“Soap might not sound as sexy as something that a Silicon Valley start-up promises will save millions of lives and change the world,” says Mera McGrew, the 32-year-old founder of Soapply, “but unlike many of those, soap really works.” As awareness of the importance of handwashing swept the world this spring, millions of people realized that the big brands left their skin dry and irritated. Demand rose for Soapply’s silky soap, made with plant-based, food-grade organic oils and totally free of the detergents and potentially toxic irritants used by both mass-market and luxury competitors. (The direct-to-consumer subscription service, chic refillable glass bottle, and percentage of purchase price devoted to global hygiene initiatives didn’t hurt either.)
McGrew, who has for years referred to herself as a “handwashing evangelist,” compares the change in consumer awareness to the organic food movement. “Soap is finally having its moment,” she says. And it’s not alone: Shared surfaces have also come under the microscope. Earlier this year, Amanda Weeks’s company Ambrosia launched Veles, an all-purpose home cleaner made almost entirely of water and food waste redirected from landfills. Waste and cleaning products “probably couldn’t sound further apart,” Weeks says, but it works. The essential-oil-laced combination of alcohol, acetic acid, and lactic acid expertly tackles tough stains and surface contaminants, and every recyclable, refillable aluminum bottle reduces greenhouse gas emissions by offering an alternative to landfills for wasted food and by cutting down on plastic. It’s cleaning up with a clear conscience.