It’s safe to say that since the coronavirus pandemic began, people have been washing their hands more than ever — and that means people have been using more single-use plastic bottles of hand soap than ever. Fortunately, there are numerous brands making zero-waste hand soaps.
So, we’ve rounded up eight companies — plus one DIY option — making low-impact, vegan, and cruelty-free hand soaps, from hand soap tablets to bar soaps to liquid refills in plastic-free bottles.
Zero-waste hand soap tablets from Blueland
Blueland is known for its concentrated refill tablets that are packaged in compostable paper-based wrappers, and transform into various cleaning solutions by combining them with water. Not only does this reduce the amount of physical waste consumers see, but it also reduces emissions from shipping, since full bottles of soap weigh more and take up more space than tablets.
Blueland offers a variety of scents in its foaming zero-waste hand soap tablets, including Iris Agave, Perrine Lemon, Lavender Eucalyptus, each of which comes out to about $2. You can also buy a starter kit ($34) which includes a pump bottle, which comes in a variety of colors.
Ethique is perhaps best known for making zero-waste bars (akin to bar soap) for just about everything, from deodorant to shampoo to lotion. But in 2020, the zero-waste, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, vegan company rolled out Ethique Concentrates, which are ultra-concentrated bars of soap that turn to liquid cleaning products when mixed with hot water.
Ethique’s Handwash Concentrate ($10) comes in three varieties: Gentle Handwash Concentrate, which is unscented; Invigorating Handwash Concentrate, which is scented with orange and lime; and Nourishing Handwash Concentrate, which is scented with lavender and peppermint.
Cleancult’s hand soap cartons
Cleancult sells nontoxic, plant-based, cruelty-free cleaning and personal care products packaged in fully recyclable milk cartons, made from 80 percent paper, 15 percent PE (polyethylene plastic), and 5 percent aluminum. Simply pour the refills into the company’s reusable glass bottles (which come in various colors) over and over again.
Plaine Products’ returnable aluminum bottles
Plaine Products makes personal care products in aluminum bottles, including a cruelty-free, vegan, biodegradable, palm oil-free Hand Wash in four scents: Rosemary Mint Vanilla, Citrus Lavender, Cherry Almond, and Sweet Orange Patchouli.
The best part is, you can send the bottles back to Plaine Products (with a prepaid mailing label) once they’re empty, and the company will sanitize, refill, and reuse them. You can request a plastic pump with your first purchase, which you can then keep and transfer into each new bottle you order.
The 16-ounce bottles are a bit pricey at $20 each, but you'll save $2 a bottle with a subscription.
Soapply’s hand wash refill in a glass bottle
Soapply’s hand wash and hand wash refill are made in Vermont with a very minimal and natural ingredient list. The soaps are Made Safe certified, vegan, cruelty-free, free of synthetic fragrances, free of dyes, and come in glass bottles. Soapply is the most expensive option on this list at $22.50 for an 8-ounce bottle and $38.70 for a 32-ounce bottle (which will refill four soap bottles), but $4 of that is donated to fund water and sanitation initiatives, and you can subscribe to save 10 percent.
Hand in Hand’s liquid and bar soaps
Hand in Hand’s liquid hand soap is packaged in aluminum bottles with plastic pumps, and the company’s bars of soap are simply packaged in paper. The company’s products are all cruelty-free, vegan, and palm oil-free, and it offers various floral fragrances as well as fragrance-free offerings. Plus, for every set of hand soaps purchased, Hand in Hand donates four bars of soap and four months of clean water to a child in need.
You can shop Hand in Hand’s soaps online, as well as at Whole Foods and Target, where they retail for about $4.99 each.
Peach’s hand and body bar soaps
Available on Grove Collaborative, Peach’s hand and body soaps (starting at $7.99) come in exfoliating, moisturizing, and deep cleansing varieties. Each bar of soap is cruelty-free and plastic-free, and saves up to three 22-ounce body wash bottles, according to Peach, which is a certified B Corp.
Dropps’ foaming hand soap and refill pods
In April 2022, zero-waste laundry pod company Dropps rolled out its own Foaming Hand Soap. The Starter Kits ($26, or $19 with a subscription) come with an amber hand soap bottle, as well as refill pods that can simply be added to the bottle with water, and shaken up to create hand soap. You can also just order the refill pods, which come in Unscented, Lemon Verbena, Lavender Chamomile, and Jasmine Honeysuckle scents. All Dropps products are cruelty-free, vegan, non-toxic, and packaged without any plastic.
Make your own bar of soap.
If you’re feeling crafty, why not try creating your zero-waste soap? Check out our guide to making a zero-waste bar of soap from nontoxic, simple ingredients.
This article, originally published on May 10, 2021, has been updated.