The good soap dish guide

Over the past few years I’ve become a convert to soap – the solid bars, not the liquid. Using it can help significantly cut down on our use of plastic (soap is often sold wrapped in paper or in cardboard boxes and even completely unpackaged) plus it cuts down the unnecessary transportation of water (a large proportion of what’s in all those bottles of shampoo and liquid soap). In addition, it’s easy to find small soap producers who source their ingredients ethically and who do not use palm oil in any of its many forms. A number of people have told me that they cannot use soap at all, but I encourage you to give it a go. I used to find soaps very harsh on my sensitive skin, but these days there are so many options and so many good soap-makers who select their ingredients very carefully that you might be surprised. For example, goats milk soap is very gentle (I use one that also contains Calendula, which is great for sensitive skin) and the Castile soaps form a lotion rather than a lather and therefore have moisturising properties.

The one issue with bar soap, however, is that it does need to be treated with care so that it doesn’t become a soggy mess between uses. Simply keeping your soap in a bowl by the sink or worse still in the shower will just result in you ending up with a bowl of gloop. There are many different solutions – some better than others – so I thought it might be useful to share some examples for those of you considering using soap. The key issue is drainage – you soap will remain in the form of a solid bar and will last much longer if it can dry out between uses, so all soap dishes should be freely draining.

 

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coconut ‘flower’

None of my soap dishes are plastic. The first one I bought was made from a coconut shell on three little dowel legs, with a dozen holes drilled in the bottom. This is a beautiful dish, but there are a couple of issues with it. First of all, it’s round and with only having three legs it overbalances when I put a large new oblong bar in it. However, as you can see, it is the ideal shape for the solid shampoo I use, which comes in round cakes. The second issue is that the holes in the bottom do get clogged up and require cleaning out every few weeks to avoid this simply becoming a coconut shell bowl. Still, a little bit of hot water sorts out that problem. This dish has been in use for several years now and is still going strong.

 

In my search for soap dishes that were suitable for the soap that I normally use, I ordered two types from the company that soap comes from (The All Natural Soap Company). The first is a ridged wooden block, which allows free drainage even when it has got a bit soapy:

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ridged wooden block

This is the perfect size for the bars that I use and I have a couple of these beside the bath. The ridges get clogged after some weeks of use, but a quick scrub with a nail brush and some warm water returns them to a serviceable state.

 

Both the above dishes do dribble a bit, so they need to be placed on a non-permeable surface – sitting them on a small tray or saucer would be ideal, although I simply keep mine on the end of the bath.

I also have a wooden ladder-style soap holder that sits beside the kitchen sink. The soap here is the bar used most frequently and the chances of it becoming soggy are very high, so I chose this design with that in mind.

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kitchen sink soap

I have to keep it in a rectangular dish that needs to be washed out frequently, and this is probably the design that I am least happy with. As you can see, it’s rather suffered from getting wet so frequently, although the soap does stay quite dry.

 

If I had a suitable place to put it, though, my choice would always be a magnetic soap holder. These magic contraptions allow your soap to dry out completely and, as a result, last as long as possible. This is mine above the bathroom sink:

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my favourite

This holder comes with a metal disk with a wavy edge that you embed in the soap so that the magnet in the wall-mounted piece can hold the soap. Of course you need a suitable location to site these, preferably over the sink so that any drips (there won’t be many) are easily wiped away. This is my absolute favourite soap holder.

You’ll notice that none of my soap holders/dishes are made of breakable materials. That’s because the ceramic one I had got knocked into the sink and smashed. After that I decided I needed to stick to something less fragile.

 

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not plastic – honestly

Of course, you also need something to carry your soap in when you are away from home. I have two plastic soap boxes that I have owned for decades. These function perfectly adequately, although I have to be careful to drain them and leave the lids off as much as possible to allow the soap to dry. However, the lovely folks at All Natural Soap recently asked if I would test out a new soap box for them – they have been looking for a non-plastic version for sometime. When it arrived I was surprised that it did seem to be plastic, but apparently it’s made from natural materials and is biodegradable (they are testing this out currently by burying one in their compost heap and one in the soil). It’s not much different from standard boxes, although it does have some slight ridges in the bottom to help keep the soap dry – if they were deeper they would do the job better. Interestingly I trialled this and found that my soap did not form a soggy mess as long as I drained it well before closing the box, even when left shut for a week… I wonder if it ‘breathes’ a little. They are not yet available on the web site, but it’s nice to know there are non-plastic options out there and I’d certainly recommend this one when it becomes available.

 

So, that’s a quick tour of my soap holders. Do you have a favourite design at home? Do you use bars of soap?

 

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28 Comments

  1. Laurie Graves

     /  March 31, 2018

    Thanks for the info!

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  2. We too use soap for hands/shower, though I still use Faith in Nature on my hair. (We get the 5l bottles and refill the smaller ones)
    So – the one in the bathroom sink is usually Suma, comes totally unpackaged and does not usually form a gooey mess due to the sink having a slight slope/drain bit.
    The shower soap (also Suma) goes into a wire metal tray with the bottles of shampoo. This obviously drains very well.
    The soap in the kitchen comes free of wrapping, though I do not know its provenience as our friend Sue gives it to us. We use this to pre-wash some of our laundry where it is particularly dirty – shirt collars and so forth. This works well as we use soap nuts in all our washes. The soap itself lives in one of those plastic cartons that mushrooms often come in. We use one inside the other, the inner one having holes in for drainage. The soap is generally OK, only going gooey when it is nearly all gone. The cartons are easy to clean out with a hand brush.
    BTW we use these cartons (same set up) for growing cat grass in, and for putting kitchen scraps in to be taken down the garden. We usually buy loose mushrooms, but if running short on cartons then buy one ‘for stock’ so to speak. It’s also good to find a use for them as our council does not take black plastic.

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  3. I do use soap bars – made by Wendy at tumbledowns.co.nz – and I also use just plain old glass dishes to rest them in or on. The dishes are old – they may be antique 🙂 and have raised patterns on the bottom which works fine for drainage. My shampoo was purchased about two years ago in a large container and shows no signs of running out yet. I just decant as required into a glass dispenser. Apparently I like glass 🙂

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  4. Murtagh's Meadow

     /  March 31, 2018

    Excellent review. It has been some thing that has been on my mind for some months now. Presently we use both solid bars and liquid soap and i am hoping to stop buying the liquid soap in plastic containers.

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    • I have managed to give up liquid soap entirely. Mr Snail is just using up the very last of his shower gel and shampoo (which we had bought in bulk to at least reduce the plastic) and then we will have eliminated this source of plastic from our lives entirely.

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  5. We have recently bought a bar of hand soap and a shower bar. We actually spent this morning trying to find soap dishes we like (no success) so it was a funny coincidence to see your post come up.
    My parents (in Germany) had one of those magnetic ones for decades now and I think they are great. It doesn’t matter what size or shape your soap bar is, they all fit (I guess as long as the bar isn’t too heavy). I didn’t even consider that you could buy them anywhere else. Must have a look online.
    We’ll have to go with an old bowl for now for the hand soap until we find what we like but thanks for your additional food for thought regarding drainage etc.

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  6. We use bars of soap all the time, and my favourite is the ladder type wooden holder. I find the magnetic idea a little offputting, as if it might mutate the soap and make something bad happen!

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  7. I like a solid bar of soap too… We have a bamboo shower caddy, with a ridged and grooved area for the soap that seems to do the trick in keeping the soap dry and drained. On the washbasin, though, I have a trick that works a treat. I turn the nailbrush over, and put the soap on the bristles. It drains, it dries, and the nailbrush is automatically pre-soaped when I need it! The method does require a soap to have at least one flat surface, but that’s the only downside as far as I can tell. I have a soapbox for travel that is double sided. One side has holes, the other not. You use the side with holes for draining and then it travels with that side up. I wonder if the one you trialled was a bamboo composite. It feels and looks like plastic, but is bamboo. We have picnicware like that .

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  8. I prefer bar soap as the liquid soap seems to dry out my skin and makes my hands sore. We have both types as LH prefers the liquid variety by the wash basins but use solid soap in the shower. I had one of the magnetic holders when I lived in NZ but I’ve never seen them in the UK.

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  9. I do use bars of soap and have found that local makers do some very nice, non-drying soaps. I tend to wipe the shower down afterward, so I don’t need a special container; take baths most of the time so it isn’t an issue of them being over-damp. I like that magnetic thing though.

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  10. I do use soap at home and have two plastic soap dishes which must be nearly 30 years old now and one pretty ceramic dish which is used in the cloakroom. I just wash them out regularly withoug too much of an issue. Do the wooded ones get a bit black and mouldy?

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  11. Claire

     /  April 1, 2018

    Both our bathroom and toilet have built-in ridged glass soap holders. I do need to clean them every couple of weeks but they do a pretty decent job. For travel, I also have a super old plastic soap box, that’s where I store my solid shampoo. I’ll use it until it dies!

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  12. I’m trying out decorative pebbles in a bowl at the moment which drains the soap into the bowl below – I might have a look at the magnetic gizmo though for the shower.

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  13. Thanks for reminding me about magnetic soap holders. Haven’t seen one for years. My solution to the perfect soap holder was to go to pottery classes. That seemed the only way to get a holder with holes to let the gunk through that sat on a saucer to collect the gunk. Do you all know the trick of keeping soap for months before using it? If you like smellies, keep it in one of your clothes drawers. Keeping soap makes it harder so ‘it goes further’ as my mother put it. She also collected any tiny scraps of soap in a piece of net that could then be used for soaping up washing water.

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    • I do remember a small net bag that all those odd bits of soap went into when I was a child. The bits eventually moulded together and you used the bag in the way that you may use a brush/sponge and soap in the shower or bath. Afterwards you just hung it up to dry. I was wondering if they still existed as well. We were joking yesterday as well that I should sign up to pottery class to make the perfect soap holder for us.

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  14. I’ve never been a fan/purchaser/user of liquid soap because it tends to have gobs of weird stuff in it and my skin is super sensitive. Plus bar soap lasts so much longer and smells better. I’ve never put much thought into my bar soap holders though! I do have a large sea shell with deep ridges in it that serves as the perfect soap holder in my fishy-themed bathroom.

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  15. I have never heard of magnetic soap holders, but now I have I really want one! What a cool idea. At the moment I’m renting and not allowed to mess about with the walls, but I shall add it to my list of things to do when I finally get my own place.

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  16. Hello!! I have a very small and new soap blog and business if anyone could take a look at it and tell me what you think I’d really appreciate it! Any advice on new products to make or where to get supplies I’d love as well. All comments are welcomed!!

    https://neatsoap.wordpress.com

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  17. This peep into the world of toiletries has made me look at my first aid/home remedy drawer and to wonder how people are tackling these areas. Any alternatives to plastic rich plasters, anti histamine cream etc in plastic tubes and blister packs of analgesics? I remember taking bottles and jars back to the chemist to be washed out and filled for the next prescription! Small steps to a kinder world welcome.

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  18. I love my soap! It’s one thing I find impossible to resist at craft fairs, and I always stock up in the run-up to Christmas. As for storage, I have an old plastic soapbox I got from the Body Shop in the 90s (you know, back when it was still good 😆) and it’s the business… It has a loose tray that helps the soap drain, and it’s easy to clean too. I’m actually interested in extending my love of soap to shampoo bars as well, any recommendations?

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  19. A really interesting read! I need to make the switch over to solid bars, but need to find one that is palm oil free, and nut free (so no almond oil, plus I prefer to avoid jojoba and shea to be on the safe side), and ok with eczema! I don’t want to spend loads on a soap to then find out that it’s no good for my skin! :/

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