Can You Wash Clothes With Bar Soap?

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Happy Wayfarer is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Can you picture packing light while traveling, and all of a sudden, you are out of clothes to wear, leaving you with nothing but the only option to wash them and wear them again? 

On top of all that, imagine having no laundry detergent available at hand, and the only thing you can find is your regular bar soap. 

So, after much introspection, you must be asking yourself – Can you wash clothes with bar soap? 

In the specifics of the article, we will discuss the same and a lot more.

Can you wash clothes with bar soap?

It could be a sauce stain, dust, or grease stain. Whatever. Your shirt is dirty from something that happened. Now, you are thinking: I will grab that bottle of hand soap and squirt it on the shirt. That’s correct, that’s going to help, right? The ingredients in hand soap are not very different, are they now? The ingredients are similar, so they should work well together, should they not?

Not quite. No! Given that we are talking about the hand bar soaps, bar soaps are usually formulated in a way so that they do not strip the skin off of moisture and retain the natural firmness of the skin without drying it out. Laundry detergents and cleaning agents meant for cleaning clothes are stronger at the whole ‘cleaning’ gig and contain harsher chemicals than bar soaps. This is why they can effectively clean stains, grease, grime, and dust from clothes.

Bar soaps may do a decent job at cleaning your laundry, but only upto an extent since they aren’t exactly formulated to clean clothes. If it were the olden days when laundry soaps were still a thing, a bar soap (a laundry soap, in this context) would have been made a great substitute to laundry detergents while also being immensely travel-friendly. 

Laundry soaps are much harsher than usual bar soaps while also being free of fragrance and excessive sudsing. Although they are still available in a number of Asian countries as well as Mexico, it might be hard to come across one in the U.S.

Now that you know that bar soaps may not be as effective as laundry detergents and soaps, can you use them to wash clothes? Well, of course, yes! If that’s the last option available, you can certainly go ahead with the idea of washing clothes with bar soaps. 

Besides, if the convenience of carrying fewer soaps on a journey outweighs the expensiveness of bar soaps as well the lesser cleaning strength – go ahead and wash your clothes with the regular bar soap while you are on foot, traveling. 

On a side note, if you are looking for an alternative to bar soaps while keeping in mind the light-packing you are doing for your trip, your best bet is to pack a laundry pod or laundry tablet in your suitcase. You can also walk to a grocery store in your vicinity and ask for a travel-friendly pack of laundry detergent.

Why is it not ideal for washing clothes with bar soap?

As we mentioned before, of course, you can wash clothes with bar soap. But, as we said, it is not ideal to do. Let’s look at the ‘why’ behind the same in detail:

Less effective than laundry soaps and detergents

If you have ever washed your hands with a bar of laundry soap or laundry detergent, you probably already know how easily it strips the handoff of moisture and dries it. Why? Because of the harsh chemicals present in it – meant to clean clothes (and not hands, of course).

Bar soap can be used for washing clothes, but the point is, will it be effective enough to remove dirt and stains? Dirt and stains on the flesh are easily washable, but when it comes to clothes – it’s a completely different story. 

This is why laundry soaps and detergents have surfactants that aim to separate grease, stains, grime, and dirt from clothes so they can be washed away with water. Run-of-the-mill bar soap isn’t designed to do that, and therefore, undermines the whole purpose of cleaning the clothes, with little results (and a lot of wastage).

Contains scent

When it comes to bar soaps, the brands do target not only the dirt and grime on the skin but also the olfactory and visual senses of their customer base. This translates to the addition of scent and colors (more on colors in the next section) to the soaps to make them more appealing and, therefore, more buyable. 

If you are allergic to some particular scent present in the bar soap, rest assured the smell isn’t going away before a day of usage.

In case when you do not rigorously wash the cloth after using bar soap on it, the scent (since it is produced by the infusion of chemicals in the soap) can be abrasive for the skin.

May contain colors

You must be questioning, “So what? Laundry detergents contain colours too!”. This is true to an extent. However, it must also be kept in mind that the dye used in laundry detergents is easily washed off the clothes while the cloth is being rinsed in water. 

Apart from this, the synthetic or natural (which is super rare) dyes used in laundry detergents do not stain the clothes since they are formulated to interact with the clothes without coloring them. 

When it comes to bar soaps, we can not say much since some of them may use excessive color for aesthetic purposes, and using such bar soaps on your clothes will end up staining them instead of cleaning them.

Contains artificial thickeners and sudsings

Generally, people do not care if a laundry detergent produces enough sud or lather since they can not see the work happening (not in a washing machine, at least). 

On the other hand, most people consider bar soaps to be effective only if they produce a rich lather and give extra sudsing. This is why most generic brands use artificial thickeners and excessive sudsing in the bar soaps to create a rich lather.

But isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t extra sud and lather supposed to mean extra clean? Not really, no! If you have come across no-foam bar soaps, body washes, and face washes, you would know that foam and lather aren’t important parameters that determine the efficacy of a cleaning agent.

In fact, cleaning has nothing to do with lather. Let us explain this to you in a little detail: 

The soap molecule has two important sides and is similar to a magnet. One side is attracted to water, while the other side is repelled by water. The soap molecules surround the water molecule, with the water-loving side pointing towards the water and the repellant sides pointing away. The thin layer of water is stuck between the soap molecules. This is exactly why foam doesn’t have anything to do with how well the soap cleans or how effective it is. Soap bubbles show how much soap is attracted to water but not how much it works to get rid of dirt.

Therefore, the artificial thickeners in bar soaps may be counterproductive at cleaning your clothes, especially if you rub them over the cloth. 

Thickeners may stick to the wet cloth and may make it tougher for you to rinse the sudsing as well as the soap away, more so if the cloth has air pockets (such as socks and woolen clothes).

When can you wash clothes with bar soap?

It’s not like you can not wash clothes with bar soap at all. In fact, sometimes, it is actually recommendable to use bar soaps to wash clothes if laundry detergent isn’t available. 

When the sink in the hotel room and a bar of hand soap is your last resort to cleaning your dirty clothes, these are the situations where bar soaps might actually work as great cleaning agents:

Mild stains

Depending on the color of your cloth, if the color of the stain somehow blends and matches with the color of your clothes, it is possible to clean them with bar soap. Of course, if it’s a coffee stain on a white piece of fabric, getting it off with bar soap is a worthless attempt. However, if you accidentally spilled a small blob of coffee on a brown shade of fabric, getting the residue off and minimizing the stain is achievable using bar soaps. 

Besides, it is never too surprising if your clothes got sweat stains from the humid California heat or grass stains from that picnic break you took while traveling. If it is mild stains as such, getting rid of them is achievable using bar soaps. 

Soft fabric

If you packed silk clothes and hand-knit wools for your trip, it is ideal for washing them with bar soap, even if laundry detergent is available. Silk clothes require tender care, which means laundry detergents can be harsh on them. 

However, since hand soap bars are meant to clean the skin (hands, in this context), they are less harsh than laundry detergents. Therefore, they make great cleaning agents for soft fabrics.

You can always wash your socks and inner vests with bar soaps on a quotidian basis since they tend to accumulate less dirt and are easily cleanable.

On-the-go wash

So, you did dirty your clothes, and now all you have is bar soap. Should you leave the cloth stained, or should you at least wash off the residue of whatever caused the staining? 

On a rational note, the latter is a more viable option. If using bar soap is your absolute last resort while traveling (and by that, we mean you are sure you can not arrange for laundry detergent), go ahead and wash your clothes, anyway. Although a bar soap may not be as effective, it will certainly help remove the residue, and lighten the stain, while also helping get rid of at least some amount of dirt and grime. 

Thus, all in all, anything is better than nothing – especially when it comes to personal hygiene (more so when you are traveling).

It is okay to wash your clothes with bar soap on the go (remember to not use a heavily scented and colored bar soap). You can always wash them with laundry detergent or soap when available after washing the cloth using bar soap.

How to handwash clothes when traveling?

Okay, so you finally got the bar soap or another cleaning agent on you. There’s the hotel sink; now, how exactly do you hand wash your clothes?

Below is a step-by-step process to hand wash your clothes when traveling:

We are not judging if you have done all your laundry in the machine up until now!

Step 1: Fill Up

To fill the sink, tub, bucket, or even a ziplock bag with cool/warm water, add your chosen detergent. Most of the time, hand washing is done in cold water. 

It is important to keep in mind that colors can bleed if you wash newer clothing. 

Step 2: Wash and Soak

The clothes should be washed in the water by swirling them thoroughly. To get a thorough clean, rub the fabric against the dirty spots and apply extra detergent to them. 

If you want to wash dirtier items, leave the garments to soak for two or three hours. If your clothing is filthy, you might want to take an overnight soap soak. 

Step 3: Drain and Rinse

The excess soap and detergent can be removed by draining the soapy water and rinsing the garments under the tap. If you want to give the clothing a clean feel, soak it in the water for 5 minutes, and you will be good to go.

Step 4: Twist Out the Excess Water

Before you begin step five, squeeze and ring out the water with your hands.

Step 5: Lay It Out

If you want to do it, you can either choose Step 5 and 6 or just skip it. Note that steps five and six will speed up the drying of your clothing. The wet garments should be placed on a bath towel.

Step 6: Roll and Squeeze

The excess water should be squeezed out when you roll the garment up in the towel. Walking back and forth on a rolled towel eliminates dripping in step seven. 

Step 7: Hang to Dry

If the weather permits, hang the clothes overnight. When you can’t hang the clothes outside, the bathroom is a good location to make use of, instead. 

Hang garments close to the air conditioning, fan, or heater if you can, or leave the windows open if you can.

Consider using a travel-friendly laundry detergent

Packing a travel-friendly laundry cleaner on your trip would not hurt, no matter how light you are packing. Be it a laundry bar, pod, or liquid, using a travel-friendly option can be a significantly superior option in contrast to using the less effective bar soaps.

It is always recommended that you try and focus on the following attributes when buying a detergent for your trip:

Is it liquid or bar? The shape of the detergent affects where it can be brought and how it can be stored. Is a liquid product in a bottle more useful than a bar?

Is it sustainable? The product’s longevity is a factor to look into. How was it made? How is the product stored? Do you have to worry about not being able to break down or degrade in the land that would be deemed safe?

What about size/weight? The size and/or weight of the product should be taken into account as well. It’s important to carry laundry detergent that’s light enough for you to carry without feeling like it weighs you down.

You can use these three key factors to make sure that you won’t have the worst travel options for detergent.

If you can’t find a travel laundry detergent option that suits the above three criteria, then you should probably look for another option.

Author - Willa Carson
Happywayfarer author Willa Carson
Hi, I'm Willa Carson, a passionate traveler who has been exploring the world for 7 years. Whether it's trekking through the Himalayas, exploring ancient ruins in South America, or simply savoring a cup of coffee at a local cafe, I believe that travel has the power to enrich our lives in countless ways. So join me on my journey and let's discover the world together!
Read more about me here.

Leave a Comment