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Ethical Soap

Find ethical and environmental soap: ratings for 53 brands of soap bars and liquid handwash. 

We look at whether bars or liquids are more environmentally friendly, vegan and cruelty-free soaps, organic soaps, palm oil, plastics, which brands contain toxic chemicals, and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

Learn more about us  →

What to buy

What to look for when buying soap:

  • Is it a solid bar? Bars of soap are less likely to contain petroleum, use less plastic packaging and have lower emissions from transportation than liquid soap. Opt for a bar over a bottle if you want a more environmentally-friendly choice.

  • Is it organic? This is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty, artificial chemicals that are in so many products. And thereby also help to protect the environment.

  • Is it vegan? Soap sometimes use animal fats, as well as other animal products such as honey or milk. Look for a vegan brand.

Best Buys

We recommend bars of soap over liquid soap because of their environmental benefit. The following brands of solid bars of soap are therefore Best Buys:

Recommended buys

Lush is the most widely available because of its high-street shops. It only makes bars of soap, not liquid.

Of the brands you might only be able to find in supermarkets, food shops and pharmacies, Baylis and Harding does relatively well. All its products are vegan apart from one handwash with honey in it.

Liquid handwash

For liquid handwash, we recommend ALTER/NATIVE, Conscious Skincare, Ecoleaf (from Suma), Salt of the Earth, Faith in Nature, Sonett, Fill Refill or Bio D which are all refillable. 

You will be able to get these in a wholefood or health food shop or from the companies’ online shops.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying soap:

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to mass deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably.

  • Is it  tested on animals? 80% of the world still permits animal testing for cosmetics, although it is banned in the UK. Look for the Cruelty-Free logo to guarantee that the company is not animal testing anywhere in the world.

  • Is it packaged in plastic? Soap doesn’t need to come as a liquid in a plastic bottle: choosing a bar rather than liquid soap often means that its packaging is plastic free or there is no packaging.

Companies to avoid

Avoid Boots and Superdrug who score worst in most of our categories.

  • Boots
  • Superdrug

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 100) Ratings Categories

Eco Warrior soap bars [Vg]

Company Profile: Little Soap Company Limited

Friendly Soap bar soap [Vg, S]

Company Profile: Friendly Soap Ltd

Bio-D soap bars & liquid handwash [Vg]

Company Profile: Bio-D Company

Fill Refill liquid hand soap [Vg]

Company Profile: Ideal Manufacturing Ltd

Little Soap Company soap bars and liquid handwash [Vg,O]

Company Profile: Little Soap Company Limited

Lucy Bee soap bars [F,O,Vg,S]

Company Profile: Lucy Bee Ltd

Odylique bar soap [O, Vg]

Company Profile: Essential Care (Organics) Ltd

Austin Austin soap bar and liquid soap [Vg,O]

Company Profile: Rainbow Wholefoods

Conscious Skincare handwash [Vg]

Company Profile: Conscious Skincare Ltd

Lavera Liquid Hand wash [Vg, O]

Company Profile: Laverana Digital GmbH & Co KG

ALTER/NATIVE solid bars & liquid [Vg]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd (t/a Suma Wholefoods)

Neal's Yard bar soap, shower gel, liquid hand wash [Vg][O]

Company Profile: Neal's Yard (Natural Remedies) Limited

Salt of the Earth liquid hand wash [Vg]

Company Profile: Crystal Spring

ecoleaf liquid hand soap [Vg]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd (t/a Suma Wholefoods)

Bentley Organics soap bars & liquid [Vg] [O]

Company Profile: Bentley Organic Trading Limited

Caurnie bar & liquid soaps [Vg]

Company Profile: Caurnie Soap Co

Neal's Yard liquid hand wash and shower gel [O]

Company Profile: Neal's Yard (Natural Remedies) Limited

Faith in Nature bar soap & handwash [Vg]

Company Profile: Faith in Nature Ltd

Green People liquid handwash [Vg, O]

Company Profile: Green People Company Ltd

Honesty handwash [Vg]

Company Profile: Honesty Cosmetics

Pure Nuff Stuff bar & liquid soap [Vg]

Company Profile: Pure Nuff Stuff Ltd

Sonett Curd soap bar [Vg,O]

Company Profile: Sonett GmbH

Sonett liquid hand soap [Vg,O]

Company Profile: Sonett GmbH

Honesty soap bars [Vg]

Company Profile: Honesty Cosmetics

Lush bar soaps [Vg,S]

Company Profile: Lush Cosmetics Ltd

Lush soap bars [V,S]

Company Profile: Lush Cosmetics Ltd

Weleda bar soap [Vg]

Company Profile: Weleda AG

Urtekram Brown Sugar shower gel and hand wash [O,VG,FT]

Company Profile: Midsona

Dr Organic handwash [Vg]

Company Profile: Dr Organic Group Ltd

Dr Organic soap [Vg]

Company Profile: Dr Organic Group Ltd

Baylis and Harding soap bars & handwash [Vg]

Company Profile: Baylis and Harding PLC

Molton Brown soap bars and handwash

Company Profile: Molton Brown Limited

Urtekram bar soap & handwash [O, Vg]

Company Profile: Midsona

Avon liquid handwash

Company Profile: Avon Products Inc

Cuticura bar soap [Vg]

Company Profile: Karium ltd

Bulldog soap bars [Vg]

Company Profile: Bulldog Skincare Limited

L'Occitane bar & liquid soap

Company Profile: L'Occitane International SA

Nivea bar & liquid soap

Company Profile: Beiersdorf AG

Bayley's of Bond Street hand wash

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC

Carex liquid soap

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC

Imperial Leather bar soap & handwash

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC

Avalon Organics liquid soap [Vg, O]

Company Profile: Avalon Organics

CeraVe moisturiser and cleansers

Company Profile: L'Oréal

JASÖN liquid soap and body wash [Vg]

Company Profile: JASÖN Natural Products

L'Oreal Men Expert solid shampoo and wash bar

Company Profile: L'Oréal

Johnson's bar soap

Company Profile: Johnson & Johnson

Tom's of Maine Soap Bar [Vg,S]

Company Profile: Tom's of Maine

Palmolive liquid hand wash

Company Profile: Colgate-Palmolive Co

Sanex bar & liquid soap

Company Profile: Colgate-Palmolive Co

Boots handwash

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd

Dove soap bars & lquid

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division

Pears Soap bars & liquid

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division

Radox handwash

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division

Simple hand wash

Company Profile: Simple Health & Beauty Group Limited

Soap & Glory soap bars

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd

Superdrug bar & liquid soap

Company Profile: Superdrug Stores Plc

Our Analysis

The Body Shop

It was announced in February 2024 that The Body Shop's private equity owners, Aurelius, had called in the administrators which was likely to result in shop closures and job losses. We have therefore removed The Body Shop from this guide until we can be sure that the brand will continue to exist and in what format and if Aurelius will continue to be the owners of a restructured Body Shop.



Which is the most ethical type and brand of soap to buy?

Should you buy a bar of soap, liquid soap or hand sanitiser?

This guide covers soaps in both bar and liquid form, including handwashes and hand sanitisers. As the score table above shows, there are many companies offering alternatives which are organic, made without the use of animal ingredients, or palm oil free.

There are hundreds of other small companies making soap which we could not cover here. Look out for your local supplier.

The score table also shows the huge difference between low scoring big high street brands, and the much higher scoring small, independent and often vegan and/or organic brands.

Which brands of soap dominate the market?

The UK’s soap, bath and shower gel market is dominated by just three major brands – Carex, Dove, and Radox. 

Radox and Dove are owned by multinational Unilever whilst Carex is owned by PZ Cussons, which also owns other top selling brands.

With so many high scoring small and independent soap brands, and medium scoring more mainstream brands, there's definitely plenty of choice when it comes to finding ethical soap.

Soap bars or liquids?

People generally tend to buy more liquid soap products for hand washing than solid soap bars, often driven by a fear of other people’s bacteria lurking on bar soap. Companies have encouraged the notion that using liquid soap was more hygienic with clever marketing as there is a higher profit margin from the more expensive product.

In terms of COVID-19, both liquid soap and bar soap have been shown to be equally as efficient in washing our hands. Although bacteria may stay on a bar of soap between washing, studies have consistently shown that this does not contaminate the next user. But most studies on bar soap are based on bacteria not viruses.

The NHS, World Health Organisation, and Centres for Disease Control do not stipulate whether to use a bar or liquid soap. A precaution with bar soap is to keep it dry and not let it lie in a puddle of germ-loving sludge. 

The environmental impact of solid bars vs. liquid soap

From an environmental point of view, the bar of soap is the overall winner. It also tends to have a smaller list of simple ingredients.

The environmental impact of liquid soap is thought to be higher due to the fact it:

  • Is heavier: Containing lots of water, liquid soaps are likely to be heavier than bar soap, resulting in a higher carbon footprint for transportation.
  • Involves more packaging: Packaging for body washes and liquid soaps tend to be plastic bottles, that if not recycled can end up landfilled, littered, or incinerated.. Even if the bottle is made from recycled plastic, a thin paper wrapper or no wrapper for soap bars is better.
  • Contains petroleum: Many shower gels and body washes are made of petroleum-derived synthetic detergents and need emulsifying agents and stabilisers to maintain their consistency.
  • Damages aquatic life: What you use on your body ends up in the water system. Liquid detergents may contain harmful substances that can bioaccumulate in living organisms.

The score table indicates whether a brand is just a liquid or just a bar or both.

Brands that only make soap bars

These companies do not sell liquid hand wash, only bars of soap: Cuticura, Eco Warrior, Friendly Soap, Lucy Bee, Lush, and Tom's of Maine. They all get an extra Product Sustainability point or half point:

  • Friendly Soap, Eco Warrior, Lush and Tom's of Maine get a whole point for having plastic-free packaging or no packaging 
  • Lucy Bee and Cuticura are not plastic free so only get an extra half point.

Soap brands which make bars and liquid soap

The following brands make bar soaps that are in either plastic-free packaging or no packaging, but they also make liquid hand wash: ALTER/NATIVE by Suma, Austin Austin, Caurnie, Faith in Nature, Honesty, Little Soap Company, Odylique, Pure Nuff Stuff, Sonett, and Weleda

Refillable handwash

If you would prefer a liquid hand soap, then go for these ethical companies that offer refills: ALTER/ NATIVE and Ecoleaf by Suma, Bio-D, Conscious Skincare, Faith in Nature, Salt of the Earth, and Sonett.

All of these are packaged in recycled plastic bottles apart from Conscious Skincare which comes in a glass bottle and Sonett plastic bottles which are not recycled.

They all offer 5 litre bulk refills apart from Conscious Skincare which is a 500ml refill, Salt of the Earth which is a litre refill and Sonett which is a litre or 10 litre.

Hand sanitisers, gels and rubs

Sales of hand sanitiser soared by 255% in February 2020, which was good news for the handful of manufacturers, including Carex and Cuticura which dominate the market.

Soap and water is best but if you don’t have access to soap and water, the next best thing is alcohol-based hand sanitisers or hand rubs. The NHS and the Centers for Disease Control say if soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.

It is more expensive than soap and it is does not kill as many kinds of bacteria and viruses as soap does. Furthermore, Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist based at Sussex University, said that sanitisers may “damage your natural microbiome” with persistent use. It’s also possible that other microbes like bacteria may start to become resistant.

Of the brands on the table, Baylis and Harding, Boots, Carex, Cuticura and Dettol all make hand sanitisers. Public Health England is not recommending people make their own hand gels at home.

Is antibacterial soap any use?

The clue is in the name. Antibacterial soap is regular soap (detergent) with some additional ingredients which are targeted at killing bacteria. But for removing viruses, the detergent/soap element is actually the most effective part. So plain soap will do.

Plus, overuse of antibacterial soaps can potentially add to the problem of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, so it’s best avoided anyway.

Vegan soaps

A common ingredient in bars of soap is sodium tallowate, made from rendered animal fat. Stearic acid and glycerin in soap may also be animal derived, whilst honey, lanolin and milk can be added. We have a short article looking at animal products in cosmetics and toiletries where you can find out more.

Brands which are suitable for vegans have been marked on the score table with [Vg].

Soap from fully vegan companies

If you are vegan you may also wish to buy soap from a totally vegan company: Bio-D, Caurnie, Conscious Skincare, Eco Warrior, Faith in Nature, Friendly Soap, Honesty, Little Soap Company, and Lucy Bee. 

Cruelty free soaps

Although the testing of cosmetics on animals has been banned in the EU, this is not the case everywhere else in the world. But the REACH legislation has complicated the issue. See our feature on animal testing in cosmetics for more information about animal testing.

Ethical Consumer rates all companies selling cosmetics on their animal testing policy. Companies will score a best rating if they have a policy not to test on animals, have a fixed cut-off date (a date after which none of their products or ingredients will have been tested on animals), and are not selling to markets where animal testing of products is required by law. 

Leaping Bunny certified companies

The following companies were certified by the Leaping Bunny standard, the leading certification scheme for cruelty-free companies: Avalon Organics, Bio-D, Conscious Skincare, Faith in Nature, Friendly Soap, Honesty, Jason, Little Soap, Lucy Bee, Natura (Body Shop) and Neal’s Yard.

However, the Leaping Bunny logo on a product does not always mean it's vegan - it can still include animal products e.g. lanolin; but it won't have ingredients which have been tested on animals. The table in our guide to cruelty free and animal testing certification schemes has more information on this important difference.

So if you see the wording 'cruelty free', look to see if this just means no animal testing, or if it also means no animal products.

Microplastic in soaps

More than 500 known microbeads or microplastic ingredients can be found in personal care products. These are tiny plastic particles that are added for their exfoliating properties, but sometimes purely for aesthetic purposes only. A 2020 report by CodeCheck found that non-biodegradable liquid plastics were also prevalent across a wide range of cosmetic products.

See our feature on the hidden plastics in our toiletries for what’s wrong with microplastics and liquid plastics.

In 2018, the UK government banned the use of microbeads in ‘rinse-off’ products such as soaps. However, microbeads were not banned in products classified as ‘leave on’ (lotions, sun cream and make-up), nor were liquid plastics.

Brands of soap which avoid microplastics

The following brands were made by companies that did not use microplastics or liquid plastics in any of their products: ALTER/NATIVE by Suma, Bentley OrganicsBio D, Conscious Skincare, Dr Organic, Faith in NatureFriendly Soap, Green People, Hain Celestial (Jason, Avalon), Honesty, Lavera, Little Soap Company, Neal’s Yard, Pure Nuff Stuff, Urtekram, and Weleda.

Image: soap bars

Toxic chemicals in soap

We have rated all the brands for their toxic chemicals policies on four key chemicals. Those companies which received a best rating had a policy which has banned the use of parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde and triclosan. We talk more about these chemicals in our feature 'Toxic Beauty'.

  • Parabens are often an ingredient of liquid soaps and are used as a preservative. You might see methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben on an ingredients list. 
  • Triclosan may be used in liquid soaps whilst you might see triclocarban as an ingredient in soap bars. 
  • Phthalates may be used in synthetic fragrances.
  • Formaldehyde and 'formaldehyde' releasing chemicals are preservatives.

However, as you can see from the table below, the majority of the brands are owned by companies that have either committed to not using any of the three toxics or have at least committed to banning one or two of them (a middle rating).

Soap brands and toxic rating
Toxics Rating Brands
Best ALTER/NATIVE and Ecoleaf, Austin Austin, Bentley Organics, Bio D, Caurnie Soap, Conscious Skincare, Friendly Soap, Green PeopleHonesty, Lavera, Little Soap Company, L'Occitane, Lucy Bee, Odylique, Pure Nuff Stuff, Urtekram
Middle Walgreens Boots Alliance, Johnson & Johnson, L'Oreal, CeraVe, Lush, Hain Celestial, Faith in Nature, Weleda, Colgate-Palmolive (Tom's of Maine, Palmolive, Sanex), Dr Organic, Neal’s Yard, Weleda
Worst Procter & Gamble, Bulldog, Cuticura, Molton Brown, Avon, Baylis and Harding, Clarins, Henkel AG, Nivea, Unilever, PZ Cussons, Body Shop, Superdrug

Palm oil and soap

Palm oil and palm oil derivatives have become an important component in many soap products. In particular, it is used because it is a fat that is hard at room temperature. 

But the mass production of palm oil has relied on the destruction of rainforests, which leads to climate damaging emissions, as well as loss of biodiversity, particularly for orangutans, and human rights issues.

Substitutes include cocoa butter and coconut oil.

Our Palm Oil category on the score table shows which companies receive our best, middle and worst ratings for their palm oil policies and practices. 

Palm-oil free brands: Caurnie Soap, Conscious Skincare,  Lucy Bee, Pure Nuff Stuff.

Companies that source their palm oil more sustainably and get a best Ethical Consumer rating for their palm oil sourcing include: Bio-D, Eco Warrior, Friendly Soap, Lavera, Little Soap Company, and Odylique.

See more about palm oil free soap, and palm oil in the cosmetics industry.

Organic soap brands

Brands which are organic have been marked on the ethical scoretable with [O].

The following brands made organic products only:

The following brands also had some organic products: Austin AustinAvalon Organics, Green People, Little Soap Company, Neal’s Yard, and Urtekram.

See our feature for more about organic certifications and natural beauty.

Making your own soap

There are loads of recipes and instructions on the web on how to make your own soap.

Soap making is essentially a chemical reaction, known as saponification, between a lye, which is often sodium hydroxide (a salt), and oils like coconut or olive. Whilst lye is caustic, once the soap is made and cured, there is no lye left in the finished bar.

Making your own means you know exactly what is going into it and it is packaging free. Plus, it will cost less.

Permaculture News has a simple coconut oil recipe on its website.

The abbreviations in the scoretable guide are: FT = fair trade; O = organic; V = vegan; S = sustainability mark e.g. plastic free.

Company Profile

PZ Cussons are a major toiletries brand but also have a partnership with Chinese white goods company Haier to make domestic appliances in Nigeria where they also have a palm oil plantation and refinery joint venture with the notorious Indonesian palm oil trader Wilmar.

A Greenpeace report criticised PZ Cussons in 2018 for not giving any details about its palm oil supply chain despite having “no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation” (NDPE) policies. It targetted the Carex brand and told the company to “come clean”.

Since the report, PZ Cussons has nearly achieved tracing its palm oil supplies back to the mill and only sourcing from suppliers with NDPE standards. But it does not use any RSPO-certified palm oil products and stated it wouldn’t until 2023.

PZ Cussons owns Original Source, Charles Worthington, Imperial Leather, and Carex, among other brands.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. This information is reserved for subscribers only. Don't miss out, become a subscriber today.