What Are Shampoo Bars and Why Are We Switching? | This West Coast Mommy
Greener Living

What Are Shampoo Bars and Why Are We Switching?

Over the years we’ve made quite a few changes to reduce our use of single-use plastics, and now we think it’s time to do a little bit more! As a family, we’ve decided to get rid of some of those plastic bottles in our bathroom and switch from liquid shampoo to solid shampoo bars instead.

So for the next little while I’ll be documenting our family’s transition to shampoo bars. To help us, I’ve reached out to several Canadian soap makers who have kindly sent us some of their most popular shampoo bars to try. These bars are all free from SLS, palm oil, phthalates, artificial fragrances, and other unnecessary additives – all things I’m not keen to rub into our scalps.

The hair

We have a variety of hair types and needs in our family so we’ll be able to try lots of different shampoo bars. I have long, thick hair that tends to get oily at the roots and frizzy at the ends. I also get itchy scalp. 9-year-old Tee’s hair is long and thick like mine, and 6-year-old Kay has finer, shoulder-length hair that tangles easily. My husband has short, thinning hair he washes daily.

We’ll be sharing the experience of switching over, which bars work best for us, tips and tricks we find useful along the way, and hopefully helping your family decide whether solid shampoo is an option for you too.

What’s the difference?

Well, the main difference of course is that one is liquid and one is solid. Shampoo bars are shampoo without all the water.

All shampoos use surfactants to grab and hold on to oil-based dirt so that it can be rinsed away with water. Most commercial shampoos contain the surfactant sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a synthetic detergent that’s good at cleaning (and making foam) but also a skin irritant that may dry out your hair and skin needlessly.

Variety of shampoo bars courtesy of Saltspring Soapworks, Simply Natural Canada, and Savonnerie des diligences.

In comparison, soap-based shampoo bars use saponified oils and an alkali to clean instead. These are gentler on your hair and skin as well as better for the environment. They create less waste in manufacturing and biodegrade faster. Soap-based shampoos don’t strip your hair the way detergent-based shampoos do, so your hair gets clean without removing all your natural oils.

However, soap doesn’t lather or clean as well in hard water as detergent does. The chemical structure of soap reacts with the excess calcium and magnesium ions in hard water to produce whitish residue or soap scum which can be hard to rinse out.

Fortunately, we have very soft water here in Vancouver so I don’t anticipate an issue with residue. If you have harder water and would still like to try soap-based shampoo, you can easily install a budget-friendly water softening shower head or make your own mildly acidic hair rinse from diluted apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.

More eco-friendly

Many of us are interested in reducing our carbon footprint and the amount of plastic and waste in our homes, but change is hard. Almost all of us grew up using shampoo in a bottle, and it’s just what we do. But once we realize there are alternatives to how things have “always” been done, we can start doing things differently.

Switching from liquid shampoo to a shampoo bar means one less plastic bottle. Will that single-handedly save the world? Of course not. But every little bit helps. Change is cumulative!

Soap-based solid shampoo bars are made from organic (biological) ingredients which means they’re more easily biodegradeable. Shampoo bars typically last longer than liquid shampoo too, which also helps to reduce waste. There is a caveat here though. Soap-based shampoos typically need more rinsing so you’re likely to use more water.

More convenient

Shampoo bars can double as regular body soap to save on space. This makes shampoo bars great for travelling, camping, or going to the gym. Switching to solid shampoo also means fewer bottles to clutter up my shower and bathtub ledges.

We’ll be doing some travelling this summer, both driving and flying, so this is a good time to bring our shampoo bars on the go. No more leaked shampoo in our suitcase or calculating bottle sizes to get through airport security.

Stay tuned for an update in the next few weeks, a rundown of all the bars we’re trying, and a shampoo bar giveaway so your family can try solid shampoo too.

If you’ve already tried solid shampoo, please share your tips for us as we make the switch!

Leave a Comment


  • I love this! I hate throwing out those big plastic shampoo bottles. Even if they get recycled, the resources used to create and then recycle them could be avoided with these awesome bars.

  • I have not tried shampoo bars but I would certainly be open to making the switch. It would be more convenient for traveling and easier to store.

  • I have tried a shampoo bar and it didn’t feel great on my hair. But I live in Calgary with really hard water. I should try it again when our water softener is working. Just a note – don’t get the soap in your eyes!

  • Thanks for the eye-opening review of solid shampoo bars; I have never heard of them until now. I definitely will be following your evaluation of them in future blogs.

  • I was in a store yesterday and seen these for the first time. Found them weird lol. But Fter reading your post, I’m interested in giving them a try!!

  • Unfortunately I have some allergies to oil , especially mineral oil on my skin. I will not be trying them, but it sounds amazing, especially reducing packaging.

  • First time I’ve heard about shampoo bars and I can say that I will be looking for them. Anything to get rid of all the plastic shampoo bottles we have cluttering the bath area. We have soft water here so it shouldn’t be a problem using them. I look forward to hearing about how you and your family liked using the bars.

  • A lot of good information…….. I have been thinking about it but didn’t know any thing about soap bars. I think it is time to take the step

  • I have switched to shampoo bars and body bars. Have to say I am just getting these from walmart and I am happy with them. But would love to find a company that has good products and reasonable price