Mark's Musings

A miscellany of thoughts and opinions from an unimportant small town politician and bit-part web developer

Soft soap – a lessen on misreading statistics from the BBC

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If you take the BBC’s website at face value, you might think that hardly anyone – or, at least, a minority – uses soap in solid bars any more. As the article puts it:

How do you like to scrub up? If you prefer liquid soap to the solid stuff, you’re in the ascendancy. According to market research firm Mintel 87% of Britons regularly buy liquid soap, against 71% who buy bars of it.

That’s under a headline of “Five reasons some people prefer bars of soap to liquid soap”. The rest of the article is a rather patronisingly toned set of reasons for still using bars of soap, based on the implicit premise that most people don’t.

Except, of course, that most people do.

Assuming Mintel’s stats are accurate (and there’s no reason to assume otherwise), 71% of people buy solid soap, as opposed to 87% who buy liquid soap. But those figures add up to more than 100%, so they clearly overlap. For most people, buying solid and liquid soap is not a mutually exclusive choice.

We can see that more easily if we reverse the figures. If 87% buy liquid soap, then 13% don’t. And if 71% buy solid soap, then 29% don’t. Add those two together, and we find that 42% of people only ever buy one form of soap, either solid or liquid. Which means that 58% of people buy both. (That’s discounting the possibility that some people may buy no soap at all, but it’s correct if the survey is of soap buyers in particular rather than shoppers in general).

Now, if 58% of people buy both solid and liquid soap, that probably means that they’re using them for different purposes or in different contexts. So, what are those different uses?

Well, my own experience, and something which seems to be borne out by observation of other people’s houses when I happen to find myself in one, is that liquid soap is more convenient for handwashing. A liquid soap dispenser by the kitchen sink, or beside the sink in a bathroom or toilet, is both convenient and non-messy – unlike bar soap, which can get nastily grungy in soap dish by the sink. Liquid soap also makes it easier, when washing your hands, to ensure that you get soap even into the cracks and get your hands nice and clean all over.

For bathing or showering, on the other hand, bar soap works better. As the BBC article says, you can hold it in one hand, which makes it easier to give yourself a good scrub. And all the other reasons in the article apply too, including the fact that bar soap is generally perceived as more luxurious. You can also use bar soap under water, which is pretty much essential in the bath. You can’t do that with liquid soap as it all dissolves away faster than you can apply it to your skin.

I’ve got no stats to support it (other than those from Mintel quoted by the BBC), but I’d hazard a guess that the overwhelming majority of people who take a bath regularly use bar soap. And almost certainly a majority of those who prefer a shower, although in this case there is a significant minority who prefer shower gels (which, quite probably, accounts for the difference between bar soap buyers and liquid soap buyers – the 29% of people who never buy bar soap are very likely to be showerers rather than bathers and prefer gel to solid soap).

Either way, though, the implication in the article’s headline and introductory text, that bar soap users are a dwindling minority, is completely false. Maybe the BBC could do an article on how not to misread statistics?