Even Biodegradable Soap Can Pollute Water Sources


We really need to clear up some misconceptions about biodegradable soap. There are many people out there with good intentions who are using biodegradable camp soap or shampoo when camping or backpacking thinking that it is good for the environment. Biodegradable soaps are preferred over other soaps but should still be used at least 200 feet from any water sources.

All soaps, unfortunately even biodegradable ones, can contaminate fresh water sources.
Using a biodegradable soap doesn't reduce its immediate environmental impact...
..it just means that the soap will biodegrade in time.

What does biodegradable mean? Well by definition it means capable of being decomposed by biological agents like bacteria. Materials are usually deemed biodegradable if they break down to at least 90% h2O, CO2 and biomass within 6 months, although some materials may take years to biodegrade. Keep in mind that biodegradability doesn't necessarily mean environmentally friendly.

biodegradable soap distance

Biodegradable Camp Soap :

  • Biodegradable soap is NOT biodegradable when it ends up in a river or lake because it requires soil for it to breakdown properly.
  • Biodegradable soap is NOT NATURAL.... it is a chemical.
  • If you wouldn't want to drink it then keep it out of water sources.

What to use instead of Biodegradable Soap :

  • Use a washcloth.
  • Hot water and a little scrubbing can clean mostly anything.
  • Scrub dirt or grime away with wet sand and/or tiny pebbles.
  • Use alcohol based waterless hand sanitizers to kill germs.
  • Soap is not 100% necessary for good personal hygiene

If you feel you must use soap :

biodegradable soap
  • Make sure that any brands of biodegradable soap you use are actually biodegradable and phosphate-free.
  • Be sure to use biodegradable soap sparingly.
  • Do all washing, bathing, or cleaning at least 200 feet from any water sources.
  • Dispose of soapy wash and rinse water in a cathole 6 inches deep to allow bacteria in the soil to completely biodegrade the soap.

I don't use any soap whatsoever when backpacking. Washcloths work great. I prefer to keep chemicals out of the backcounty. For me this includes insect repellents and deodorant. My philosophy is that if I wouldn't want to drink it then I won't use it. I wouldn't appreciate it if chemicals washed off somebody washing upstream while I'm filtering water downstream. I swim a lot, so since I don't want to drink chemicals I wouldn't want to contaminate the water for anyone else.

Guess where I do use biodegradable soap? I use it at home instead of regular detergents. Hey I try to be "green" and lessen my environmental footprint any way I can.

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