The dirt on soap: bars vs. liquid vs. cream

6244101 - man washes hands by the green soapWhatever happened to plain old soap? I’m talking about bar soap: Ivory, Dial, Dove, Irish Spring, or the Sweetheart brand my mom used to buy. You pick it up and rub it on your hands or face or your whole body, depending on what you’re up to, swoosh it around, and rinse it off.

I grew up watching commercials for these products. You want Ivory because it floats. You want Dial because it gets you clean. You want Dove because it has cream in it, and you want Irish Spring because a gorgeous Irish woman says it will make her man smell manly.

As for Sweetheart, I never saw an ad. I think it was the store brand, but I liked it, and I loved the way it had raised writing and scallops all around the oval rim. A little whittling, a little glitter, and you had an art project. Now you can buy it as “antique soap” on Ebay.

I think our Sweetheart soap was usually pink to match the bathroom tiles. Soap came in colors in the ’50s and ’60s, just like toilet paper. You could buy everything to match. Now it’s all white, and bar soap seems to be going out of style.

Back in the dark ages, we had powdered soap. I loved the way the scratchy Boraxo soap felt on my skin when I washed my hands at school. Anyone remember Ronald Reagan’s “Twenty Mule Team” Borax TV commercials? Here’s one you can watch. I don’t know what mules had to do with soap, but when you washed with that stuff, you were CLEAN.

Oh, and remember Lava? It was mud-colored and felt like it had sandpaper in it. If you used it every day, it would take your skin off. You used Lava when you got really dirty, not just averagely dirty. It’s what construction-worker dads like mine used after work.

Then liquid soap came along. I like the decorative containers, although I find the pumps frustrating. When the bottle is full, you get more soap than you want, and when it’s half empty, you have a hard time to getting it to spit out a few drops. You can certainly buy all kinds, white creamy soap, orange anti-bacterial soap, scented soaps like the coconut-lime soap I bought for the kitchen because the green color matched my décor. But I’m still using my bars of Ivory soap.

Yes, bars get gooshy. They shrink and fall apart as they get used up—but I never feel as if liquid soaps get me clean. Bacteria builds up on the soap, you say? I just read a scientific study that says bar soap is no more germy than liquid soap. Visit “Pros and Cons of Liquid Soap.”

Besides, I live alone. All the bacteria on my soap is my own bacteria.

Anyway. Now there’s this thing called “body wash.” I have a growing collection received for birthday and Christmas gifts. Because I’m a woman of a certain age, I guess folks don’t know what else to buy me and figure I’ll like the pretty packages of soaps, “crèmes” and lotions. I don’t know what to do with them. I’ve got this green puffy thing on which I can pour “body wash” and rub it all over my body. It feels good, but is it getting me clean? And why do I want to smell like ginger or mandarin oranges? I just want to smell clean, as in no smell.

Soap is rumored to dry out the skin while the creams and gels add moisture. But they also make you feel greasy. I don’t want to come out of the shower feeling like I need another shower to get clean.

Do people think I spend all day slathering stuff on myself in the shower or massaging pseudo-soap into my face? I’m a get wet-lather-rinse-get-out kind of girl. Give me a good old bar of real soap and a washcloth and I’m good to go.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift, don’t send me shower gel that smells like cookies. Send me actual cookies.

How about you? Bar soap, liquid soap or shower gel? Why? What’s your favorite brand and flavor?

Photo Copyright: mallivan / 123RF Stock Photo

Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. Most recently, I have published two poetry chapbooks, Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

4 thoughts on “The dirt on soap: bars vs. liquid vs. cream”

  1. Let me first say I hate the idea that all the liquid soaps are in “plastic pump” containers because we way over use plastic everything and it is so bad for the environment. Now that I’m over that, hubby uses Irish Spring in the shower (which I hate because the residue from it is green) and I use Castille soap (which is liquid, unscented and contains olive oil). Don’t use any fancy body washes. Then at every sink in the house there is a hand soap pump for easy hand washing and easy cleanup. I hate cleaning the soap dish when bar soap is used.


  2. I was a bar soap user all my life. Then about 20 years ago, my mother started using liquid soap & shower gel. She still buys bar soap (Zest — we were always a Zest family, growing up) for my father, but she wishes he’d switch too. She told me the liquid soap leaves less soap scum and is easier to clean. (No scummy soap dishes to deal with, for starters.) So I tried it myself a couple of years ago — and I think she’s right. 🙂 My dh still uses bar soap, though. Maybe it’s a guy thing??
    I use Softsoap vanilla brown sugar liquid hand soap for all of our sinks, and an Aveeno body wash that’s fragrance-free — I love it. Although I will occasionally buy something citrus-y, especially in the summer. I don’t generally like coconut, but a hotel i stayed at once had little bottles of coconut lime vebena shower gel & shampoo by Bath & Bodyworks, which I loved. I went looking for it in store, and it’s been discontinued (of course!), but they now have something called White Citrus which is nice. I wash my body puff in a lingerie bag along with my towels to keep it clean.


  3. As a kid my grandma bought sweetheart soap for bath time and Palmolive dishsoap if we wanted a bubble bath. My mom always bought ivory soap until I ended up with really dry skin and had to use a bath oil. The doctor told her ivory soap actually dries out the skin by remove the natural oils. I loved sweetheart soap and disappointed you can no longer find it in the stores. In the 60’s it was cheap but left you clean and smelling good.


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