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Dr. Bronner’s: The Soap That Cleans Your Conscience

By Jeanée Ledoux

Dr. Bronner's Soaps

Dr. Bronner’s is more than just a soap company. It’s a company with a conscience and a fascinating back story.

In the personal care aisle of your local health food store, there’s a soap with a lot to say. Thousands of tiny words crowd the label, some of which sound like they’re being fired from a pulpit: “Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!” Other text is too kooky to categorize, like the story of timberwolf pups raised by a dachshund. I’m talking about Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the top-selling natural cleanser brand in North America.

Make Soap, Not War

The company was founded in Los Angeles in the 1940s by the eccentric Jewish soapmaker Emanuel Bronner—a master chemist, but not actually a doctor. Against the backdrop of Nazis taking over his native Germany (and eventually murdering his parents), Bronner felt an urgent calling to help unify people with each other and the planet. He wrote letters to world leaders, made public speeches, and printed his “Moral ABC” and “All-One” philosophies on his liquid vegetable soap’s labels. In the 1960s, the peace-preaching cleansers exploded in popularity thanks to an antiwar, earth-loving climate.

Capitalists Who Care

Bronner’s descendants took over in the 1990s and respectfully left his loquacious labels intact. Fascism may be dormant, but the Bronners have new demons to battle, especially environmental impact and label fraud in the bodycare industry. The family executives have radically improved the company’s products and business practices to become a shining example of what they call “constructive capitalism.” Read on for 12 reasons why you’ll wash with a clean conscience when you buy Dr. Bronner’s.

The Soaps:

  • Are made with cold-pressed olive, hemp, palm, and coconut oils, not beef tallow (the cheap fat favored by the mainstream soap industry).
  • Retain glycerin, a natural byproduct of saponification, as a moisturizer. Many companies remove the glycerin and sell it separately to pump up profits.
  • Are scented naturally with essential oils such as peppermint (Steve Jobs’s favorite) and lavender.
  • Contain no synthetic preservatives, thickeners, or foaming agents (such as sodium lauryl sulfate, a popular bubble booster despite that it’s a known skin and eye irritant).
  • Can be diluted (liquid) or grated (bar) and combined with other ingredients for a multitude of tasks (the label claims 18), such as washing laundry and scouring sinks. On her blog Going Green with a Bronner Mom, Lisa Bronner shares many recipes for using her grandfather’s products around the home and garden.

The Company:

  • Sources ingredients that are certified organic and fair trade.
  • Uses 100% post-consumer recycled bottles and labels.
  • Pours liquid ingredients using gravity-fed, plant-based tanks.
  • Caps executive salaries at five times that of the lowest-paid worker.
  • Dedicates substantial profits to charitable projects, such as well digging in Ghana and orphanages in Haiti.
  • Works with the Organic Consumer Association’s Coming Clean Campaign to stop label fraud in the personal care industry. Many companies deceptively use words on their products such as “organic” and “natural,” which have no legal definition.
  • Gives money and time to advocate U.S. farming of hemp, whose oils add lather and moisture to their soaps. Hemp can be used to make paper, fabric, fuel, and more, but the government blocks its cultivation.

Need one more reason to stock your shower with Dr. Bronner’s? Reading those enigmatic labels may unlock the secret to unifying humankind. If only you can decipher how Jesus relates to the timberwolves . . . before the hot water runs out.

Jeanee Ledoux is a writer, editor, and maker promoting a crafty, conscious lifestyle on

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