A girl washing hair with a shampoo bar

Soap bars versus Shampoo bars for hair

Plastic bottles to shampoo and conditioner bars

On our journey towards reducing our plastic consumption, the obvious place to start was the bathroom. Stacked in the corner of our walk-in shower, are bottles of shampoo, shower gel, and conditioner.

This may be easier than we thought, replace the liquid shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel with a single solid bar. So we thought..

A quick search on Google shows that creating homemade soap bars can be made with common ingredients that can be readily found in most homes.

Soaps are made by combining a high alkali solution with a heavy content of fats (oils) and water, mixing at the right proportion will go through a chemical process called saponification.

Saponification works by using an alkali solution and mixing this with a fatty oil or oils. For the Alkali, we used Sodium Hydroxide, most commonly known as Lye or Caustic Soda. We initially used Olive oil and Coconut Oil, which reacts with the Alkali to form glycerine / soap.

The equipment to make the soaps are also readily found in your kitchen. A mixing bowl, pot, spoon, food thermometer, and an electric mixer is all you really need.

As we make our soap by "Cold pressing", a method of making soaps that don't require any kind of heat (just mixing in the correct ingredients at the right stage) - the soap bars require time to cure. During this curing time, the bars continue to Saponify. The heating process just speeds the Saponification process up, reducing the need for curing.

Turmeric soap bars stacked neatly together

Soap bars are great at replacing hand wash gels 

The soap bars turned out great! We found that using certain oils creates different hardness and bubbles in the bars. We finally ended up using just Coconut oil, Shea butter, and a little Almond oil in our soap recipe.

We now use these soap bars exclusively to wash our hands, which replace our old liquid hand soaps. 1 plastic bottle down!

We found that using soap bars instead of shower gels in the shower, makes our skin a lot drier. As these soap bars don't contain the additional hydration ingredients that you find in your standard shower gel - your skin will certainly notice the difference. But as I moisturise after a shower, this isn't too much of a concern.

Now on to hair..

Soap damages hair!

It was terrible! At first, there was no reason at all why we would think that a soap bar wouldn't be suitable to replace our liquid shampoo.

The result of using a soap bar to wash our hair over the coming weeks ended badly. Our hair was dry, grippy, and extremely knotty. It was difficult to work up a lather, and the soap left a layer of waxy residue.

Now a little science... It turns out that using a natural soap bar on hair isn't the best thing for the hair and scalp. The reason is, our scalp and hair have a natural pH level of 5.5. Due to the way how natural soaps are created, the Alkali is way too high. The average soap bar pH level is between 9 - 10. Hair is predominantly made out of protein, keratin. A high pH level starts to damage the keratin, resulting in poor health of your hair.

Due to the high pH level of soap, people have used apple cider to rinse their hair after washing it with soap. Apple cider is acidic, which neutralise the alkali in your hair. This seems too much work and counterproductive for trying to clean my hair.

On top of this, soap reacts to hard water, creating soap scum. Soap scum is an insoluble substance, which probably counts for that waxy feeling you get after washing your hair with soap. Unfortunately, we live in a very hard water area.

We obviously went back to liquid shampoo.


Alkaline Soap

Shampoo bars

After a lot more research, we found that you can create a shampoo bar without a sodium hydroxide (lye) component. A combination of gentle sufactants can be used to create a soap-free shampoo bar.

The difference is that the surfactants in shampoo bars are synthetically created, typical from a vegetable origin. The advantage of using these more natural surfactants is that the pH can be adjusted to best suit our hair, leaving it healthy while offering a great clean. These gentle surfactants create a rich lather (even in hard waters), and some are nicked name as baby foam.

In fact, liquid shampoo you find in a bottle uses the same or similar surfactants ingredients. Shampoo bars are made in the same way, except for the unnecessary added water.

By creating a shampoo bar by this method, you can add hydrating ingredients, vitamins and other oils that are beneficial to your hair. The absence of the Alkali prevents these active ingredients being broken down or turned into soap (saponification).

The result is that you are creating a perfect shampoo bar designed for hair health.

To cut a long story short (shorter), after many more months of research and experimenting. We carefully picked a combination of gentle surfactants, conditioning, vitamins, and proteins that are all so beneficial to the hair. Using only natural essential oils in our shampoo bars also means they smell amazing, and remove the need for any manufactured chemicals (perfume).

Conclusion of our own Shampoo bars

The whole family has been using these shampoo bars for over 3 years now, and our hair has never felt better, softer, and healthier. That's another plastic bottle removed.

I started Washla during Covid, that gave me the opportunity to allow other people try my shampoo bars.

Washla Shampoo Bars

Washla Conditioner Bars

As for soap bars, we do continue to make and use them as they are great for the hands and body! The kids do however prefer using our shampoo bar as a body bar tho!


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