Lather and beyond: Where do your used bars of hotel soap go?

May 29, 2023
Learn about the exciting afterlife of your used hotel soaps. Source: Getty

Have you ever gone to a hotel and wondered what happens to the used mini toiletries in your hotel room after you’ve checked out? Well, if you aren’t smuggling it home with you (we’ve all done it) many of these half-used products get thrown out and are immediately replaced with brand-new ones for the next guests to use.

However, these tiny toiletries – the bars of soap in particular– are causing a big problem.

In Australia, there are just over 300,000 hotel rooms and every year a standard 400-room hotel can generate roughly 3.5 metric tonnes of solid soap waste, which usually end up in landfill or incinerated.

But now thanks to social media, we know that a number of major hotels are saving their used soap bars and partnering with not-for-profit organisations that recycle soaps and other hygiene products.

What happens to used hotel soap bars?

One soap recycling powerhouse repurposing old soap bars is Clean the World, a US-based non-profit on a mission to provide millions of children across the globe with soap to prevent them from catching hygiene-related illnesses.

Since launching in 2009, Clean the World has collected 13 million pounds of discarded soap from major chain hotels and distributed about 60 million recycled soap bars to over 127 countries.

But they aren’t the only company committed to saving children’s lives and the environment through hygiene. Right in our own backyard, Victoria-based not-for-profit Soap Aid reprocesses and delivers recycled hotel soap to disadvantaged communities in Australia and overseas.

Since 2011, Soap Aid has made a massive impact on communities across the world. They’ve saved over 290 tonnes of soap from landfills in Australia and New Zealand, distributed over 1.9 million bars of soap globally, and provided soap to more than 400,000 children and adults.

How the hotel soap recycling process works

Curious about the journey of used soap bars? NowThis Earth offers an insightful piece explaining the fascinating process of sorting, sanitising and global distribution.

In a nutshell, the process of converting hotel soap into new bars works like this:

  1. Organisations give participating hotels storage bins to dump their guest soaps, once full they’re either picked up or shipped to the facility.
  2. The soaps then go through a refining machine that filters out hair, dirt particles and other debris before churning the soap into strips.
  3. These strips then go into a mixer where they are sterilised.
  4. From there, the soap gets turned into a powdery substance and compressed into solid blocks.
  5. The soaps are then cut into bars before being repackaged and sent off to communities in need.

How sanitary are recycled soap bars?

Many of you may be wondering just how sanitary these recycled hotel soap bars are. As stated above, Clean the World recycled soap undergoes a sanitisation process. These soaps also get tested by SGS North America, a state-certified testing facility, before getting the seal of approval for distribution.

How to make soap at home


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A post shared by Amanda Gail Aaron (@lovinsoapstudio)

If you’ve decided to take your hotel soap home you could try to DIY your own soap. There’s an abundance of YouTube videos available on the topic of homemade soap that is super easy to follow and offer basic recipes.

If you do try making soap at home, keep in mind that not all soaps are created equal and ingredients vary from brand to brand, so there is no exact science.

However, there is a basic step-by-step method that many soap creators follow:

  1. Start by grating your soap. Remember, the finer you grate it, the smoother the final product will be.
  2. Grab a saucepan and put your grated soap flakes into it. Then add water.  The amount can vary depending on the recipe. Some suggest a ratio of 1 part water to 2 parts soap, while others recommend enough water to prevent burning on the stove.
  3. Now, turn the burner to low or medium heat and stir the soap soup every five minutes or so until it becomes smooth. This can take a while, maybe an hour or two. Boiling isn’t necessary, despite what some recipes might say. Note: You can create a makeshift double boiler by placing the soap in a heat-safe glass bowl and putting it in boiling water in a saucepan.
  4. Keep in mind that the mixture won’t completely melt. It should have the consistency of mashed potatoes or paste. Make sure not to let it scorch.
  5. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
  6. Some home soap-makers suggest adding light vegetable oil at this point, around a tablespoon for each cup of soap, and giving it a good stir.
  7. It’s time to personalise your soap! For exfoliation, try adding some dry oatmeal. If you want a pleasant scent, add a few drops of fragrance or essential oil (though it might still have a mixed scent from the recycled soaps). You can also add a few drops of food colouring to change its colour if desired.
  8. To prevent sticking, add a little grease, then spoon the soap mixture into your chosen moulds. You can use muffin tins, ice cube trays, or even try out fun shapes with cookie cutters.
  9. Allow the soap to harden. It might take up to a week, but in most cases, it’ll be ready within a couple of days.

If all the melting and stirring sounds like too much, this YouTuber offers an alternative soap-making method. Instead of melting the soap, this method involves using soap scraps and water in a wooden box. By applying pressure with some c-clamps, you can compress the mixture until it forms a new bar of soap.

If you’d rather not recycle your soap, consider donating the bars instead! That way you not only avoid wasting valuable products, but you’re also doing your part in helping prevent the spread of diseases amongst communities in developing countries.

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