Dr. Bronner Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

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The original bottle of Dr. Bronner Pure-Castille Liquid Soap (unscented)
The original bottle of Dr. Bronner Pure-Castille Liquid Soap (unscented)


"...help teach the whole human race the Moral ABC of All-One-God-Faith! For we're all ALL-One OR NONE!"

What the heck is text like doing this on a soap label? Well, read on, and you'll find out.

In late summer of 2012, two friends from Europe visited us, and one of the trips I took them on was a three-night outing to Joshua Tree and Mt. San Jacinto. Em couldn't come, so it was just the three of us.

Part of the soap
Part of the soap's label

Bad weather forced us to spend a night at the Idyllwild campground. Somehow I forgot to take camp soap with me (back then we used to carry a small piece of unscented bar soap), and our only soap was something my friend had, namely one of those small plastic dispensers with sheets of soap in it. Of course, clumsy as always, I carelessly ruined that with a big splash of water while showering.

Next day, before hiking up the mountain via the Devil's Slide trail, we stopped at Nomad Ventures (great store, by the way, but not as great as Adventure 16) to get some soap. I saw they had these cute little two-ounce bottles of some liquid soap, so I picked up an unscented one without thinking too much. I didn't look closely at the label, and I had no idea who/what Dr. Bronner's was.

The soap turned out to work ver well, just a drop was more than enough to work up a nice lather and wash hands/face/etc. I still didn't pay much attention to it, other than deciding that this is great soap, and most likely we'll keep using it.

A few days later, back home after a fantastic trip, somehow I started reading the label. Oh, my. I'm sorry, but the first thought that came to mind was that this is sheer, utter madness. How can someone be this whacko?

However, it awakened my curiosity, and after looking up the company and learning about them, I found out they're one of the coolest corporations around (if there is such a thing). They are the first certified organic soap company in the U.S. and while they're a for-profit, they're not out to take the skin off people (no pun intended). If you want to learn more, read this article.

The guy whos crazy-sounding religious-philosophical rants are on the labels was Dr. E. H. Bronner, who founded the company in 1948 and used his soap labels to get his message to the masses. The current guys running the show (mostly his descendants) kept some of this, out of respect and a healthy dose of clever P.R. sense.

Dr. Bronner's grandson, the former president and current C.E.O. (Cosmetic Engagement Officer), David Bronner, is a huge activist for the legalization of cannabis, a cause I support wholeheartedly as well. He fought the Bush administration on the legal use of hemp oil in their soaps - and won. My kind of guy.

Using it

Now, for the actual soap.

In short: it works great. It's very, very concentrated, pure soap. If you're used to the usual big-brand liquid soaps, in the beginning you'll be like the rest of us: you'll use way more than you need. A few drops are more than enough for washing hands, and a small dash will make a great shower. If you feel that it doesn't rinse off right away, you used too much. Next time, try a bit less.

Em working up nice suds with only a few drops of Dr. Bronner
Em working up nice suds with only a few drops of Dr. Bronner's soap
Our glorious shower setup at Charlotte Lake
Our glorious shower setup at Charlotte Lake

A few words about backcountry soap use:

I've seen people wade into pristine alpine lakes, washing their body and hair with abundant quantities of soap. Suds were floating all over. Those people should be happy I didn't have a few well-trained crocodiles at my disposal.

You just DON'T do that stuff. No matter how oh-so-organic or oh-so-biodegradable your soap is, it's a very, very foreign agent in nature and it destroys the delicate balance of the water's chemistry. It even causes some damage in the soil, but there's a lot more of that and a whole more soap is needed to actually cause harm.

So the rule, if you haven't heard it yet, or you didn't listen to the ranger telling you when you picked up the permit: do everything at least 100 feet away from water sources, much farther if possible.

We like taking showers in the backcountry, and we like doing it almost every day if we can make it work. Of course, I'm not talking about anything close to what a real shower is at home, but showers nonetheless. One great “luxury” item we always carry with us is the Sea to Summit Pocket Shower. However, we always make sure that whatever activities we do around it, the water is absorbed by soil and that we're always a considerable distance from any water source.

Of course, that original small bottle I bought is long damaged (we still have it, though). Nowadays we buy big, 32-oz. bottles and keep refilling a small bottle. Right now it's a 2-oz, formerly having contained unscented hand sanitizer from Target. On a weeklong trip, this tiny bottle is full at the beginning, but we never use much more than half. This means two people washing their hands and faces at least twice a day, taking a shower each almost every day – and using about an ounce and a half in 7-8 days. That's how nice and concentrated this soap is.

Our  current refill bottle.
Our current refill bottle. Left: "room temperature". Right: next morning, at around 42° F.

Side note: this soap is yellowish by default, but it gets milky white when the temperature drops to around 50° F (I never measured this exactly). It still works just as well and it will revert to its original color once it warms up again. Em sometimes jokes about using it as a thermometer, she says she's only feeling OK in the morning after the soap turns yellow again.


Great product from a great company. We also use their other soaps at home. My favorite is the mint-scented soap and the citrus hair rinse. Washing hair with any of their soaps works great, but they leave the hair a bit tangled. The hair rinse takes care of that beautifully, while smelling great.

I heard some people use a drop of the above-mentioned mint soap as tooth paste. I know it works, but real toothpaste is still our choice in the backcountry (in tiny travel-size tubes, of course).

Official website: https://www.drbronner.com/

Em drying herself after a nice shower at Charlotte Lake.
Em drying herself after a nice shower at Charlotte Lake. No, I will not send you the unretouched version of this image :-)