According to the wacky, cultish 3,000-word rant on the label, when combined with adequate sleep, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap has the power to “clean body-mind-soul-spirit instantly uniting one! All-One!” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but the soap boasts more than 18 uses: a toothpaste and a household cleaner; a pet wash and a cure for lice. With eight varieties (one of which is only $8.99 at Trader Joe’s), this “magical multi-tasker” could be the solution to many of our financial freak-outs at the pharmacy register. So with a bottle each of peppermint and rose soap in hand, I set out to find out which of “Doctor” Emanuel Bronner’s loftiest claims to embrace, and which to avoid.
Each use is graded “Crazy” or “Sane” and ranked on a five-star scale: 5 is highly recommended; zero is like the guy on the street holding a cardboard sign and babbling.
The soap is made from organic saponified oils and is extremely high-foaming. Used straight on skin, it can be drying, but diluted half and half with water, it forms a gentle lather and effectively cleaned the skin on my face and body without leaving it tight and dry. Diluting the soap also increases its value for money, and people with sensitive skin can tailor the concentration to their individual needs.
Verdict: Sane: 4/5
As a shampoo in diluted form, the soap cleansed my hair thoroughly and the rose scent left a lovely lingering perfume for a few hours afterwards. I found it allowed me to go longer between washes because my scalp wasn’t over producing oil to make up for being over-cleansed, as happens with regular shampoo. A conditioner is essential to prevent tangles after washing, as the soap does not contain any silicones for easy detangling.
Verdict: Sane: 4/5
A squirt of soap in a basin of warm water as a fruit and vegetable wash took dirt and grime from bunches of kale and apples from the market. If you don’t think you need to clean your produce thoroughly, try it once and see what color the washing water turns. Remember to rinse the soap off the produce before eating so the soap taste doesn’t linger.
Verdict: Sane! 5/5
As a toothpaste, the foaminess of the soap cleaned my teeth thoroughly, but the taste was absolutely awful. It stayed in my mouth even after a coffee and three sticks of gum. I don’t know what possessed me to attempt it again, but I tried several times after that, preventing the soap from touching my tongue as much as possible, but it made my gums sting and my tongue swell up. Treat yourself and try Tom’s of Maine toothpaste instead.
Verdict: Terrible and crazy. 1/5
Shaving with Dr Bronner’s rose soap was a delight. Applied straight to damp legs or underarms, the creamy lather enabled a close, comfortable shave, with no stinging or excessive dryness afterwards. My male friend tried it on his face with a shaving brush and said that just three drops were enough to do the job properly, though he would have preferred “a more masculine scent than rose next time.”
Verdict: Sane! 5/5
I used the peppermint soap straight as a deodorant with strange results. By the end of the day I still smelled strongly of an after-dinner mint, but the peppermint oil stung my armpits and wouldn’t dry down. It stayed sticky and wet and didn’t prevent sweating at all.
Verdict: Slightly crazy: 2/5
On clothes, the soap doesn’t fare well as a spot remover, as the oil can sometimes linger as a light stain even after washing. It works great when highly diluted (about 2 tablespoons in a basin of water) to wash delicates and individual items.
Verdict: Somewhat sane. 3/5
Here’s where it gets a bit too strange. Older labels of Dr. Bronner’s included a suggested combination of acidic products inserted into the lady parts to reduce the interior pH and act as a contraceptive spermicide. These included, but were not limited to: vaseline and lemon juice/pulp. He also suggested using a hollowed-out half lemon as a cervical cap. The soap came into play as a post-coital douche to flush out the citrusy remnants and restore the body’s natural pH. Suffice it to say, there was no way in hell I was attempting to review this method. In fact, doctors no longer recommend douching at all, as it can cause infections and other health problems. The use is no longer on the bottle or the website.
Verdict: VERY CRAZY. 0/5
Several gardening forums suggest spraying diluted peppermint Dr. Bronner’s to deter aphids and other garden pests, and some parenting forums say the tea tree variety kills lice and their eggs when used as a shampoo. It’s too cold for gardening and I thankfully haven’t had head lice recently so I didn’t try those uses out yet. Dr. Bronner also claimed the soap was useful as a pest spray, diaper soap or pet wash, but the company has mostly backed off recommending those elements since his death in 1997.
The soap is useful for eliminating lingering smells too: some food service places use Bronner’s to scrub the coffee smell out of those big coffee urns.
Overall, the soaps aren’t the all-in-one magical multi-taskers I had hoped for, but they do a variety of jobs very well. I have been using them constantly for more than a month now, and have barely made a dent in either bottle. Properly diluted, a quart could last you six months. Plus, you’ll never be bored in the shower with the endless reading material the label provides.