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Is Any Soap Environmentally Safe for the Lake?

Q: We would like to know what body soaps and shampoos are environmentally friendly to our lake.
— Steve and Heather Szamocki; via e-mail

A: Sadly, there really is no environmentally friendly way to lather up in a lake.

A few generations ago, taking a bar of Ivory soap down to the lake for a bath created a fairly small human impact on a big body of water. But there are more people now, more pollutants in the water, and more chemicals from the shore washing into the lake.

Soaps can create algae blooms, which greatly alter the health of a lake. Even products that contain only natural ingredients may affect ecological balances in unintended ways.

See also Managing Lake Weeds at Your Cabin

The University of Minnesota’s Extension Service provides a list of “Shoreline Stewardship Best Practices.” Prominent among them are “Stop washing dishes, laundry and self in lake while camping” and “Quit using soap or shampoo in the water.”

If you must bathe in your lake, choose personal care products that are at least biodegradable. (But there are no guarantees that biodegradable products are completely non-polluting or that the elements they break down into are harmless to an ecosystem.) And absolutely avoid antibacterial soaps or anything containing phosphorus.