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My Favorite Natural Liquid Hand Soap

Written by Irina Webb

Today we’ll talk about so-called natural liquid hand soap.  First, let’s talk about the term, “natural.”  What does that even mean?  The term “natural” is not legally regulated, so any manufacturer can claim that their products are natural.  Keep in mind that petroleum is natural, but I don’t want to rub it into my skin.


That pet peeve out of the way, let’s talk about how liquid hand soap is made.  I think that it is helpful to understand how hand soaps are made so you can make informed choices.  Let me give you a digest version of the liquid hand soap industry.


My Favorite Natural Liquid Hand Soap. Photo of a green leaf.


Two types of hand soap


Hand Washing Detergents: These hand washes are made with synthetic surfactants often derived either from petroleum or coconut oil.  Coconut oil is a step in the right direction!  However, keep in mind that surfactants are made in a multi-step derivation process with many other chemicals added along the way.  For example, Cocamide DEA is a carcinogen, even though it is a surfactant derived from coconut oil.  Not all surfactants are known to be harmful, but almost all surfactants lack sufficient health data or environmental data, so we really just don’t know.


Examples of hand washing detergents (or so-called “natural” liquid hand soaps): Method, EO, Mrs. Meyers. 


Saponified Oil Soap: This is how soap has been made traditionally.  It is a one-step process where an alkali is reacted with a plant oil.  The alkali is called potassium hydroxide (if the soap is liquid) and does not remain in the final product.  This liquid hand soap is safe for people and the environment.  I recommend using saponified oil soap!


Natural Liquid Hand Soap: Dr. Bronner’s


Have you heard of Dr. Bronner’s?  If you shop at Whole Foods or other health grocery stores, chances are that you have seen it in both the bulk section and on the shelves.  But have you thought about using it as a liquid hand soap?


I love the fact that the oils used to make this soap are organic and fair trade.  The five organic oils are coconut, palm kernel, olive, hemp, and jojoba oils.


Yes, Dr. Bronner’s has recently added palm oil.  At first, I was disappointed to hear that.  Later, I learned that Dr. Bronner’s work directly with family farmers in Ghana, assuring fair practices to people and the environment.  Read more about that here.


Dr. Bronner’s hand soap comes in many scents as well as unscented.  They are scented with plant extracts or essential oil – no synthetic fragrance here with undisclosed and potentially harmful ingredients.


You can buy this liquid hand soap in many health grocery stores, on the Dr. Bronner’s website and Amazon.  It comes in different sizes from 2 oz to 1 gallon.


An important tip


Here is something very important.  The crucial part of turning this multifunctional soap into great liquid hand soap is to use a foaming dispenser (here is a good one).  That way you won’t get squirted with a lot more soap than you need, and you can use it economically.  The soap is concentrated so you can dilute it as much as 5 times.  Make sure to use boiling water and use up the soap within 2 weeks to prevent mold or bacteria growth.


About a year ago, we switched to bar soap.  And we love it!  It would have been hard to use bar soap with one hand in the days when my son was a baby and lots of things had to be done with one hand.


Are you curious about bar soap?  Check out my post on 5 Reasons I Prefer Bar Soap Over Liquid 


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38 thoughts on “My Favorite Natural Liquid Hand Soap”

  1. I love Dr Bronner’s soap, but I’ve forgotten about it. We used it (Peppermint) when we would go backpacking, many, many moons ago

  2. What reuseable foaming soap dispenser do you use? I haven’t found one, but then I haven’t looked too hard 🙂

    1. I recommend a glass foaming soap dispenser for 2 reasons. Fist, plastic might contain toxins that may leach into the soap. Second, glass has a nice weight to it so the dispenser does not jiggle when you press on it.

  3. Thanks for the article! It’s great to get advice from someone who clearly knows what she’s talking about. I love Ava Anderson products too. I’m so glad to have found such a complete line of safe products for my family! I’m also happy to have found your website!

  4. I’m not sure the dispenser above is actually a foaming dispenser, but I did find this one on Bed Bath & Beyond…
    There are also some other ones on sites like Etsy that are a little more expensive but use mason jars, depending on the “look” you want!
    Thanks for this article – I can’t wait to try the Dr. Bronner’s since we tend to go through hand soap quickly! Do you need to water it down when putting in the foaming dispenser?

    1. Hi Kira,
      thank you for helping me out with my research. My foaming dispensers have some drawbacks so I can’t recommend them. So I am on the lookout for a good foaming dispenser myself. Yes, you need to water down Dr. Bronner’s soap. Dr. Bronner soap is highly concentrated, which makes it a good value. My foaming dispenser has lines to indicate how much soap and water to use. One of my readers said that she dilutes Dr.Bronner soap about 1:20. Let me know how it works out for you.

  5. thanks so much for this article! i’m needing a gentler hand soap for sure. i’m wondering if you know if dr. bronner’s has anything that is fragrance free? i haven’t tried it watered down with a foaming dispenser but i just know that my dermatologist says that lavender is not gentle enough for my eczema-prone hands. thanks so much!

  6. Great article! Thanks for all the very useful information! I love Dr Bronner and have been using it for awhile. I did notice that it clogs the soap dispenser pretty easily causing soap to squirt everywhere. Will diluting the soap with water solve the clogging/squirting problem? If I only use the soap for hand washing would I need to dilute it and what would be the best ratio?

    1. Are you using a foaming dispenser? I think diluting with water might help if you are using a foaming dispenser. But be sure to use boiled water and use up the mixture within 2 weeks otherwise it will get moldy. You can play with different dilution ratios to figure out what works for you. I did 50/50. I use soap bars and love that.

      1. I have been searching for a safe liquid hand soap for months now. I like liquid hand soap as I wash my hands A LOT and it works better with guests than a bar soap. I have tried A La Maison de Provence which I really like but I am not sure how they preserve their product, the company only got back to me saying they use Tocopherol to help preserve it. I must say, I have had a bottle for quite some time now and do not see anything funny growing in it, but I am not sure if they are hiding some ingredients by not disclosing them…. Then I tried the Dr Bronner’s Organic Sugar soap, really good stuff, but now I have a bit of an ant problem. Seems like the little guys likes it just as much as I do. So now I am on the lookout again… 🙁 The foaming wash will not work for me as I will be wasting way to much, I need something that has some sort of safe preservation system in it. Can I use Dr Bronner’s Castile Soap undiluted for a hand wash? Or do you maybe have any other suggestions Irina? Thanks so much for always being so incredibly helpful and for all the hard work you put in to help us with our journey to safer consumer products.

        1. Hi, Martie: You can try to use it undiluted and let me know. I think your success would depend on a dispenser you use. Tocopherol is an antioxidant and used for oils not to go rancid. Have you looked into MamaSuds castile soap? You can use the IRLFY10 coupon. ~Irina

        2. Vermont Soapworks makes certified organic liquid soap formulated specifically for foaming soap dispensers – they also sell the foamers. Diluting liquid soap in order to use them in a foamer is not safe, as you recognized – because you are also diluting the chemical formula that makes the product shelf stable. We have these foamers in all the bathrooms and kitchen sink and a bottle of soap lasts a long time thanks to all the air which makes the soap foam, and go further!

  7. Hi!
    I came across your post just now and wanted to add that I have been using Poofy Organics Soap for a few months now. I love it! Best part is it is USDA Certified Organic! I was using Dr. Bronner’s before and I love that also. I have to say, I haven’t tried Ava Anderson’s products. From what I’ve found, they are not USDA Certified Organic which is important to me.
    Thank for you post! I look forward to learning more from you!

  8. Hi Irina,
    Have you found a glass foaming dispenser that you recommend? The post says you have a link to one but I don’t see it. Thanks so much!

  9. Thank you for the good work you do on label-reading. I’m a fellow label reader. My only concern with these two soaps is that one contains lavendin, which is synthetic lavender oil, and the other has both citric acid and synthetic Vitamin E. Maybe there is no completely natural liquid hand soap and I just need to stick with a natural bar soap?

    1. Hi Meredith, which soap contains lavendin? Lavendin is a different type of plant. What is your definition of “synthetic”? Thanks!

      1. Irina – I’m so sorry, I clearly needed a nap on the day I wrote this….I was thinking of vanillin, not lavendin. My apologies! So the first one actually would work. Thank you!

  10. This is more personal than I would like to share but I have wondered why this happens and don’t know who to ask so Irina, sorry in advance that I have chosen you. I use Bonner’s and like it for everything except my genitals. When I use it or other truly natural bar soaps on my genitals, I experience some burning while urinating for a while after my shower. This does not happen with other “non-natural” soaps, such as Oil of Olay soap. So I use both on my body but would rather not. Any thoughts?

      1. I usually use almond but have used lavender in the past. I think I have had the problem with both. Plus I have used other natural unscented soaps with the same issue. I wonder if it’s the concentration. Perhaps these natural soaps are more concentrated than other types. Seems counter-intuitive that I have this problem with healthy soaps and not unhealthy soaps.

        1. Well liuid soaps like Dr Bronners are very concentrated – they are formulated FOR diluting – not for using straight on the body. And there are more than a few liquid soaps which are not actually soap – they are detergents. So it depends on the brand, the base oils, and whether the soap is formulated for use in a foamer or diluted or straight out of the bottle.

  11. I use Vermont Soapworks, their liquid hand soap with their foamer, the shower gel and their bar soap. The owner is very active in promoting “true” Certified organic and he is responsible for teaching a lot of people about real soap!

      1. It looks like the Vermont Soapworks Liquid Hand Soap does not contain water, which means it does not need a preservative? Correct? Their goodies do look good so will check them out. What type of bar soap do you use for hand washing Irina? By that I mean do you also prefer the coconut soap or something different and scented with essential oils?

          1. Thank you for clarifying, Zoe. Yes, saponified soap has higher pH, and thus, normally, does not need preservatives. ~Irina

  12. Irina:
    I recently read your post on the use of preservatives for ALL products that contain water. This got the ball rolling for me as I became extremely concerned after reading your post. The source of my concern is that the liquid castile soap that I am currently using does not contain any preservatives. The ingredients only list: distilled water and saponified olive oil. I began reading other blogs/articles regarding the same subject from other reputable sources but have yet to find a concrete response to my questions. This got me thinking if Dr.Bronners does use preservatives as this was the liquid soap that I was using before switching over to my current one. Have you done any research on whether liquid castile soap requires the use of preservatives? The websites that I visited differed on what pH the soap had to have in order to avoid the use of preservatives, which just left me more confused. I was told by the manufacturer of my current soap that the pH of the soap is between 9-9.5.
    Any information regarding this subject will be extremely welcomed.

    1. Dear Maria, thank you so much for asking this important question! I searched and searched, and I have not been able to find any liquid soap with preservatives with an exception of the By Valenti Organics soap-based cleanser. I contacted many liquid soap makers and got conflicting responses. Some said that the pH of 9 is enough to prohibit bacteria growth and some said that they have to bring pH to 10 to avoid using preservatives. The scientific literature does not seem to exist on this subject. I am so glad that you are asking this question because sometimes I feel alone fighting my own battles. In the end, since I have not heard of any sicknesses caused by liquid soap, I succumbed to a practical matter. We use Dr. Bronner’s for house cleaning. For shower and hand washing, I personally use bar soap as it is an eco-friendly option (read more about that, click here). However, I understand I can’t expect that everybody switches to bar soap, at least not yet, hence this post. Let me know what you think. ~Irina

  13. There is plenty of science to support the fact that a properly formulated, simple saponified oil & water liquid soap does not need preservatives in order to be shelf stable, it is not just pH which makes the product inhospitable to bacteria, but the fact that salt is chemically something which prevents the growth of bacteria. And chemically – soap is a salt. If a formulator has any doubts about the safety of their product, they should have their formula challenge tested before they bring it to market.

  14. If I remember it correctly, I think it contains aloe vera, which is a type of liquid. They said they do not use preservatives because of higher pH. There might be preservatives in the aloe vera, too, which they do not list. ~Irina

  15. Hi Irina, I’ve just come across Branch Basics liquid soap concentrate. The ingredients are: Purified Water, Coco Glucoside (Sugar-Based Cleanser), Chamomilla Recutita (Chamomile) Flower Extract*, Decyl Glucoside (Sugar-Based Cleanser), Sodium Citrate (Food-Grade Emulsifier), Lauryl Glucoside (Sugar-Based Cleanser), Sodium Bicarbonate (Food-Grade Baking Soda), Sodium Phytate (Plant-Based Antioxidant), Sapindus Mukorossi Fruit (Soapberry) Extract*.

    *certified organic

    How would you compare this to Dr. Bronner?

    Thanks so much for your response!

    1. Hi, Jasmine: the ingredients look good (Dr. Bronner’s is still better) but it is not clear how Branch Basics preserve their products. I contacted them in the past and could not get a satisfying answer. By the way, they pay affiliate commissions for recommending their products. ~Irina

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