Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Getting Squeaky In The Woods

Camping With Suds

Use number 2: "Peppermint is nature's own unsurpassed fragrant Deodorant!"

Use number 6: "Dilute for ideal After Shave, Body Rub, Foot Bath, Douche."

Use number 10: "1/4 oz in qt H2O is Pest Spray! Dash, no rash Diaper-Soap!"

And the list goes on. There are 18 entries in all.

I personally haven't attempted anything involving diapers, or even remotely douche-like, due partly to anatomical limitations perhaps, but I do love this stuff.

And what, you may say, do I, Love? Emanuel Bronner's Peppermint Liquid Soap.

I heard about this shortly after moving to Lotus Land (Western Washington State) in 1979, and soon after that I bought some, and kept it in mind for a long time even when I wasn't using it, which was mostly. In the old days the labels were a bit freakier but it was all in keeping with my friends of the time.

The labels are still freaky in a slightly more refined and corporate way but after so much time they've really become only the identifying mark that I reach for. I no longer attempt to understand these labels, or anything. They are just words on paper, assuring me that I've got my hands on the right stuff.

Too bad this soap is expensive. At home I use Ivory bar soap to shampoo and bathe with (it's nice to have gotten away from the hard water of the Great Plains where this does not work for shampoo), I use an ordinary liquid detergent for dishes (I have roughly two of everything: two forks, two knives, two plates and so on, so cleanup is easy), and I use another ordinary powdered detergent for laundry.

A couple of years back I tried Dr. Bronner's soap for tooth brushing. Since then I've heard that a lot of the ingredients in "ordinary" toothpaste are nasty. Some people swallow the stuff every now and then, but it isn't certified in any way to be taken internally. Which means that the ingredients can be pretty much anything, and so this "ordinary" toothpaste is not good to swallow, and maybe not even to use.

As it happens, a lot of other "ordinary" products, most of which I never use, have nasty things in them. Lipstick users "eat" on average two tubes of the stuff per year just by applying it. Various air "fresheners" contain carcinogens. And, as they say, on and on.

But this soap is pretty good for tooth brushing. It's essentially a combination of organic, pure, basically food-grade oils and such, treated with potassium hydroxide to turn the ingredients into liquid soap.

The only problem is that you need to learn restraint. Two or three drops on the bristles of a toothbrush are about right. Less doesn't do the job, and more is unpleasant.

Really unpleasant. You foam up badly, the suds come out of your mouth, your nose, and any other available orifice, and the soap generally removes exactly everything from your mouth except actual teeth, tongue, and mucus membranes. And that is unpleasant for a good long while, but not so if you use less.

This is ideal for backpacking. The soap, not the excess.

I take a small bottle of Elmer's Glue (seriously), dump out the contents, and clean the bottle. Then I fill it with Dr. Bronner's soap. The Elmer's Glue bottle has a handy screw-open, screw-closed top that dispenses dropwise, and when you close it it stays closed, mostly.

Somehow the bottle always seems to be coated with a film of soap, so I carry it in a plastic bag.Either it gets a film of soap or it's wet, or both, and you really don't want that in your pack or even in one of its pockets.

OK teeth: done.

This soap is good for other things, especially while backpacking.

Like washing hands, which I almost never do with soap, but it's there if you need it.

Washing clothes, which I do sometimes, though the tiny bottle contains only about two fluid ounces (60 ml). Usually a water rinse of clothing is good for three or four days, and only then do clothes need to be nuked. Without clothes washing my small bottle of soap is good for about two weeks on the trail.

It's primo for shampooing though. Even on a cold morning you can wet your hair, rub wet hands over your face and neck, shoot about a half teaspoon of soap onto the palm of your hand (2 - 3 ml) scrub up, hit your face with the leftover suds, rinse, and repeat if needed. Then you start the day fresh. Fresh enough.

On a warm day with lots of water around you can have a full bath. A backpacker's bath anyway. I do my head, armpits and crotch, and just rinse the rest. If I'm really dirty, it's really warm, and there is really a lot of water around I'll soap all over and rinse. This doesn't take much extra soap, but everything has to come together to make this worthwhile. It's amazing what being cleanish can do for a person's mood.

Which brings in another use.

Every morning while backpacking I have to do something within minutes after getting out of bed. A couple drops of this soap applied to a wet finger, combined with a half-liter of water let me get in there and scrub and rinse away all the unpleasant residue so I can hike all day without having an itchy tail. And the peppermint oil is tingly.

You get used to the tingly part. It means that you're clean.

Clean good. Dirty bad. See?

With peppermint oil in your soap you can figure out right away if you're clean without having to sniff or inspect any inconvenient-to-reach body parts. Or anything. So that's good.

And I wear glasses.

My sister just had a couple of plastic bags implanted in her eyes, under the corneas, to cure of lifetime of extreme nearsightedness, but she doesn't have astigmatism. I do. So I'm still stuck at the glasses stage. Have glasses, have to clean glasses - no way around it. Dr. Bronner's soap to the rescue.

Ordinarily I wouldn't do this because soap leaves a residue, but with this soap, hardly. Pretty amazing. At home I use liquid detergent which removes everything you want removed and rinses away entirely, but on the trail the soap is fine, and lots better than walking around with fingerprint smears and dried sweat and dust and bugs all over my lenses. So that works too.

Another tip. I didn't think of this but someone once mentioned that she carried a small square of fleece to use as a washcloth. Stroke of genius. Now I can't stand to be without mine.

Use it while bathing, or in place of bathing, for "sponge" baths. Hang it on the pack during the day so it dries, and when it's dirty enough to gag you it takes only a few precious drops of Dr. Bronner's soap and a bit of water to bring it back up to spec. The fleece (some really thick stuff) is scratchy and takes off dead skin and dirt if you scrub with it but is still easy to get clean and dries quickly.

In a pinch (daily) this also serves as a towel, and it's only about eight inches (20 cm) square. Almost weightless.


"Peppermint Liquid Soap. The peppermint essential oil tingles the body and clears the mind. Because therapeutically peppermint oil is a mild stimulant it increases vitality and clarity. All oils and essential oils are certified organic to the National Organic Standards Program. Packaged in 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. Ingredients: Water, organic coconut oil, potassium hydroxide, organic olive oil, mentha arvensis, organic hemp oil, organic jojoba oil, organic peppermint oil, citric acid, tocopherol." (

Dr. Bronner website

Movie about Dr. Bronner