4 Reasons to Stop Buying Foaming Hand Soap

4 Reasons to Stop Using Foaming Hand Soap: A Drop in the Ocean Shop
Listen to the audio of this post here:

This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on August 29, 2022.

Hey friend! This week’s topic is one that I’ve been sitting on for probably a year now, always feeling like it “wasn’t quite the right time to share it.” I’m not really sure why I’ve been feeling that way, but hey that’s just how my brain works sometimes 🤷‍♀️

But after focusing the last two weeks on bar soaps, how great they are and how to take care of them, I’m thinking this week is the perfect week to finally share this ~hot take~ I’ve been keeping close to the chest.

Ya ready for it?

Foaming hand soap is a waste of your money.

Yep, I said it.

I know it’s oh-so-loved, but it’s just not worth your money. Here’s why.

What makes a hand soap foamy?

Here’s the secret most companies won’t tell you. Foaming hand soap isn’t foamy because of the soap. It’s foamy because of the pump.

Foaming hand soap is a diluted version of liquid hand soap that must go through a special foaming pump that adds air into the mix to create an already-sudsy hand soap “lather” when it’s dispensed onto your hands.

There’s not actually anything special about foaming hand soap except that it’s watered down. 

(So why is foaming hand soap so much more expensive? #ManufacturedDemand)

Is foaming hand soap more effective than liquid?

I think part of the reason we love foaming hand soap so much is because we feel like our hands are getting cleaner because our brains associate foaminess with cleanliness.

In fact, most lather in everyday home and personal care products was created artificially as a result of customer demand.

But the reality is, lather has nothing to do with effectiveness.

Several studies in the past few years have shown that foaming hand soap is actually less effective with regards to decreasing bacteria on our hands (check out this one, and this one, and this one). Now, there aren’t a ton of studies on this and, like all peer-reviewed studies, there’s always room for new studies and evaluations.

But so far, the general consensus seems to be that foaming hand soap is less effective than liquid. However - this could be at least partially due to the fact that people tend to wash their hands for a shorter amount of time when they use foaming hand soap versus liquid.

If we’ve learned anything from the covid-years, it’s that the amount of time spent washing is actually really important to keep us healthy.

A Drop in the Ocean Shop Refillable Personal Care Products

Is foaming hand soap more sustainable than liquid?

Overall, it doesn’t look like foaming hand soap is any more sustainable than liquid hand soap.

From the studies and articles I’m seeing, the only thing that might make foaming hand soap more eco-friendly is that people are using less water when they’re washing their hands because they’re not washing their hands as long as with liquid.

So, you’re using watered-down soap, less effectively, but in the process accidentally using less water....... Soooo I’ll leave that one up to you, my friend.

How can we make foaming hand soap more effective, more sustainable, and more affordable?

Now if you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “Okay Krystina I get it, but I really freaking like my foaming hand soap! And so do my kids! And I won’t be able to convince my whole family to switch to something new. What can I do??” you know I’ve gotchu.

So first, if you’ve already got a foaming hand soap dispenser at home, first and foremost, stop buying new foaming hand soaps with dispensers. You don’t need a whole new bottle every time you run out!

(I mean, that is kinda the whole point of our refill shop… 😉)

You also don’t need to buy special “foaming hand soap” refills. While doing research for this post I was looking on Grove’s website at their hand soap options and was shocked to see that their “foaming hand soap refills” are more than twice as expensive than their regular “hand soap refills,” when we’ve just established that it’s nothing more than watered down hand soap. #themoreyouknow

Instead, keep your foaming hand soap dispenser, add some regular liquid hand soap to the bottle and fill it with water (about a 5 parts water to 1 part hand soap ratio). Give it a quick shake, and you’re good to go.

At that ratio, one of our 32oz hand soap refill bottles will refill a 12oz foaming hand soap bottle about 13 times - working out to be just about $3.60 a bottle. 

How to make your own foaming hand soap

And then, when you’re washing your hands, just make sure you’re still washing the recommended 20 seconds - and turn off the water while you’re at it!

You’ll get an effective wash and still save water and money.

And if you don’t already have a foaming bottle to refill, my go-to is Rail19. This isn’t a referral link and I don’t have any affiliation with them whatsoever, I just really love their bottles, and their foaming pumps are be-u-ti-ful metal pumps 😍

Okay now I really wanna know, friend - did you already know about this trick for foaming hand soap or is this all new to you?? Comment below and let me know!

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  • Mat

    The thickness of a soap is not directly related to it’s surfactant inclusion level. It is not that foam soaps are watered down but that lotion soaps are thickened up. The thickening can be achieved using natural or synthetic polymers or by manipulation of the micelle structure (adding sodium chloride). The watering down advice should not be followed unless there is evidence that the product will be adequately preserved at the dilution level. If not you are risking microbial contamination and potential illness (rubbing bacteria & yeast across your body is not advisable).

  • Krystina @ A Drop in the Ocean

    @Cin – do you have a peer-reviewed study to support your claim? The only place I’ve seen this suggested is in frugal Reddit comments, with no evidence to back up any of these claims. Further, the main point of this post is to stop using foaming hand soap altogether, so the point still stands.

  • cin

    please take down this post or edit it with the correct information. foaming soap is not just watered down soap, theres a difference in preservatives in foam vs regular soap. when you water down hand soap it allows for bacteria &mold to grow bc it lowers the ph and amount of preservatives. watering it down makes it not feasible as an option to clean germs n bacteria off your hands !!

  • Krystina @ A Drop in the Ocean

    @Heather – that’s a really great question and I one I haven’t heard before! I’m not sure on the answer, but I’ll reach out to some colleagues and see if anyone else has any insight!

  • Heather Chapin

    We have been doing this for years (5 to 1 ratio of watering down hand soap for foaming dispenser), but I do have a question. I noticed that when I did this to make a foaming shampoo bottle for my kid, the soap eventually smelled awful, like it had gone bad. Then I started wondering hmmm does foaming hand soap have to have more antimicrobial preservatives added because it’s so watered down so if we water it down ourselves then it won’t have the proper preservative amount? In other words, do foaming hand soap formulations have more preservative added than regular liquid gel soap to keep it from going bad since it contains so much water? Is that a dumb question??

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