Hand Washing And Soap: Is Soap The Critical Component? [Consumer]

by on October 2, 2012

in consumer

Is soap important in the hand washing process?Is hand washing important?  That’s today’s consumer awareness focus.

After a number of studies or released reports, the “word on the street” is that hand washing is huge in the prevention or spread of specific germs.

That’s a given.

But what started this piece was something I read in a science magazine, long before the web became as populace as it is today.  That article touched on how hand washing is important, but the soap factor is not so much, as is the actual friction of the act of washing your hands.

They went on to question the soap and the soap industry, but that’s not what this is about.  What this piece is about is trying to understand if soap is the critical factor here and if I can find anything to back up this old scientific claim I once read.

Hand Washing Is Important

More than 100 years ago, a DR. Ignaz Semmelweis first reported that washing hands can prevent the spread of disease.   He pointed to his own discovery of when he initiated the practice of doctors washing hands between patients in the hospital he was associated with, and deaths dropped fivefold.  But when you’re not in the mainstream of things, sometimes you aren’t taken seriously.  Hence, Semmelweis’s discovery was met with derision.

It took the established medical community 50 years to actually come around and instill the practice of hand washing in the day-to-day routines.

As far as the proper technique, I filtered it down the a recommendation from the CDC, where they suggest

“vigorous scrubbing with warm, soapy water for at least 15-20 seconds.”

Which again has me wondering, if soap works, why linger at the sink for those 15 seconds?  Try it sometime… it feels like forever trying to tick off 15 seconds!

But to give soap a fair shake, I have some info about different soaps and which might be more effective in their task

Not all soaps are created equal.

Hand sanitizer works better than soapIt seems that even though soaps would seem to be soaps, the best observed cleansing agent are hand sanitizers with alcohol as the active ingredient.  The ones they reference are the hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol.  What’s noted is that though soap ‘removes’ germs, the alcohol based hand sanitizers actually kill the germs.  (did germ, die!!!)

And a British study seemed to prove that using soap instead of water alone killed three times more germs.  SO there’s that.

And studies seem to suggest that the antibacterial sales pitch isn’t all that, showing that such soaps worked barely better than regular soaps.  (So if there’s a cost factor involved, maybe let your wallet make the choice.)

Keep in mind, I’m only trying to confirm something I was remembering from a scientific journal. I’m not trying to prove or disprove anything else at the moment.

When Are You Supposed to Wash Your Hands?

That’s a loaded question that better asks when would you not!

The suggested times that are recommended for washing hands are

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

The one that caught my attention as something curious was after handling pet food.  Eh?

Some points about pets include the premise that litter boxes can contain toxoplasmosis.  But this last May, there came an interesting perspective that you should wash your hands after handling pet food to prevent Salmonella.  Be aware gang.

After digging around about hand washing, it would seem there are three very important components.

Soap, warm water and friction.  (Ah, now we’re headed off in this rumored territory I’ve been searching for.)

I did find ONE report, where the University of Auckland reported that friction is the crucial element and suggests you don’t need soap.  The report indicated that if you don’t dry your hands thoroughly, washing them is moot.  That’s because moisture is a “microbial mobiliser.

Their studies, after comparing three methods, indicated to them that

“rubbing hands together “purposefully” under a running tap is extremely effective. After 10 seconds of rubbing, 95% of the microbes had been removed. After 20 seconds, 99% had gone. Interestingly, soap slowed down the rate of decontamination, at least initially, as soap decreases the friction. “But after about 20 seconds you ended up at the same point because you had got rid of the soap and the friction value was restored.””

The study creator also added that even with the 20-second suggestions, micro-bacterial soaps offer nothing much more than regular soap because the bacterial agents would need a lot more time than 20 seconds to do their job.  Fascinating.

Do I Feel Vindicated?

After finding one report that backs my memory, I don’t feel like I’m losing it.  But finding only one resource on the issue doesn’t give me the warmest feeling either.  I would love to find more on the issue with different studies to back up this no-soap premise.

I’ve been a proponent on multiple fronts.

I’m asked at home to use soap, and do so to appease, but I’ve also been an active practitioner of friction being the best use of hand washing.

I do use the running water and scrub and rub.  When lacking running water, my jeans become the next best process as I rub my hands on my pants vigorously if I can’t find another source for hand washing.

But Until Then…

Until I see more concrete studies to drive home the point, I will tend to use soap, veer more towards the process of 20 seconds, and so forth.  But I also won’t feel to worried if I can’t get to soap and/or warm water.  I’ve got m’friction!

The bottom line from all of this is that technique is more important than the technology.

Below are a bundle of resources that I worked from for this piece and you can be the judge:


just in case you feel compelled!

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: