A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 1)

A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 1)

If food is the most common source of disposable single-use plastic in the house, then bathroom products must be the second. Thing is, they don’t need to be! This two-part guide has tips for how you can reduce plastic packaging in the bathroom, and ditch a lot of dubious synthetic chemicals in the process.

In Part 1 I’m covering the basics: simple swaps, things to think about and what has worked for me. In Part 2 I’ll be covering the dilemmas that we women face – including makeup, shaving and that time of the month.

Buy in Bulk

Buying from bulk stores is the easiest way to transition to plastic-free, if they are an option for you. When I began my plastic-free journey, I found bulk shampoo, bulk conditioner, bulk liquid soap and bulk oil, so I switched to these. Now I’ve simplified even more…read on!

Switch to Bar Everything

Solids are much easier to find plastic-free as they can be sold loose, wrapped in paper or sold in tins, so if you don’t have access to a bulk store switch from liquids to bars! Bar soap is a great replacement for liquid soap, and you can find great products that are gentle enough to use on your face if you look around.

Homemade soaps are having a bit of a revival, so see if you can find someone who makes soap locally as you will be able to chat to them about exactly what ingredients their soaps contain.

Natural Handmade Bar SoapIt’s also possible to find bar shampoo, bar conditioner, bar deodorants and even bar sunscreen! I’ve only ever used bar soap but plenty of people I know use bar shampoo and love it!

Cut Down on the Number of Products You Use

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics estimate that on average, an American woman uses 12 personal care products every day, and a man uses 6 daily. That’s 12 separate containers, and 12 items to try to find plastic free!

Before I switched to plastic-free, I would have a separate face wash and shower gel. Now I buy one good quality block of natural, handmade soap that has a high oil content (combined olive oil and coconut oil soaps are fairly easy to find) which I use for my face and in the shower.

Rather than a separate face and body moisturizer, I now use one product for both.

I stopped buying separate hair gel and (after shampooing and conditioning as normal) started rubbing a small amount of conditioner into my hair (and leaving it in) as a replacement – I found it works just as well. That was before I began my bicarb and vinegar hair experiment – now I don’t use anything at all.

Are there any products you could double-up on, or anything that isn’t really necessary that you could do without?

Replace Your Exfoliator with a Body Brush

I used to buy exfoliating scrubs until I realised that a body brush was far better. Dry body brushing is great for improving circulation, stimulating lymph glands and removing dead skin cells…and there’s no packaging, microbeads, drain-clogging ingredients or chemical ingredients to decipher.

dry body brush Body Shop FSC CROPPEDThe brushes usually have wooden handles and cactus bristles so are completely plastic free. The idea is you use long sweeping strokes towards the heart, either before or after a shower.

Consider Using Oils

After struggling to find moisturiser and cleanser in plastic-free packaging, I decide to switch to oil. Not oil-based products, but oil. Just one ingredient. Or maybe two, if it’s a blend.

Most lotions are a blend of water and oil, with an emulsifier to make it mix properly and a whole pile of other stuff chucked in there for good measure. Because they contain water, they also need to contain preservatives. Plus, a good proportion of what you’re paying for is water.

Oils are the part that have the moisturizing properties, so why not just use oils?

If you’re thinking oh, but won’t that make my skin oily?, actually no. Oils mimic the skin’s natural sebum. Oil cleansing is far better to clean your face than water, because oil dissolves grease, whereas water does not (like dissolves like).

If you’re thinking, but won’t it clog my pores?, again, no, although it depends on what oil you use and your skin type. All oils have a comedogenic rating, which measures how likely they are to clog pores. If you have oily skin you will be better able to cope with oils that have a higher comedogenic rating. Drier skin has smaller pores and prefer oils with lower comedogenic ratings.

Sweet Almond Oil and Jojoba Oil

I’ve tried hemp oil, but it left a green tinge on my face and stained all my towels green. Many people recommend coconut oil, but I haven’t tried this – its comedogenic rating is quite high. Now I stick to almond, jojoba and rosehip oils for my dry skin. I can get refills for the bottles (so no new packaging) and you need such a small amount each time, they last for ever.

Oil can also be a great treatment for hair, but it’s not something I’ve tried.

Make Your Own – No Experience or Equipment Necessary!

Some products are really simple to make at home. I make my own toothpaste and deodorant using coconut oil, bicarb and essential oil, pretty much. You just mix the ingredients together in a pot and voila! I checked the toothpaste recipe with my dentist, and the deodorant one is a keeper because it actually works.

deo9jpg

I love that I can use bicarb for three different bathroom products (counting the shampoo, too)!

Tooth Brushing

I use a bamboo toothbrush, that comes in a cardboard box. The bristles are plastic. Once the toothbrush is life-expired (you know because the bristles come out in chunks) you can soak the brush in water to release the rest of the bristles, and then compost the wooden handle.

Bamboo toothbrush unassembled

There you have it – Part 1 of my guide to reducing plastic in the bathroom. In Part 2 I’ll be covering all the additional dilemmas that women face when giving up plastic – makeup, shaving, and what to do at that time of the month, so make sure you come back and check it out!

I’d love to hear from you! Have you already taken any of these steps, or there ideas there that you think you’d be able to adopt? Are there any other plastic-free alternatives you can suggest? What works for you? Join the conversation and leave a comment below : )

58 Responses to A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 1)

  1. Thanks for this! I had no idea about oils different comedogenic ratings. We don’t have bulk oils or refills where I live but when I’m done with my current moisturizer, I’ll definitely try an oil one.

    • It’s really interesting, isn’t it? If you don’t have access to bulk stores, you could pick an oil you find in bigger quantities, like olive oil. I got sunburnt recently (oops) and I used that to stop my skin drying out : )

    • Face creams are heavily marketed – everyone wants to look like the glamorous model in the photo and will pay the premium price for skin that soft. The marketing costs are reflected in the price: those glamorous models don’t come cheap! You aren’t necessarily paying for better ingredients, you’re paying the wages of the starlet in the picture.

      Generally body moisturisers contain more water than face moisturisers (particularly lotions), but often the actual ingredients are the same. I would simply say try some out and see what you think! Eye moisturizer differs slightly in that they have far more chemical preservatives in them, as do baby moisturizers (you’d expect it to be the other way round, wouldn’t you?!)

  2. I’ve just started using coconut oil to remove my make-up and it works well. However I didn’t know about comedogenic ratings, perhaps I’ll look at one of the other oils instead. Deodorant is next on my list of things to try making myself. Thanks for this post!

    • I’ve used coconut oil to remove make-up but I don’t wear it daily, so I found it fine. Depends on whether you suffer from blocked pores?! I think it’s good to be able to combine bathroom and kitchen products ; P

      Good luck with the deodorant making, I’d love to hear how you get on and what you think!

  3. 12 personal care products daily….? I can’t even imagine what they would be.

    The ridiculous thing about going down this route is that we are not doing anything new. People seem to think a bar of soap is a novel idea. Liquid soap is something that only appeared in my lifetime!!!

    What did your dentist say about the recipe? I just use a paste of bicarbonate of soda and water.

    • I hadn’t really thought about it! I guess there’s day cream and night cream and eye cream, and body lotion and deodorant and perfume, and shampoo and conditioner and hair styling gel, and treatments maybe… phew, I’m still not at 12! And if that’s the average, and peeps like you and me are no way near that, then there must be people using huge numbers of products! The mind boggles!

      Haha, you are so right! In part 2 I talk about…flannels. Soap and a flannel. Groundbreaking…or not! It’s what I used as a kid! How do we forget? (Answer = marketing)

      What the dentist said: in essence she said bicarb is an abrasive, so good, glycerine or coconut as a base, so good, clove oil is antibacterial (but too much makes your teeth numb), so good (and she actually still uses clove oil on occasion as a dentist), and extra salt was unnecessary. She also said most people who suffer from enamel damage is due to using a toothbrush that is too harsh, and that soft bristles are better. Had a dentist appointment with her a couple of months ago, and everything was in perfect order : )

  4. Love all the ideas! I have been using homemade deodorant for about a year now and it works well. You have inspired me to try and find the compostable toothbrush….the plastic ones I change every 3 months (we are 5) so that should make a difference. Had tried to make my own toothpaste a while back but my teeth are so sensitive that I needed to go back to Sensodyne :(

    Sandy

    • Sounds like you’re making great progress! Compostable toothbrushes seem to be more commonplace these days, and I’ve also noticed a few places selling brushes with interchangable heads…another option and better than replacing your toothbrush every three months! Sorry to hear the toothpaste didn’t work for you…still, we can’t have it all! ; )

  5. Great list, and yes I have adopted quite a few of these myself. The only plastic left in my bathroom is my razor but when that is expired it too will be replaced with non-plastic. I have been using coconut oil for my skin but after reading what you had to say on the oils I may switch to a lighter oil especially in winter when my skin gets really dry.

    The only thing I dislike about my bamboo toothbrush is having the bristles come out in my mouth. ;-) Recently, I’ve been hearing about formaldehyde in the bamboo but haven’t researched it myself. Are you concerned at all about this for yourself?

    • That reminds me – I do still have a plastic comb! (I remember your post about that a while ago). Better to use up what we have (unless it’s unsafe, of course). Let me know how you get on with other oils. Coconut oil isn’t particularly cheap so you might find a more suitable one that’s less expensive too? Let me know how you get on.

      I agree completely with you regarding the bamboo toothbrushes. I’ve been using for over two years, but i hate the mouthfuls of bristles I always end up with, plus as they disintegrate the bristles go down the sink, so I’m adding plastic to the waterways : ( I’m investigating toothbrushes with replaceable heads at the moment – I’ll let you know how I get on.

      As for the handles, I don’t know enough but I know with bigger bamboo products like chopping boards the glues can be an issue. I’d like to believe that the handles are one piece, but that doesn’t mean it’s true…

  6. Opps, I did forget one plastic in my bathroom. I have a small prescription bottle that I use when traveling to carry my baking soda.

  7. Good reminders for all. I get my shampoo and conditioner in the bulk aisle as well. I tried to do no-poo and shampoo bars but after weeks and weeks I was still itchy & oily so went back to this route. I always buy soap with zero packaging – funny how the world thinks it has to be wrapped in something, it’s soap :) I also get my vitamins from companies who package in glass bottles since plastic is only downcycled and glass is the most easily and commonly recycled material out there. On the subject of toothbrushes, my husband and I both have the kind with the replaceable head, so the handle never ever gets disposed of. Minimizing products is huge – I wear no cosmetics regularly, just a good SPF moisturizer on my face and neck and hands, with a lipstick for special occasions. I just cannot handle putting stuff on my face that covers up the real me :)

    • Seems to me that all the people that get on best with bicarb / no poo have curly hair – after years of cursing there is a plus side after all! Great that you’ve got access to bulk aisles. Totally hear you on the soap front – so much unnecessary packaging out there!

      I’m looking into disposable head toothbrushes too – the bamboo ones lose bristles which is offputting. Is there a brand you use and recommend…or any you don’t?

      Minimising products makes so much difference! Find your necessities, and get rid of the other stuff! Sounds like you have a great balance : )

  8. I use solid shampoo – love it! I strangely revert to plastic bottle minis for travel though, as like a soap, it’s hard to get the shampoo bar ‘dry’ between uses when travelling, and the tin can harbour moisture. I don’t generally moisturise, but of course have a bottle or two on hand to ‘use up’. With respects to face wash – I use Cetaphil, and have forever. Whilst it does come in plastic, I’ve had the same pump pack for coming up three years, which I think is an impressive life for something I use 1-2 times a day! Not perfect, but definitely again a ‘use it up’ still being used up since I started this zero waste journey.

    • My husband uses solid shampoo as he has very sensitive skin and bicarb doesn’t do him any favours. (That said, even without that excuse, I’m not sure he’d go down the vinegar bicarb path…)

      We always have to plan logistics when travelling with wet soap! If we hire a car, leave on the dashboard. If that’s not an option, wrap in a sock!

      It’s amazing how long it takes to use stuff up! Goes to show that we spend / waste far too much money on products we don’t need! Once you’ve used the pump pack up, are you gonna make a break, or stick with it?!

      • Mum (years ago) replaced the pump pack of face wash, so a long way from finding an alternative.

        I have a bamboo toothbrush and none of the issues you had, and bought here in Australia too – It’s an Environmental Toothbrush, and I’ve used it long enough that bristles would have fallen out (I replaced it cause they were too splayed) Must attempt to compost it now – will soak the bristles.

  9. Love it, thanks :) I am about to move house so looking at the amount of stuff we have to pack and wondering why we need it all anyway! Will have a look at making own shampoo. I’ve been making my own soap with my kid and he gets super excited about it.

    You can make your own cold cream out of beeswax and rose water – I have a recipe but still haven’t gotten to it. Cold cream can work as a cleanser and a mosturiser. Also mooncups are awesome for that time of the month, I have used them for over 15 years and never looked back. http://www.mooncup.co.uk

    In New Zealand Ecostore offer everything in bulk and delivered, or in 20L help yourself bulk in participating stores,and are trialing special recycling stations at schools so they can recycle their bottles and milk bottles into laundry scoops and other things. My weakness is baby stuff – I have a baby and a three year old both with eczema and I find myself with many bottles of moisturiser, special no fragrance shampoo, sleepytime bath etc for them. I could probably just use the same for everyone but it’s easy to get buying when you’re kids are scratching themselves raw. Maybe I will get going with that cold cream recipe… :)

    • Thanks Jo! Moving house is such an eye-opener for all the stuff we have that we don’t ever use! Love that you’re making soap and getting your kids involved – that is so cool!

      I really should look into making my own skincare products, but I don’t have time to do everything (sadly) and it’s just not enough of a priority for me right now. If you fancy sending me the recipe though, Id be very interested! (You can email me at hello@treadingmyownpath.com).

      I have a Diva Cup which is basically the same thing as the MoonCup – I bought my first one in 2003! (I had to replace it after I boiled it dry and wrecked it, but also you apparently need a new size once you’re over 30…) I talk about that in Part 2 which is now up on the blog.

      I buy a lot of Ecostore products at my bulk bin store. I love how they are making it accessible for people – I just wish more stores would get on board! I can’t comment on having kids of course, but I can only begin to imagine the additional challenges you face! Still, you sound very committed to me. i read an interesting book about chemicals in skincare (written by a chemist) and he said a lot of baby products are actually worse, because of the extra preservatives – they cause irritation. Maybe you should look at the skindeep.org database, and compare some of the ingredients in these products? I’m not saying they are bad – but sometimes we make assumptions, and actually the reality is very different. (The book is called Cosmetics Unmasked by Stephen Antczak)

      Love to hear how you get on, and if you make that cold cream… : )

  10. I’m definitely sold on oils in place of moisturiser. I got given some rosehip oil (packaged in glass) and it is fantastic. It does a great job but its nice and light. I hate even the slightest greasy feeling. It looks expensive but it lasts for ages. I won’t be going back.

    • That’s definitely true about oils, they seem expensive because of the small bottles but they last for ages! Lotions and moisturisers have water to bulk them, so you need to apply so much more to do the same job – a false economy, really. Glad to have you on our side ; )

  11. Thanks for this article, plastic in the bathroom still stumps me at times! I’ll have to try your toothpaste recipe, although I read once that a lot of glycerine sold is made from petrochemicals. Wikipedia doesn’t help me understand enough & I’m unsure enough of the sources of what I can get that I might just stick to coconut oil. I l remember reading about your first experiment with soaking your toothbrush to remove the bristles and have tried it myself to no result. Such chagrin! I try to avoid makeup, but I agree that oil is a really good makeup remover when I do have to use it :)

    You already know that I wash my hair with soap and a vinegar rinse (my skin seems to react to bicarb). I use deodorant crystals which are hard to buy without plastic casing in Australia, but we discovered on a trip that they’re sold in bulk in Morocco so I have a lifetime’s supply now ;) I have pretty oily skin so I usually don’t bother with moisturising, but when exfoliating my face I use a mix of lathered up soap and bicarb as a scrub then rinse it off with lukewarm water.

    I once looked into eco-floss and it seems to be a toss up between nylon floss in a recyclable container (hmmm nylon doesn’t break down easily) or silk floss in a possibly plastic container (I’m vego, so I don’t know how I feel about the silk…).

    • Glycerine is also a by-product of soap, so if it’s from plant oil based soap then you’d be fine. Knowing whether it is or not is another matter entirely! I think you can buy glycerine that’s labelled as plant-based, but the one in my cupboard doesn’t specify – i bought it right at the start of my plastic-free journey.

      Bamboo toothbruses are a pain, I agree. I mentioned in a previous comment response that i’m looking into brushes with disposable heads, because I’m fed up with bristles going down the drain and into the waterways.

      Floss is a tricky one. I don’t floss really, I’m sure I should but I don’t. Silk floss sounds good – I didn’t even know it existed – but doesn’t fit with the vegan thing for sure. It’s never easy, is it?!

  12. Thank you for this comprehensive overview of plastic-free care products!

    In terms of soap and shampoo bars, I have tried quite a few different ones. I started out with Lush products, but after reading a book about chemicals in care products, I realized that Lush products aren’t as green as their appear. My advice would be to always check the ingredient list of any product your are buying. If there is no list, I don’t buy the product. Unfortunately and to my surprise, I found that small scale soap makers often don’t list their ingredients.

    Another advice would be to only buy a product if the ingredient list is short and if you know and can pronounce the ingredients. So no cetearyl alcohol or PEG-100 stearate for me.

    After a number of failed experiments with different soap bars, I have settled for Nablus soap. Unfortunately, it is no longer available offline where I live, so I buy it online. It comes only in a carton board box though, no plastic packaging. Their most basic soap is made of olive oil, coconut oil, sodium hydroxide, and water. I used to have a very dry skin, but this has gotten much better since using Nablus soap.

    • I agree completely! Although one thing to add, with things like home-made soap, sometimes there are so few ingredients that you look for the list and miss it! Kinda like with the one you buy now. I’m always dubious of anything with colour added, particularly if it doesn’t say what it is. Also, coconut fragrance is always artificial (if you’ve ever used real coconut oil you know it doesn’t have that strong a fragrance!) Also, vanilla is commonly artificial too – two to avoid!

      I would add, anything with palmitate or any other palm oil derivatives are worth avoiding unless you support deforestation in Borneo and the extinction of orangutans – which most readers probably don’t!

      Thanks so much for your comment Annemieke! : )

      • Controversially, I think palm oil is an ethically tricky one. I grew up in Papua New Guinea, where palm oil is one of the main cash crops. There are plenty of well established palm oil plantations that must be older than I am (40+ years). It goes without saying that the people in Papua New Guinea have a much lower standard of living than us and this has real effects like high infant mortality. I don’t support chopping down rainforests to plant palm oil. But I wonder why its okay to use canola oil instead, just because the forests were chopped down some time ago and it makes us in the first world richer (a lot of Canola is grown in North America). I guess what bugs me is the first world saying we destroyed our forests sometime ago so that’s okay, but we don’t want you in the third world to make a living off your land. I think the solution to this, and biggest issue of climate change, is for the first world to take more responsibility for the destruction we have caused and pay the third world to protect what’s left.

        • I should add I don’t advocate using palm oil! I just want people to see the hypocrisy in what the first world advocates and the need to do something to help the third world develop more sustainably than we have.

  13. Hi Lindsay,

    Thanks for all those ideas to live without plastic. I have started only a few months ago and find it more difficult to do it here in WA than in Europe. Where in Perth do you get refills for almond, jojoba and rosehip oils ? Would love to visit this shop ! I am planning to do homemade soap soon but still need moisturiser for my dry skin as well.

    Thanks a lot.

    Isabelle

    • Hi Isabelle, thanks for your comment! It’s interesting, because lots of my readers from Europe tell me that I’m so much luckier over here! ; ) I think that Manna in Fremantle has refills for almond oil (they definitely do Castillo soap), but I go to a lady in Averley who runs a company called Earth Products. She mostly sells at markets, but she opens her house which has a little shop on Wednesdays, and if you go there she can refill bottles for you. She’s not an official refill store, but I asked and she said yes! Plus she gives me a discount for the packaging saved! I also buy soap in 2kg blocks from her : )

  14. Hi Lindsay, I just read part two on this subject and was going to comment but your comments are closed on that post so I thought I would add my thoughts here instead.

    I too have a plastic, disposable razor which I will replace with something better when the time comes. I’ve extended the life of the blades by wiping them on a piece of old denim. I heard this from someone a while back and it really does work. You wipe the blade the opposite way from how you shave.

    I love your cotton cloths. I’m lazy I just grab a rag from the rag basket to use for washing my face and toss it in the laundry. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a good replacement for cotton swabs?

    • Hi Lois, thanks so much for letting me know – it has taken me all day today to get it working again!

      I think wiping, keeping out of moisture and keeping clean is the key. Sure the blades aren’t very sharp, but I’m not trying to look like those girls in the ads anyway ; p

      They were a gift – I’m just as lazy as you are! Still you have a sewing machine so you have less of an excuse!

      PS Comments is fixed so if you did want to go over there and leave a comment feel free – the page seems kinda lonely right now!

  15. You’re so right, we need to cut down on the number of cosmetics/toiletries products we use. I mean, in my grandma’s era it was one cream fits all instead of a cream for every body part!

    I found shea butter on Etsy and when I asked for plastic-free the lady offered a return-the-tub service and she’ll refill it – I wish more shops would do that!
    At some point I must try your toothpaste recipe – clove oil sounds great in paste (commercial mint pastes are just too strong for me, know what i mean?)
    Keep up the good eco work!
    Leanne x

    • I’m all for bringing back the “one cream fits all” approach!

      I wanted to get shea butter to do some more experimenting with my own homemade products, but I haven’t ever seen it in bulk. I should look on Etsy. It’s great to hear that you’ve found a seller who offers refills!

      Thanks for your comment Leanne, and good luck with the toothpaste! : )

  16. I have teenagers and so frequently buy clearasil cream (not the scrub because it has microbeads). My question is, are there any effective plastic free acne treatments?

    I am trying to reduce plastic consumption but life with teenagers makes it very difficult!

    • Hi Rosehips and Rhubarb – thanks for your comment! Teenage acne is a tricky one, as the main cause is thought to be hormones – so actually diet and reduced stress are really important considerations! Tea tree oil is effective at drying out spots once they appear – you can buy the oil in a glass bottle and use a cotton bud to apply directly onto spots. The literature says that the best way to deal with oily skin is actually cleaning using oil rather than chemical products like Clearasil that strip the natural oils and cause the skin to replenish them fast – making spots! But convincing your teenagers of this may be easier said than done…!

  17. Hi. I use coconut oil with a little rose hip oil for my face and body moisturiser. It works beautifully and is cost effective as a little goes a long way.

  18. I love coconut oil – moisturiser and as a cleanser it’s all I use now and I have been for maybe 3 months or more.
    Hair colour is a difficult one for reducing waste! I use organic powders – more time consuming but easy on the wallet – however they do come with gloves and a showercap – still far less plastic than a traditional home dye kit. I’m unaware of any hairdressers using something similar and certainly with less plastic.

      • Lucky you! Prepare yourself ;)
        LUSH do do hair dyes but it was either black – too dark or a brown that turned my lighter hair (AKA grey) orange which wasn’t so nice – the Logona colour range is quite good and I get better each time at using it – maybe I can suggest they produce a reusable kit for the gloves/hair cap so they can sell the powders separately.

          • Just go grey. There is no shame in it. My hair was red and even at 53 I still have a lot of colour but I would never dye it. I have a lovely friend, whose hair is completely grey but in beautiful condition and she is in her 70’s and still has middle to long hair. Forget about the colour and just keep it in good condition.

  19. I’ll do my best!!! By the way – with coconut oil I use extra virgin rather than ‘cosmetic grade’ which may make a difference in the efficacy of the product as my sole moisturiser/cleanser.

  20. Love this blog! I had a question. Are there any bar soaps and shampoos for kids that you can suggest? Or the ones for adults are good for them too? Thanks!

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