Pretty much everyone has a preference for one over the other already, but just in case some of us are clinging to habit without remembering why, I thought I’d take a bit of time and break down some of the specific differences between them, or at least the particular versions of each which I make and sell. After all, they’re both soap, right? So what’s the big difference?
Well, aside from the differences in manufacturing process and chemical makeup, which are really topics for another time, their main differences fall into a few categories.
Moisturizing: Both bar and liquid soaps contain glycerin, a bit of which remains behind on after washing and serves as a humectant to attract moisture to the skin. Bar soap is generally superfatted, however, meaning there is a bit of unreacted oil, which behaves like a small amount of very lightweight lotion. Liquid soap is not superfatted, as the oils would not be soluble in the liquid soap, and might form an “oil slick” at the top of the bottle and eventually go rancid, which obviously no one wants. Which means if you wash with our liquid soap, you’re more likely to want to follow up with lotion than if you use bar soap, when you might not feel you need it every time. Still, even the liquid version is a great improvement moisture-wise over the soap one usually finds in public bathrooms, and I’ve taken to carrying a little bottle with me in my purse to wash my hands when I’m out and about.
Convenience: Here, most people find liquid soap wins hands-down, and it’s true that the half a second it takes to squirt liquid soap onto a loofah is less than the three or four seconds of working up a lather from a bar, even assuming the bar doesn’t fly out of your hands in the process. There’s also the issue of not needing to worry if your bottle of liquid soap is stored in a place where the shower will drip on it, which will turn your gorgeous bar of soap into icky ooze at best, and send it trickling down the drain at worst. I don’t personally find it to be a significant issue, but individual taste is going to change the weighting of this one quite a bit from person to person.
Appearance: Let’s face it: pretty much all bottles of liquid soap look alike. Sometimes the soap is darker than others (did you know vanilla, amber, and chocolate fragrances turned soap brown? Now you do!), but other than that, they’re much of a muchness. I could color them pretty colors, and indeed I used to, but I’ve stopped due to preferring to avoid most of the numbered colorants (Yellow 6, Green 8, etc.) when possible. The number of fantastic colors available for use in bar soap is staggering, though, and there’s also the option of making fancy patterns! Bar soaps are the part of my craft in which I most feel like an artist, getting to make visual representations of what fragrances mean to me, or just have fun making things pretty. So there’s a substantial variation in appearances of bar soap in our lineup! Again, this one is as much a matter of opinion as anything, of course; not everyone is interested in making the contents of the soap dish part of the bathroom decor.
Economy: Here is the most obvious difference between the two kinds of soap, and it’s a biggie: Liquid soap costs more. Lots more. It’s harder to make, and there’s the packaging cost to cover, and it costs more to ship, and when you get right down to it, a 16 oz bottle of our liquid soap/shower gel is going to get you at most the same amount of washing power as a 4 oz bar of soap, and due to the way people tend to use liquid soap it’s probably more like half as much. Which means you’re paying between twice and four times as much per shower for liquid soap vs. bar soap. This is not to say no one should use liquid soap, of course! Goodness knows I did for years, before I started making my own bar soap and left the liquid mostly behind, and if the convenience or just plain old personal preference comes down strongly enough on the side of the liquid soap, then it’s worth it. But it’s definitely a factor worth considering.
Germs? Many people have told me they don’t use bar soap because of sharing germs with other users. While I can see how this idea got started, it’s actually not such a big deal as one might think. For one thing, in the process of getting a bar of soap wet and working up a lather in the first place, you’ve entirely washed off the surface layer in which germs might be living. For another, the germs that can live on the alkaline surface of soap are highly unlikely to be germs that can thrive on or in the acidic human body. And also, even if it’s really, really yucky, evidently soap isn’t very good at transferring bacteria anyway, or so says the New York Times. So I think this one is a wash, pun sort-of intended. Just don’t use the same wash cloth, and you should be fine, germ-wise.