In past years, many campers would trek out into the brush with little thought about the impact they were having on the world’s most pristine places. Today, with the Leave No Trace movement, we’re a bit more careful. But there are still some things that many of us may not even realize are harming our favorite outdoor spots. You wouldn’t pour a bottle of your favorite shampoo into the lake or toss bar soap into your favorite river. But washing with these products can be equally harmful to the environment.
If you’re a casual camper or haven’t spent a lot of time in the great outdoors, you may not be familiar with the concept of biodegradable soap. Traditional soaps include man-made chemicals that don’t break down easily. Petrochemicals, parabens, and phthalates can still be hanging around in the water long after your favorite suds have washed down the drain. And they can be devastating to the ecosystem. Fortunately, there’s a solution: biodegradable soap.
What Is Biodegradable Soap?
The best of these Earth-friendly soaps are made from natural, organic ingredients that won’t stick around long after you’ve used them. They’re designed to be broken down by bacteria in the soil, so “anti-bacterial” soaps never qualify. There are also several specific ingredients missing from these soaps: phosphates and surfactants, which spike algae, and triclosan, which is highly toxic to fish and wildlife. Liquid versions also tend to be ultra concentrated so you can use less and still get clean.
But even among biodegradable soaps, some are more environmentally-friendly than others. In fact, not all biodegradable soaps are derived solely from plant-based all-natural ingredients. You may have come across Wilderness Wash and Camp Suds, two of the most popular brands. The problem is, both contain problematic ingredients.
Why It's Important To Use Biodegradable Soap When Camping
If you love nature enough to camp in it, you should do all you can to minimize your impact. This means packing your trash out with you, respecting the wildlife, using existing campsites, and properly extinguishing campfires. But it also means not adding harmful chemicals to the environment.
Since biodegradable soaps break down more quickly, they’re a better choice for your natural surrounds. If you choose to use non-biodegradable products, you’ll have to find a way to ensure they’re not washed out into the environment. At some campgrounds this may be handled by the facilities, but otherwise you’ll have to pack your dirty water out with you and ensure none of it is absorbed into the ground as you wash.
But those biodegradable soaps we mentioned above that aren’t natural and plant-based? While they may not stick around as long as typical soaps, they can still make a nasty impact in the time they are around. And if they include phosphates or other harmful chemicals, you could be making a much worse impact than you think.
How To Use Biodegradable Soap When Camping
No matter how natural your soap is, you still shouldn’t contaminate natural water sources with it. Even the natural ingredients in our soaps aren’t natural to a lake, stream, or any other body of water. Not only that, without the bacteria found naturally in soil, your soap may not biodegrade at the rate it should. So it could be hanging around a lot longer than you expect!
While many of these soaps may claim to be “lake safe” you should still avoid using them in a natural water source. The best practice is to wash at least 200 feet from the nearest water source. And be sure to collect your used water in a collapsible bucket. Then dispose of your soapy water by burying it at least 6 inches deep (the same way you’d bury human waste).
We can’t stress enough that we don't recommend people use any soaps in natural water sources. However, if you’re going to anyway, please be sure to use soaps that are both biodegradable and made from fully-natural, plant-derived ingredients. If you’re using soap in a lake or stream, this is as safe as you can get. Our Nature Wash is, of course, one option that will leave the smallest impact.
Where To Find Biodegradable Soap
You can find biodegradable soaps in your favorite camping store, or through major online sellers like Amazon and even Walmart. But because some of these soaps are worse for the environment than others, you’ll want to carefully research their ingredients before purchasing.
Better still, you can get Nature Wash right here. It’s a 100% natural, zero waste, biodegradable soap and shampoo bar that actually works. It’s naturally scented with tea tree oil, ginger oil, and peppermint oil for a safe and beneficial formula that’s actually good for your skin and hair. But the scent is not overpowering. In fact, it’s considered “low-scent” — an important consideration if you’re camping in bear country!Even better, all of the packaging is compostable, even the shipping label. And speaking of shipping, we’ll make sure your delivery is carbon neutral through our offset program. So you’ll get an amazingly effective soap that’s as good for the environment as possible shipped to you in the most eco-friendly way we can find. What’s not to love?