Eco-Friendly Soap and your environment

There's little shortage of scientific proof why you should wash with eco-friendly soap rather than synthetically produced antibacterial soap, which can be detrimental to both your health and the environment's.

Even those who exclusively clean with biodegradable soap at home, however, may at some point be faced with a dilemma: being exposed to potentially contagious germs (think: shaking hands with someone at a party who just sneezed, or going to the bathroom in an airport) or cleaning their hands with, say, antibacterial soap.

Assuming your immune system is strong, if you don't have access to eco-friendly soap outside your home, consider risking exposure to some bacteria rather than using non-biodegradable soap, especially antibacterial varieties, which may:

  • Weaken your immune system

  • Decrease fertility

  • Alter hormones

  • Cause birth defects

Triclosan found in several products, declared 'toxic' by the EPA: The Orthodontic Cyber Journal reports that triclosan, developed about 30 years ago, is found in many household products, including popular name-brand soaps. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered triclosan, found in anti-microbial and anti-bacterial-marketed soaps, as a pesticide.

Studies, such as one published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have also proven that triclosan negatively impacts cardiac and skeletal muscle health. Another study in Toxological Sciences concluded that triclosan impaired thyroid hormones in rats.

No 'lye-ing' about it, eco-friendly soap is better for the environment: The EPA, which has been prodded by several environmental advocacy groups to ban triclosan, has recently updated its assessment on triclosan, stating on its website that the inorganic compounds "bioaccumulate, potentially posing a concern for aquatic organisms."

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Public School of Health concluded in a study that antibacterial soaps were leaching into municipal wastewater treatment systems, ultimately accumulating as "municipal sludge," which oozes into crop fertilizers.

A common ingredient in eco-friendly soap [here's an example of a soap that helps preserves orangutan habitat] is lye. If you need an environmentally friendly upgrade to your home, also consider castile soaps that are made exclusively from plant oils and do not contain animal-derived sources, common in most leading brand-name soaps.

Home-grown eco-friendly soap: If you want to make your own home-made eco-friendly soap, one way to do so requires just three ingredients: water, oil and lye.

There are also online recipes for shea butter soap and many other varieties of eco-friendly soap. Just remember to pack some with you next time you're out and about.

Do you use eco-friendly soap? Have any recipes you'd like to share for homemade soap? Let us know below….

Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif., and can be reached at

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