The Soap Scam

Personal hygiene products like shampoo and body wash, as well as cleaning chemicals and products are worth hundreds of billions per year. Accordingly, Billions of dollars are spent on advertising these products, convincing you that you need to buy them.

But the reality is we can do without the overwhelming majority of these products. Take personal hygiene products for example. The human body is an amazing self regulating and self cleaning machine. Constantly stripping its natural oils by using soaps and detergents damages your skin. These chemicals cause irritation and dry the skin: cleverly you can then be sold a range of moisturising and skin care products to reverse this damage.

How often do you shower?

Man Under Waterfall, Waterfall, Strong, Water, CaptainFI, Wash, Shower

I was talking to a friend the other day about this and it turns out she showers three times per day. Three; once in the morning when she wakes up, once after a gym workout, and then again before bed. Personally I have a quick rinse after a gym session, if I’m dirty or of course when scrubbing up for a formal event. But I’m definitely not having three showers a day!

Sometimes a nice long hot shower is great for soothing the muscles or relieving a congested sinus when you have a cold, but if I’m not dirty and I don’t need to, some days I won’t shower at all. During the warmer months, when I hang out at the beach or down the river, all I need is a quick rinse to get the sand off (a thorough de-sanding is mandatory in my household and I’ve been known to get the hose out before allowing people inside!)

Cleaning and health

As an example, I was misdiagnosed by a doctor as having a fungal skin infection on my torso when it was actually just contact dermatitis; my skin was literally reacting to all the anti fungal creams and shampoos creating the symptoms. After struggling for years and noticing it would flare up after treatment I decided to go cold turkey – low and behold, the symptoms subsided. No more need for expensive ‘treatment’ (creams, lotions, medicated shampoos) which were actually causing the issue. Thanks Doc.

CaptainFI, cleaning
Cleaning products contain a cocktail of toxic chemicals which can react with each other if mixed

There is actually a growing body of research showing that excessive cleaning with harsh chemicals and sterile environments are bad for you and your family’s health and immune system. It’s quite obvious that common cleaning products like ammonia bleach and chlorine can trigger asthma attacks, but did you know most cleaning products release Volatile Organic Compounds and contain chemicals (such as fragrances) that react with one another to produce dangerous pollutants indoors? These can actually wreak havoc with your body’s microbiome and damage your lungs, skin and eyes.

Below are just a few papers on this topic showing some of the latest research. One of the scariest facts coming out of a study in Norway was that professional cleaners incur as much lung damage from cleaning products as a pack a day smoker does (Svanes, 2018).

CaptainFI, cleaning product
  • Svanes, Ø., Bertelsen, R. (2018). Cleaning at Home and at Work in Relation to Lung Function Decline and Airway Obstruction. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
  • Kennedy, R.C. (2012, June). Triclocarban (TCC) Exposure in Pregnancy and during the Female Neonate Period Compromises Lactation and Reproductive Development. Paper presented at the Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting and Expo, Houston, TX
  • Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern. (2001). Emerging Infectious Diseases, 7(7), pp 512-515
  • Steinemann, A. (2017). Fragranced consumer products: effects on asthmatics. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 11(1), pp3-9.
  • Kolatorova, L., Vitku J., Hampl R., Adamcova K., Skodova T., Simkova M., Parizek A., Starka L., Duskova M. (2018). Exposure to bisphenols and parabens during pregnancy and relations to steroid changes. Environmental Research, 163, 115-122
  • Bertelsen, R. J., Longnecker, M. P., Lovik, M., Carlsen, K., London, S., & Carlsen, K. C. (2012). Triclosan Exposure And Allergic Sensitization In Norwegian Children. D33. ASTHMA PATHOGENESIS

Now I’m not saying go out and be wild and free and eat mud (although I did this as a kid and I turned out fine). Obviously common sense dictates personal hygiene is important, and not showering for weeks is probably not a good idea (however during my time camping and during survival training I went weeks without showering with no adverse health effects). Basic hygiene principles means keeping yourself clean and looking after yourself, like hand washing with warm water before a meal; but not lathering yourself in harsh chemicals, hand sanitisers or excessive amounts of soap. And yes, that food you dropped on the floor is still perfectly fine to eat.

What I am suggesting is that the Billions of dollars spent on marketing is done so for a reason: to promote an unhealthy obsession with being clean and pure, to promote consumer spending, and take money out of your pocket. Lynx ads anyone? Teenage boys buy this product and girls will sleep with you!

CaptainFI, hygiene
Why not gargle this chemical in your mouth; don’t be alarmed at the burning sensation…

Rather than be a germaphobe, you should embrace the fact that exposure to germs actually makes your immune system stronger. Studies show that kids who grow up with pets have much lower rates of asthma and other allergies – likely because they have been exposed to a variety of bugs early on in life.

Are you cleaning out your savings?

CaptainFI, cleaning

On average the standard consumer buys $20 worth of marketed cleaning and hygiene products such as spray and wipes, shower gels and moisturisers per week. That’s over $1000 per year (for products which mostly list their first ingredient as water!). What happens if instead a smart investor on the road to FI decides to invest that in stock market ETF index funds?

Well, Compounded at 9% over the average forty year career someone spends in the workforce that amounts to over $400,000. Wow. Small spending habits like this can make a huge difference to your overall health and financial well being – $400,000 is a lot of money and that really shows why you need to account for this in your budget and savings plan.

When you think that you can buy a pack of four or five bars of soap for $1 at most supermarkets, the numbers just don’t seem to stack up. I don’t know about you, but I’d be lucky to go through a single bar in a month.

I try to make a few simple steps to be more self sustainable with my laundry washing, too. For example, if I have been at work flying and I want to workout, I will use the undershirt, socks and jocks I wore with my uniform and just chuck on a pair of shorts, rather than having to dirty an entirely new set of clothes. My jeans are usually good for a week or two of wearing before they need a wash, and button up shirts usually survive two or three days (I wear undershirts) before they need a wash and iron unless it’s been an absolute scorcher of a day. By making these simple changes, I went from doing two big loads of laundry every week, to one load every two weeks.

This next one I love the most – use your dishwasher more. It is actually more efficient (water, energy, soap) to run your kitchen dishes through the dishwasher machine than do them by hand. Plus you’re not exposing yourself to kitchen detergents which damage your skin (or the risk of pricking your finger on a kitchen knife in the sink – it’s happened to me more than once!). I always wait until I have a full load, which is about twice a week and I spend .15c per load on a dishwasher tablet.

Most stores have huge aisles full of fluorescent coloured, expensive cleaning products in plastic bottles. Most of this is hazardous or toxic to you, and the plastic is just going to end up in landfill. To save my health, my money, and the environment, I maximise my use of a steam mop for cleaning the bathroom and hard floors, as well as baking soda, vinegar and some good old fashioned elbow grease.


Look, I still enjoy a good spa as much as the next person does – and every now and then I treat my partner and spring for something from Lush (home-made organic soaps, shower gels and bath bombs). But the difference is, this is a conscious decision based on something I value, not an automated subconscious obsession with cleaning and being pure.

This has allowed me to focus my spending on what is actually necessary in my pursuit of Financial Independence (FI). Rejecting this subconscious obsession with cleaning and purity and saying no to unnecessary spending on cleaning products will help you remove yourself from the rat race and reach financial independence quicker – in this case your skin (and the environment) will thank you for it too!

What do you think? Do you have any cleaning tips or ways you have cut down on unnecessary or obsessive cleaning? Let us know in the comments below!


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4 thoughts on “The Soap Scam

    1. Haha, very funny from a man named after a toilet 😛

      Actually in a lot of cultures they just use water. I was actually quite shocked when I first went to stay with family in Indonesia that there was no toilet paper. It’s pretty confronting when you need to crap. Anyway, I adjusted to it. Its an expense I am willing to budget for here….

  1. My skin has been better and clearer since I stopped using body wash. I still use a face wash but maybe every few days. I also try to extend out washing my hair but can only do that so far 😬
    Products are so expensive so when I do use them I use the least amount I can.
    Sometime I think I may not be ‘hygienic’ but I’m clean and not covered in perfumes to mask the smell. There are so many different brands and products these days it’s hard to know which ones are actually good for you, or you’ll benefit from them.

    1. Hey Nicole, I agree I have had much better skin since ditching it too. These days I only use a little bit if I actually have grease or oil on my hands from working on the car etc (and I try to use rubber gloves and good PPE so it doesnt come into contact in the first place). I don’t think its healthy to be spraying on all these chemicals onto your body and into your skin pores… nothing wrong with good old water for a shower!

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