Reviews of what I think are the best natural, plastic-free deodorant brands: by Humankind, Bite deodorant, and PAPR. (And why they’re better and more sustainable options than Dove, Native, Myro and Ethique!)
If I’m being honest, here’s how most of my other sustainable product reviews have worked: I tested pretty much every plastic-free brand I could find for whatever the category was, and wrote novels about them.
But this time, I decided to keep it simple.
These are my reviews of
two, ahem, three excellent alternatives to the typical, usually not even recyclable, plastic deodorant tubes. (And the reasons why they beat the competition both for their formulas and their sustainability.)
Here are the contenders:
- A natural deodorant in a simple cardboard tube from PAPR that works well, smells natural but not at all hippie-ish, and skips any sort of plastic packaging (single-use or reusable).
- A sleek, refillable deodorant system from by Humankind that was my first zero-waste love.
PAPR, by Humankind, and Bite deodorants are all certified carbon-neutral, vegan and cruelty-free, and print with sustainable soy-based or water-based inks.
These are pretty much the gold standard for zero-waste brands from a sustainability perspective, and for the performance of their formulas. And they have plenty of competitors, some of which I tried, and others I purposefully didn’t, for reasons I explain below.
PÄPR Deodorant Review (the plastic-free, cardboard tube option)
Full disclosure – here’s what I like about PAPR: I’ve been camping for the past few weeks, traveling through national parks in the West, living in a van, and taking an average of 1 shower every 5 days. Using only PAPR deodorant on this trip, I’m not stinking. If there’s a better endorsement than that, I don’t know what it could be.
That being said, what I don’t like so much about PAPR deodorant is that it leaves a decent amount of white goop on my armpits and clothing. I wouldn’t say it’s worse than any normal drugstore deodorant, but it’s certainly not better in this respect.
If you want to try something that doesn’t feel like a commitment, then PAPR is a good way to go, since you don’t have to buy a refillable container to get started. (Which, if you don’t end up loving the product, becomes just another piece of plastic to throw away, or try to hand off to a friend.)
New York-based by Humankind is one of my favorite sustainable companies, because they’re really innovative with reusable, refillable packaging.
Here’s how the deodorant works: Your first order includes a refillable plastic deodorant tube. Then every refill order is just a cardboard tube of deodorant that you slip into the plastic carrier.
I absolutely love the concept. Their floss works the same way, and it’s one of my favorite products. I still think the deodorant formula is great, as are the scents, and design.
by Humankind vs PAPR: Pit Tests
Before setting off on this van trip/ ultimate deodorant test, I did an Armpit A vs Armpit B test for months (always using by Humankind on my left and PAPR on my right, never switching, because your body can take time to adjust to a new formula).
And I could never tell much of a difference. I smelled the pits of my t-shirts after several days of use, and they were the same. (This wasn’t the case for some of the brands that I left out of this review. Again, these are the cream of the crop.)
The main difference I’ve noticed between by Humankind and PAPR is that by Humankind leaves a bit more white residue on my armpits. (PAPR also leaves some white residue, but it’s less.) This might be because the by Humankind formula has a softer consistency. (Possibly because it contains hyaluronic acid, a moisturizing ingredient that I use on my face.)
UPDATE: This is one of my favorite things about Bite deodorant: NO WHITE RESIDUE. I have no idea how they did it, but I think it’s actually the cleanest, least messy deodorant I’ve ever used. (Natural or otherwise.)
Bite Deodorant Review
When I tried Bite’s new deodorant, I knew I had to add it to this review. That’s because a lot of products come though my door for testing – and most of them just come through once. (Many don’t even warrant a mention on this blog.)
But for this, my husband makes a point or regularly saying, “I want this one again.”
What can I say, it works. It smells wonderful. (We both like the Santal scent best, but they make two others, plus a fragrance-free deodorant.)
It’s baking-soda free, which makes Bite a great deodorant option for sensitive skin. (And aluminum-free, because Bite is a deodorant, not an antiperspirant.)
And, as I said above, it doesn’t really leave any white residue on our shirts. Bite goes on with sort of a white powdery consistency, but then it somehow absorbs and disappears, because I never find any evidence of it anywhere.
I’ve been doing re-doing my pit test for a couple of weeks now (Bite vs. PAPR deodorants, one for each armpit with no switching). And I’m finding that Bite is completely beating out my previous favorite. No stink, better scents, and no white marks on clothes.
One thing that’s a little annoying is the shape of the refillable deodorant tube. It’s a pretty small applicator area, so it’s easy to get some product smeared on the outside of the tube while applying it. Not a huge deal, but it might be nice to have a more round shape.
Bite’s Sustainability Impact:
After trying PAPR, I preferred the idea of a deodorant in a cardboard tube as opposed to a refillable deodorant. After all, the refillable deodorant tube I’d tested from by Humankind is, in fact, another piece of plastic to eventually throw away. (Even though it won’t be in the garbage nearly as often as a typical plastic deodorant.)
But Bite’s deodorant design makes this almost a moot point. The refillable tube is made of one single material: 100% recyclable aluminum. So you can eventually just throw it in with normal recycling – no special treatment.
Bite’s interior tubes (that the refills come in) are made of cardboard (also easily recyclable).
And since they go inside a protective aluminum tube, Bite doesn’t need to make their cardboard refill tubes as thick and sturdy as PAPR’s cardboard packaging. So they use less paper, and it’s 100% plant-based and safe for home composting. (Just like all of Bite’s refill packaging.)
Some cardboard deodorants on the market use a plastic-based resin/glue to bind the layers in their packaging together, making them neither plastic-free nor compostable.
Do natural deodorants really work?
A lot of natural deodorants I’ve tried don’t seem to do much deodorizing. I’ve found that Bite deodorant, PAPR and by Humankind are all in a class of their own in that department.
Just keep in mind these are all deodorants, not anti-perspirants (meaning they don’t stop you from sweating naturally, they just keep you from stinking naturally). They don’t contain aluminum, which according to lots of studies might not be good for you anyway.
If you’ve been using an antiperspirant, it might take a couple of weeks for your body to adjust to something more natural. That’s part of why I tested these for several months before reviewing them. by Humankind explains what to expect when switching to natural deodorant on their FAQ page, under “Product Info.”
How do they smell? (Bite vs. by Humankind vs. PAPR scents)
All three of these brands come in natural scents that aren’t too strong. And they actually smell like something real, not cheap artificial perfume. They all market their scents as unisex, but clearly there are some differences.
Bite Deodorant Scents
Like everything else about Bite deodorant, I’ve been impressed with their subtle scents. (I’ve tried all three.) And they make an unscented, completely fragrance-free formula, too.
Bite’s Santal is my favorite deodorant scent, maybe ever, and it’s also my husband’s favorite. That kind of crossover doesn’t happen everyday. Santal is a truly gender-neutral scent, which I personally love. It’s just light, fresh, slightly woodsy but not at all overwhelming.
I’m a sucker for a good citrus-y scent, and Bite’s Neroli deodorant doesn’t disappoint. (So the fact that I still prefer Bite’s Santal scent is saying something.)
It reminds me of the neroli scented all-in-one body wash/shampoo bar that I love, and my favorite fruity perfume, but with more of a bite. (No pun intended.) It’s citrus-y, but with sort of a sharp, herbal side to it.
I’m not the right person to ask about this scent, because I’m just not a rose person. On the flip side, if you love a rose scent, that’s exactly what Rose Vert is. Pure, classic rose.
Regardless of which you choose, none of the Bite deodorant scents are very strong.
So even if you try one and don’t love it, there’s a good chance you won’t notice it a few minutes after applying. (I can’t really smell the Bite scents on my clothes when I take them off for example – nor do I smell anything else.)
by Humankind Deodorant Scents
My favorite scent from by Humankind is Coconut, which smells exactly like a fresh coconut, with a slightly floral hint to it (but there’s nothing floral in the ingredients, so I may be imagining that part).
I also used their Lavender Citrus scent for about five months (that’s how long a tube lasted me) and liked it. Like PAPR’s lemongrass option, it’s more the kind of scent I’d expect from a “natural, eco-friendly” deodorant – a little more herbal smelling.
(by Humankind used to have an unscented option, but they’ve now discontinued it.)
PAPR Deodorant Scents
All of PAPR’s deodorant scents smell rather strong in the tube, but aren’t overwhelming after you put them on. When I smell my armpits – whether an hour after applying, or at the end of the day – there’s not much there: Very little stink, but not much perfume smell either.
It’s like the PAPR scents are for you to enjoy, not for others to smell on you. (Which also means they don’t compete with perfume or cologne.)
My favorite PAPR scent is Bright Shiny Morning, which smells exactly like a juicy grapefruit. Super fresh, light, and clean smelling.
I think their Coastal Forests scent is probably the most traditionally masculine option – strong and woodsy, but not overwhelming in an Axe kind of way. My husband uses it, and we both approve.
I’ve also tried their From Dusk Till Dawn, which is lemongrass-y and more of a traditional “natural deodorant,” slightly herbal sort of scent.
PAPR also makes a sensitive skin deodorant formula, which is unscented and free of baking soda.
Plastic-free deodorants that didn’t make the cut for this review
I didn’t just research three brands for this review – but you don’t want a list of 14 eco-friendly options, you want a few that work, right?
If you’re curious, here are the brands that I chose to leave out, and why.
Myro vs by Humankind vs Bite (What to Look for in the Best Refillable Deodorants)
Myro is another refillable deodorant that you’ve probably heard of (that is, if you get targeted ads for eco-friendly toiletries all over social media, like I do).
At first glance, Myro looks very similar to by Humankind’s deodorant. I was going to order it to compare the two – until I realized Myro is not even close to plastic-free!
Yes, it’s a refillable tube system, but Myro’s refill cartridges are made of plastic. They advertise that their refills use “50% less plastic than traditional deodorants,” and are “100% recyclable.”
Here’s the thing: Recycling is a band-aid on a broken system. So advertising that your products are sustainable because they’re recyclable, is like advertising that your company is ethical because it pays its bills. You’re just meeting the bare minimum, so don’t expect me to be impressed.
So what’s the point of “50% less plastic,” when you could choose refills with ZERO plastic from Bite, or with “at least 90% less plastic,” from by Humankind?
by Humankind’s deodorant refills come in home-compostable cardboard tubes, with a small plastic wheel and stick for the crank mechanism.
Bite’s deodorant refills are made from thin cardboard, printed with plant-based inks, and contain no plastic-based resins or glues. So they’re completely plastic-free and also safe for home composting or recycling. Both are far better options than Myro.
Other Refillable Deodorants & Why I Don’t Recommend Them
Even the drugstore brand Dove has now launched a refillable deodorant. That’s great for two reasons:
- First, it proves that even massive companies can see that people are sick of disposable everything. So they’re getting on the refillable, zero-waste train. When big companies start changing their tune, it’s proof that the world is changing. Zero-waste isn’t just going to remain a fringe thing.
- And second, it’ll bring the less-waste concept to more people.
But I still didn’t try Dove’s refillable deodorant because they’re not the people pushing the change forward. They’re just following the trend, after seeing the success of small start-ups like Bite and by Humankind, which are taking big risks to develop unique refillable products and bring them to market.
I believe in voting with your wallet, so I would rather support sustainability-focused small companies that have been mission-driven, and dedicated to being plastic-free from the beginning, instead of big conglomerates with infinite funding that only decide to care about plastic waste after the little guys prove it can be profitable.
PAPR vs Native Deodorant (another cardboard option)
You might have seen Native’s ads for their new cardboard-packaged deodorant all over social media. The reason I didn’t try Native is the same as why I didn’t Dove’s refillable option: Their cardboard line is an off-shoot of a plastic-based company.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record: It’s great that they’re making a change in the right direction. But I’d just rather support the pioneers like PAPR, Bite and by Humankind.
If you already use and love Native deodorant, then their plastic-free line makes sense. But if you’re trying a plastic-free, cardboard-tube style deodorant for the first time, I would start with PAPR over Native or other similar brands like Smartypits.
Ethique Deodorant (a zero-packaging option)
Some sustainable brands make deodorant that’s just completely unpackaged, like one I tried from the New Zealander zero-waste brand Ethique. Ethique is one of those great companies that checks every single box for sustainability: They’re a Certified B Corp. They’re a member of 1% For The Planet. They carbon offset not only every part of their business, but every part of their employees’ personal lives, too.
Bonus Review: Ethique Deodorant
When Ethique offered to send me sample sets of their face products, hair products and deodorants, I wanted to love them all, since the company checks all those sustainability boxes, but their package-free deodorant just didn’t work for me.
I used it for more than a month, doing the same Armpit A vs. Armpit B test I’d used with PAPR, by Humankind, and Bite deodorants. The Ethique armpit always got way stinkier, way faster.
Also, the concept of a piece of deodorant without any packaging doesn’t really do it for me – especially since it won’t travel well. (You can’t just throw it in your toiletries bag without getting deodorant all over everything else. For shampoo bars, I travel with a small washcloth to wrap the damp bars in, then tuck them in a pocket of my suitcase, but I don’t really want to have to do that for deodorant, too.)
What Else Ethique Does Well
I had initially skipped testing Ethique, since they’re based on the opposite side of the Earth from me (and from most of you readers). But they told me they basically ship products on a slow boat to warehouses around the world. So individual orders don’t actually ship from New Zealand, making their carbon footprint not nearly as bad as it would seem.
I did like some other Ethique products much better than their deodorant. (Their Deep Green face wash bar was surprisingly great, and made my master list of sustainable travel toiletries, and some of their shampoo and conditioner bars worked well for me.)
So if you’re interested, Ethique is definitely worth a try since it’s such a great company from a sustainability perspective. And I love that they sell sample sizes of almost all of their products, so you can try them out before you commit (straight from Ethique, or from their Amazon storefront).
Remember, you can save 10% on deodorant and anything else from Bite with the discount code tiltedmap10 . I wish I could also offer a discount for by Humankind, as I think they’re a great company, too!
Update: Sadly, my friends, I can no longer offer a discount code for PAPR deodorant. I used to have a code to share, because I was an affiliate of theirs. (Meaning I made a commission when you clicked through these links and ordered from them, at no extra cost to you.)
But unfortunately, PAPR has discontinued their affiliate program, which means I no longer earn anything from them, and they no longer offer a discount to my readers. Bummer for me, as these relationships are how I finance this blog, and bummer for you, because you no longer get to save money on a sustainable product. But I do still think these are great products, and am proud to talk about with them all the honesty and detail you’ll find in all of my reviews.
I’m also an affiliate of by Humankind and Bite, and I frequently turn down, affiliate deals with competing brands whose products aren’t as high of quality, or don’t meet my high standards for sustainable.
(If you’d like to know more about how this works, and how blogs make money, I’ll have a post about that soon!)
Questions? Other brands I should try? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll get back to you!