Bathing with washcloths or poufs should be normal.

Is Applying Soap With Only Your Hands Really Normal?

Is Applying Soap With Only Your Hands Really Normal?

An average blog.
Oct. 17 2016 10:51 AM

We’re Not Animals! Washing With a Soap Applicator Should Be Normal.

Power to the poufs!


Though we humans are not the only animals on this planet to take up tools in the service of survival, we are certainly the most successful at it—and with good reason! Why sully your food in the ashes of the fire pit when you can deploy pots and skillets to better control the cooking? Why slosh water about in your leaky cupped paws when you can bring it to your lips with a hollowed gourd or Nalgene bottle? And when it comes to keeping clean, why struggle to apply soap to your filthy hide with your bare hands when you could more effectively wash with any number of marvelous devices?

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate associate editor and the editor of Outward. He covers life, culture, and LGBTQ issues.

As it turns out, that last question bears serious consideration, because according to a recent survey I conducted of about 100 colleagues and friends, a solid majority of you insist on living in the stone age. Whether you use bar soap or some liquid variety (the split was basically even), it appears to be “normal,” statistically speaking, to apply it with your hands. This troubles me, but not to fear: Evolution has brought humans a long way thus far, and clearly, we have a few steps more to travel together. Washcloth, loofa, scrub brush, or pouf—I embrace all manner of soaping implements, but the point is to use something to get that soap to your skin. Doing otherwise might currently be in vogue, but it should hardly remain the norm.


I should point out here that I live with a human who often applies soap in the handsy fashion, so I have seen how he flails about without the aid of technology. I have sympathy! And because I have sympathy, I am going to consider the arguments against implements in good faith. “I just don't think using an apparatus will make me any cleaner? Maybe that's gross,” a female respondent to my survey wrote. It’s heartening to hear a twinge of self-doubt here, for in uncertainty lies the potential for correction. It IS gross, dear woman, because the wonderful, enveloping lather that a fine shower pouf or well-worked washcloth allows you to create is clearly more cleansing than streaks of bar soap or splatters of body wash applied haphazardly from head to toe.

A number of my respondents questioned the wisdom of a “middle-man object that itself gets dirty.” To the first half of that formulation, I respond by invoking the fork, the tissue, and the baby’s diaper. To the latter half, I concede that an ill-tended sponge or loofa does have the potential to grow moldy if treated poorly. But these are not complex, nor expensive tools! A quick disinfection or total replacement every month or three isn’t much of a chore, especially when it brings so many benefits.

In addition to lather superiority, there’s the question of efficiency—an important point that one right-minded informant addressed by saying, “My loofa spreads my body wash easily, and I feel like a little body wash goes further when applied with a loofa than when I apply with my hand.” It does go further! I cannot tell you the gallons of body wash that are wasted each day by folks slapping handfuls on themselves willy-nilly.

And then, there is what we’ll call, following another respondent, the “mush-crusty” principle. This applies to bar soap and how it gets mush-crusty sitting there in its sordid little tray covered in dead skin cells and the other detritus of mortality. Rubbing daily on another surface is the only way to safely avoid a mush-crusty fate.

If you are currently questioning your past commitment to a soap-implement-impoverished lifestyle, fear not! A male respondent tells of his own conversion experience: “The husband likes the pouf and while I grew up in a bar-of-soap family, I saw the light,” he wrote. “At the end of the day, the pouf and body wash method is easier and makes you feel cleaner.” You see, we can overcome the maladaptive “traditions” that are our insidious inheritance from family and society. By joyfully leaning into our talents as tool-using animals, our species can move forward into a brighter, cleaner, and un-mush-crusty future.

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