Biodegradable Soaps That are Good for the Planet (and Your Body!)
On a rafting trip, most guides recommend scrubbing with nothing more than fresh water right out of the river. But if you’re looking for something a little stronger for your next adventure, check out these eco-friendly soap brands. Whether you need a fancy body wash for sensitive skin or a straightforward camping soap, we’ve got picks for getting clean in almost any outdoors scenario.
What is an eco-friendly soap?
To us, eco-friendly soaps have no phosphate, surfactants, triclosan, or any “anti-bacterial” ingredients. In concentration, the first two can spike algal growth resulting in mucky, sluggish rivers or overly nutrient rich water. Think duck pond. Conversely, triclosan, found in hand sanitizers and most hand soaps, is extremely toxic to aquatic algae and many coral and fish species.
It’s also important to remember that no soap, eco-friendly or not, should be used directly in rivers or lakes. Biodegradable soaps need soil to be broken down, so follow Leave No Trace guidelines and do your bathing at least 200 yards away from any water source. A bucket and a washcloth are all the tools you need.
Here are the best eco-friendly soaps for your next outdoor adventure, whether you’re camping, rafting, or backpacking.
1) Best For Refills: Bathing Culture Mind and Body Wash
Bathing Culture’s Mind and Body Wash, an ultra-environmentally friendly liquid soap, is made with organic coconut, olive and sunflower seed oils and packaged in 100-percent recycled bottles. The best part? Bathing Culture offers refills, so you don’t have to buy more packaging. And the soap doesn’t just clean. The California-based maker says this soap will give you the “just-jumped-into-a-cold-river” feeling. That sounds pretty good to us.
Why we love it: Not only is this a great versatile camping soap, but the company, founded by a pair of outdoors-loving friends, celebrates the simple art of bathing and the way it connects all of humanity. They believe that bathing is sacred and should be enjoyed. After a long day on the river, we can’t agree more.
2) Best For Multiple Uses: Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Biodegradable Soap
A product that needs no introduction, Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap is a tried and true concentrated biodegradable soap that’s popular as a body wash, dish soap and (for some brave folks) a tooth paste. Few other soaps can boast the variety of uses that Dr. Bronner’s covers. Easily diluted, the castile mixture has an ingredient list that a five-year-old could understand. Available in several variations, you’ll be able to find the scent that works for you or check out their version made with unscented oils.
Why we love it: A pioneer in creating a nature-friendly product, the Dr. Bronner’s brand continues to do the right thing. The company treats their employees especially well and continues to donate millions to social and environmental causes every year. We use the soap on many of our multi-day trips for a variety of tasks, including bathing, and we know we can feel good about it.
3) Best For Long Trips: Stream2Sea Conditioning Shampoo and Bodywash
The Florida company became famous for its reef-safe sunscreen. With Stream2Sea’s new offering, Conditioning Shampoo and Bodywash, they continue their legacy of products that are harmless to the environment. With a healthy helping of green tea extract, the biodegradable soap will leave you tingling clean. The tubes are made from sugar cane resin, so you don’t have to worry about another piece of plastic.
Why we love it: Founded by cosmetic chemist and all-around outdoors person Autumn Blum, Stream2Sea is on the cutting edge of eco-friendly soap and skin care products. They perform extensive research and testing to be sure the ingredients they use are safe for all types of freshwater and ocean life. Want more info about what’s in their shampoo and body wash? Stream2Sea offers a list of all ingredients on their website
4) Best For Buggy Areas: SallyeAnder No-Bite-Me Bug Repellant Soap
Packed with aromatic ingredients, this SallyeAnder bar is easy on the environment and helps biting bugs like mosquitos, ticks, fleas and black flies steer clear of your skin. Using cedar, mint and lemongrass essential oils among others, the biodegradable soap bar helps repel those pesky pests up to two hours after washing. It can even be used as a shampoo to keep your head and hair clean and clear. A jar of their No-Bite-Me bug repellant and after-bite cream is included.
Why we love it: The family-owned and operated SallyeAnder has been making natural soaps for over 40 years. Originally created as a way to help people with skin conditions like eczema, the company’s soaps are gentle on the body and the environment. Made without detergents, their No-Bite-Me Bug repellant is one of the only eco friendly soaps of its kind.
5) Best Smelling Body Wash: Juniper Ridge Body Wash
Juniper Ridge’s Body Wash is free of so many things from dyes to preservatives, phthalates and paraben, that it’s a wonder they found anything to put in it. All ingredients are wild-harvested, sustainably-harvested and plant-based. The biodegradable soap will leave you smelling just like the forest you’re enjoying, which is very much the intent of Juniper Ridge.
Why we love it: With a focus on natural fragrances, the small staff of Juniper Ridge brings the smells of pine forests and other West Coast essences into their products using their own sustainably-created, steam-distilled essential oils. The company also stands up for the environment, donating up to 10 percent of their annual profits to organizations that “keep the wilderness wild.”
Bonus Pick: Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash Pocket Soap
Now in a sheet form, Sea to Summit’s Wilderness Wash, a super concentrated unscented soap, is great for all things outdoors. From washing bodies to dishes, the handy to-go soap leaves can be quickly added to a bucket of water in just the right amount. The rest can be stored away without worry of spillage.
Why we love it: Sea to Summit is well known for its extensive collection of outdoor-centric products. They designed their versatile fragrance-free pocket soap with hikers and paddlers in mind. Not being a liquid, there’s no concern of carrying it onto an airplane, too.
Looking for bathing alternatives for your next adventure? You might consider a biodegradable body wipe (here are our favorites!), if bathing with an eco-friendly soap isn’t an option. Or, here are a few tips on how to skip the shower altogether.
An earlier version of this eco-friendly soaps post by Caitlin Kauffman first appeared in June 2015 and was rewritten and updated November 2022.