Paying less for handwashing.

thRecently the two bottles of Method foaming hand soap in our bathroom were on their last few squirts. They’d been there since I moved in almost three years ago. (Tempus fugit!)

We also keep bar soap by the bathroom sinks, which is probably why the bottles lasted for three years’ worth of handwashing. The foamy stuff is undeniably easier to use than the bars, though.

It’s also easier to use than regular liquid soap. You get exactly what you need, vs. squirting out a surplus that either slides off and down the drain or that takes too long for an impatient child to wash off all the way.

Neither DF nor I are exactly children. (Chronologically, anyway.) But we’ve been watching his granddaughter about once a week and my two great-nephews also visit. Given that children are two-legged petri dishes when it comes to the latest viruses, I’d like to make it as easy as possible for them to wash their hands.

Since I’d remembered reading a recipe for foam-refill soap, I went prospecting online rather than pay full price. Even if it were a relatively small saving I thought I’d give it a try.

Good news: It was an easy frugal hack.

Better news: We already had what we needed on hand.

Best news: The saving was actually pretty decent.


The “recipe” is pretty basic: water and liquid soap. A quick trip to the basement superstore confirmed that we had a large and half-full bottle of Kroger brand soap (plus a large, full bottle of Softsoap). We will probably never have to buy this stuff ever again.


The process

Here’s the laborious process of refilling one’s foaming soap dispenser:

Pour in a little water and add about a tablespoon of soap.

Stir slowly (to reduce foaming) until it looks mixed. (I used a chopstick but you could also use a straw.)

Slowly fill the bottle the rest of the way with water. Stir carefully.

Put the pump back into the bottle. Optional: Shake a couple of times to make sure it’s thoroughly mixed.

You’re done.


The savings

Technically the refill was free, i.e., I didn’t pay anything for it. Let’s hear it for sunk cost!

A quick glance at liquid soap prices at sites like Target, Walmart and Soap.com showed that 8- to 10-ounce bottles of foaming hand soap costs anywhere from $2.48 to $4.89 or more. Maybe a lot more; one two-pack of 7.5-ounce bottles cost $12.30, and I looked mostly at ordinary brands vs. the high-end stuff.

Note: Some of the pricier potions have frou-frou scents or moisturizers added, or tout their antibacterial properties. If you like lovely scents, I suppose you could add a drop of essential oil to the DIY refills; myself, I think that clean hands are more important than ones that smell like springtime gardens or deserts after the rain.

As for germ-killing benefits, Consumer Reports says that antibacterial soaps “don’t work better than regular soap, and may pose risks.” (Follow the link to learn about “5 reasons to skip antibacterial soaps.”)

I’m not sure how much the liquid soap I used cost, because it was purchased quite some time ago. The unopened bottle came up with me from Seattle and was definitely bought on sale with a coupon, probably in the oughties; my best recollection is that it was under $3.

Using current prices for jugs of plain old liquid soap, I calculated the per-ounce cost at 0.35 to 0.44 cents. Since one tablespoon equals half an ounce, it cost me less than half a cent to refill each 10-ounce bottle.

I’d much rather pay a penny apiece than $2.99 or more. Bonus: I don’t have to buy and pitch bottle after bottle, or buy and pitch multiple bottles of foaming soap “refills” – which I guess are just regular soap with a lot of water added.

Handwashing is “one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Do it regularly and do it right. But don’t pay more than you must for the ingredients.


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  1. The bar soap at the bathroom sink is starting to look, well, grungy. Probably because I do clean a pellet stove often and soot sticks everywhere.

    I have a foaming bottle stashed below the sink. I’ll pull it out and give this a go again. I have lots of bar soap and tried to make liquid out of it….didn’t work very well.

  2. “Given that children are two-legged petri dishes”-My son always says that he feels infected when dealing with my nephews. Love them but they carry more than a few germs.
    I use Den’s body wash(purchased on sale, of course) to make our foamy soap. It has a nice smell that lingers.
    It really is little hacks like this that save tons of money. Cans of cat food go for $.60 a can and I would need 2 a day. If I divide up the large cans and refrigerate it, I save $.80 a day! Yup, $24 a month just on the cats. I know that it would have been cheaper not to have pets but they sort of found their way to me.

  3. Ruby Julian

    Since we’re past the stage of having small children in the house, I replaced the liquid hand soap with bar soap by all the sinks. As a bonus, the eczema my son has had on his wrists most of his life went away after doing this because Pears bar soap, which I can often get free with coupons at the drug store, agrees with his skin.

  4. We use the same idea, only with dish soap. I like it because it “thins” easier. Of course, since all of our pumps are clear, people can see that our soap is blue. Who cares? Saves money, and so much easier!

    • Donna Freedman

      In fact, one of the online recipes did say you could use dish soap. I went for the liquid hand soap because we have so darned much of it.

      However, I did recently try a DIY Scrubbing Bubbles product: a 50/50 mix of vinegar and blue Dawn dish soap mixed in a repurposed spray bottle. It works quite well, and the smell does go away eventually (just as the Scrubbing Bubbles stink subsides over time).

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  5. I’ve been doing this regularly for a while. It also saves water, because you don’t need to wet your hands first; pump some foam on your hands and it’s already lathered up, so just turn on the water to rinse it off after washing.

    I just put about half an inch of liquid soap on the bottom, and slowly fill the bottle about halfway with water, allowing it to run down the side of the bottle to not foam up. Then I get the liquid in the bottle to form a vigorous maelstrom to get the soap to dissolve into the water, then top off the water, put in the pump, and turn it upside down a few times.

    I’ve found that if you don’t ensure the concentrated soap is dissolved into the water, and you get some of that into your pump, it will ruin the pump. It also doesn’t work well with moisturizing soap.

    I also use this technique with dishwashing detergent.

  6. I have a bottle of foaming soap in thepowder room. I use 24 oz bottles of body wash from Dollar Tree or cheap to me shower gel as the soap base. : )

  7. Nice Tip! I will only buy bottled hand soap when it is on sale for .99 or less. I think this tip will make my camping time save a few bucks…and I will use the bottles a few more times.

    I use bar soap in the bath and always put the little pc left from the old bar to the new bar just by washing a few times.

    • Donna Freedman

      You and DF would get along: The little pieces left over go into a “make a new bar of soap” container he found somewhere. When it’s full he submerges it in water for a bit (the container has little holes at the bottom) and then presses the softened bits together into a Frankenbar that lasts us quite a while.

      I save a small piece to take with me when I travel, since some of the hostels don’t provide soap in the shower or the liquid soap container is empty.

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

      • Can you get him to figure out where he found it? Those make a bar out of scraps containers used to be a staple in the kind of catalogs my grandma got (Lillian Vernon? There’s another one with a ridiculous name, we ended up with a copy this year around Christmas.) and I really want one but I have been looking for years and not found one.

        We got foaming hand soap when kiddo was little, for all the reasons you listed – and I’ve been refilling it with diluted Dr. Bronners (available in bulk at our coop) for years. Aside from saving money, refilling the container means a lot less plastic waste. And half the people who visit us seem to have never encountered bar soap before, even the ones who I know grew up before most people had liquid soap at every sink.

        • Donna Freedman

          He’s been looking for years, too. Just now I was checking online and other people are looking, too. A couple of mentions of the Harriet Carter and Lillian Vernon catalogs; the items were not in either of the online versions, which doesn’t mean they’re not in the paper versions. I may break down and send away for one of each. The issue would be how long it would take to get taken off those mailing lists once we do/don’t find the items in question, and how many other mailing lists we’d end up on as a result.

          My old neighborhood in Seattle had an independent dollar store full of all kinds of weird items. Could be I’d find the soap press/soap saver/whatever in there, if I get back to that area the next time I visit.

          Now DF is wondering whether he could make a soap press out of a piece of PVC pipe. Stay tuned.

          • I will! They were not in the paper Lillian Vernon catalog a few years ago when I last checked. I should have swiped the one from Grandma’s bathroom before my aunts cleared out her apartment, but I wasn’t really thinking about practical stuff.

          • Donna Freedman

            I would love to find one and give it to DF for his birthday. If I find a source I will post it.

  8. I regularly do a home improvement mystery shop and have to make a $1 purchase. The store carries a small bottle of Soft Soap for the buck. Thus, I only ever pay the sales tax for my hand soap.

  9. I make my own body wash. My hubby believes he has to have Irish Spring, I swipe his little leftover pieces and put them in my old body wash bottle then add some water. The soap breaks down in the bottle just shake before using. It keeps me in body wash for awhile.

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