Are Soaps Biodegradable? (And Do They Expire?)

Soaps are essential household items we cannot do without. Statistics even show that the US is one of the largest consumers of soap, with 273.23 million users last year.

Beyond cleaning our bodies with these soaps, some of them offer a variety of amazing scents. We have them in vanilla, strawberry, apple, among many others; sometimes, a good soap is all you need to smell great all day.

However, while we’re enjoying testing all these soaps, have we ever stopped to consider if they’re good for the environment? Put straightforward – are soaps biodegradable? Well, if you’d like to know, then please, read on. We have loads of interesting information about homemade and store-bought soap.

Let’s get started!

Do Soaps Biodegrade?

It’s important to consider the impact everything you do has on the environment in the long run. That’s why most environmentally conscious people opt for the conventional soap – soap bars that you can lather directly with your fingers to produce suds.

They don’t need to come in plastic bottles like the liquid ones, which reduces our plastic consumption.

Now, it’s only reasonable also to stop to consider our other options, which are bar soaps. Are they biodegradable? What sort of impact does their consumption have on our environment?

First, you need to know what makes an item biodegradable. It has to be capable of getting broken down fast under the right conditions. Microorganisms aid this process, and it’s only the materials they can successfully break down that count as biodegradable.

So, are soaps biodegradable? Well, the answer is relative – some soaps are biodegradable while some others aren’t. For instance, store-bought soaps have ingredients like triclocarban and triclosan. Microorganisms can’t break down these chemicals, and they won’t break down naturally either.

These chemicals are antibacterial agents used to make soaps. However, they also have side effects like hormonal disruptions and muscle weakness, so you can certainly do without them. Also, since they won’t break down, the environment can do without them.

A typical soap needs only three essential ingredients; water, oil and sodium hydroxide. So, if you want a store-bought soap that’s biodegradable, then choose one with the lowest number of added ingredients.

After all, a biodegradable soap only needs at least 90% of its ingredients to break down 6 months after use.

Is Dove Soap Biodegradable?

As we’ve mentioned earlier, your soap is biodegradable only when it breaks down completely 6 weeks after you dispose of it. But again, we’re certain you know that disposal here means that when you’re done with your shower or washing your hands and the suds wash down the drain.

When the suds make their way down the drain, they begin a journey to water treatment facilities. The same applies to Dove Soap when you use it.

Now, the essential ingredients in soaps are already biodegradable – oil, lye, and water. The other ingredients aren’t important, and the more they are, the more their chances of not being biodegradable.

Unilever, the brand responsible for Dove Soap isn’t particularly divulging information about whether or not the beauty soap is biodegradable. However, they claim that the materials they use for production are 100% tolerant of the environment.

So, even if Dove Soap isn’t biodegradable, it won’t harm the environment when it comes in contact with it.

But again, when you inspect the ingredients present in Dove Soap, you won’t find materials like phosphate, triclocarban and triclosan. These materials are bad for the environment and won’t biodegrade with the other ingredients.

Is Ivory Soap Biodegradable?

Another very common soap is from the Ivory brand. Again, it’s excellent if you have sensitive skin, and it comes in different colors and flavors.

It’s been around for more than a century and has won the hearts of many Americans. However, it’s becoming increasingly important that we save our environment. Of course, that also extends to the impact any item we use has on the environment.

Now, many Americans use Ivory soap, so is it biodegradable? Or does it contain materials that won’t break down when they come in contact with the environment?

It’s a bar soap, which is one feature in its favor. This feature makes it unnecessary for manufacturers to produce plastic bottles that house liquid soaps. Instead, they can package it in the paper, which is biodegradable.

Okay, when you want to go camping, is Ivory soap a great option for camping soap? Well, it most certainly is!

Ivory soap is made from completely natural ingredients, which is one of the factors you need to look out for when you’re determining if a bar of soap is biodegradable or not. Natural factors will break down fast, and during the process, these ingredients won’t leave a terrible impact on the environment.

Ivory soap doesn’t contain ingredients like triclosan and phosphate, and these are some of the worst ingredients for making soap. They don’t break down; they’ll remain in the environment for a very long time.

So, Ivory soap checks off that requirement. It’s also pocket-friendly, and consumers are usually grateful because it’s much more affordable than other biodegradable soaps.      

Does Soap Break Down in the Environment?

Soap is one of the items we use every day, as mentioned earlier. That’s why it’s very important that the ingredients manufacturers use to make them are environmentally sensitive.

So now, does it break down in the environment? Well, numerous studies have been conducted to find out the kind of impact soap has on the environment. Fortunately, they’ve all revealed that soap breaks down long before it can wreak any havoc on the environment.

However, you could also ensure that you only opt for biodegradable soap. You can make it yourself or buy a brand that specializes in producing biodegradable soap. This type of soap has the least number of ingredients, which are all-natural.

On the other hand, it’s also possible to wonder if that bar of soap you forgot at your camping site when you last visited has broken down. If you’ve been burdened with that guilt, then it’s time to let go of it. Rest assured; it’s broken down already, especially if it’s been more than six months already.

But again, it also depends on the brand. For example, some soaps will break down very fast because they only contain water, lye, and essential oils for scent.

Do Soaps Expire?

If you’re thinking of bulk purchasing your toiletries, you may want to leave out soaps because they expire. Did that come as a shock to you? Well, if it did, you aren’t the only one.

Soaps fall under the items regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and the items in their care tend to have expiry dates.

Now, why does soap have an expiry date? Well, it’s because some of the ingredients used in making them can go rancid and develop mold.

However, even when the expiry date on your soap has lapsed, you may still be able to use it. Typically, soaps can last as long as two years, but did you know they can last even longer?

There’s a test for this theory – when you rub the bar between your hands, if it still lathers like before, then it’s still good. So, if it has some benefits to offer your skin, it may still be effective in that regard.

There are several ways to know when your soap has expired, and you shouldn’t use it again. First, if it’s cracked, then it’s time to throw it away. But, of course, we aren’t talking about that crack that appears when you’ve used the soap repeatedly.

Instead, we’re referring to the cream that appears when the soap has been exposed to air for too long without use.

At this point, it’s certainly lost its essential oils, which leads us to the second way of finding out. When your soap loses its scent, it could also mean it’s expired. The accent is from the essential oils, and they evaporate when they’ve been exposed to air for too long.

Finally, when you find orange spots on your soap, it’s a sign that it is expired.

Expired soap won’t have any negative effect on your body. You can still use it, and it’ll still be effective in killing the germs on your body. As long as it lathers properly, the germs will slide right off.

So, the only time you may throw away your soap is when it doesn’t lather anymore – at this point, you know it’s already served its purpose.

Do Soaps Contain Animal Fat?

Tallow or animal fat is one of the essential ingredients that used to be in the soap until recently. We don’t exactly know when soap was discovered, but most of the recipes passed down from one generation to another contained animal fat.

Soap is created from the chemical reaction between alkali and fat. Lately, however, soaps are now made synthetically, which means they don’t need animal fat anymore. But again, when you visit some stores, you can still find soaps that contain tallow.

The most common animal fat that’s used to make soap is from cows and sheep. If you’ve ever been to a butcher’s shop, then the whitish, fatty substance that’s on the meat is what’s called tallow, and if you want to make your own homemade, conventional soap, then you can use tallow.

To make soap that contains animal fat, you need sodium hydroxide and water. Typically, when making biodegradable soap, you need essential oils, water, and sodium hydroxide or lye. However, since you’re using animal fat, then you don’t need the essential oils anymore.

Now, you might think that the presence of animal fat in your soap will give it a strange smell. But again, the reverse is the case, and when you mix your ingredients properly and follow the right recipe, all you’ll get is an effective, environmentally sensitive soap with a mild smell.

Of course, you can also include your favorite essence to improve the smell. You can also include some coloring, but the fewer the additional ingredients, the lower your chances of developing an allergic reaction.

This type of soap is better than store-bought soap because it contains fewer ingredients, which means there are fewer chances of your skin getting irritated. Soaps that contain tallow also last longer and produce more lather.


The average bar of soap can last somewhere between four to six wells when you use it alone. So that means you’d be using somewhere between eight to twelve bars of soap yearly.

Now, since individual consumption is that high, we must find out the effect soap has on our environment.

In this article, we’ve explored the biodegradability of soap and whether the popular choices like Dove and Ivory are excellent for the environment. So please, read up and make environmentally friendly decisions.

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.