summer hand-washing reinvented

design, eco-craft, family, just a thought

I know that there are really important issues out there facing the world such as wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economic collapse of Greece, volatility in the stock market and the oil slick the size of Puerto Rico in the Gulf of Mexico that BP can’t seem to stop, but frankly I don’t feel qualified to solve any of them. I have, however, solved two not-very-important issues. I realize that by even bringing this up I risk being thought if as someone who really needs to get a life but sometimes small improvements in our routine can make all of those big, serious problems just an eensy bit easier to face.

Are you ready for my big achievement? I have developed a better, more frugal, greener way to wash really dirty hands. It involves changing the triangular relationship between the dirt on your hands, the soap and the towel.

We’ll start with the soap: Soap seems so simple enough but it becomes really annoying over time. Some of it cracks and develops these yucky black streaks, others develop yellow stains in certain places, some develop these erosion-looking streaks on the end and that’s even before it gets down to that too-small-to-use-easily-yet-too-big-to-want-to-throw-away phase. Some crack in half prematurely and others just become too cumbersome to use. Big bars of soap are awkward for kids’ and my small hands, but little bars don’t last very long and can be equally awkward to use. In the lifespan of a bar of soap, I figure that there’s about two good weeks when it fits well in your hand and is still usable. I know that I could use liquid soap but I don’t want one plastic dispenser in my life and liquid soap is wash-for-wash much more expensive than bar soap, although I will fork out the money for our gigantic container of Dr. Bronner’s that we decant into a smaller squeeze bottle in the shower. This idea is for grimy hand-washing, which doesn’t work as well with slippery liquid soap.

Then there’s the towel: I have this vivid memory of feeling betrayed by the fancy hand towel in our family’s powder room growing up. Heeding the advice to wash my hands with soap and water after playing outside, I couldn’t understand why even when I did that I ended up getting in trouble for getting the towel dirty. So when I found myself reminding my own child about not trashing the hand towels I confessed to her that I understood how hard it is to get all of the dirt off before you wipe you hands on the towel.

Here’s my theory: we’re doing the whole hand-washing thing all wrong. We’ve got dirt on our hands, right? We need gentle abrasion to get the dirt off right? We use smooth soap, which doesn’t do the job so then when we use a slightly textured terry-cloth towel to wipe our hands dry, the remaining dirt comes off on the towel.

So here’s my solution: I’ve taken an old, thin terry-cloth washcloth (an old dishcloth would also work I bet) and sewn a little hand-sized pouch. I wouldn’t try this with a thick washcloth: poor abrasion to soap ratio. In it I’ve put all the pitiful shards of soap from around the house. Finally I used a simple zigzag stitch to sew it closed. I’ve put this contraption in the soap dish that’s most frequently used for washing grimy hands (after gardening, soccer games, etc). When we’ve used up all of the soap in the pouch, I’ll cut off the end, add more soap and sew it up again. I considered a small zipper, Velcro or button but I don’t think I’d want that rubbing against my wet hands. I don’t think this solution would work if we didn’t have soap dishes that drain but we do so I don’t think that we’ll end up with any mildewing problems. I even made an identical pouch for the deodorant soap we use in the summer in the shower for what I will euphemistically refer to as “sandal feet.”

Now all I have to do is wait for the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to call.

69 thoughts on “summer hand-washing reinvented

  1. I was given one of those in a bath set gift basket. The closure is a fold – not unlike very cheap sandwich baggies. One side is a “fabric” that is more like hook & loop tape (& yet soft enough than anything else – the other side is terry. I’ve been using it for YEARS!

    Also adding a tiny bit of table sugar to your soapy hands helps get the dirt off nicely (adds grit).

  2. I had to laugh when I read this…having had many of the same thoughts myself. I came up with a slightly different solution to the problem. I call mine a soap sweater and enlisted my crocheting friend Dawn to make them for me. My grandmother’s solution growing up was to put the soap in the toe of a sock. It all works. As far as the soap scrubbiness for a bare bar goes, you could try some that has an exfoliating ingredient like oatmeal, coffee grounds or pumice. Several of the soaps I make do, for that reason. Have a clean hand summer!

  3. This is quite a good idea. It will prevent the soap from finishing off sooner than expected as well…

  4. Maybe I’m just being obtuse, but wouldn’t it just be easier to use a regular washcloth and rub those little bits of soap on it? The main problem with your idea is that the soap is going to get into the washcloth, then when it dries, it’s going to harden up the washcloth, to use it again, you’re going to have to rinse out all the soap to loosen up the cloth and then you’re just wasting soap and water by spending the time doing that. It’s an interesting idea, but the only improvement I’m seeing with it is that you don’t have to look at the soap anymore.

  5. I am also given to solving life’s problems that few realize are indeed a problem. I applaud both your fabulous idea and your engaging writing style.


  6. I really love this idea and will definitely try it out. I know sometimes the liquid hand soaps really don’t get the job done. You’re totally right about adding some abrasion to your hands really clean.

    I’m definitely going to try it out for my “summer sandel feet”. I wear flip flips often, and they definitely need some extra cleaning after a long day out.

    Thanks for the idea!

  7. That’s so weird, I always used to do that when I was little. Then a few days ago when taking a shower, I did it again and thought, “Someone could make a lot of money off of this, preferably me.” But then I realized that people wouldn’t buy my products when they realized you could just put soap in a wash cloth, which is exactly what this post is about. It’s still a great idea, and you actually did it, unlike myself who just wrapped a bar of soap in a wash cloth.

  8. What an awesome idea! Sometimes simple is best. I never thought to change the method of hand washing but I understand what you mean about the dirty towel. Thank you for sharing this. :)

  9. This is an awesome idea AND blog!!! As I always say: it really IS the little things in life! And I love seing someone else who puts as much thought into them as I do. Honestly this warmed my little, crazy heart. Have a look at my blog if you like and read article “For equality.”. This is not spam, don’t worry just thought it could be interesting for someone same-minded ;).
    All the best.

  10. To avoid the stiffening up problem that someone else mentioned, there’s another way to do this –

    Get a thick, cheap kneehigh stocking, throw the soap in the stocking, and knot it off.

    The nylon won’t hold as much soap in, so it won’t stiffen much as it dries, but it will still give you a little bit of texture to help rub off the dirt, especially if you get the coarse, cheap, variety.


  11. OK yes, I did think you needed to ‘get a life’ until I read the LAST line. Hmmmmmm. One for FEET with deoderant soap…in the outdoor shower! OK you WIN tips for the day. THANX!

  12. LOVE the idea!

    I also have small hands, and though I admist to loving certain liquid soaps for showers and having to use liquid soap for when I play my violin (bar soap makes my hands too sticky to be able to change positions and the liquid soaps make them just slippery enough) I hate how I can never keep hold of a bar of soap in the shower! I’ve always wanted to fashion something like this, but never thought it would work. I’ll give the knee high idea a try though! Sounds like it would work well.

    Also, sendal feet! I have ballet feet! I need to use this idea for them! I have calouses all over my feet, and I hate wearing socks or slippers so the bottoms are always black from walking around the house. Pumice stones don’t always do the trick, or they get off to much calouse. Thank you so much for the enlightenment!

    If you like sewing though, I have another sudgestion for using up a few little slivers of soap. My mom, when the soap gets a bit too small, will use it one final time to sharpen the edges. Then she keeps it near her sweing machine and uses it to put marks on the cloth she is going to tailor or adjust instead of chalk. She says its cleaner (who wants chalk dust all aroudn their house and clothes?) and since it’s soap, it comes off no problem when she washes the clothes.

    Oh and as for really huge bars fo soap, try smashing them up, wetting them, mashing them to a paste and letting them sundry. She found a soft skin caring soap that came in a HUGE bar and no smaller. she now uses the past she made out of it after washing the dishes to rejuvinate her skin (she hates wearing gloves when washing the dishes and I agree).

    Thanks for the beautiful blog! Easy on the eyes, and brilliant thought provoking content!

  13. Hm… maybe I’m not as idealistic as you are, the nobel prize candidate ;) I prefer liquid soap than soap bar. I can just refill it when it runs out of soap. Hygienic and practical ;)

  14. hi! came across your fantastic blog by random. it’s really great & inspiring! actually i’ve finally made up my mind to write too, though i doubt if anyone would be interested… one can always writing for him/herself, right? shall visiting yours regularly!

  15. Should be required reading for medical personnel. There’s really nothing trivial about handwashing. You should be a hospital consultant, seriously. In my city, there was a survey done in the local hospitals, analyzing the frequency of handwashing by doctors and nursing staff. You would think they understand the importance of having clean hands for examining patients, but compliance was found to be low! You could teach them a few things.

  16. This would solve many of our hand cleaning problems. There would be something soft and scrubby to get the dirt from our hands and nails after working in the garden or planting new plants in our flower pots. Maybe some of these will be on the market soon for those of us without a sewing machine.

  17. hihihi, nice idea. I know what you mean about the soap issue very well. Nobel Peace prize, why not! I may talk to some people, after all, I live in Norway!!

    Very nice blog too:)

  18. Hate to break it to you, but “soap savers” have been around for a long time. The scrubby effects of the towel were generally secondary, however, so kudos for thinking enough to improve on the original.

  19. I used the same idea a long time ago to save on the shards of soap and put them into an old piece of nylon stocking/panty hose. It worked even though it looked funny. It was easy to hang on a nail on the railing near the outdoor tap too. Like your choice of blog theme here. gentle.

  20. I am interested in all those articles containing support, ideas, education, ….,
    thanks for contributing, sharing ,….. greetings, ……., sinBalas

  21. I do find it commendable that you took the time to find such an ingenious solution to an apparently small issue.

  22. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  23. I am the first time on this site and am really enthusiastic about and so many good articles.
    I think it’s just very good.

  24. Nice idea… there are also some nice textured soaps that contain natural granular matter that helps scrub! :0)

  25. How nifty! I just began sewing and am always looking for simple ideas, plus, this helps in the trying not to throw anything away department. Thanks!

  26. I took lots of leftover soap bits, boiled them with some hot water in a pan, stirred up the mush, poured it into an old ice cube tray, froze it, and then popped out the soap as needed. (Watch the soap-to-water ratio or it will get gooey.) Cute, good grip, smells good and it’s all easily recycled.

  27. Sometimes the small things really count. It’s hard to resist being an ostrich during hard times like these, but keeping myself busy helps make the awful things a bit easier to bear.
    THX for the project.

  28. Ingenious solution to a persistent problem. I hope you patent your idea so that when the call comes, you can make a billion or so! Your tongue-in-cheek writing style is delicious, by the way.

  29. I’ve generally not loved using soap savers before, because the soap always falls out. I *LOVE* the idea of sewing it up each time. How clever of you. Thanks for sharing this :)

  30. Despite some of the comments above, I think this is a great idea and you should expect the nobel prize any day now….thanks for sharing.

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