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Does making your own shampoo save on plastic?

December 16, 2018

Quite a lot of people get into making their own products with the idea that it will help reduce their overall environmental impact and cut down on waste but is that idea based on reality? I think it’s time to have a look…


This year I got absolutely fed up with having my bathroom bins filled with shampoo and conditioner bottles.  We are a family of four but for much of this year we were a family of five, sometimes six and even seven as teenage girls with long hair came and went and left our shampoo stocks depleted.   Something had to give and I wasn’t prepared to give up on my children having friends and exchange students come and stay  so it was decided that the shampoo bottles were it.  Goodbye shop-bought shampoo!

Earlier on in the year I did a project with shampoo bars and I have to say that they are pretty awesome but I don’t want to talk about that here and now.  This isn’t a post on whether people even need shampoo, whether soap will do or whether we should all just use apple cider vinegar and bicarb. No, this is a post about plastic reduction so it’s time to get on with that.

So I weighed one of my empty shop-bought shampoo bottles = 88g

I then came up with a funky recipe that included three surfactants, a couple of conditioning actives, an extract and some perfume.  I’m not going to give you the formula because again that doesn’t matter but suffice to say the formula I made was on a par with the shop-bought product as that gave me a fair comparison.

Then I made a 10Kg batch and packed some of it off into 1Kg glass bottles with plastic pump lids – you can’t get un-plastic ones and to have these bottles be poured in the shower is impractical.


Then what I did is calculated the weight of the plastic containers needed to purchase the ingredients in and calculated in the plastic for the pumps:


As someone who has ran a cosmetic lab for the last eleven years I wasn’t totally surprised by the behind-the-scenes plastic so here’s mine:

Water:   2 x 4 litre containers of water @ 100g each = 200g

Surfactants 3 x 500g containers             @ 45g each =  135g

Surfactant 2 x 1000g containers.            @ 85 each  =  170g

Speciality actives 3 x 100g plastic.          @ 30g each = 90g

2 x glass bottles with plastic lids.            @ 3 g each = 6g

TOTAL                                                                  = 601g

Plus  10 x pumps for the new bottles @ 24g each = 144g

Plus plastic wrapper around the pumps @ 10g    = 10g


TOTAL                                                                    = 755g


What I did is to work out what a typical purchase might look like for someone buying supplies for a 10kg batch of shampoo following my recipe.  This shopping list would leave 20% of ingredients purchased ready for next time.  We could discount this from the plastic total so we only account for the amount of plastic that directly contributed to the ingredient going into the shampoo.  If we did that our total would be as follows:

TOTAL minus 20% to account for the proportion of ingredients we didn’t use = 635g

Comparing this to my shop bought shampoo.

I ended up with 10 x 1 litre shampoo bottles full.

As the shampoo I made is heavier than water this would make around 11.25 litres.

The shampoo I was using as an example comes in 700ml bottles.

So my batch would fill 16 bottles if everything went perfectly.

So the total plastic bottle count for that shampoo in my house would be:

88 x 16 = 1408g

That’s nearly 1.5Kg of bottles!

Comparing the two.

Our lab-made shampoo plastic count taking everything into account – my manufacturing, bottles and ingredients, came to a maximum of 755g or a minimum of 635g (see above).

The shop bought shampoo plastic container ONLY came to 1408g for an equivalent number of bottles.  We don’t know how much behind-the-scenes plastic was involved in the making of this but it is likely to be lower than our count as most shampoo factories have their demineralised water made on-site (rather than shipped in plastic),  buy surfactants either in metal drums or have it bulk delivered into tanks and buy extracts and other actives in larger containers.

So with my example, by making this at home and using re-usable glass bottles I have practically halved or more my plastic count which I feel is significant.

So what’s with this then? Should we all make our own shampoo?

While making this I was reminded of the fact that many people who do make their own cosmetics ‘forget’ that they still have a plastic footprint in the process.  The smaller the batches you make, the larger your comparative plastic footprint is due to you buying smaller and smaller lots of ingredients which are often packaged in plastic.   As an aside, if you are wondering why this is so and whether suppliers can sell ingredients loose then wonder no more.  PET is a good choice for most ingredients due to its low reactivity and high level of integrity (low oxygen and water permeability). Any supplier who has Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines and/or other quality control standards is unable to sell you goods unpackaged so you’ll only find the ‘scoop your own’ from suppliers who don’t have that sort of manufacturing standard, GMP suppliers will often opt for PET. PET is recyclable but it is still plastic.

Making your own shampoo that matches the performance of a shop bought product does involve some formulating skill and therefore isn’t something that everyone could do but if you can, it would save on plastic.  The question of just how much would be down to the batch sizes you could warrant making.  I would imagine that anything under 10Kg of bulk would probably make the process less favourable.

What if I want to continue to purchase shampoo and not change by shampoo use habit but still cut my plastic use?

Buy larger bottles maybe? That’s pretty much all I can think of there.

The bottom line.

It’s possible to save around 1/2 as much plastic by making your own shampoo even if you do buy many of your ingredients in plastic.  However, whether you can or want to go down that route is another matter and of course, there is more to a products environmental impact than just the plastic.

I just thought this was a fairly interesting exercise to work through!

And will I continue to make my own?

Well look, I’m in a great position here of having a lab and the ingredients to hand. Often I have to buy these things anyway for my day job so it’s easier and marginally cheaper for me to do just that.  However, I do also like supporting my clients and buying myself something new and interesting that I haven’t had to make so I think for me this will be a ‘sometimes’ activity.   On that note, don’t expect home-made to be cheaper.  This shampoo with bottle comes to around $13 per pack compared to around $8 for the one I am replacing it with. Sure I can use the bottle again and that does save me money but the savings along probably aren’t worth it once the labor is factored in.

Amanda x


Note on packaging shampoo in glass:

I chose the big ones as they are too heavy to pick up and therefore less likely to cause an accident in the shower. However, I would not recommend using glass packaging in a bathroom for families with young children, the elderly or in situations where it could easily be smashed during use.  It’s best for these to just sit on the floor and be pumped.

Note on re-using plastic pumps:

In an at-home environment and maybe when you use a product very frequently re-using the plastic pump may be an option but probably only once or twice (to a maximum of around 3 rounds I’d say).  Plastic pumps will become a source of contamination in the product over time and it is just not possible to wash them out effectively.  If you are selling your products then the pumps should be sold as single-use only to avoid any issues.






5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2018 8:21 am

    Thank you for sharing this. The batch comparison is really great to know. Sometimes homemade is more a feel good activity I guess.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      December 18, 2018 8:24 am

      Absolutely! I’m all for that and especially as making your own gives you a deeper appreciation of the raw materials and their value.

  2. January 5, 2019 5:27 am

    You’re a treasure, Amanda! Really enjoying reading through all these posts. Question about reusing pumps – – at home, not for selling : I have microwave sterilizing bags that I used for breast pumps and baby bottles… Would that type of steam sterilization work for shampoo pumps?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 5, 2019 4:39 pm

      Possibly but possibly not. You might break them by taking them apart enough to sterilize them. Give it a go though, you can always test everything and see what happens that way


  1. Does making your own shampoo save on plastic? | Pretty Random Health and Beauty Blog

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