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Non-Toxic Hand Soap Guide

Written by Irina Webb

In 2016, the FDA admitted that there was no proof of the effectiveness of antibacterial soap.  The CDC advises us to wash hands with plain soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  Therefore, in this post, we will talk about safe hand soap. You will find out what constitutes the best hand soap among the non-toxic hand soap options which you can find in my IRLFY shop.

When I was growing up, my parents insisted that I wash my hands first thing upon coming home from school or playing outside.  In addition, hand washing was a must before every meal.  The question, “Have you washed your hands?” was common in the households of that time, but I didn’t give a second thought to it then. I just did it, because my parents told me to, and it became a habit that I brought into my adult life.  Now that I know why it is important to wash hands, I want my son to become as diligent at hand-washing as I was. 

Non-Toxic Hand Soap Guide. A picture containing clasped hands covered in soap.

What is not safe soap

For starters, how do we decide whether the soap is safe?  There is only one way – to look at its list of ingredients, not at its brand name or advertisement messages.  The length of the list of ingredients may already tell you something about its safety, which is particularly true in the case of soap.  The best hand soap out of all the non-toxic hand soaps normally has a short list of ingredients.  But before we discuss safe hand soap, let’s talk about hand soap to avoid.

To make it easier for you to follow, I have organized hand soap into four categories – worst, bad, better, and best.  It is helpful to see the big picture so you can make an informed decision.

The worst soap

To begin, in 2016, the FDA banned some antibacterial chemicals, such as triclosan, from the use in antibacterial soap sold over the counter.  The Skin Deep database gives triclosan a rating of 4-7 (with 10 as most toxic) depending on usage and characterizes it as an allergen.

But another ingredient that is contrary to the definition of non-toxic hand soap is benzalkonium chloride, and it is still allowed.  From the Skin Deep database we learn that it has a rating of 4-6 and arouses a high concern of allergy and immunotoxicity.  Serving as a foaming and cleansing agent or as an antimicrobial preservative, it is a well-recognized irritant (source).  In addition, there is evidence that it may cause contact allergy even at concentrations as low as 0.1% (source).  Benzalkonium chloride decreased fertility in both sexes of mice, even when it was used just to clean their cages (source). 

Evidently, the best hand soap that I recommend will not have this ingredient, but the following two do.  Hence, I put them in the worst category.  They are the Dial Gold Anti-Bacterial Deodorant Bar Soap (ingredients) and the Softsoap Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap (ingredients).

The bad soap

Even though the soaps in this category are not antibacterial soaps, they still have such ingredients as dyes (Blue 1, Yellow 5), fragrance, and ethoxylated Ingredients.  And I believe that a true non-toxic hand soap should have none of those. 

The dyes are derived from petroleum and may have a number of harmful contaminants such as heavy metals and carcinogenic PAHS.  You can read more about that in my Are There Any Heavy Metals in Makeup? post.

There is a loophole in the law that allows companies not to disclose the ingredients in fragrance.  And fragrance is associated with allergies and endocrine disruption.  Even so-called natural fragrance raises a lot of questions.  Thus, in my post about Natural Fragrance I explain why fragrance is not as innocent as it seems. 

As for ethoxylated ingredients, there may be a risk of contamination with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane whose rating is 5-8 in the Skin Deep database.  Ethoxylated ingredients are those whose names have PEG-, -eth, and Polysorbate in them.  Such ingredients result from the process of ethoxylation which utilizes carcinogenic ethylene oxide and creates 1,4-dioxane that can be left behind in the product.  

Thus, the best hand soap will definitely not have these ingredients.  The soaps that do have them are Dove Foaming Hand Wash (ingredients), Lever 2000 Bar Soap (ingredients), Mrs. Meyer’s (ingredients), and Method (ingredients). 

If you would like to know more about Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap, please read my post about Mrs. Meyer’s Cleaning Products.

What constitutes non-toxic hand soap

The products that I consider safe hand soap fall under the categories of “better” and ”best,” as follows.

The better hand soap

Dove Sensitive Skin Unscented Beauty Bar Soap (ingredients), EO (ingredients), and Everyone (ingredients) are the soaps in this group. 

What they have in common is coconut-derived surfactants (cleansing/foaming agents), cocamidopropyl betaine, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, and the preservative phenoxyethanol.  Consequently, these soaps can’t make it into the best hand soap category of the non-toxic hand soap.

Cocamidopropyl betaine

First, cocamidopropyl betaine is a surfactant that makes cleansing products lather.  It is known to cause allergic skin reactions in some people (source).  Also, the American Society of Contact Dermatitis lists cocamidopropyl betaine as one of the core allergens, even in concentrations as low as 1% (source).  Due to high rates of cases involving allergic reactions, it was named the 2004 Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (source).  Moreover, under certain conditions, it may break down and form nitrosamines associated with increased cancer risks.  The Skin Deep database rates cocamidopropyl betaine at 1-6 (with 10 as the most toxic) depending on use.  

Cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine

Second, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine is a close relative of cocamidopropyl betaine and another one of many newly emerging surfactants.  Even though the Skin deep database rates it at 1 (with 10 as most toxic), I have reasons to disagree with this rating.  To make an informed decision about this ingredient based on the latest research into its safety, please head to my post Is Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine Safe?


I call it the middle of the road preservative in the Your Savvy Consumer Superpower e-book.  While it does not pose health threats, I believe that it does not belong in the best hand soap, which should not contain this ingredient.  The main reasons I have my doubts about it are as follows.  First, it may cause an allergic reaction in some people, and second, I am concerned about its derivation process.  You can read more about it in my  Phenoxyethanol in Skin Care post.

The best hand soap

I am excited to share with you the names of the best non-toxic hand soaps.  The great news is that there are quite a few kinds of them, so you will have a chance to choose your favorite one. 

The safest products I included in the ‘best’ category are Be Green Foaming Hand & Body Soap, Meliora Bar Soap, and Kiss My Face Bar Soap. Also, the popular Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap – Unscented, Dr. Bronner’s Bar Soap – Unscented, and Dr. Bronner’s Organic Sugar Soap have made it into this category.  On top of that, there is Vermont Foaming Soap, MamaSuds, Pure Haven Bar Soap, and Kosmatology Hand Soap. 

Do you want to know why I put all of them into the best category?  Let’s look at their ingredients to answer this question.

Be Green, Meliora, and Kiss My Face ingredients

Be Green Foaming Hand & Body Soap: Water, Saponified Organic Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Organic Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil and Organic Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Oil,  Organic Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice, Vegetable Glycerin, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract. 

Meliora Bar Soap: Vegetable Soap [Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Sunflowerate, Glycerin, Water, Organic Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Organic Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil].

Kiss My Face Bar Soap: Sodium Olivate (Saponified Olive Oil), Aqua, Sodium Chloride (Sea Salt).

Do you see a pattern in the ingredients constituting the best hand soap?  We’ll look at the rest of them and then analyze the ingredients of the non-toxic hand soap.

Dr. Bronner’s Castile, Bar, and Organic Sugar Soap ingredients

Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap – Unscented: Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Organic Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Citric Acid, Tocopherol.

Dr. Bronner’s Bar Soap – Unscented: Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Palm Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Water, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Sea Salt, Citric Acid, Tocopherol.

Dr. Bronner’s Organic Sugar Soap: Organic Sucrose, Organic White Grape Juice, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Palm Kernel Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Shikakai Powder, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Citric Acid, Tocopherol.

Vermont, MamaSuds, Pure Haven, and Kosmatology ingredients

Vermont Foaming Hand Soap: Organic Aloe Juice, Organic Saponified Oils (Coconut, Shea Butter, Olive, Sunflower & Jojoba), Organic Vegetable Glycerin, Rosemary Extract.

MamaSuds: Water, Potassium Olivate (Saponified Olive Oil).  This is a true castile soap because it is made with olive oil only.  That means that it is moisturizing.

Pure Haven Bar Soap: Saponified Oils Of: Olea Europaea (Organic Olive), Cocos Nucifera (Organic Coconut), Elaeis Guineensis (Organic Certified Sustainable Palm Kernel), Persea Gratissima (Organic Avocado) Oil, Theobroma Cacao (Organic Cocoa) Seed Butter, Ricinus Communis (Organic Castor Oil), Powdered Goat’s Milk, Allantoin, Aveena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Powder.

Kosmatology (Lavender Eucaliptus): Aqua, Organic Olea Europaea Oil (Olive), Organic Cocos Nucifera Oil (Coconut), Organic Elaeis Guineensis Oil (Palm Kernel), Potassium Hydroxide.  They come in many different scents, and all of them are scented with essential oils only. Besides, it foams well and smells divine.

The best hand soap ingredients

By now you might have noticed what constitutes non-toxic hand soap.  Let’s go over it together.

To begin, all these safe soaps are made by the process of saponification of plant oils without synthetic surfactants and preservatives.  To learn about the process of saponification, please read my How to Buy a Truly Non-Toxic Soap post.

Next, many of the botanical ingredients are organic.

Finally, there is no fragrance with undisclosed ingredients.  Rather, the scent in some of them comes from essential oils.

My favorite non-toxic hand soap

So, which product is my favorite?  Meliora is my best choice, and I love it for several reasons. 

First, this soap bar has no worst, bad, or even middle of the road offenders that we talked about earlier.  Second, it is made with organic sunflower and coconut oils without any palm oil.  Third, it comes unscented or scented with essential oils only. 

Next, Meliora has the most environmentally-friendly packaging I have seen so far – no plastic whatsoever.  You can even choose if you want your bar soap to be packaged without a carton box. 

Finally, I love it because it lathers well, does not dry the skin, and does not get soggy!  These are the main reasons I consider Meliora hand soap the best hand soap bar.

By the way, to prevent any sogginess, I recommend using a soap dish that drains well.  This is the best soap dish I have found so far. 

Meliora has other cleaning products that I reviewed in my post eco non-toxic cleaning products.

When you visit my Shop, you can find many non-toxic options, not only for soap but also for other personal care items, as well as household items.

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26 thoughts on “Non-Toxic Hand Soap Guide”

  1. Thank you for your research, Irina. I do a lot of research myself, so I appreciate how much work it is. I used a soap in your “best” category for years, until it started causing me problems. It was then that I realized how important it is to try and preserve the acid mantle of skin. Hence, I would add pH of the soap as a factor in how safe a soap is. The way soap is made, it is challenging to find something that has a good pH and non-toxic ingredients!

    1. Hi, Anita: yes, pH is important but also the kinds of oil they use and whether they make sure that there is no free alkali left in the product. Also, superfatting helps with moisturization. pH alone is not a guarantee. ~Irina

    2. Hi Anita,

      I’m so sorry to hear that. I was going to buy one of them, thanks for your reminder about PH. Could you share which one caused you problem? I hope you have found something good for you.

      1. Ladies, just a reminder that while pH matters, it is not the most important factor. A well made hand soap even with higher pH should work well. Also, I hope you can appreciate all the work I have done for you for free. If you are interested in pH, all you need to do is contact the companies and ask for pH. Please know that the more of us ask questions of the companies, the safer products we are going to have. Thank you for your understanding. ~Irina

        1. You have an older post speaking of ph cleansers and how they are better for the microbiome of our skin and not to use soap because it’s highly alkaline .. so which one is it?

          1. Hi, Penny: I think this is for you to decide. I post my research so you can use it to make an informed decision in your situation. And if you need help, you can always book a consultation. For my skin type and personal preferences, I decided that it is best to use saponified soap on my hands and a glucoside product on my face. However, everybody is different. There are people who are even allergic to glucosides or won’t buy those products because of plastic pollution. And so on. It sounds like you prefer to avoid saponified products altogether even from the use on your body, then you can choose the ones from the better category. In other words, nothing is black and white. I read research and form my opinions. You can read the same research and form a different opinion Does it help? ~Irina

  2. Mark Harrington

    Dear Madam/Sir,

    Do you have a list of the best laundry detergents with the least/no toxic ingredients? Thank you for the above list of hand and body soaps which are safe.

    Best regards,
    Mark Harrington

    1. Mark, my name is Irina… Not yet but you can visit my Shop and in the healthy cleaning section, you will find some detergents that I like: You can also type your keyword in the search engine of the website to see what I have written on the subject. Does it help? ~Irina

  3. I used Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap (diluted) for years without a problem. However, when I developed allergy-induced atopic dermatitis/eczema, this soap further exacerbated my skin condition. Doctor recommended Vanicream/Cetaphil. Vanicream worked, but I prefer as natural as I can get. After a lot of research, I am now using Everyone 3-in-1 soap after Acure discontinued their product.

  4. Great article!

    I use Dr. Bronner’s Organic Sugar Soap and I like it. It’s moisturizing and iit also has a pleasing smell.

    Stay safe and healthy!


  5. Any recommendations for a liquid hand soap I can use at work that does NOT contain compositea mix, decal glycoside, formaldehyde, linalool, propolis and quaternium-15?
    Thanks in advance!

  6. On my previous email to you, I may have deleted it accidentally! Please respond to my questions as follows:

    I, very much, prefer a liquid hand soap. This is the best way for me to be assured that no others fingers and hands have used it. Please comment for I want to know what your opinion or opinions are.

    I am, very much, look forward to your immediate response. Thank you so much!

      1. Hi, I’m guessing that she was asking if you have any liquid hand soaps that you recommend as much as you do the above bar soaps.

        I too prefer liquid.

  7. Can you recommend all the scents for the Dr. Bronner’s sugar soap? I.e. are they all considered best category and safe to use?

  8. Can you recommend all of the Dr. Bronner’s sugar soap scents? Or should we just stick to the unscented baby version. Interested in the lemongrass scent but ewg rates it a 3.

    1. Hi Ty! Thank you for your question! For babies our website recommends unscented options. For adults essential oils are ok and mostly a matter of personal preference and sensitivity. We hope this helps!

  9. I’ve bought some gelo handsoap products, but I’m having a hard time finding information on whether they are safe or not. Do you have any insight on this product?

    Thanks for your article and help!

  10. Dear Irina,

    Many thanks for your helpful piece.

    I live in the UK and am allergic to seeds, sunflower oil etc; so can’t use many of these, but here are three soaps that I would like to ask you about:

    Co-op Pure Vegetable Soap, Colour and Fragrance Free; Ingredients: Sodium Palmate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Citric Acid, Sodium Hydroxide

    Oliva Pure Olive Oil Soap; Ingredients: Saponified Olive Oil, Water, Mineral Salts

    Faith in Nature Unfragranced Seaweed Soap; Ingredients: Sodium palmate, Sodium cocoate, Aqua, Glycerin, Ascophyllum nodosum powder, Sodium chloride, Sodium citrate

    Best wishes,


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