarban. They are pesticides that are toxic in the aquatic environment and may also impact human reproductive systems. Washing thoroughly with soap and warm to hot water are just as effective at killing bacteria and viruses.

Why Trust Treehugger?

We’ve put together this list of top-rated, widely available, and environmentally-responsible soaps to help you make a simple, positive transition toward protecting our ecosystems. In general, we’ve chosen soaps that are phosphate-free to protect the environment and naturally scented or fragrance-free for those with sensitive noses and/or skin. Most brands are also available in naturally scented forms. We’ve also tended toward bar soaps as they’re generally more eco-friendly than liquid soaps. Our writers have also used many of these soaps in their own homes.

We’ve also considered the rating (where available) by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) who ranks products based on the toxicity of their chemical ingredients. As you’ll discover if you spend time on the research, it is difficult to find a quality soap whose ingredients are all “1’s” so keep that in mind as you choose your favorites. All of the soaps in the list above have been EWG Verified or earned a top rating of 1 or 2 rating from the EWG unless otherwise noted, while also being paraben- and artificial-fragrance-free.

Lorraine Wilde has only the highest standards for what goes on her family’s skin and into our delicate water bodies. Lorraine also holds a Master’s degree in environmental science with an emphasis on toxicology. She is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy, informed and environmentally-conscious choices to protect their families and our planet.