Soap, which has been around for centuries, is the most effective cleanser we can use, even today. In fact, one of the earliest uses of soap was as a doctor’s tool to treat diseases. Soap is simply a mixture of fat or oil, water and a basic salt.  When combined, these substances go through a chemical process called saponification. 

How Soap Works

Soap isn’t meant to kill germs. It is meant to remove them, washing them away forever. The saponification process creates molecules that have a hydrophilic head (meaning it bonds with water) and a hydrophobic tail (meaning it prefers to bond with oils). As you know, water and oil don’t mix, but the qualities of soap molecules give it the unique nature of attracting BOTH water and oil. 

And that’s how it works: When soap is used with water, it binds the water to the oil molecules on your skin (like bacteria, germs, etc.). To be most effective, work up a lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds. The friction creates an emulsification process that helps lift the grime from your skin. When you rinse off the soap-water-grime combination, everything makes its way down the drain, leaving your skin clean. And don’t forget to dry your hands – wet hands are more likely to spread germs than dry hands.

Now, while soap isn’t meant to kill germs, it can actually cause them harm. The emulsification process works to destabilize the entire environment, which in turn can rupture virus or bacteria membranes. A ruptured membrane is essentially dead and can no longer infect cells. 

Water Temperature & Scrub Time

Wash often and wash for at least 20 seconds. That’s the hard part. But water temperature? That part is easy. A recent study suggests that water temperature has little to no bearing on the efficacy of soap. All that matters is that you use soap with water (any temperature) and scrub. This same study also found that a 10-second scrub works, but we’re sticking with the CDC recommended 20 seconds. 10 seconds isn’t even long enough to get a good tune stuck in your head! 

Here are a few tunes to consider while you wash: 

  1. Happy Birthday
  2. This Land is Your Land
  3. Take On Me

Antibacterial Soap Isn’t More Effective 

Antibacterial soaps work in the same way as regular soap, but have added ingredients that are intended to penetrate and kill virus and bacteria membranes. While that sounds nice, studies indicate that those added ingredients do not improve the efficacy of soap. In fact, the FDA  issued a rule in 2016 stating that antibacterial soaps cannot be marketed to the public.

What About Hand Sanitizers?

Hand sanitizer is a good backup for soap and water, but it’s just that: a backup. Soap and water is the most effective way to clean your hands, but if that isn’t possible, you can use a hand sanitizer with an alcohol concentration of 60-95% to kill off germs living on your hands. 

Hand sanitizers do not kill all bacteria and viruses, though. And they leave any residue on your hands, so any molecules that weren’t killed are still able to do their damage. Additionally, hand sanitizer doesn’t work to clean super dirty or greasy hands. 

What we’re saying is soap is your best bet. Use it with water and say goodbye to dirt and harmful germs! 

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