I have pretty much always lived in areas with hard water, and with its knock-on effects – scale in the kettle, dried out skin and soap scum on everything. Using detergent-based toiletries has always made sense to me, because (with our water) they’re easier on the skin and they make less mess to clean up. I also have a bit of a thing about sharing soap bars with strangers; I think pump dispensers are more hygienic. (I haven’t investigated, I’m just happier with pump soap for guests!)


On the other hand, I am not a fan of anti-bacterial soaps, so we don’t get those, and we cut down on the use of plastic bottles for toiletries by buying in bulk and refilling. I bought 5 litres of Ecover hand wash* a while back, and refill the various pump dispensers around the house.

We do the same in the bathroom. Shower gel comes in small bottles – normally around 250ml – and we get through quite a lot. A couple of years ago we bought a trio of Waitrose Essential Shower Gels (at the time they were £1 each, so that’s £4 a litre). Unlike many others, they came with removable caps, so they could be easily refilled. So we bought 5 litres of shower gel, and have been refilling them ever since. It’s easier (and less messy) if you invest in a pump* for your 5 litre bottles – they cost around £5. If saving money is the object, then you can do that by buying in bulk; you can also invest in nicer shower gel! (It’s a shame Ecover don’t make one….)

Going plastic-free is fashionable at the moment, so refill shops are popping up here and there. I’d have to drive to our ‘local’ one, and make a special trip, so it’s not great for us, but they’re a good option for people who don’t have the space/money to buy in bulk.

Of course, we do then have a small number of plastic 5 litre containers to dispose of. I am thinking of alternative uses – they are sturdy and would make good watering cans for community gardens, or you could cut the top off them and use them as planters. They’ll be good for storing my comfrey feed later in the year.

Plastic-free hair care

My old (plastic) hair brush is getting pretty manky, so I decided to look into a plastic-free replacement. I ordered a bamboo one with wooden (!) bristles from Boobaloo at the end of last year. I’m happy with it – it’s a comfortable brush to use.

At the same time I decided to try a plastic-free shampoo bar, and picked their Hemp & Patchouli soap nut bar. It smells gorgeous, and it came in a little bag. (I’m thinking I may turn it into a lavender bag to put under my pillow, or to sent my underwear draw.)

Last year I tried making my own shampoo from soap nuts*, which I have only used in the past (successfully) for laundry. My attempts didn’t go well; various websites suggest that an apple cider vinegar rinse helps after washing with soap nuts, but my hair ended up feeling waxy, heavy and horrid.


I thought maybe I was doing something wrong, and that the soap nut bar would be better. Again, the website recommends using a (dilute) vinegar rinse, so I diluted my vinegar and tried again. The shampoo bar works OK – you don’t get the same sort of lather that you would with detergent shampoo. The vinegar rinse is interesting, but I suppose you would get used to it.

The problem is MY HAIR HATES IT. HATES IT! I persevered for a few days, hoping it would suddenly get used to it and things would improve, but my hair was getting to the point where I couldn’t get my fingers through it wet, and it felt horrible dry.

My conclusion was that the people (and there are plenty) who recommend soap nut shampoos must live in areas with softer water. My Twitter friends confirmed I wasn’t alone:

[Dr Bronners do toiletries based on Castille (olive oil) soap. They smell lovely. They don’t work for me either!]

I have also tried Faith in Nature eco-friendly shampoos and conditioners (which you can buy in bulk…) and I’m not the biggest fan. They’re expensive and the smells are a bit odd and they just don’t make my hair feel as nice as conventional toiletries.

So at the moment I am a bit stumped for eco-friendly hard water hair care. I’m stuck with products I don’t want to use (I tried using the soap nut shampoo bar as a soap and I don’t like that either), and loathe to invest in any more experiments.

Have you had better luck?



    • I had one suggestion to go ‘no poo’. There are plenty of people for whom that works (at least, it seems so from an internet search), but it does involve transitioning, and that can take up to three months. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t fancy having to hide my hair under a hat/scarf for that long. I have enough trouble leaving the house as it is!
    • *There are some affiliate links to the Ethical Superstore in this post. If you click through and choose to buy something from them, then I’ll get a few pence towards the upkeep of the website. I am only an affiliate of companies I would choose to use myself.
    • You get 10 Plant Nut Points if you spotted the link between the plant photos used to illustrate this blog post. They’re all saponaceous species. They produce saponins, which are toxic if ingested in large quantities, but can be used as natural soaps. PFAF has a list of some soap plants from around the world.

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