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Monday, January 11, 2010

Sav-on Soap

For many years our family used regular grocery store soaps like Tone, Caress, Ivory and the more old-fashioned sounding Palmolive. Back in those days, I typically bought whatever was on sale, though we avoided deoderant and highly-perfumed brands. And I wouldn't buy Irish Spring because I hated the TV ads.

Over time, I began to notice that the soap, even the giant yellow bars of Tone, disappeared quickly, seemingly foaming away to nothing after what seemed like only days on the shelf in the bath tub. A few years ago, the soap did its normal disappearing act, but on a day when there weren't any replacement bars in the cupboard. I went to the stash of  hand-milled soaps that had been, until then, saved for use by guests in the powder room. Everyone noticed how different the "fancy" soap was. It smelled wonderful. It made our skin feel smooth and soft. And the bar lasted a really long time.

When that first bar was finally used up, we tried another one from the powder room. This one too got great reviews, and lasted just as long. We were hooked. Now, we only use the high-quality soaps. They are expensive, though you can get great bargains at places like Marshall's and T.J.Maxx; and we are fortunate to often receive them as gifts. At some of the specialty stores like Sabon in NYC, where my wonderful niece Jaya works part time, the experience of trying samples and buying beautiful soaps that are cut from a huge mother soap, are worth the extra expense as a special treat. Farmer's markets and craft fairs are another source for local, artisan-made soaps.

Though I'm not sure I can really call the practice truly frugal, high quality soaps do seem to last much longer. I believe the final cost may be about the same as the grocery store soaps.

I did a little price comparison at our local SuperFresh to get a better idea. For example, two bars of Tone soap (a total of 8.5 oz.) was priced this week at $2.99. Two bars of Lever 2000 (4.5 oz) cost $2.77. Palmolive was a bargain at $1.49 for three bars (9.6 oz). And Ivory was on sale - four bars (18 oz. total) for $1.99. By comparison, three bars of Pecksniff's grapefruit & citron peel moisturing soap (10.5 oz total) was $3.99 at T.J. Maxx just before Christmas. It's more than twice as expensive as the Palmolive and more than three times the price of the Ivory on sale. But, my experience is that each bar of the posh soap will last about three or four times as long as the other brands. A little bit of research produced an interesting fact: Ivory soap has air whipped into it, which is why it floats. It may be that other shorter-lasting brands also have lots of air. And they may have higher percentages of water, which is an ingredient in most soaps.

So is the higher quality soap less expensive? Probably not. Is it more pleasant to use? Yes. I go for the far more pleasant experience, while probably paying slightly more.  I also like the fact that if I use fewer bars of soap, I am unwrapping fewer packages so there is less packaging waste. I still have to get over the transportation issue of using imported soaps (though shipping by sea, I'm told, uses less energy than trucking). And if I buy local, artisan-made soap, I can feel good about supporting the local economy and not creating extra transportation carbon.

To make soap last even longer, I make a point of keeping it out of the direct stream of water from the shower. It also helps if I let the bar dry out between uses - not that practical if your family members take serial showers. And when the bar is reduced to just a sliver, I break that little piece into even smaller pieces and add it to a soap dish by the sink in the hall bath (see the photo above). It looks kind of pretty and eventually, even those little shards will be used up so there is no waste.

One more thing. I avoid using anti-bacterial soaps because of the issue with superbugs. Here is an interesting piece on why plain soap with out anti-bacterial ingredients is the better choice.


  1. I completely agree, Dee Dee. I buy the big milled soap bars on sale at Whole Foods or from Marshal's and other discount stores for the same reasons - I hate running out and the soap is just nicer. Now from a frugal perspective because I travel for business, I stock up on the soaps from my hotel room each day and take them home - now that's frugal!

  2. Nancy, I used to collect all the soaps & shampoo from hotel stays, but then started being concerned about all that packaging. Now I bring my own in little reusable containers and leave the hotel stuff in place. Not so frugal, but a little more green!