Raising the Bar: Soap the Old-Fashioned Way

by Caitlin Kelch

Over the years here on Design*Droits-Humains, you may have heard me blather on about my Grandma Margie. Margie was an Avon lady during the 1970s, so quirky soap sets, soap shaped like animals and soap-on-a-rope were a big part of my of my childhood. Outside of the Avon world, the smell of Dove soap still reminds me of my mom and how I always liked to plop the bar of Ivory in the bathtub to see if it actually did float like the commercial said it did. That was back in the day, before the squirt of liquid soap in all the flavors of an ice cream menu became our go-to method of hand cleansing.

I still use bars of soap today — not gels, foam or other liquid versions. It’s become a meditative moment for me, one when I can feel one hand cleaning the other and sort of zone out on the smoothness of the bar in my hands. Most people prefer soap they can pump because of the mess that bar soap can leave in a soap dish, or because multiple users might mean dirt or germs on the bar in a common space, but I will never give up my bar soap — and I tuck it away so only I use it. You should try it!

If you’re looking to add this quiet ritual into your life, I recommend starting out with a triple milled soap. This moniker speaks for itself. Triple milled refers to the process that the soap goes through as it is passed through a milling machine of smooth stainless steel rollers. The soap is passed through the machine not once… not twice… but, you guessed it, three times before it’s pressed into a smooth, fine paste. The goal is to thoroughly mix the soap and any fragrances or extra ingredients added to the soap base, while squeezing out any extra moisture or air. Because triple milled soap contains less water and more actual soap, the end result in the form of a bar is a longer-lasting hard soap.

The soap base used in triple milled soap is the same recipe used to make all soaps. When you mix a fat or oil with an alkali salt (lye), a chemical reaction occurs called saponification. The result of this process is soap!

I’ve gathered up 8 of my favorite non-liquid soaps that I have actually tried out in the past year or so below. Some are fancy and some are perfect for the powder room, but they’re all wonderful for a nice, tactile break after hours on the keyboard. What’s your take on bar soap? Yea or Never!? —Caitlin


These over at Leif are even lovelier in person and perfect for when guests come by. $6


I keep this from France close-by for tub soaks during the grey days of winter. The lavender serves to soothe and smooth because the lavender pieces in the soap help exfoliate too. This is a thick, chunky bar that seems to last forever for me. $8


is on the pricey side, but it’s long-lasting and rich. I love the scent of neroli and the jasmine notes make it perfect for a long bath. $48


This , handmade by our friends over at Saipua, uses all food-grade ingredients and it’s a really good facial soap. Again, long-lasting! $18


This is my favorite shower soap for both summer and winter. In summer, the rosemary/mint cools me down and in winter, its exfoliating properties help me battle my dry skin. I’ve never, ever been disappointed by Aveda. $18


I love to give Little Flower Soap Company’s  as gifts. I always keep one or two for myself, too. You can find these on Etsy. $7.50 for 8 – 10 pieces.


This parsely-based soap from Lush has antiseptic qualities from parsely and tea tree oil. I use it in the kitchen, but have taken it to my shower, especially after gardening.


I love to use this in spring when my herbs can be moved outside. It has a fresh, garden-y aroma perfect for keeping up the outdoor momentum. $1

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  • I love bar soaps! I have eczema and have spent the last 15+ years of my life begrudgingly stripping out every easy, simple, readily-available, good-smelling, lovely product in my life. This leaves me with a 3 product make-up regime (which is actually quite freeing!), non-everything detergents and shampoos and a ‘just say no’ mindset to lotions, body sprays, washes and all commercial liquid soaps. Thus began my love of bar soaps! The handmade varieties tend to stir all the good moisturizing stuff right back in, instead of siphoning it off and making you buy a separate product when the soap is too drying. I know. Sneaky. Even a lot of handmade soaps that contain essential oils don’t jive with my skin. Fortunately I’ve found a local farmer (I’m in Iowa) who’s wife takes the lard (yup, lard) from their pasture-raised hogs and makes the most basic of soaps. She has several varieties all with natural, local mix-ins for mild scent, texture and exfoliation. Google Crooked Gap Farms if you’re interested. Now.. I won’t claim it heals my eczema, but it certainly doesn’t hurt it! And that, in my book, is a win! She makes it in small batches so I’ve started buying it a ‘brick’, 15 bars, at a time. This lasts a solid year, with a few extra bars to give away and help spread the handmade bar soap love!

  • I love bar soaps not only for the tactile benefit and you say but from an environmental standpoint. I have for the past 15 years tried to cut down on my plastic consumption. Liquid soaps and the plastic scrubber used, are for me, the number one reason not to use them Also, since they are made of mostly water, they are a bad value. While shopping at the Dollar Tree I found beautiful Verbena and Oatmeal and Cocoa Butter and Oatmeal soap from Shugar Soapworks in CA. Organic and free of animal products, I bought 4 bars of each for a dollar a piece! Like you, I am on the lookout for new soaps. The Aveda bar looks wonderful. I have a soft spot for Aveda since it was started in my home state of MN. Thank you for the article. I will be bookmarking it for future reference.

  • I’m totally with you! I read last week that the fall in sales of bar soap has been attributed to Millenials (they get blamed for everything!) believing it’s full of germs, but I know plenty of older people who only seem to buy liquid soap these days. The lather from bar soap is much softer and creamier, and doesn’t have that chemical feel to it. I’m currently using a French rose petal soap, which smells gorgeous, and for your UK readers I recommend Wild Olive. My favourite is their French Clay.

  • Also trying to cut down my plastic consumption, and the liquid products were the first to go. I don’t miss them at all. I used a Marseille soap while in France, Castille soap here in the US. It’s nothing fancy but it works and yes, feels fantastic ! For my hair I have a solid shampoo, for my teeth, a solid toothpaste. All are plant-based and without any petroleum-derived products.
    Rediscovering bars of soap makes for a luxurious bath time, but it also makes a beautiful bathroom: have you ever seen packaged products in a magazine ? No, you only see non-branded stuff, or stuff that has been put in other containers (like I have the time for that…). With my beautiful bars, I naturally have a magazine-worthy bathroom all the time !

  • You must try Rosner Soaps. So good. They smell amazing. I love their little store, but even just the box arriving at my house is happiness.

  • We’ve been making our own cold process soap for years. Like food you should read the ingredients on soap labels. As Caitlin said a fat (animal or vegetable, lye (NaOH), and if it’s added scent oils either essential from nature or fragrance oils which are manufactured. Preservatives aren’t really necessary unless you’re going to keep the soap for years. It’s also important to know what’s taken out. Some of the larger soap companies remove moisturizing oils from their bar soap to use in other products.

  • My grandmother from Alabama showed me how to make soap. She’d make laundry soaps, bath soaps all kinds of soaps. Your post brought back memories. In high school I managed to progress to the state level with a science fair project on saponification and bacteria . I still love soaps and will purchase some of the ones you recommended in your post. Thanks for the article.

  • Big fan of bar soap. It’s all I use at home, and have liquid soap in my powder room too. Some people think that bar soap is now suddenly unhygienic! I’ve tried different varieties. Some have been drying ( usually ones with long list of ingredients), but most have been wonderful, where I didn’t have to moisturize my hands after each wash

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