Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Living without Soap and Shampoo

There are certain things we hold as necessary–things we can’t live without, or more to the point, things that, when lived without, represent some sort of step backward in human evolution. Take soap and shampoo for example. Would you consider bathing without them? If you’re like most people, you probably wouldn’t. People get dirty in the course of the day, and soap and shampoo are our hygienic weapons. But do we really need them?

A few years ago, an article in Boing Boing claimed that we need neither soap nor shampoo. That piece’s author Sean Bonner, lived a year without either. Not only did he not stink–as verified by numerous sources intimate and otherwise–but persistent problems disappeard. He wrote of the experience:

My skin feels better than ever before. Not that it ever felt bad, really, but it feels awesome now. Still no stink at all, I swear even when I’m really active and sweating I don’t notice any B.O., and I used to be über self-conscious about this and would think I was stinking if I walked up a flight of stairs too quickly….And with the exception of changing climates drastically, even the dandruff is history. My previously wavy and mostly unmanageable hair now seems much more willing to bend to my will, a dream of mine since I first looked in a mirror, brush in hand, then tried and failed to make any sense of that monster.

Bonner was actually inspired by a guy named Richard Nikoley and his blog Free the Animal. While Nikoley wasn’t the first person to not use soap and shampoo (“Of course I didn’t come up with NOT using soap or shampoo first: that’s the whole f$%#ing point.”), he has become the one of the practice’s primary advocates. Both Bonner and he contend that human skin and hair has its own regulatory system, and to leech the oils and other goodness nature provides with artificial agents goes against our biology. More importantly, they don’t get us any cleaner.

This author has some experience with the topic. As a teenager, I used several types of hair products–gel, mousse, hair spray and the like. I had elaborate processes that got my hair to stay exactly in the right place (blowdryers, hats, etc) with the right amount of structural integrity (aka volume). It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the best hair product of all: not shampooing. By letting the oil build up in my hair, my straight, fine hair became thick and pliant. (Full disclosure: I’m still a soap user, though am considering trying to do without).

None of this is suggestive of eliminating the need to bathe. Water is our friend and regular bathing in some capacity is, for most of us, a worthwhile endeavor.

What it does suggest is that certain things that we think are immutable truths–things that should never be lived without–might not be true at all.

But don’t take Bonner, Nikoley or my word for it. Try it for yourself. Try going without soap or shampoo or both for a week. The great thing is you don’t have to buy anything to take this challenge. That’s the point.

Image credit: Flickr via takot

  • Dave

    I use a drop of shampoo and only use hand soap when necessary. I never understood what a body wash would remove that hot water by itself couldn’t. Except in particular dirty work of course.

    • it’s not the same substance..

      • Dave


  • Lori takes a couple weeks for the lovely hair to show up. There is a period of rebalancing . You need to stick out he no shampoo thing for 3-4 weeks to reap the rewards. Not sure about the no soap. Maybe that’ll be next. I have been following this site for a few months and thoroughly enjoy it.

    • but you do water the hair?

      • Alessandra Martellacci

        I have been washing my hair with plain old water (and nothing else) for a couple years now. I have really, really nice hair; dark chesnut mermaid waves. Mostly, I take baths and just leave my hair under for as long as I can stand it, making small, gentle circles on my scalp with my fingertips to loosen debris and dead skin cells. Water is essential for nice hair, so I just stick my head in warm water and let it drink all it can hold. 🙂

        My hair doesn’t have that slippery feeling conditioner gives it and it took a while to get used to that, but my hair is so gorgeous, shiny and manageable now (not to mention, actually retaining length for once) that it was worth getting used to. I regularly get asked what I use and it both horrifies and intrigues people when I say, “nothing but water.” I don’t even have to brush it anymore. Wild.

        I’m also a lot nicer to my hair now. No need for styling products (couldn’t get them out with just water anyway) because my hair is nearly always perfect. No need for blow drying, straightening, hours lost styling, more hours lost primping said style back into shape; no more of that shit. It’s also nice to know that I am honestly beautiful and that my good looks don’t come from bottles or tins; just from being me. It’s amazing to be able to walk through this life as my real self.

        I cannot say enough for leaving behind the artificially coloured, scented and foaming trappings of consumer culture. It does wonders, inside and out.

        • John T

          I’m with ya 100% percent on this. They make it seem like we shouldn’t feel comfortable living without this stuff. Scare Tactics of smelling or looking unkempt. It’s insane when you strip away these things how simple life become again. I haven’t felt this good in 20 years.

          • Alessandra Martellacci

            It truly is la dolce vita. I wish you many a good meal. 🙂

  • michael

    Talk about first-world neuroses. I was born and spent the first twelve years of my life in a country where soap, shampoo and bathing (not to mention dental hygiene) were luxuries. Are they essential? No. Would I give them up? Not on your life.

  • Sick_Pleasure

    Toothpaste is another non-essential, a product of marketing moguls. I have been brushing with just water for over 2 years and my dentist has not noticed athing! Getting rid of soap, toothpaste and shampoo also simplifies air travel.

    • Ek70R

      wait what? how do you do it? If I do this I surely get yellow teeth and caries how do you do it man? wtf

    • I would like a good minted flavor paste as it has a good feeling to my teeth

  • rlpoetschke

    I just don’t know. I don’t like being smelly. This makes me nervous.

    • Miss Cellany

      They’re not suggesting you skip showers, just don’t use soap. Water washes away sweat because surprise surprise, sweat is water soluble.

      The oil on your skin / hair (if you are a very greasy person) can be removed with a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and water, or cider vinegar and water. Both with help break down and emulsify oils. Bicarbonate of soda will also help eliminate odor.

      You can rinse with an essential oil and water mix if you want to smell nice afterwards.

  • Ray Russell

    As an over the road truck driver i can say that there are was to keep yourself from smelling. An important one is avoiding red meat. And as the great George Carlen once said; “arm pits, A**hole, crotch and teeth.” These are the parts that need a good once over each day.

  • mothproof

    That’s whats happening with my hair too during my first week of no shampoo, it had volume and it stays weirdly in place which is nice. 🙂 Ive actually never used hair setting gels, waxes, and clay because I get icked out by the sticky gunk. Wish they’d outlaw shampoos, haha!

  • Fran

    stopped using soap because it made my skin peel. just shower with water and scrub vigorously with a shower pouf to get rid of dirt. skin is much improved and the oils in my hair have finally balanced out. i’m happy with the results 🙂

    • Bill

      Pouf, cloth, brush, loofah, whatever. They are more effective at removing the surface dirt from skin if they are not themselves coated with slime from soap.

  • Jennifer

    I’ve not used shampoo for almost 1 year, but instead bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice. However, I stopped using them over 3 months ago. My hair is still unbalanced as it gets really greasy within a matter of days. There has to be more to it than simply not using any products because I also suffer from dandruff now, which I never used to when using shampoo!

    I’m all for the natural way, but I’m still waiting for my bodies natural self cleaning to kick in.

    I also don’t use soap and my armpits stink because I just spent 2 months in Thailand eating durian pretty much daily. If you aren’t familiar with durian, it is the king of fruits and smells quite potent! I am a fruitarian so I normally don’t smell at all. It really does matter what you eat.

    • Miss Cellany

      If you have very greasy hair use a little cider vinegar mixed with water or Bicarbonate of soda + water, but don’t use too much or you’ll strip too much oil and get dandruff as the skin dries out too much without oil to protect it.

    • ME

      Fruitarian? Eating a lot of fruit is very unhealthy as it contains fructose (sugar). Even though it is natural, excessive amounts are just as bad as processed sugar. This is not conducive to a healthy (or less smelly) body.

      • miss.wagner

        Shhhh, you sound stupid.

        • John T

          LOL….. I thought the same thing. It’s not that fructose is bad for our bodies. It’s that we’ve thrown our bodies out of balance with all that other crap and even benign stuff becomes hard for it to process. You made me laugh. LOL

    • sherry

      I’ve just been washing my hair with only water for about a month now and find that my pick, round tipped brush and bore brush are what control my hairs volume and oiliness or dryness. My mom has started it too and we talk every day about our hair. It took a little bit for us to get use to the helmet feeling we have now but our hair is just getting so beautiful as long as we remember to listen to what our hair needs and use the appropriate tool to pick, comb or brush it.
      Now I remember why brushing your hair a hundred strokes a day can make it so nice like when I was a kid. But not every day because then it becomes too oily. Whenever I have doubts I run my fingers through my hair which I’ve never been able to do or look at the pictures of women’s hair back in the 1940s and 30s before people started doing everything we do to our hair nowadays. For the first time in my life I don’t feel like Rosanna Anna Danna and I get actual compliments on my hair from people.

  • Miss Cellany

    I haven’t used soap on my body for 9 years now. I still use hand soap when my hands are dirty but it simply isn’t needed anywhere else.
    Since I stopped using soap, my eczema is gone, my skin feels better, my skin cracks less in the cold and people tell me I have very youthful looking skin.
    I stopped using shampoo about a year ago. My hair is much more manageable now and less frizzy after bathing. I also like not having that chemical shampoo stink on me. It leaves me free to scent myself with essential oils and not have several scents all mingled up.

  • Bill

    Stopped using soap and shampoo nearly a year ago. My facecloth and backbrush are now free of slippery slime. And the shower glass stays much cleaner. Definitely an improvement and to be recommended to anyone.

    • What do you do when you have, for example, to make food with your bare hands? No soap at all?

      It is known and pretty much based assumption that soap will help against germs and other microscopic stuff and while in most cases you don’t need it in your closed natural environment, sometimes it is useful as you are getting dirty

      • Shey Wentworth

        I’m stopping by to comment on this 2 years later and say my entire family never washed our hands before cooking or eating, even though we owned animals and our home was not the cleanest, at most a quick rinse with water after handling raw meat or a nice scrub if we were obviously filthy like after doing garden work. Never caused us an issue and none of us have allergies or sensitivities.

        • Great to hear!

          1. It’s a statistical thing. Not individual
          2. If you are examining your personal situation, then you really have to take into effect many factors.
          The fact that you don’t have sensitivies or allergies may the related to the reason you don’t have problems with crap
          3. Some of my friend don’t wash their hands either, even when they are greased..
          4. However, vulnerabilities could show up encountering people with unknown microbes to your body. In that case washing hands and making some separation could be a good thing

          It’s pretty obvious that going from 0 soaps to 150% soap in our lives is much due to economical interests.. Statistically, it’s probably better to wash your hands well at least with water, and sometimes with soap (or other stuff that get rid of crap on your hands)

          Plus, when you have 1on1 action, you might want to be cleaner and smell better..

        • btw, do you eat much food that is not cooked ?

  • John T

    It’s absolutely ridiculous how accurate this is. I suffered with horrible dandruff on my scalp and in my facial hair, acne on my face, back and scalp, digestive disorders, distended/painful stomach, swollen sinuses, ringing/whooshing In my ears, food allergies, body and head hair falling out,body odor that would not be tamed by any deodorant/ anti perspirant and became so bad I stopped going out into public and as time went on I not only developed allergies to more and more things in my life but finally my immune system began to malfunction and fail and I was diagnosed with Lupus. No elimination diet would help. I would become allergic to any new substance within weeks. There was nowhere to hide form it. But something weird happened…. I took a trip to Italy. And on the 3rd day something weird happened. I woke up with no allergies and looked like a different person. I spent the next 7 days as a normal person. Eating everything I wanted (even nightshade vegetables which had become death to me), drinking wine, eating rich desserts…. with No Ramifications. My muscles looked HUGE!! Like I’d been working out. It was incredible. The people I was with were stunned. I was laughing and joking and not having to be OCD about everything I ate or touched. Not the “Me” they’d come to know. I figured it was from the bedding being all cotton and wool….. or the food having no chemicals in it. I had NO IDEA it was the soaps they use which are all natural. Even their clothes detergents. I slept for almost 24 hours tat 4th night. Gone was my horrible insomnia. Long story short I LIVED. And boarded the plane back to America to change my bedding and eat organic and stay healthy. Well…. I did the first 2. Because I became quite ill on the 3rd day back. It all came back with a vengeance. That was in 2010. I only figured this out this month from numerous articles and talking to my niece who was experiencing the same things. It’s a genetic sensitivity. Passed down and everyone in my family suffers with it. Strange how a topical soap and shampoo can cause digestive problems and immune system dysfunction. If it didn’t happen to me I wouldn’t believe it. I use “Grandpa’s” Baking Soda soap now. No shampoo. NO BODY ODOR AND NO FLAKES. NO ACNE, NO BACKNE. FOOD ALLERGIES ARE DISSAPEARING, SINUSES HAVE GONE DOWN, TINNITUS IS GOING AWAY….. How the H#$l are they selling this toxic stuff??? I’m starting to wonder how many people I know with chronic illnesses, fibromyalgia, candida, digestive disorders are all just experiencing the same thing. It’s crazy to even conceive. I even became allergic to drinking water at one point. This was a 20 year long nightmare. I can’t believe it’s over…. I thought I was going to have to move to Italy. LOL. (I laugh now, but it wasn’t very funny for the years I suffered).

  • Philip Hersey

    I have a bidet so it’s easier mentally to shower without soap. Also many people who don’t use soap still are using deodorant… Yes something is needed but not that! I found that common cheap hand sanitizer, with only one active ingredient ethyl alcohol (that kind you can drink), works fabulous! Once or twice a day. I got mine at the Dollar store and it has a pleasant scent.

  • Suresh Sreenivasa Pai

    Do you have any suggestions for fungus infection?