Amid all of the pandemic-induced handwashing, compounded by being at home full time, I recently became alarmingly aware of how much single-use plastic my household goes though on a monthly basis. Hand-soap bottles, yes, but also containers of laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner, dish soap, and more. Nearly every product that cleans myself or my home (save for a few high-end serums or perfumes) comes in a single-use plastic bottle.
And then earlier this year, I did a deep dive on sustainable cleaning products, and through all my testing, I realized that for many home- and personal-care items, it’s possible to eliminate plastic packaging altogether by forgoing liquid versions and opting for solids instead. Sure, standard-issue bar soap is not a revolutionary concept, but solid versions of things like toilet cleaner, lotion, and shaving cream are total game changers.
However, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t sacrificing on quality or ease of use before making the transition, thus another deep dive ensued. Below, the items that made the cut.
This is undoubtedly the item that opened my eyes to how great the world of solids could be. I was super-skeptical of a nonliquid dish soap, thinking it would slow down an already grueling task. This gem is not only just as efficient, but because it smells amazing—with notes of lavender, cedarwood, and eucalyptus—and looks pretty on my countertop, I actually don’t dread doing dishes. I just rub a sponge against it to pick up the product and then get to scrubbing. Plus it can be used to handwash delicate clothes.
I’ve been using these sheets for months now, and I’m convinced that this is the future of detergent as we know it. First, they’re insanely easy to use: Just drop one sheet in the drum of your wash; two if you need an extra cleaning boost; or three for loads with bulky items like bedding and towels. They also contain zero plastic (not even PVA/PVOH, which many pods are encased in) and work wonderfully. You can use them for handwashing or pack them with you while traveling. I go for the unscented version, but if you favor that “clean laundry smell,” there’s an Ocean Breeze scent that ticks that box.
I have not been subtle about my love for this product. Since first proclaiming my devotion to it, my little one started preschool and now comes back in clothes covered in the day’s activities (paint, blueberries, you name it). My fondness for this stain stick has only grown stronger. To use it, wet the area, rub the stick on, and agitate it a bit. The gunk should come right out. If it doesn’t, soak the trouble area for a few minutes, then try again.
Let’s be real: Cleaning the toilet is never going to be an enjoyable task. Ever. But using this product is as close as it’s going to get to that. Drop one 2-by-3-inch sachet in the bowl and you get to witness it magically transform into a fluffy foam. Scrub with a brush as needed, flush, and you’re done. Also worth noting: Its scent is quite lovely—fresh, a tiny bit floral, and not at all chemically.
Now that I’ve tried this solid shampoo for my pup, I’m perplexed as to why I was ever using a liquid version. You can keep the bar in one hand (and the other on your dog) to efficiently and precisely get soap to all the places where you need it. This formula uses eucalyptus, rosemary, and lavender essential oils, so your furry pal will end up smelling like a fancy spa post-bath.
This is another product I’ve been using for more than a year. I took a small break to give a few different bar hand soaps a go, but then I realized that it takes more water (and time) to fully rinse off those suds than it does the foam that’s created from these tablets. So back to Blueland I went. The starter kit comes with a glass bottle that can be reused indefinitely. When you need a refill, just drop a tablet in and fill with warm water, and as soon as it’s dissolved (a few minutes) you’re ready to go. I especially love that you can stockpile a large quantity of refill tablets without usurping valuable storage space—I recently reupped, ordering 27 tablets that take up less space than one standard bottle of hand soap.
Shampoo and Conditioner
There are suddenly a lot of options out there for solid shampoos and conditioners, though the best I’ve found are from brands that don’t have a one-size-fits-all formula. HiBar, Peach, and Unwrapped Life, for example, all have ranges that address different needs—thickening, moisturizing, smoothing, etc. If you’re new to the bar shampoo/conditioner concept, I’d suggest picking up HiBar’s sampler pack, which gives you mini versions of its three best-sellers, so you can test a few before committing. Fun fact: Using a conditioner bar is a superhandy way to get tangles out of kids’ hair—especially the extra-squirmy little ones who can barely sit through a shampoo, let alone a full conditioner treatment and rinse.
I don’t like the stripped feeling that’s sometimes associated with bar soap, but luckily I’ve found this gem made from mango butter, colloidal oatmeal, and activated coconut charcoal that cleanses without drying or leaving a residue. Don’t let the size dissuade you (it’s a slim little thing)—with daily use it will last six months or more.
This one was a surprise favorite. I long ago moved away from the foam form of shaving cream to one that’s a supersilky liquid that easily lathers—a product that I felt pretty loyal to…until now. Sustainabar’s shaving bar works just as well, but it gets bonus points because you can keep it in one hand (at the ready) while you shave with the other. While I can only personally vouch for using it on my legs and armpits, I did have my husband give it a test-drive on his face, and his review was: two thumbs-up. You can work the puck up into a lather (as he did) or just apply it directly to the area you’d like to shave (as I did).
These masks require a little more work than I’d usually be up for (measuring and mixing in water), but because they’re not for everyday use, I was able to overlook this fact. And I’m so glad I did. Playing mixologist is actually pretty fun and makes the whole experience feel like a true self-care ritual. The clay in both of them pulls out toxins and pollutants and unclogs pores as it dries. After every use, my skin looks brighter and feels rejuvenated—I even convinced my husband to try it to similar effect. While the Dead Sea version works for all skin types, the Rose Clay Geranium is best for dry or combination skin. Bonus: You can stretch the life span of this bottle by downsizing your proportions. The directions suggest mixing 1.5 teaspoons of the mask powder with .5 teaspoons of water, but I’ve found that using .5 teaspoons of powder will mix enough to cover my face completely.
While I didn’t find either of these items practical for day-to-day use, they are excellent options for travel. Both are flat sheets that instantly dissolve after making contact with water. I’ll be stashing Plus’s body wash packets—which come in sophisticated scents like neroli/orange/lemon and coconut/sea salt/jasmine—in my toiletry bag (they seem like an especially great option for camping adventures, as even the sachets they come in will dissolve in water). And I’m keeping Grove Collaborative’s hand soap sheets—a mini box of 40 1-inch-squares—in my purse for any handwashing emergencies that might come up (which is more often than you might think thanks to my current toddler-mom life status).
And Then There’s the Accessories
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