When you are in the woods camping, it is a good idea to carry with you soap that is good for the environment. Many soaps contain ingredients that aren’t good for streams, lakes or even the soils, so when your only option for disposing of a tub of dishwater is to pour it on the ground, you should make sure that you’re using a soap that won’t do harm to plants and animals.
One of the best ways to get clean dishes, hands, and body is to select camping soaps that are biodegradable. These soaps will break down in the environment and are made from products that will not cause harm to water ways, animals or plants.
Oftentimes, biodegradable soaps will also work well with very little soap necessary, so you can purchase a smaller bottle of soap, and it will last you a long time. This is handy if your idea of camping is to backpack into the wilderness. These small containers of soap are easy on the environment and won’t add a ton of extra weight to your backpack.
1. Sierra Dawn Campsuds Outdoor Soap
By far one of the most popular camp soap products is the Sierra Dawn Campsuds outdoor soap. This soap is a one-size-fits-all sort of product. Not only can you use it for washing dishes, but it is also gentle enough for washing your hair, hands, body and even your clothes.
Campsuds works in all water types, even cold water and salt water. So, if you need to get stuff clean, but don’t want to heat up some water, you’ll know that this product will work just as well without heat.
Campsuds are super concentrated, so just a few drops will go a long way. It is made from all-natural vegetable-based products, so you don’t have to worry about the ingredients. It has a nice minty scent that is from essential oils, so also safe for your body and the environment.
- Works in hot, cold, and salt water
- Available in several sizes
- Very multi-purpose
- Not as tough on greasy dishes
- Does not get very sudsy
- It’s very concentrated
2. Sea To Summit Wilderness Wash
Another good product is the Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash. This concentrated soap is a reasonably good product if you are looking for a multi-purpose camping soap.
One of the things we like the most about this product is the container. The small, 3-ounce size is perfect for backpacking, but is also small enough to meet TSA carry-on requirements, so you can use this as an alternative to hand sanitizers when you’re traveling.
While we do like this product, and it is multipurpose, we found it disappointing that it is not made from all-natural products. However, this product does come in a scent-free and a citronella scented option, which is nice.
- Sturdy container
- Two different scents
- Ingredients are not all-natural
- Doesn’t work as well in cold or salt water
- Doesn’t lather as well as other products
3. Juniper Ridge White Sage Body Wash
If you want a camp soap that checks all the boxes, and even smells nice, then you’ll want to consider the Juniper Ridge Body Wash. This product is all-natural, cruelty-free, vegan and free of dyes, paraben and phthalate.
This product is intended as a body and hair wash only, which is the biggest down-fall of this biodegradable soap. It is great for the environment, and will leave your body and hair smelling nice, but you’ll need another soap product for washing dishes and clothes.
The Juniper Ridge line of body washes come in 8-ounce bottles, and in a variety of scents. We like the white sage scent best. It seems to be a good scent for men and women.
- All-natural, castile-based soap
- More product for the price
- Not meant for dishes or laundry
- Bottle is kind of big
- Not much lather
4. Dr. Bronner’s – Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
Dr. Bronner’s pure-castile soaps are some of the most reliable and well-known natural and biodegradable soaps on the market. If you are looking for a soap that skips all of the extra junk and just focuses on quality natural ingredients then you’ll like Dr. Bronner’s castile soap.
Since 1851, Dr. Bronner’s has been making their all-purpose soaps. These products are really great for everything from washing dishes or clothes, to shampooing your hair or your pets. These soaps are gentle on skin, fabrics and the environment. Dr. Bronner’s products have always been biodegradable, so they are perfect for camping.
- All-natural, vegan ingredients
- Climate Pledge Friendly
- 8-ounces is the smallest size
- Doesn’t lather up as well as other products
- Can be a bit drying on skin or hair
5. Coghlan’s Camp Soap
Coghlan’s camp soap is another camping specific product that has been a favorite of backpackers and campers for many years. This multi-purpose camp soap is great for dishes, clothing, hair and body.
Coghlan’s camp soap is a concentrated product so for most uses, just a few drops will work well. It also works well in hot, cold and salty water, so it’s a perfect companion no matter where your camping adventures take you.
We like that this soap comes in a small, 4-ounce container, so it doesn’t take up a ton of space in your camping gear or backpack. It also is free of dyes and fragrance, so you don’t have to worry about it irritating your skin.
- Concentrated product lasts a long time
- Packable size
- Fragrance and dye free
- Doesn’t lather as well as others
- Only comes in one size option
- Price is higher than similar products
How to choose the best biodegradable soap
Surprisingly, there are more types of biodegradable soaps on the market today, than you might realize. So, picking the right one for your needs may take a little bit of research. To help you narrow the choices, we’ve compiled some helpful information on product features that we think are the most important to consider when you are selecting a biodegradable soap.
Types of biodegradable soap
Biodegradable soaps come in a few different types. They each have their pros and cons, and while we prefer liquid soaps, some people swear that soap sheets are the best way to go when you’re camping or backpacking.
In our experience, this is the most versatile and convenient of the biodegradable soap options. Liquid soaps are easy to use, are most frequently multi-purpose and generally come in a container that is packable and, when selecting camping specific products, is leak-proof as well.
Most people we know prefer liquid camp soap to other forms, but there are some downfalls as well. Leaking is the most frequent issue that we encounter with liquid camp soaps. We’ve had this happen when traveling to higher elevations. Pack your soap in a plastic bag to ensure that it doesn’t get on your clothes and gear.
There are lots of bar soaps on the market that are great for camping as well. Dr. Bronner’s castile soap is a great biodegradable soap that comes in bar form as well as liquid.
Bar soaps are a little less versatile than liquid soap (it’s hard to wash dishes with a bar of soap), and they can be a bit heavier. So, if you’re looking to minimize weight in your backpack, you might want to skip the biodegradable bar soap and go with liquid instead.
Also known as soap leaves, these thin sheets of soap come in a small container, and are really a nice, lightweight option for biodegradable soap. This option is really simple to use. Just pull out a sheet, add water and lather. They can be used for washing your body or hair, and some are even fine for washing dishes and clothes.
While you can use these for washing your hair and body, we have found that these are most practical for washing hands and dishes.
If you’re not in need of soap for washing dishes, and you just want to get your body clean, bathing wipes are a good alternative. These products come pre-moistened and with a soap already in the sheet. You simply wipe them over your skin, and you’re done. They are a quick and easy way to get clean in a pinch.
The one thing you should know about bathing wipes, is that not all wipes are made with compostable and biodegradable materials and soaps. You’ll want to read the packaging carefully to ensure that you’re buying a product that is truly made to be safe for the environment.
Scented vs. unscented soap
The best advice that we can give about selecting scented versus unscented soaps has to do with where you’re camping. If you are in an area that has an active bear population you’ll want to skip the scents. Otherwise, a camp soap with a little smell is nice.
We look for products that use natural, plant-based essential oils for fragrance. These products tend to keep the soap biodegradable, and the scents are usually lighter. Mint and citrus are popular options for biodegradable soaps.
How to use and dispose biodegradable soap
Just because a product is supposed to break down in the environment, doesn’t mean that it will never cause harm to particular ecosystems.
Soap used directly in a water source, even if it is biodegradable is never a good idea. Even the mildest of soaps can harm delicate aquatic ecosystems, especially those ecosystems found in high-mountain lakes or small streams.
Most camp soaps are concentrated or highly-concentrated so a little goes a long way. Make sure that you read the use instructions for the particular soap product that you have selected. In most cases, you’ll only need a few drops of the soap for optimal cleaning. This includes washing dishes or washing your body. Also, products like castile soap can dry out skin if you use too much.
The best practice for using soap, including biodegradable soaps in the wilderness is to wash away from the water source, and then dispose of your wash water in a shallow cat hole, dug at least 200 feet from the water source. This practice has some particular benefits including, allowing bacteria in the soils to break down the soaps, and keeping wildlife attracting scents away from you and your camp.
What does “biodegradable” mean?
Biodegradable can be a confusing term and many people don’t fully understand what it means when they see a product that is either biodegradable or compostable. In the United States, these labels can only be added to products if they meet specific requirements, and these labeling practices are regulated by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
- Biodegradable: Products that are able to be completely broken down and returned to nature within a very short amount of time. This can refer to the actual product, the packaging or both. In most cases, the period of time for complete breakdown that distinguishes a product as “biodegradable” is one year or less.
- Compostable: Products that are considered “compostable” will break down in the environment and be able to be used in a compost product for gardening, farming or other agricultural uses. Like with biodegradable products, compostable products must break down in a short amount of time, and their safety in compost must be supported by scientific evidence.
Benefits of using biodegradable soap for camping
So why use biodegradable soaps when you’re camping? Well, there are a few really good reasons that these products are good for camping and for everyday use.
Less environmental impacts
The singular purpose for using biodegradable or compostable products is to have less negative impact on the environment. Biodegradable products can safely be used in nature without causing harm to plants, animals or water supplies. The caveat to this is that you must use these products as they are intended or they can be just as harmful to the environment as products that are not considered to be biodegradable.
One bottle lasts a long time
Most biodegradable soaps are a concentrated or highly-concentrated product. This means that you only need a few drops of soap to get a good lather, and the best possible cleaning results. In many cases, a small bottle of biodegradable, camp soap can last you a couple of years, where the standard size bottle of non-concentrated soap may not last you through the summer.
Planet and body friendly ingredients
One of the biggest benefits to biodegradable soaps is that most of them are made from all-natural products. And many camp soaps are made solely from plant-based products which is even better.
If you are focused on only putting quality foods in your body or using beauty and personal hygiene products that are made from natural ingredients, it pays to also extend this thoughtfulness to the products you use for washing dishes and clothing when you’re camping.
Besides, it’s a nice feeling when you can look at the ingredients in your soap and you know what they are, or can at least pronounce them.