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scented dr bronner soap and bears
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Adam Cassis
(acassis) - F

Locale: SoCal
scented dr bronner soap and bears on 07/03/2013 09:16:14 MDT Print View

I plan on using a few drops of DB soap to wash my clothes nightly on the JMT. It is scented (lavender). any issues with bears and a scented soap to wash clothes? Or should I just pony up for nonscented soap?

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: scented dr bronner soap and bears on 07/03/2013 13:48:31 MDT Print View

If you can manage to stay so clean that the bears can only smell the soap residue and not your own human fragrance then you might need to be concerned about it, but I rather doubt that will be the case. But personally I would not attempt to wash my clothes with soap while backpacking - too much hassle to keep the soap away from the water sources. simpler to just rinse with water and no soap, and seems plenty clean for the mountains.

Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
go unscented on 07/03/2013 14:39:22 MDT Print View

go with unscented everything... that's my choice... bears will like any of those scented smells a ton more than your BO...

why take a chance?

my 2 scents :)

bill d

Christopher Chupka

Locale: NTX
Dr. Bonner's on 07/05/2013 16:10:12 MDT Print View

Just rub some Dr. Bonners in the bear's eyeballs, that will keep them at bay.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Soap versus detergent on 07/05/2013 19:13:17 MDT Print View

I'm just throwing out a theoretical here. Which will probably start a big flaming argument. But when I'm traveling in urban areas, I don't bring Dr. Bronner's, even through the instructions on the larger bottles about how following "God's Plan" and how using it to change the pH of the vagina can prevent pregnancy are rather amusing.

I bring Tide laundry detergent. Because it is a detergent, not a soap - it is vastly better at removing food and body oils and odors. Modern detergents function very well in cold water and rinse out quite quickly.

But, but, this "biodegradable soap" was made by unwashed hippies, so it has to be good for the planet!!!

Whereas no one says "Boo!" if you run your laundry effluent into a septic field, so I see a disconnect here.

When you backpack in a sub-arctic environment, you only use the less-effective soaps.

But I live in a sub-arctic environment and I use the more-effective detergents every day doing loads of laundry. And the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and anyone who has ever sampled septic system effluents isn't worried about it infiltrating into the soils and ultimately to the groundwater.

I know I'm being provocative here, but I'm honestly unsure why have different standards for backpackers versus homeowners. Why shouldn't backpackers take advantage of the more effective detergents to wash their clothes as they go (given that they would percolate any waste water far from surface waters).

What fraction of your laundry load is two pair* of undies and two pairs of socks? About 1/40? So 1/40 of a washer load of clothes requires only (I just went and measured it) less than 1 gram of detergent.

*And why do we refer a PAIR of underwear but ONE bra? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Any thoughts?

Edited to add: that "less than a gram" (0.8 grams) was of Tide, High-efficiency detergent for front-loading washing machines. A lot of top-loading detergents have fillers in them so you are paying less per pound but just getting more bulk.

Edited by DavidinKenai on 07/05/2013 20:23:19 MDT.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Soap versus detergent on 07/05/2013 20:11:50 MDT Print View

Thanks David.
I never thought about it before, but it makes sense to me.
Especially the cold water effectiveness and the easy of rinsing.

I'll go find some liquid detergent.

Edited by greg23 on 07/05/2013 20:12:26 MDT.

Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
why? on 07/05/2013 20:37:52 MDT Print View

HI David,

there are many cultural blind spots that don't make any sense... perhaps, some day they will resolve the discrepancy that you point out...

but one reason might be that(besides they just don't think of it) it is just not politically feasible for the EPA to come down on every homeowner for using detergents... heads would roll and people would be voted out of office...

but with the park service it's a different story... most of the park users want to keep the water sources clean...

my 2 scents :)


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: why? on 07/05/2013 21:08:11 MDT Print View

>"there are many cultural blind spots that don't make any sense"


There's the pair of tongs next the pastry tray that many people have already handled and more will do so.

I pick up only my pastry, directly, touching nothing that anyone else has or will touch.

And they glare at me.


It's an engineers curse: A priest, a doctor and an engineer go golfing. There's a foursome in front of them that is going REALLY slowly. They complain to the staff and are told that four firefighters risked their safety to rush into the burning clubhouse and extinguish a fire at the golf course. They all lost their sight. The golf course has let them golf for free ever since. The priest says, "What an inspirational story! I'm going to use that in my sermon on Sunday and ask my congregation to pray for them." The doctor says, "I'm going to ask my ophthalmologist friend if there's anything you can do for them."

The engineers asks, "Why don't they play at night?"

Edited by DavidinKenai on 07/05/2013 21:08:50 MDT.

Daniel Pittman
(pitsy) - M

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: why? on 07/05/2013 22:32:09 MDT Print View

At the local 7-11, I'll pay for my donut first, then go grab it out of the case barehanded and start eating it as I'm walking out the door. Customers coming in that didn't see the first part give me funny looks. NO ONE has ever asked me what the hell I'm doing. People will talk behind your back all day long, and never think to ask a simple direct question. It's as if folks prefer to be offended.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Soap and groundwater vs. surface water. on 07/06/2013 08:11:23 MDT Print View

Soap and modern detergents break down fine in the soil of a leach field. Public lands resource managers aren't worried about groundwater contamination from backpackers, they're worried about surface water contamination.

Detergents are bad for fish, frogs, and assorted critters' mucus layers.
Detergents may add nutrients that feed algae to the water.

So backpackers are careful about using soaps and detergents. We don't wash dishes, hands, clothes, or bodies very well. We forego using a few grams of detergent a day to remove dirt, body oils, food waste, unmentionable waste, sunscreen, and insect poison/repellant from our bodies, clothes, and gear.

Instead we just jump our grimy selves into every lake or stream for a nice swim, proud that we aren't contaminating it with evil detergents.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Soap and groundwater vs. surface water. on 07/06/2013 08:25:08 MDT Print View

I use tiny amount of liquid dish detergent. Just make sure that residue goes on land, not directly into stream or lake.

I hate it when I get drinking water from stream and there is foam from people putting detergent in stream.

I think you're saying that if you emerse your body in lake, way more contaminants pollute the lake than someone with a drop of detergent splashed onto soil.

Scent from detergent or anything could attract mosquitoes. Better to let your clothes just get dirty, less of an attractant.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Soap and groundwater vs. surface water. on 07/06/2013 13:06:17 MDT Print View

JimW: Good info on mucous layers - I hadn't known that. It makes perfect sense because of how much more effective detergents are. And, yeah, either are safe when used far from surface waters. If one was going to use something in or near surface waters (they never should), soap would be better.

LOL on the image of a rainbow sheen of organic- and petro-chemicals around the bathing backpacking.

Note: dishwashing liquid for hand-washing dishes is a soap, not a detergent. Detergents are too harsh on your skin to use frequently, while most soaps are not. But it is that same difference - the detergent's greater ability to dissolve oils - that make them more effective in washing clothes. When on urban trips, I use a pinch of detergent with my clothes and water in a gallon zip-lock. Time and agitation to the extent it is easy (flip it over every time you pass the sink or, on a road trip, leave it in a tub and let the car's motion stir things around). Then two rinses, wringe it out, hang it up. All hotel rooms have clothes dryers in the form of a hair dryer.

If you can keep an eye on your food continuously or have passed out of a bear area, some bear canisters make great laundry tubs. Just dump the wash water far from surface water and onto organic, well-drained soils (like a forest floor - not a swamp or a rock surface).

Jade Willcoxon
(H2Oboy) - M

Locale: Midwest
Detergent Soaps... on 07/08/2013 13:58:43 MDT Print View

Detergent soaps can compromise the effectiveness of many of the clothing items that many of us use as well.

I don't use detergent on my hiking clothes at home,either. I use Sport Suds. Check the labels on your "wicking" and "DWR" coated items and you'll see a warning about using detergent based cleaning solutions on them.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Detergent Soaps... on 07/08/2013 14:10:55 MDT Print View

> "Detergent soaps can compromise the effectiveness of many of the clothing items."

Quite true. The same properties that remove dirt and oil from fabric (reducing the surface energy in chemical kinetic terms), mean that some detergents can remove desired materials on fabric - breathable membranes, polyurethane coatings, etc.

When I use detergent on the trail or in the hotel room, it is for t-shirts and underwear and uncoated clothes I spilled food on - stinky stuff. Never for coated fabrics. Thanks for the reminding everyone!

My simplified mental model of soaps is that they increase the solubility of dirt and oils in the wash water. Detergents do that too, but they also slip between the oil and the fabric, like a chemical knife blade shaving off the dirt layer. Hence their greater effectiveness.

Edited by DavidinKenai on 07/08/2013 14:12:12 MDT.

Scott Bentz
(scottbentz) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: The topic on 07/10/2013 18:59:16 MDT Print View

"Instead we just jump our grimy selves into every lake or stream for a nice swim, proud that we aren't contaminating it with evil detergents."

But we do jump in with DEET and SPF 60!

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
scented dr bronner soap and bears on 07/10/2013 20:57:32 MDT Print View

I've used Dr. Bronner's for 30+? years now, on myself and on my shirt, half pair of undies and pair of socks. :) I always rinse far away from water, bringing my old bleach bottle half bottom as my pan. It also is used to carry water to rinse the soap out of my hair after I have wet my hair from a water source. I used to bring a solar shower which would get my away from cold water baths, but have not used it for some years now. When my dog(s) were alive and since, I have never had issues with bears, they always climb a tree or take off, whether with or without cubs. The only trouble I have had have been from mice trying to get at my food. Two failed terminally.

Eileen Duncan
(eileensd) - MLife

Locale: The Sierra or the SF Bay Area
No soap, please... :) on 07/11/2013 10:36:15 MDT Print View

If you follow LNT principals, you leave Dr. Bronner's (and all other soaps) at home. I never bring any soap ("bio-degradable" or not) into the backcountry and advocate for others to do the same. It is true, I jump in streams and wash off sunscreen (no DEET unless absolutely desperate), but that's no reason to make an even greater impact by saying "oh well, I'm putting sunscreen in, why not a little soap too!?" There is absolutely no logic in that...

If you must use soap because you're concerned with how you smell in the backcountry (!?!?!?) then how about using your cook-pot and washing well away from any (potential) running water?

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
No soap, please... :) on 07/11/2013 11:06:03 MDT Print View

I disagree. I wash my hair well away from water, if we went further, we'd all stay home as it seems we are not part of nature. Our know it all USFS and Park Service want us camping and disposing of human waste at least 100' from water. In Alaska, they even advocate throwing fish entrails back into the water.

PS: I' have to research this Eileen. A quick search only gave me someones personal thoughts. As I've read here and it seems folks want a source of the info, I'll look into more. One of the persons felt soap was not LNT but leaving human waste in a hole was fine.

Edited by hikerduane on 07/11/2013 11:28:04 MDT.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Soap versus detergent on 07/11/2013 11:21:56 MDT Print View

" A lot of top-loading detergents have fillers in them so you are paying less per pound but just getting more bulk. "

i sort of wondered about that yesterday when i bought 22 POUNDS of Sun brand laundry soap for all of $9.48 (+ of course california's ever rsing sales tax).

a bit of a warning though about Tide in your pack. it's potent odious stench will quickly percoalte thru any number of zip lock bags, and soon i had dozens of pounds of food tained with the frikk'n springtime fresh breeze aroma of Tide soap.
not All laundry soaps will do this goodness for you. it takes experimentation to find Whisk unscented or Trader Joes (ever so organic) laundry soaps, and they seem not to travelt he benefits of a fresh offShore Breeze into your(my) food.

if you stuff filthy clothing in a silnylon bag, add water a soap, you can smush and agitate it without too badly freezing your hands, and you can carry the most of the soapy water away from the creek/river/lake. it also allows my soiled rags to soak a bit, which is important if using water only marginally liquidic.

i use Campsuds (cheap by the big bottle). some of the shampoo's and dish soaps these days have not-so-much oomph per volume (wieght) anymore.
not sure about that shampoo apostrophe. tried it both ways.
... courage.


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: No soap, please... :) on 07/11/2013 11:26:16 MDT Print View

The NPS and USFS are correct on this point: keep chemicals (soap, shampoo, sunscreen, etc) out of surface waters. Leave them (and human waste) in the most organic-rich soil well away from surface water. It works. It is the basis for septic system (and many of my clean ups of toxic-waste sites).

The logic about returning salmon frames to the river is that the whole fish would have decomposed there shortly after spawning so those nutrients are a long-time, established input to the system and important to various species. (Although the river banks are kind of rank in the Fall with all the spawned-out carcasses).