If your tolerance for small slivers of soap is low, this might not be the blog post for you. On the other hand, I'm counting on these candy-colored beauties to look delightful enough to win you over.
I'll back up: since first writing about making the jump from pump soap to bar soap earlier this year (though I'd been a bar soap devotee long before that), I've been considering bar soap from other angles. Thing about soap choices is, they're pretty nearly infinite. What if you want to avoid palm oil? Does sustainable palm oil mean anything? (More on that in a future post.)How can you tell which bar soap packages are plastic-lined paper and which are just plain old recyclable paper? If there's a rabbit hole, you'll find me in it.
While musing and muddling around, I was excited to find another zero waste soap angle that I hadn't before considered: purchasing soap ends. Most small-batch soaps are poured into long, rectangular blocks, then cut into individual bars once they've cured. This means that the ends of those blocks, which are often thinner, wonkier, or otherwise a little different, can go to waste unless a thoughtful soapmaker chooses to repurpose them or re-sell them.
Well, where there's waste, you know we like to swoop in. You can buy soap ends, thus turning the wasted trimmings into the main event.
Besides the virtuousness of the endeavor, there are other perks, too. Soap ends are typically much cheaper by weight than regular bars, you can try out lots of different scents without getting bored, and you get the cheap thrill of pulling out a new bar of soap more often than you would when using full bars. They allow you to try out new soapmakers, scents, and add-ins without a month-long commitment to a full bar. They would make lovely and useful party favors, allow you to give houseguests a fresh bar of their own, and are just fun to look at and pick up to sniff, as the above photographs attest.
It's worth looking for soap ends wherever you buy your bar soap locally: at the grocery stores where you can cut your own soap from big blocks of soap, at smaller bath and beauty stores in your area, or at a farmers' market stand selling locally made soap.
Or, if none of those appeal, there are a few online spots where you can pick some up. Below are a few offerings from around the web that I've found lately:
-The Kirk Estate: This husband-and-wife team in upstate New York grows the herbs they use in their soaps themselves, from heirloom seeds. Owner Jen notes that they try to produce as little waste as possible in their business, composting their scraps to use in their garden and shipping in recycled packaging. You can purchase ends from their cold-processed soaps in their Etsy store.
-Little Flower Soap Co: These pretty soaps are made in Michigan, and you can buy a set of ten pieces of soap ends at their Etsy store, here. Make sure to note in the order notes that you don't want it packaged with extra gift materials like ribbon and decorations.
-Oregon Soap Company: Their "Assorted Scraps" set boasts a 50% savings over their regular soaps. And, I love that their soap end bars still look thick and robust - like regular bar soaps, but in miniature.
-Rocky Top Soap Shop: These cold process soaps are made by hand in Maine in a process that sounds downright contemplative. Find their soap end sampler for purchase here. Note that each end comes packaged with a paper label, which you can recycle or compost, and a small piece of plastic tape, which you can't.
Other spots to try: Mud & Matter, Comfort & Joy, or simply searching Etsy for "soap ends" or "soap scraps." If you're having trouble choosing between these, going with the soap maker located nearest you makes the shipping more efficient and less resource-intensive. And, if you're making a purchase online, consider adding some order notes letting the seller know you'd love your order packaged in reused packaging, sans bubble wrap or extra plastic or anything else decorative.
Now, about the using of these small bars. How not to let them slip down the drain, slivers of soap slithering out of reach? I've had good luck so far by being careful as I hold them and by corralling the small pieces in my soap dish, but I wonder if a soap bag like this one by EcoBags would do an even better job. You could lather up the bag with the soap inside, no trying to hold on to small slippery bars required.
Soap ends - have you tried using them? Any tips for the rest of us, or a favorite company that makes them?
Previously in Bath & Beauty: About menstrual cups, and everything I've learned about using a safety razor. Plus, exactly how to make the switch to bar soap, here.
A few of the folks mentioned above sent soap ends my way to photograph - and sniff - for this post.