Many of us are hypersensitive to cleanliness. We’ve been trained to wash our hands numerous times a day and to avoid contact with germs at all costs. As a means to this end, soap is an important facet of our daily lives. For many years, the market consisted of only bar soap and everyone seemed completely satisfied. Then liquid soap arrived on the scene and the debate opened. Which is better to use – bar soap or liquid soap? For most of us the answer comes down to the things we personally consider most important. Let’s examine the pros and cons of each.


We all know that bacteria are a major cause of disease and the primary reason we wash our hands as frequently as we do – to prevent the spread of germs. Liquid soap has been promoted as being anti-bacterial almost from the beginning of its introduction into the marketplace. Given that people have been using bar soap for generations, even centuries, it seems unlikely that bar soap lacks in this area. A 1988 study conducted by the Dial Corporation looked at whether or not bacteria from a used bar of soap transferred to the skin. Commercial deodorant bars of soap were softened and pre-washed, then inoculated with E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa to create contaminated soap. The test bars actually contained 70 times the contaminants that would typically be found in used soap bars. Sixteen volunteers then washed their hands with the contaminated soaps and none showed detectable levels of either of the bacteria. The researchers concluded that used bar soap did not lead to the transfer of bacteria from the bar to the skin and that they were safe and recommended for use when washing hands to prevent the spread of disease.

Dealing with the mess.

Though liquid soap has been around since 1865 and possibly even earlier, it didn’t become mass-produced until 1980. Prior to that bar soap was the primary way to wash hands. A frequent complaint about bar soap was the slippery nature of the wetted soap and the lathery residue it left on counters and in soap dishes designed to contain it. Minnetonka, the makers of Softsoap, cornered the liquid soap market with a strategy that focused on buying up all the plastic dispensers. The dispensers were wildly popular as they were easy to use and all but eliminated the sudsy residue bar soaps left behind. Dispensers also weren’t slippery to handle. They were disposable and easy to replace. People didn’t have to spend time each week or day cleaning up the soap scum left from repeated uses of a bar of soap.

Soap pH level.

Liquid soap proponents often cite the drying effect bar soap can have on the skin. When this occurs, it is generally because the bar soap in use has a higher pH level. This can be very drying, particularly to sensitive skin. The upside is that there is more than one type of bar soap available, many with lower pH factors and other ingredients that help prevent the stereotypical ‘drying” complaint associated with bar soap. As a matter of fact, most bar soaps do contain glycerin which is very therapeutic for dry skin and other sensitivities like eczema.

Fragrance-free options.

Some people have allergies to fragrances while others simply do not like them added to their soaps. Liquid soaps that are fragrance-free can be difficult to find. Bar soaps offer numerous options for those who prefer to use fragrance-free.

Recognizing waste.

When you wash your hands with bar soap, you rub the bar between your hands until you create the desired amount of lather. The ease and convenience of the pump on the liquid soap dispenser makes this harder to control. Typically, they dispense a predetermined amount and there is almost no way to adjust this. Often it is more than is needed to create a sufficient lather. This translates into a waste of the liquid soap as compared to using bar soap. On the other hand, as bar soap gets smaller with use, it sometimes breaks into small pieces that are too difficult to use and must be thrown away.

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