Lose the Soap: Take a Soap-Free Shower (and Still Smell Sweet)

A couple years ago, I embarked on an all-natural skin- and hair-care odyssey. The no 'poo (i.e. shampoo-free) experiment did not work out (but oh! how I wanted it to). But two others did stick -- the oil-cleansing method and the soap-free shower.

Now, I know some of you might be horrified by the idea of showering without soap. But I'm here to say, it can be done. And it can be done without smelliness of any kind. It even has some pretty great benefits.


Why go no-soap?

Once I get an idea in my head, I tend to go slightly overboard. Which is how I happened to remove all soaps and shampoos from my skin- and hair-care routine--in the same week. But even if you're not quite so gung-ho about all this, there are some really good reasons why you might want to give it a try.

  1. Soap is really drying for your skin. The way soap works, in fact, is that it dissolves oil. But your skin needs oil -- oil protects it and makes it soft and supple. If you strip all the oil off your skin, one of two things will happen: your skin will get all dry and scaly (in which case, you're probably moisturizing up a storm) or it will ramp up its oil production, in order to compensate, and you'll end up with extra-oily skin and/or break-outs. Or, there's the middle ground: scaly dry skin with a shiny layer of oil on top. Blech.

    If you're using soap and other cleansers, on your face or your body, chances are you're also using a lot moisturizer--especially in winter. You need to, right? Because otherwise your skin is the total opposite of soft and supple.

  2. Soaps (and moisturizers) tend to be full of chemicals--most of which haven't been adequately studied for safety. Cosmetics of every kind are full of chemicals -- just read the label on your body wash -- that are potentially toxic, either to humans or to the environment. And the bar for demonstrating product safety in the cosmetics industry is very low. (To look up the data on your own skin-care products, check out the Environmental Working Group's cosmetics database.) Even if you're not in any danger from your soap, keep in mind that it's all washing down the drain and back into the water supply and the environment. Why add any more stress than necessary to either your body or your ecological niche?

  3. Body wash, fancy soaps, and moisturizers are expensive. Not all soaps are pricey, of course, but in my experience, the cheaper the soap, the more moisturizer I need afterwards. So any cost-savings get balanced right out. But you know what really is cheap? No soap at all. Saves the cost of the you'll need w-a-y less moisturizer. I promise.


So how does this all work?

It's so easy. The key is exfoliation. You can't just stand under the water and hope for the best. No, no -- you still need to scrub. You'll just scrub without soap.

Use whatever you want -- a nice washcloth, a loofah, a body brush, a mesh scrubber-thingy, whatever works. But scrub down. Remove that top layer of dead and dying skin cells. Unless you've been rolling in axle grease or something, whatever incidental dirt you have on your body will slough right off.

If you're anything like me, the first few times you do this, you might not feel clean while you're actually in the shower. I associated "clean" with that tight-skin feeling that soap gives you, and of course, no soap, no tightness. You'll have to trust that you are clean. Hop out, dry yourself off, and wait 15 minutes. I guarantee you'll feel as squeaky clean as usual.

I expect there are some folks out there pursuing professions that will require soap. If your job (or hobby) involves grease or paint or other things that aren't water soluble, you might legitimately need soap to get clean.

But me, personally, I almost never get so dirty that I need soap. Even when I come home sweaty and muddy and disgusting from a cross-country run, it's nothing a little extra scrubbing can't take care. When you're sweaty and stinky, you might feel like you need soap -- but you probably don't.


Frequently asked questions about specific body parts

  1. What about my armpits?
    Nope, no soap necessary. Seems crazy, I know -- but hot water and a good washcloth should be just fine.
  2. What about my...private parts?
    Same answer -- just give everything a good, soap-free scrub. You should have no problems.
  3. What about my feet?
    If you're prone to smelly feet, it's very possible that no good will come from denying you your daily dose of antibacterial soap. That said, my feet sweat like nobody's business anytime they're in or on shoes (i.e. they'll sweat even in flip-flops, but as long as I'm barefoot, they're totally dry). I don't use soap on them and I haven't noticed that they're any smellier. (Sadly, they still sweat.) If your feet aren't generally smelly, I doubt you'll have any trouble. And even if you are prone to foot odor, you might not have any problems. Try it and see.

    Here's what I do for my feet: I use a super-awesome foot stone--the Tweezerman Pedro Callus Stone--which runs about $20 and is worth every penny. I use it on my feet almost every day and my feet (which are prone to some pretty hard-core callusing) are smoother than they've ever been. The Tweezerman does a fabulous job exfoliating, so I'm pretty confident that it's also getting my feet nice and clean. And like I said, no increase in smelliness.

  4. What about shaving my legs?
    If you're already using some kind of shave cream on your legs, you can just keep doing what you're doing. If you're lubricating with lathered soap, you'll need to make some changes.

    I recommend Alba Botanica Very Emollient Cream Shave. It works well, it's fairly moisturizing, and it's effective in fabulously small amounts. In fact, the more you use, the less well it works. So a bottle lasts a long time.

    I've also used Dr. Bronner's Organic Shave Gel, which has its perks. It lathers, so it feels more like shaving with soap, which is what I used to do. (The Alba cream is really just a cream, so it doesn't seem like it would work well. It does, but it surprises me that it does.) The Dr. Bronner's works just as well, but it's a bit more drying for my skin -- plus it's easier to use too much of it, so it goes a bit faster. And, the print on the container flakes off when it gets wet, so you'll end up with bits of colored plasticky stuff all over.

What to expect during your transition?

Unlike changing over to the oil-cleansing method or trying to ween yourself off shampoo, the switch to no-soap showers is pretty painless. You'll have to get used a new sense of what clean skin feels like -- the "clean" feeling of just-washed skin isn't really the feeling of cleanliness; it's the feeling of soap. Once you start to associate soap-free exfoliation with a clean feeling, you'll be good to go.

The other big change you might notice, if you currently use scented soaps and body washes, is that your skin will smell like skin--not like night-blooming jasmine or cucumber coconut. I don't personally consider that to be a bad thing -- I think my skin smells nice even without perfumes, and I used to wonder about exactly what the combination of my shampoo, conditioner, soap, and moisturizer scents was adding up to. This way, I know that my hair pretty much smells like my shampoo (yummy!) and the rest of me smells And if I use any kind of perfume, I don't need to worry about how it combines with my body wash.

So give the no-soap shower a try. You just might be surprised at how much you like it! And you can put your body wash savings to good use somewhere else.


What do you think? Will you give this a try?

  • Sign me up! And tell me more about going no 'poo!
  • I have some doubts, but I'll give it a go. Once.
  • No way, no how.
See results without voting

Comments 34 comments

njtp 3 years ago

My doctor prescribed me an oil based emollient and told me to cut out soap entirely :D After suffering with itchy, dry skin and losing months worth of sleep thanks to itching I've had chance to come to a conclusion where moisturizers are concerned too:

The rule with moisturizers is that if a doctor would prescribe if to an eczema sufferer, it's likely hypoallergenic. (Some people make a fuss about 'lanolin' perceiving it to be an irritant, and it can be but it's incredibly rare. The idea came about from a study in the 1950s, and of the sufferers of severe dermatitis and other skin conditions similar to that the lanolin that they were using (which wasn't anything like as purified as it should be) caused problems for only 1% of those people. But somewhere along the line it got taken to mean 1% of the general population, which magnifies the sensitizing nature of lanolin by as much as 6000% and is patently false).

Very important not to trust people with no scientific data, particularly those who advertise and deliberately do everything in their power to sell nonsense as science to mislead the public, i.e. the 'alternative medicine' crowd, who very usually are lacking in scientific understanding and most likely got their information from the real villains who spread mistrust of mainstream medicine and capitalize on it by exploiting the ignorant and gullible and the skincare industry in general respectively.

My journey to halting the suffering my skin was causing me (and still does though nowhere near like it used to) was also a journey of coming to understand the influences and forces involved in flogging 'skin care' products, the ignorance and often stubborn ignorance of some people - particularly those with some anti-pharma axe to grind and the importance of understanding and mastering a scientific level or mastery over reasoning and methodology in determining what is really true in order not to be duped or simply lost and incapable of finding treatments that work.

Through this journey I have come to understand that it's more important to get the message across about proper clarity of thinking through reason and logic than to spend time trying to dispel all the lies and misrepresentations out there be they from the 'skin care' industry or elsewhere, the best surfactant to snake oil is an educated populace.

My skin can rest easy now, and I hope yours can too! :)

Maci 3 years ago

Thank you so much for this information! I've gone suds free for my hair and face with tremendous results. I was looking for info about going no-poo in the rest of my cleansing. So glad I found your page here.

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 3 years ago from Western New York Author

Hi Maci -- Thanks for stopping by!

I'm a huge fan of no soap on the face (I use the oil cleansing method), but I've tried a couple different times to go no suds on the hair and I just can't make it work. Eventually my hair gets really heavy and starts absorbing so much water that I can't get it dried. But I'm glad to know that it works for some!

Let me know how the soap-free bod treats you. I'm betting you'll love it!

Lesleysherwood 3 years ago

This looks really good to try to I'm definitely going to do exactly that. I guess the most scary thing for me will be my hair as I tend to have greasy hair. I haven't used soap on my face since I was a teenager and have lovely clear skin now age 51. That was from something I read. I am saving this hub to refer back to. I might even let you know how it goes! Thank you for writing this. Love the idea of saving money too.

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 3 years ago from Western New York Author

Definitely give it a try! And do let me know how it goes.

I will say that I haven't managed to kick the shampoo habit. I've tried and I've made it six weeks or so -- but I have really fine blonde hair and it just gets darker and heavier and coarser. I've read about people who've had great success without the shampoo -- but I wonder if they just have a really different type of hair.

But no (body) soap is pretty easy. And really much, much cheaper!

Lesleysherwood 3 years ago

Okay, Im 3 days in and so far loving it. I think I'm taking more time and care solely because I'm not using soap. The hair isn't working out. You have described how my hair is feeling right now. Darker, heavier and coarser. I don't know whether to drop that and shampoo it in the morning. I usually shampoo every morning. Now I'm doing the same routing (scrubbing my hair with water) but no shampoo.

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 3 years ago from Western New York Author

Yay! I'm glad it's working for you.

On the hair -- it will be awful for at least a week. It'll get better...but mine never got enough better. Most people recommend "washing" with a baking soda/water mixture, then conditioning with a vinegar/water rinse. (There's a really great thread on where everyone gives their various recipes for doing this -- but in short, too much baking soda will dry your hair out and too much vinegar will make it feel greasy.) That mix takes care of the actual "cleaning" of your hair -- so mine didn't ever *feel* greasy --but it looked and felt different. And not in a good way. (I also tried washing with honey and rinsing with lemon juice. Better, but still not good.) Plus, after a month or so, it started absorbing tons of water -- so it took forever to blow dry and it could go all day without air-drying. *shudder* I don't know how people do it...

Keep me posted on how the experimentation goes!

Lesleysherwood 3 years ago

Well since I wrote the last comment I have definitely decided to persevere with the hair. I will just tie it back till it feels better (that's if the old man lets me lol). Thanks for the extra advice about the baking soda. If just using water doesn't work I will definitely give those a try before caving in to the 'poo' again. I will definitely feedback. I'm enjoying this. Its like being given freedom and permission to not spend money. Much prefer to buy an ice cream or coffee. PS. Are you a writer? Do you have your own site? If so, can I have the link?

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 3 years ago from Western New York Author

Hi Lesley,

I am a writer (or trying to be) and I do (sort of) have a site. It's about wine, though, so not so much related to these articles. (, though, if you're interested)

Definitely check out Cruchy Betty, if you're interested in homemade facial care and other cleaning-type stuff. She's completely entertaining and has tons of recipes and suggestions posted.

Lesleysherwood 3 years ago

Love your site. I just wish I loved wine. It gives my migraine, probably buying the cheap stuff. I also checked out Cruchy Betty. Thanks Lizlauder

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 3 years ago from Western New York Author

Oh, bummer. Wine headaches would make me sad. :)

Lesleysherwood 3 years ago

I hope you don't mind me cluttering up your hub, I just wanted to update. My body has no more eczema, itching or dry skin, I can't believe it and its not even been a week. I have still not used shampoo and am finding that my hair styles so much easier. I also went to a function over the weekend and everyone said my hair looked better than it had in ages. I still feel as though its dirty and stiff, but its having the same effect as gel. It really doesn't look greasy like I thought it would. I'm so pleased and would highly recommend giving it a go. So pleased I read your hub!!!!

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 3 years ago from Western New York Author

Not at all! I love knowing that someone's actually reading this.

And I'm so glad that the soap free is working for you. Kind of makes you wonder why we're all so soap fixated, huh?

So, please tell me all about your hair. Are you still using just water? And how do you normally wear your hair -- short or long? Mine's shoulder length and I don't usually do anything but blow-dry when it gets that weird stiff feeling it also looks really different. (Too me anyway.)

Please keep me posted on how your hair does! I'm dying to know if it stays good for you long-term. :)

Lesleysherwood 3 years ago

I scrub my hair every morning with water going through the same routine as before, only without the shampoo. My hair is shoulder length. I brush it and leave it, no blow drying. I am brushing a lot during the day. It seems to be getting thicker. Not sure if that's due to all the grease, ha ha. I can't get over how it just stays in place and the most important thing is (my husband hasn't noticed that im not using shampoo-he is a stickler for cleanliness - so if he doesn't think it looks dirty then that's fine by me). It isn't dirty really though as it gets thoroughly washed, scrubbed and brushed daily. I will report back here in 6 months. I hope I haven't caved in by then, but if I have, I will definitely let you know. The only reason I would give up would be because I miss the 'shiny' look.

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 3 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks, Lesley! I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. :)

sam 3 years ago

What about if your a veet user?

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 3 years ago from Western New York Author

Hey Sam,

I would think you could just go ahead and do whatever you normally do with Veet. I shouldn't think that soap or no-soap would impact it all.

CJ 3 years ago

I'd deodorant still nesessary?

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 3 years ago from Western New York Author

I suppose it depends on your definition of "necessary" .... but I definitely still wear it.

Morag 2 years ago

I don't use soap or shampoo to wash or shave, I have found that if I use body oil the razor glides beautifully and I end up with super soft skin afterwards. In addition I use my own home made deodorant, cider vinegar, witch hazel and 15 drops of essential oil.

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 2 years ago from Western New York Author

Oooh - tell me about your deodorant. That's on my list of things to try...but I haven't made the leap yet.

jilldickens 2 years ago

I have created my own deodorant out of Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil as the base with vegan wax, organic cornstarch, aluminum-free sodium bicarbonate & essential oils. It's biodegradable, vegan & it WORKS!!! Getting really great feedback if anyone here is interested.

Just got started this year!

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 2 years ago from Western New York Author

That's so awesome! I love it!

Suzi wong 2 years ago

ur Comment...can not use any chemical it is starting to burn me so Iam willing to try any thing

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 2 years ago from Western New York Author

There's lots of useful alternatives -- good luck finding something that works for you!

Vissy 2 years ago

Lemon juice in a spray bottle for deodorant. I've been using it for months (I've tried every brand and homemade recipe I could find and only one worked for me but it also burned my pits something horrible, I've still got a slight discoloring on one small spot from it). The lemon juice works better than any deodorant or anti-persperant I ever tried!

lizlauder profile image

lizlauder 2 years ago from Western New York Author

That's an awesome suggestion -- and SO MUCH EASIER than any other homemade deodorant recipe I've seen! I'll definitely give it a try!

Johnd783 2 years ago

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Will 23 months ago

I would like to say that THIS HUB IS AWESOME!!!

It really did fix my black pubes..... ( sorry about that )

Aldrin 18 months ago

I use hair gel all the time so should I use shampoo or not ?

love joy56 6 months ago

I been soap free for about two months now. My skin has really improve its no longer dry. I'm loving the new soap, shampoo, or Deodorant and I smell Fresh!

Tiffany 5 months ago

I am so going to try this! I have dry skin and break outs, and dry hair as well. Since my hair is so thin - like a baby - it is almost impossible to manage, so I usually use leave-in conditioner and sometimes a keratin leave-in treatment. I guess I will have to give these up if I am going no-soap/no-poo. I am hoping for the best.

Does anybody have any suggestions on what I should use in my hair as an alternative? Thanks!

Deva 5 months ago

If you want to go no poo just use mixed egg as shampoo. It's really great and was used to wash hair when shampoo didn't yet exist. Your hair will get oily often (transition period which is normal) but it is really great option and won't destroy the hair like other options could and will leave you hair silky and easy to brush. I'm preparing with my hub to get a baby soon, so I just decided to get away from all the chemicals and keep my organism healthy. When I get out, if I want my hair to get a nice smell i just put water and few drops of essential oil in spray bottle and put on my hair. Same thing for my body (cuz i wash it with water only, and what's important it's that it is 100% natural). I use natural oils like coconut (like cream before I go to bed), olive or even sunflower oil (which I use to clean my face, then i put a hot towel on for 2 times and then just remove oil with same towel). I can tell I'm really happy with this and my hair and skin are better than ever. You could try and see if it works for you, I really hope it does!

Amanda 3 weeks ago

I stumbled across this article and found it quite interesting! I myself have tried ditching chemicals of all sorts during the past few years. I currently use oil and scrub gloves to shower. It works wonderfully.

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