How Does Hand Soap Work to Kill Bacteria?

By Erica Loop in Natural Products

Have you ever wondered—how does hand soap work to kill bacteria? Is there really a hand soap that kills germs?

The truth is, the process by which soap cleans your hands is often misunderstood. To ensure you're washing your hands properly, learn more about the science behind hand soap and how it removes germs.


Why You Should Always Use Soap

The cascade of running water coming from your faucet may seem strong enough to force those pesky germs off your hands. But will water alone get the job done? Not according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adding soap to your hands, in combination with water, is a more effective way to remove microbes.

Several studies support this recommendation. According to Harvard Medical School, a fifteen-second soap and water session can reduce bacteria on your hands by 90 percent. Add an extra fifteen seconds of lathering time, and you may reduce the bacterial count by up to 99.9 percent.

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that handwashing with plain water reduced bacteria presence on the hands to 23 percent. In comparison, when washing with soap and water, surface bacteria decreased to 8 percent.


How Does Hand Soap Work to Kill Bacteria?

Now you know it's critical to use soap when washing your hands. But it's important to note that soap helps to remove germs from your hands—not necessarily kill them.

More specifically, it's the surfactants in hand soap that remove the germs, according to the CDC. Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of water and break down molecular barriers. In other words, surfactants make your hands slippery and make it harder for dirt, debris, or germs to grab hold and stay.

Whether you use a bar or liquid soap, it reduces the microbe count on your skin by mechanical measures. Soap "pulls" off debris and anything else on your hands and moves it into the running water.

What Type of Soap Should You Use?

There are a lot of different options for hand soap. While some people may opt for antibacterial soaps in hopes that they will be more effective, the Food and Drug Administration asserts that antibacterial soap has not been proven to be any more effective than regular soap. In addition, the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences notes that using antibacterial soap could expose you to unnecessary chemicals with no proven handwashing benefit.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. If you are looking for a naturally derived soap, there are many effective options to try—whether you prefer a basic unscented formula, a fruit-scented liquid hand soap, or a floral bar of soap. No matter what you choose, the important part is to make soap an essential ingredient in your handwashing routine!

Learn more about different types of soaps and other personal care products on the @tomsofmaine Naturally Good Products Pinterest board.

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The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.



Why It's Good

With the right handwashing technique and a simple soapy lather, you can feel confident keeping your hands clean.