How Soap Works

Posted 08-29-2012 at 11:45 AM by HollyRay

There are days when a science lesson is necessary, and today is one of those days.

Washing your hands, with or without soap? Does it matter? Does it only take a minute? The answers may surprise you!

Does the type of soap used matter? 

Yes and No. Soap works in interesting ways, at the VERY basic description it works by simply attaching to dirt but slipping off skin so dirt is easily down the drain.  This goes for all types of soaps.

What about Antibacterial soap?

It works the same as regular soap, with the difference of it needing to be on your hands for TWO minutes before you rinse the soap off in order for it to actually kill bacteria.

How about NOT using soap?

Well, here is the problem, in our current day and age with all the special soap goo coupled with allergies being present more and more people are unable to use soap in public restrooms. Some people carry hand sanitizer, I often carry my own bar (but that sometimes causes a huge mess), and some people have to settle for warm water in order to avoid reactions. While soap is the reason your hands are no longer dirty, our current “soap” can be pretty detrimental to some people.

Anecdotal story: Once I was forced to put antibacterial soap on my hands at a camp, I asked multiple times to NOT do it, but I was told how yucky I was. Imagine the embarrassment of my camp counselor when she had to take me to the nurse as I had an awful reaction that caused my skin to start peeling!

Could soap ever NOT work?

Yes. You could use it improperly by not removing your hands from the water while working the lather, or not leaving it on long enough. You could also use it in the wrong kind of water. WHAT?!? The water matters? Yes it does, and I’m not talking about the temperature, but the kind of water. Because  of the chemical makeup if you use soap in water that is high in acidity (bad Ph balance) soaps effectiveness is nearly wiped out.

Recap:

Is it better to wash with soap YES.

If you put soap in your hand and rub back and forth a few times under water is that washing with soap? Barely.

If you put antibacterial soap on your hands does it kill bacteria? ONLY if left on the skin for TWO minutes!

The Ph balance of the water can negate the benefits of soap, and warm water is best.

Now a few links for the chemical properties and other fun facts about soap

About Soap Chemistry

Cleansing Myths

Pros and Cons of Antibacterial Soap

Filed Under: General

Comments

3 Responses to “How Soap Works”

  1. mibarra on August 29th, 2012 1:13 pm


    Interesting. I personally don’t like antibacterial soap. I will go out of my way to not buy it. I personally feel too much antibacterial stuff only leads to antibiotic resistant strains. Thanks for the info! :)

  2. Xythnia on August 29th, 2012 1:39 pm


    To the PP – I concur ^_^

  3. joyfullyliving on August 29th, 2012 4:42 pm


    I am anal about washing my hands, but I did not know most of this!

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