Soap Substitutes

In an emergency, soap can be one of the most important items that you have on hand (after water, food, and shelter). Soap is necessary for maintaining a clean environment. However, if you run out of soap, it is nice to know what your alternatives are. This article looks at three soap substitutes available to you: plant sources, a homemade sanitizing hand gel and homemade hand wipes.


There are several plants which produce lathers. These plant contain a substance called saponin. When wet,saponin produces a lather similar to soap. Saponin exists in different parts of plants. Some of these are:

Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis). This plant is known by many names, including soapwort, latherwort and chimney pink. The saponin extracted from this plant is used today to wash delicate fabrics. Saponin exists in all parts of Bouncing Bet, but is especially concentrated in the roots.

To use Bouncing Bet as a soap substitute, simmer the leaves or roots in water for 30 minutes and strain. Use the liquid as a soap.

Yucca (Yucca filamentosa). Also known as Adam's needle and Joshua Tree. This plant is native to the southwest United States. The root of this plant produces a nice lather. To use Yucca root as a soap substitute, simmer the roots in water for 30 minutes and strain. Use the liquid as a soap.

Soap Nuts (genus Sapindus). Also known as soap berries or soapberry. There are many species of soap nuts. These plants produce berries which contain saponins. Soap nuts are used as a laundry detergent substitute and a soap substitute.

To use soap nuts as a soap substitute, simmer several berries in water for 30 minutes and strain. Use the liquid as a soap.

Making your own hand sanitizer

Here is a recipe for homemade antibacterial hand gel. The active ingredients in this gel are tea-tree oil and isopropyl alcohol. According to Ruth Winter, M.S., author of A Consumer's Dictionary Of Cosmetic Ingredients, tea tree oil is over ten times as powerful as carbolic acid, and carbolic acid is one of the most powerful germicides known to man. According to the CDC, for a hand gel to be effective, it needs to contain at least 60% alcohol.

You will need:

Combine the tea tree oil with the glycerine and the isopropyl alcohol. Stir well. Store in a clean bottle. To use, rub a small amount on hands. Do not rinse off. Let dry.

Making your own hand wipes

Another effective soap substitute which we often take for granted are those nice moist towelettes sold in grocery and convenience stores. They are great for cleaning our hands when no soap or water is available. To make your own blend, mix together the following:

Mix the essential oil with the glycerine, the hydrosol, and the isopropyl alcohol. Soak some Handi-Wipes® or clean fabric pieces in this solution. Store the wipes in a clean plastic bag or clean plastic container and use as needed.

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