Medicine Monday: Soap!

Soap Bubble by Thomas Picard

Why is there Soap for Camping?

Camping, especially tent camping and long term camping (and particularly when living in a tent), provides its own challenges to staying clean. Usually, you are interacting directly with nature the entire time, and between wanting to be clean in general and not wanting to scare away your neighboring animals, the kind of soap you camp with can’t be the pretty clam- and shoe-shaped soaps. There are soaps best used for camping.


Now, I’ve mentioned that I use Lysol to camp. I’m okay with it, and am careful in how I do it. Other people aren’t okay with it. And that’s fine, too. My choice to use also have antibacterial and stronger cleaners while camping (and living in various structures) comes from a life of not always having access to water, and said water not generally being the greatest even when it was available.

If you choose to use your regular soap while camping, that can be fine if done correctly (which most people don’t manage successfully). Typical soaps need to be kept away from the ground, and at least one large bucket usually ends up being involved (creating a problem since you can’t just dump it). Even once you balance yourself, and whatever else you are cleaning, to ensure there’s no run-off or splashing going over the sides of your washtub, you still need to make sure your soapy water isn’t going to contaminate or damage water sources, or any surrounding plants OR animals. What might seem to be a minor amount of soap to us can quickly spread and become a local contaminant for years.

I told a camping neighbor (more than one, actually) to think of it like this:

When you change the oil in your car, you can’t just dump it down the drain. It’s not legal, and it’s not good for the pipes or the environment. This is because of the icky stuff that oil physically is. Is it from nature? Yes. Is it safe for nature? No. So, we do what we can to keep the parts of the world we interact with safe. Soaps are like minor versions of car oil. We need it, but the ground and water shouldn’t have to deal with it.

There are soaps meant specifically for camping, like:

This particular camp soap is very popular, and quite cheap for how effective it is.

It comes concentrated (like red-bottle Lysol), so the 4oz container lasts you quite a while.

There isn’t a “scent”, so it’s better for those with allergies, as well as those out hunting or just communing with nature.

One reason I like this particular soap is because it’s designed to be multi-purpose. You can use it on your clothes, you/your hair, your cooking supplies, etc. Which, of course, greatly cuts down on the containers of cleaners you need to bring with you.

These soaps are biodegradable, which means that they break down quickly and leave few traces to become contaminants.

Leaving your site as clean, or cleaner, than you arrived is always important.  Remember: you are a visitor to your site. The animals are the ones living there year-round.


Do these soaps burn when in contact with a wound?

Well, as much as any soap does, so YMMV there. Again, my barometer is a little off for those sorts of things, so I would say that if you hate getting soap in your cuts usually, you won’t like it much with the camping soap either. If you’re more Maurice Moss than John McClane, then I would say ‘yes it might hurt’ (granted if you’re more Moss, I would wonder if you’ve been kidnapped and are enjoying your trip out into nature anyway -but we might have a lovely conversation sharing tales).


How well do these soaps clean?

Well, they’re not antibacterial, so let’s just get that out of the way. On the other hand, scientists are now pretty sure ‘antibacterial’ means as much to reality as ‘Vitarays’ so it’s moot anyway. Regardless, the secret to soap is friction and time. You use the recommended amount to clean whatever is it you’re cleaning, and you provide enough scrubbing for a good amount of time, and it will help get the item clean. Hot water, cold water, tepid water: doesn’t matter. If you want to make your soapy water antibacterial, get it hot – not scalding or a trip to the ER might be your next task – and get the item immersed in the hot water for at least 47 seconds. I prefer 3 minutes (bit of a germaphobe, but I’m working on it, unsuccessfully).



This soap isn’t hard to rinse out, and since the water temperature doesn’t matter, you can take as little or as much time rinsing as you want. Wooden cooking supplies will take longer, naturally, but not any longer than normal soaps. For clothing, if you’ve bungeed a line around two trees and you know a rain is coming, you can just clip your items up well and let the rain do it for you – a joy of camp soap, you don’t have to worry about your run-off.


So, where do you stand on the camp soap and run-off issue? How do you clean items when you’re out on the trail?

Am I too obsessed with cleaning?

Let me know in the comments!

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I'm (now) an Affiliate, who blogs about the materials, gear and supplies needed for living in a tent and long term camping: http://longtermcamping.siterubix.com I also enjoy reading and sci-fi in all its many forms.

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