Getting Clean Without Soap?

Soap is irritating to many people’s skins-it also washes away oils and leaves your skin dry. Can you get clean without using it?
According to what I read, the ancient romans didn’t have or use soap. They bathed in a three step process:
-went into a steam room to sweat
-scraped off the skin oils and dirt with a strigil
-returned to the warm pools and washed again.
Will sch a process get you reasonably clean?
What did the romans do to wash their hair-if they did not use soaps?

You’d get reasonably clean with oil. That is, the oil would do a pretty good job in removing dirt and debris from your skin. However, you’d probably still smell. Soap removes bacteria, while oil doesn’t.

As for Roman shampoo, some sites claim they used clay, but I would guess most people used nothing at all.

An abrasive like sand would help scrub anything nasty off, though you’d want to make sure to not overdo that. Abrasives can also create very tiny breaks in the skin, making it easier to get fungal/bacterial infections.

It depends on what kind of cleaning you’re talking about; I don’t try to clean my hair without shampoo, but I don’t use soap on the rest of my body (except for armpits) and haven’t for decades. I just wash with a wash cloth and warm water - my arms, legs, back, stomach, etc. just don’t get that dirty.

I use emollient cream (E45 or similar, mostly cheap alternatives) with no perfume. I do use ordinary shampoo on my hair when it gets longish, but if my hair is short (number 1 comb) I just rub the cream over my scalp and rinse. Works pretty well, dissolves grease and dirt and I feel clean, and it does not irritate my skin.


The Romans also used community sponges on sticks in place of toilet paper. Civilization has advanced. Use soap.

They rinsed them off first. The Romans weren’t savages.

I’m currently reading this book:

The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History

One option is to follow the practice of seventeenth century Europeans, in which the upper classes simply changed their linen undergarments instead of bathing. (The lower classes didn’t even do this, of course.)

They saw this as an advance over the practices of the ancient Romans. One Parisian architect remarked in 1626 that “we can do without baths because of our usage of linen, which today serves to keep the body clean more conveniently than the baths and vapour baths of the ancients could do.”

I am aware of a woman with hydrophobia (not rabies, an actual serious aversion to moisture). It is expensive, and is probably bad for her skin, but instead of bathing, she wipes down with cotton balls dipped in rubbing alcohol.

I cannot recommend this, I think it is bad for you, and the fumes are dangerous, but she has been doing it for many years, with no apparent ill effects.

I get contact dermatitis from many soaps. Never figured out what ingredient does it. As a kid, I got bubble baths with dish soap because Mr. Bubble gave me a whole-body rash. Lever 2000 did it to me when I was in my 20’s and I liked the commercials so I regrettably tried it - once. Other soaps make me have a little spot of rash here or there but not whole-body.

Once I discovered Dr. Bronner’s 10 year ago, I haven’t had a rash of any kind. It’s made with olive oil (I use the liquid) and isn’t drying. I went no-poo with my hair in 2009, and just use a baking soda rinse with a little bit of organic conditioner to finish. My skin and scalp have been very happy!

My younger daughter has very sensitive skin. When she was an infant we had to “bathe” her using Cetaphil.

My husband has to use a special soap. I think it’s non-alkali. Before then, he’d break out in a rash or it would make it easier for him to get these awful acne cysts. He had one on his back that got absolutely enormous (not to be mistaken with his butt cyst, for which he had surgery). I used to affectionately call him Quasimodo or ask him about his twin. Good thing he has a sense of humor.

And my kids get slathered head to toe with Vaseline instead of lotion. My eldest had a really bad eczema problem and still does on the backs of his arms. The Vaseline helps control that. With our youngest, we’re just not in the habit of using baby lotion and too lazy to buy something else for her, so she gets the same treatment. And, of course, I’m too lazy to buy something special for myself, so I get really nicely moisturized when it’s time to put the Vaseline on the kids.

I vaguely remember reading about a system used in remote villages with water shortages in the old Soviet Union. It was waterless communal village shower that I think used static electricity to strip the dirt and other nastiness from the skin. I wish I could remember where I read about it. Possibly it was in the Wall Street Journal circa 1985-90.

I haven’t used soap (except to clean my hands or any wounds) for about two months. I started after reading this blog post by a guy who had tried the same experiment. I shower daily in the morning and also rinse my face in the evening. Hot water only.

I still use deodorant.

I noticed the following:

  • My acne got mildly better. I’ve had some amount of acne since puberty. Over the years, I’ve used a variety of soaps, over the counter remedies, and prescription drugs (topical and internal). I can tell now that none of them really accomplished much, and the overall effect may have been negative.
  • As reported by my girlfriend, I have a slightly stronger smell, but not a “bad BO” type smell.
  • My hair gets a bit unwieldy when it gets longer. But I tend to like it cut short anyway.
  • I think my skin is softer, but I can’t say for sure.

I’m not sure if I’ll keep doing this or not. So far, it seems like there’s no downside