Differences between soap and detergent — and why it matters
The differences between soap and detergent affect how your skin looks and feels. Find out why — and which one you need in your shower.
We field a ton of questions about what makes our soap different than the ones you can pick up where you buy your groceries. We’ve talked about why natural soap means so much to our company, and we’d like to point out some of the differences between soap and detergent. Hint: some of what you’re buying out there is actually detergent — and your skin isn’t a load of laundry.
What do soap and detergent have in common?
Most of the time, consumers separate “soap” and “detergent” based on which room the product is used in. Soap gets tossed into showers and on the edges of sinks, and detergent ends up in the dishwasher and the washing machine. Both products are classified as surfactants, or surface active agents, which basically means they react with water to disperse dirt and grime more evenly across a surface. That means you can wash away the dirt more easily. What you find in each product is what makes them different.
What makes up detergent?
Detergent came on the scene during World War II, when the natural oils used in soap became harder to find. Strapped to create a similar product, detergent uses synthetic ingredients — often petroleum based — as surfactants. In order to cover the scent of such synthetics, detergents often use strong, chemically-based fragrances that can lead to scent sensitivity or other allergic reactions.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a widely used detergent ingredient. Cheap and effective, it’s a fantastic surfactant. Unfortunately for you, it also tends to irritate skin. Detergent makers try to balance the harshness of SLS products with other additives designed to moisturize skin, but natural soap doesn’t need to add moisturizers. By nature, it is moisturizing!
What makes up soap?
Soap, on the other hand, creates a surfactant with natural ingredients. Dr. Squatch uses an oil blend as the foundation for all of our soap. In addition to starting with high-quality, moisturizing ingredients, our cold-process involves a crucial step not often found in many commercial soap-making processes. We keep the glycerin in our soap. Even commercial soap starting with natural ingredients often remove the glycerin from their bars, because they can use the glycerin in other products — like lotion — that they sell at a higher cost.
With a moisturizing foundation, Dr. Squatch doesn’t have to add a bunch of ingredients to make our soap feel good on your skin, and we don’t have to add over-the-top chemical fragrance to mask our natural product. What stays and what gets added are two crucial differences between soap and detergent. We add exfoliants to improve your shower experience, and essential oils and other natural fragrances to enhance our bars — not to cover up the odors from other ingredients, like SLS.
Why you want soap in your shower
True story, though: we don’t blame people for using detergent in the washing machine! Real soap requires a thorough rinsing, and it works better when rinsed with hot water. Cool rinse machines mean residue gets left behind. That doesn’t happen with detergents — but how you wash your clothes and how you wash your body shouldn’t necessarily involve the same products.
We think soap should get you clean and help your skin feel better than when you start your shower. Detergent cleans you. We don’t deny that. But your skin won’t benefit from a detergent the way it will from a soap. Soap, particularly soap with glycerin, keeps your skin moisturized and can calm skin issues like irritation and redness. Read more about why natural soap should be the only soap in your bathroom.
Do you notice the difference in your skin when using soap instead of detergent?