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In this post, we’ll put our personal care regimen under a microscope. How big of an impact does it have on both the bottom line, and the environment?
The Big Four Hygiene Products
According to the CDC, everyone should wash their hands before eating and after using the bathroom, among other times. The average person eats three meals a day and visits the bathroom 6-7 times. That means in theory, each person washes their hands at least 10 times per day – 70 times per week and 3,650 times per year. While each hand-washing session may seem insignificant, they all add up to a big impact.
The average American showers 5 times per week. Most of us use shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in the process.
Water use aside, let’s look at the cost of the products we use to clean ourselves. To compare costs, I searched for the cheapest possible options for the four products most people use. If your skin or hair needs more TLC and thus more expensive brands, that drives up your base cost.
For each of these product types, I’ve done both an economic and ecological cost-benefit analysis of liquid vs. “bar” versions.
The ecological downsides of liquid versions are clear. They’re typically bottled in plastic, of which only 9% gets recycled and 10% ends up in the ocean (that’s 8 million metric tons per year at last count). Per “serving”, liquid versions also take up more space and weigh more due to their high water content. This means more energy and resources go into packaging and transporting them. Considering ecological factors alone – economics and hygiene aside – bar versions win hands-down (so to speak). But what about the impact on your budget?
Liquid hand soap ranges from $.11/fl oz on up. Experts recommend using at least .5 ml of hand soap each time you wash. This equates to 1825 ml per year, or 61.7 fl oz, for a total annual cost of… $6.79. Hardly bank-breaking!
That total surprised me. I had assumed that given the number of times people wash their hands (or should), the cost would be much higher. The more often you wash your hands, the more soap you use each time, and the more expensive soap you buy, the higher your total cost.
In any case, you’ll still see moderate cost savings by switching to bar soap. And the point of washing your hands is to remove germs and contaminants. Many people assume bar soap is less hygienic – what’s the point of even washing your hands if the soap isn’t doing its job?
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, as long as no one’s sick or has a skin infection, it’s fine to use bar soap in your home for handwashing. Just make sure you rinse off the “goop” before use. A “Soap Saver” helps the bar dry out between uses, which extends its life and keeps germs at bay as well.
We keep a bottle of liquid hand soap in the kitchen next to our bar soap, for when the risk of contamination is highest. We use it after handling raw eggs, raw chicken, or any food that someone in the house is allergic to. At nearly all other times we use bar soap, but only in our own home.
Bar soap should never be used in public places, where the risk of spreading germs is highest. If you’re in a public place where bar soap is the only option, you’re better off scrubbing well with water alone.
It’s not hard to find body wash for under $.17/fl oz. But how much do we really need?
Thanks to the advertising industry, we’ve been socially conditioned to shower or bathe daily. This belief is based on pseudo-science. In fact, you might actually stay healthier by backing off on your bathing regimen, since it washes away your good bacteria along with the bad.
The average American takes 5 showers per week, though most people need only 3 or 4. Assuming you’re “average” and use 1 tablespoon of body wash during each shower, you’ll use 1825 fl oz per year at a cost of $237.25. Yowza!
If you usually shower daily whether you need it or not, you’ve fallen prey to the typical American fixation on ultra-hygiene. By saving those showers for when you’re actually dirty or stinky, you’ll cut the cost of both your body wash and your water bill. Based on what you’ve read above, you’ve already decided to purchase an economy size package of bar soap for hand-washing (right?). So toss a bar into your shower caddy in place of liquid body wash to save even more money and plastic waste!
Many people are very selective about which shampoo they use. But if you’re basing the buying decision purely on cost, you can find some decent options for around $.14/fl oz.
It’s impossible to calculate total annual usage, and thus total annual cost. How often do you wash your hair? How much shampoo do you use in one wash?
The answer to both questions is probably: “more than your hair needs or wants”. Experts recommend washing your mane every 2-3 days depending on how much oil your scalp produces. Too-frequent washings can strip your hair of its natural oils, leaving it dry and frizzy.
In addition, if you have long hair, you should apply shampoo only to your roots and scalp, to avoid drying out your ends.
If you’re an every-day-hair-washer, you can immediately cut your cost in half by switching to every other day.
Bar shampoo can drop this cost even further and keep plastic bottles out of our waste stream to boot.
Short-haired readers may skip this step altogether, or opt for a 2-in-1 shampoo. But for those with long tresses, a dedicated conditioner is a must. Even the least expensive ones clock in at around $.16/fl oz.
Like shampoo, there’s a huge variation in the amount each person uses. But also like shampoo, many people use way too much, or use the wrong kind for their hair type. Conditioner is best applied from the mid-length of your hair to the ends, and never to the scalp. Squeezing the bulk of the water out of your hair before applying conditioner will keep it from getting too diluted and allow you to use less.
Reducing the amount you apply, combined with limiting use to every 2-3 days, will drop your conditioner costs significantly.
If you want to take it a step further, a conditioner bar works just as well as its liquid counterpart, but without plastic waste. It’s hard to calculate cost savings, but for a relatively small investment, it’s worth a try.
You can significantly reduce the impact of your personal hygiene on your budget and the environment by:
- Switching to bar soap for hands and body
- Reducing the number of showers you take per week
- Reducing the number of times you wash and condition your hair, and
- Trying out shampoo and conditioner bars in place of their liquid counterparts.
Thanks for reading, and for taking the next step to becoming SuperGreener!
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