Swapping a shampoo bar in for your favorite shampoo brand is one way to reduce plastic waste in your daily routine. Shampoo bars are often minimally packaged in recyclable cardboard or reusable containers, which cuts down on packaging waste, and they're more concentrated than their bottled counterparts. "Due to much lower water content, bar shampoos weigh less than their conventional counterparts," says Birnur Aral, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Beauty, Health, and Sustainability Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, adding that this can make shipping the bars more energy-efficient: "On a product basis, less energy is required to ship bar shampoos compared to liquid shampoos due to their smaller weight."
But can shampoo bars deliver the same performance as your favorite bottled shampoo? The chemists in the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab regularly test shampoos, from thickening shampoos to shampoo for colored hair, hydrating shampoo for dry hair, shampoo formulated for oily hair and beyond. When we test shampoo bars, we evaluate lather, cleaning ability, how soft they leave hair and how long they last. All said, we found the best shampoo bars for all hair types, from curly to oily and everything in between. Our list of recommended products consists of GH Beauty Award winners of our award programs, expert-tested picks and editor favorites.
Our top picks:
1Best Overall Shampoo BarWhole Blends Honey Treasures Restoring Shampoo Bar Garnier Read More
2Best Value Shampoo BarMurumuru Butter & Rose Blooming Color Shampoo Bar Love Beauty and Planet Read More
3Best Shampoo Bar for Curly HairDry/Curly Hair Shampoo Bar Good Juju Read More
4Best Shampoo Bar for Oily HairSeanik Shampoo Bar Lush Read More
5Best Shampoo and Conditioner BarCoconut Water Shampoo + Conditioner Bar Love Beauty and Planet Read More
Here, read all about the ins and outs of the best shampoo bars you can buy, plus how to use and store one for maximum efficacy.
The Good Housekeeping Institute tests shampoo bars along with hundreds of products each year during our Beauty Awards and Sustainable Innovation Awards evaluations. When evaluating shampoo bars, we look at their lather quality, whether they leave hair feeling clean and soft and whether they last a reasonable amount of time in shower conditions. Our list of recommendations also include shampoo bars that our beauty editors love and use regularly at home.
Here's how to choose the best shampoo bar for your hair and needs, according to hair experts:
✔️ Pick one that's formulated for your hair type. Shampoo bars, like liquid shampoos, are formulated with both cleansing surfactants to wash away dirt and conditioning ingredients to leave hair soft and manageable. Bars for curly or thick hair will be more conditioning, while bars for fine hair will be lighter on conditioners to prevent weighed-down strands. Some brands also have bar conditioners to go with their shampoos for those who need more conditioning.
✔️ Check the ingredients to avoid soap-based bars. "Know what is in your bar," advises April Kayganich, a hairstylist, hair educator and hair texture expert in Austin, Texas. Shampoo bars might look like bars of soap, but they won't perform the same on your hair. For the best results, avoid soap-based shampoo bars. These may list ingredients such as saponified vegetable oils, sodium palmitate, sodium cocoate or sodium hydroxide. While not harmful, they might cause unpleasant dryness, dull strands and a feeling of residue on the hair.
Shampoo bars aren't necessarily better for your hair than traditional shampoos, but they can be just as effective at cleansing strands. "Bar shampoo formulations have gotten quite sophisticated since they first appeared in the market and now there are variants that can possibly meet the needs of all sorts of hair types and textures," Aral says. "It is more of a preference for the consumer and less that one type is better for hair than the other."
"With any new shampoo your hair will take time to adjust," Kayganich says, so give yourself some time to adjust. "Most people take about one to two weeks to see an adjustment in how their hair feels, especially when it comes to sebum, the natural oil your scalp produces."
They shouldn't be: Well-made shampoo bars like the picks on this list contain similar gentle surfactants as those in liquid shampoos. The main ingredients found in the bars on our list, such as sodium cocoyl isethionate and sodium lauryl- or coco- sulfate, are very common cleansers in liquid shampoos. Just as in liquid shampoos, these do a great job at cleaning hair without leaving residue.
Shampoo bars have a few eco-friendly advantages over bottled shampoos:
✔️ Many shampoo bars boast plastic-free packaging, which means you can reduce the plastic waste created by your routine. "Their cardboard boxes are more likely to end up being recycled once being collected at the curbside since there is more value in recycling cardboard than recycling plastic," Aral explains. Overall, "bar shampoos are less likely to contribute to waste that goes to landfills," she says.
✔️ They're lighter-weight and take less energy to ship. "The main difference between liquid shampoos and bar shampoos is the water content in the two formulas," says Aral. "Whereas liquid shampoos may contain as much as three quarters or more water, solid bar shampoos contain much less," she adds. That means a solid shampoo bar can also give you the same number of washes as a bottle, but in a lighter format. Thus, as Aral notes, less energy is required to ship bar shampoos compared to liquid shampoos.
There are two ways to use a shampoo bar:
- Rub the shampoo bar directly onto your wet hair, then massage the shampoo through your roots to lather it and dissolve oil and dirt.
- Wet the bar and rub it into your hands to create a lather, then apply to your roots and cleanse as normal. This technique is gentler on hair that is prone to tangling.
As for storage, shampoo bars can become mushy and dissolve if left in water, much like a bar of soap does, so store it as you do your favorite body bar – in a dish that keeps it in place and allows it to dry between uses.
GH Institute Beauty and Health Reviews Analyst Chiara Butler has worked as a formulation chemist for a haircare brand and has hands-on experience with haircare formulas including shampoos and conditioners. This article was contributed to and vetted by GH Institute Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab Executive Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D., who has 15 years of experience leading clinical and consumer testing at Good Housekeeping. She also leads Good Housekeeping's Sustainable Innovation Awards, for which she reviews hundreds of sustainably designed products, including shampoo bars.