Soap & Soul, A Practical Guide to Minding Your Home, Your Body, and Your Spirit with Dr. Bronner’s Soaps is available now in hardback, eBook & audiobook. Order your copy today!
In “Soap & Soul,” Lisa Bronner, granddaughter of Dr. Bronner, offers a practical guide for green living and embracing an eco-friendly lifestyle. Using the experience she’s gained from her blog, Going Green with Lisa Bronner, and interacting with customers for over 15 years, Lisa imparts the wisdom that customers seek most: insights into utilizing Dr. Bronner’s versatile products and embracing a simple, low-tox lifestyle.
This book serves as both a Dr. Bronner’s companion and a guide to green living, covering a range of popular topics including hair care, skin health, pet grooming, laundry, carpet maintenance, and alternatives to conventional products.
While Soap & Soul provides a plethora of recipes and how-tos, it’s Lisa’s personal stories behind the practical that are the true gems.
Check out the introduction to Soap & Soul below!
My middle son was 15 when he moved out of the house. It was earlier than I expected, but considering the year was 2020, not surprising. Seven months into the Covid lockdown with its constant family togetherness, my son, who recharges in his own rhythm of quiet and independence, was done.
One day, he set up our family tent in the backyard, installed an 18-inch-thick air mattress, and personalized it with a comfy chair, a folding table, and a case of Dr Pepper. It was his first home of his own. A drop cord to the house ran a floor lamp, his computer, and speakers. Although he returned indoors for meals and hygiene, he lived in the tent for a month. Because all school was virtual, he also attended classes from the tent—including two hours a day of playing trombone in the band. There’s nothing like the dulcet tones of bass brass drifting across the countryside.
While his move was temporary, partial, and a mere five steps from the backdoor, it nonetheless foreshadowed an imminent reality. I could count the months on three hands until our house of five became a house of four, then three, then two. And so I was glad when cold weather brought him back inside.
I understand the craving to have a space of one’s own, be it a house, an apartment, or even a tent. A space with the freedom to make all decisions and live with their consequences. To get to say who comes in or out, what gets done and when, what things look like, and how they’re taken care of.
My own initial foray into personal home management came later in my life than my son’s. For a long time, it didn’t go well. Home care was not something at which I instinctively excelled, and there was always something else I’d rather be doing. I’ve heard of people who simply can’t rest until every object and every speck of dirt is in its proper place, who get pleasure from the act of cleaning. That’s not me. While I very much like for things to be clean, I wasn’t so fond of the process of getting there. For too long, my strategy toward mess and dirt was, “Maybe if I ignore it, it’ll go away.”
I wasn’t much better in my approach to personal care. I was swayed by advertising and packaging and fragrance and texture, and never once thought about product safety. I thought surely somebody somewhere double-checked that sort of thing for me.
Several decades later, I still feel like I owe my college roommates an apology. You’d never have known from me back then that I was connected to the Bronners, the First Family of soap in the natural marketplace. That my family safeguarded an iconic product that’s spearheaded clean green living since 1948—a multitasking soap that can single-handedly clean an entire college dorm as well as all the occupants within it.
You wouldn’t have known this because I wouldn’t have thought it important to tell you, and I certainly didn’t act as though I knew more than the next person about soap. At the time, I didn’t. Early in my freshman year, my dad shipped me a case of Dr. Bronner’s 8-ounce Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap, the company’s flagship product. It sat in the hall outside my door for the rest of the year. It took me a long time to realize the worth of the products and the family history that is my legacy.
I am the granddaughter of Emanuel Bronner, who was known to most as Dr. Bronner and the founder of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. His Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap has been recognized for decades by its text-saturated labels and minty zing. The soap that washes everything. The label that says everything.
The company is still run by my immediate family: my two older brothers, David and Mike Bronner, are cosmic engagement officer (CEO) and president, respectively; my mom, Trudy Bronner, is chief financial officer; and my husband, Michael Milam, is chief operations officer. They are joined by many others whose skill and passion power the company today.
Being part of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps was not on the radar growing up for any of us—not for my brothers nor me and definitely not for Michael, who had never heard of this quirky soap company before he met me.
David was the first of us to grasp our grandfather’s vision, coming to the company in 1997 at the age of 24, shortly after Dr. Bronner died. He had been a mental health counselor in Boston before he felt the tug to come back west. Of the three of us, David most channels our grandfather’s undaunted passion, intensity, and tenacity for big causes.
Mike joined in a few years later after teaching English in Japan postcollege. With his uncanny ability to develop strong relationships despite language or logistical hurdles, Mike has spearheaded the company’s international expansion into over 40 countries.
By 2005, the business was growing by double digits annually, a speed which needs someone relentlessly efficient and data-minded to oversee operations, inventory, and logistics. Enter my husband, Michael (take note—I always call my husband Michael and my brother Mike), who had been a real estate broker in Raleigh, poised to begin an MBA degree with an eye toward commercial development. This left turn prompted our move from North Carolina to California.
My own transition into the company was gradual and unplanned. I had taught high school English for four years before moving into full-time mom mode. Then one day Mike asked if I could answer customer emails. It was a way I could help out, take one of the many hats that he wore, and still be home with the kids. Given that the topics ranged from products to family history to company activism, the task needed someone well steeped in all aspects. After I’d been handling those for a couple years, Mike suggested I write a blog to answer the most recurring questions en masse and share other healthy tips.
My first response was, “What’s a blog?”
Going Green with Lisa Bronner began on March 23, 2010, with a kickoff post about cleaning the microwave with lemons. I went on to analyze popular uses for Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soap and evaluate housecleaning recipes circulating online. This grew to developing official uses and dilutions for the product lines as well as sharing other ways to reduce the burdens in our lives, be they chemical or more intangible.
My work has focused on the micro level of human behavior: the habits and routines of the individual, their daily decisions and habits. Such little everyday practices of home and self-care, when done by a whole population, can have a tremendous impact on the world.
My goal all along has been to connect with people and to help them take the next step from wherever they are toward simpler, more abundant living. To help them remove their burdens in order to live a life that’s full of life, of vibrancy, of vitality. I chose the title Going Green not because it satisfied the alliterative yearnings of my English teacher’s heart—OK, it does that, too—but because it indicates a process. It’s the constant effort of leaving things better than we found them, which is how I define “green.”
The “-ing” part of “Going” emphasizes that this is continuous. We have started, but we are not finished. Not a single one of us has arrived at the point where we can hang up our hat, kick up our feet, and say, “I’ve done all that can be done.” In this process, we are all at different places. I hope in these pages you find the next steps you might take. I hope amid your circles or even in my online community you can find some fellow travelers to walk beside as you go.
This is a book about taking care of ourselves and our spaces—both tangibly and intangibly. I am ever witnessing how inextricably intertwined our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves are, just as our bodies are with our environments. What is within us connects to what is around us. What elevates the spirit elevates the body. What burdens the body burdens the heart. Soap and soul are tightly bound.
I have become more intentional about setting up my home space wherever I am, however briefly. What my son did by instinct in the tent, I do on purpose because it prepares me for the physical task at hand. When I travel, I unpack my suitcase. Even when I arrive at something as temporary as a meeting, I take a moment to arrange the space around me with a few cues that make it my own. This sets my boundary and says that, in this space, I belong and I am the decision maker.
You’ve picked up this book perhaps because you want to learn about healthier personal and home care, perhaps because someone gave you a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soap and you want to know what to do with it, or perhaps because you’ve seen some of my tips online and want to have them all compiled in one spot. You’re in the right place.
I’ve arranged this book by rooms of the house because it reflects how I move through my day. I begin by discussing personal care in The Bath and Bedroom because taking care of our bodies needs to come first. Then we can best care for the spaces around us.
Along the way, I share with you my own story of how I came to incorporate healthier practices in my life and home, and to embrace my identity in the Bronner family. I do this to give all the recipes and tips a context, showing how they came to be part of an actual life—mine!
You could settle down in your favorite chair and read through all the narrative sections first, and later, during more lively times of day, put the recipes and tips to use. Perhaps the book will start in your living room and end up in your laundry room.
Before I send you off into the rest of this book, what I most want you to know is that I’ve sought verification for all I share through research and peer-reviewed studies. I’ve read many hundreds of studies. Whether or not you sludge through my references in the endnotes, know that they are there. As much as I enjoy reading blogs of many sorts, as well as writing my own, these are not what I rely on to substantiate claims.
Furthermore, every recipe and tip in this book is one I have tried and confirmed—except those for which I lacked firsthand experience, such as those intended for beards and mustaches. But I questioned closely those who have used them. These are not ideas I merely read somewhere and thought sounded nifty. Instead, these are methods and techniques I use in my own life.
All in all, you can sum up my message in one word: simplify.
Simplify products. Simplify ingredients. Simplify routines. Simplify spaces. Simplify inputs in all aspects of life. When thus unhindered, the important and the healthful and the beautiful can take full residence in our lives.