Do you like to sing in the shower? We've all done it before. Maybe your music comes from your own chaotic thoughts, you have an amazing waterproof bluetooth speaker, or like me, have your phone as loud as it can be sitting on the closed toilet. We’ve all grabbed a shampoo bottle like a microphone and spat out our favorite chorus or jingle. All those reverberations bouncing off the close walls make me sound excellent. #1 charts here I come!!
Aside from my near fame, ever wonder why does soap make bubbles? It’s all in chemistry! I imagine all of you science geeks are now immediately excited! Soap molecules have two opposite ends, one that attracts water and one that repels water. Attracted to water and easily dissolved is hydrophilic and repelling water is hydrophobic. Those that aren’t science geeks can easily recall our elementary science with magnets, opposites attract, the same repel. The soap’s opposite ends sandwich a thin layer of water and air in between…and ABRACADABRA…a bubble!
Now that you know that magical chemistry, try to understand further how it affects our beautiful planet. Even though Earth is the “blue planet” or “water planet”, with nearly 70% of it covered by water, only 2.5% of it is fresh. The rest is salt water! Even with only 2.5% fresh water, just 1% of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields.
Fresh water is scarce! So your bath and soapy dishes during your weekend hike and camp matter! There are several reasons for this. The soaps may contain phosphates and it breaks the surface tension of the water.
An easy way to understand surface tension is picturing a water bug that can walk on water! You may know these bugs as water striders, water skeeters, pond skaters, water skippers, or even Jesus bugs. It is thanks to the water’s surface tension that these bugs can keep up their efficient hunting and non romantic courting. If its contaminated with soap, that tension is broken, and no walking on water miracles can be witnessed!
The next miracle-shattering evil is phosphates found in some soaps. Phosphates are known for feeding algae, causing an excess to grow. Algae look bad, smell bad, and harm water quality. As algae decay, the process uses up oxygen. Lower oxygen level makes it hard to breathe for all the fish and other aquatic wildlife.
So, as always: Play. Protect. Preserve.
The little bit we can do while enjoying our public lands is follow Leave No Trace Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly
To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water and use it 200 feet away from streams or lakes. Best practice is to dispose it in a cathole. LNT general belief is that pouring dirty dishwater (which generally contains food smells and fragrances) into the soil will lessen the attraction of wildlife – as compared to the broadcast method, which also broadcasts the smells. Soap, even when it’s labeled biodegradable, can affect the water quality and aquatic life.