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Are soap-bars dirty and full of bacteria?

Are soap-bars dirty and full of bacteria, and what about liquid soaps?

When we talk about natural soap bars with people that are not actually using them many times we got a reaction that they become dirty and with that full of bacteria. They really believe that soapbars are less hygienic then liquid soap or body wash.

So are soap bars hygienic? The answers a clear YES! In the old days families had one soapbar to share and nobody thought anything about it and nobody got sick because of that. But then the industries actively promoted their ‘new stuff’ that was easy to use and made good profits for them.

The thing is that human skin has a natural microbiome that contains thousands of different bacteria, fungi, and viruses that do not cause negative health consequences for those with an intact immune system because they are part of our bodies. As a matter of fact, this microbiome helps keeps our skin healthy. It makes sense that the microbes of your natural microbiome plus the oils and dead skin cells on your hands will get passed on to everything you touch. So we transfer these bacteria to our smartphones, keyboards, remote controls, doorknobs, faucets, liquid soap dispensers, light switches, shower heads, washcloths, towels and yes even our soap bars.

The bacteria on your soap bar are less of a problem than the bacteria you pick up from other places on your hands.

The germs on the bar of soap that you use in your home have no negative health effects because they are coming from you. Your body has adapted to live with its natural microbial environment. Even if you are sharing a soap bar with a family member that lives in your home, your bodies have most likely adapted because you share many of the same microorganisms.

Numerous studies have shown that although bacteria levels on a used bar of soap are slightly higher than on unused soaps, there are no detectable levels of bacteria left on the skin's surface after using a bar of soap. 

John E. Heinze and Frank Yackovich published a study in the Cambridge Journal of Epidemiology and Infection in which they worked on the surface of soap bars with extra bacteria so that the bacterial count was 70 times that of a typical used soap bar.

After a group of people washed their hands with the high bacteria soap, there were no detectable levels of the bacteria on the surface of their skin. The study concluded there was no evidence of bacteria transfer from the soap to your hands. 

The idea that the bacteria on a bar of soap are not transferred to your skin may seem strange, but consider that washing with a bar of soap is not like drying off with a towel or touching a faucet.

First of all, as you place your soap bar under the faucet to create lather--you are actually washing off the surface of the soap. Then when you lather up with soap the oil-attracting end picks up greasy dirt and oils on your skin and when you rinse, the water-attracting end allows you to rinse away the soap and impurities. When you towel dry or touch a light switch or faucet, any bacteria you transfer remains there. Just a side note, research carried out at the University of Arizona in 2014 by Charles Gerba demonstrated that towels may be the most contaminated item in your home because they are used often and they retain moisture for a long period of time, which helps bacteria breed.

Bacteria do not like to live in the actual soap bar, they are attracted to water that sits on top of the soap. So if you are still concerned, doing a couple of simple things will help your bar soap harbor fewer germs.

  1. Allow your soap to dry: Use a good soap-dish or a soap saver bag 
  2. Rinse your soap: If your soap is not dry, rinse it under running water before using it to get rid of the wet outer surface.


So what about liquid soap, is that hygienic?

When considering which type of ‘soap’ to use for you and your family the choice is between a bar and a liquid in a bottle. So the question is . . . how hygienic is liquid soap? As I mentioned above, bacteria do not like to live in a soap bar, they like the water on the surface which can be rinsed away. But what is the first and highest percentage ingredient in liquid soap? Yes, it is water!

Probably you like your liquid soap dispensers with a pump but: How often do you clean the top of your liquid soap dispenser? 

  • If you use a liquid hand soap in your own bathroom, remember to clean the pump regularly. You are constantly touching that pump with dirty hands.
  • If you use liquid soap to refill that pretty dispenser in your bathroom or guest bathroom, be sure the dispenser is cleaned thoroughly between fillings and the pump is cleaned often. Since liquid soap is mostly water, a film of bacteria can remain on the inside of the soap dispenser, in the pump and on the pump if not cleaned properly. Be sure to allow it to dry completely before filling.
  • Even if you use disposable bottles of liquid soap in your guest bathroom, be sure to clean the pump often--just think about what people have done just before pushing down on that pump dispenser. (I think I would rather use a bar of soap!)
  • If you are using a liquid soap dispenser in your kitchen, there is a different set of problems. Each time you handle raw meat, raw chicken, etc, or something dirty you need to wash your hands. So you press down on the top of that dispenser and leave all of the wonderful bacteria behind. 

A few more notes about liquid soaps:

  • Because the first ingredient is water, liquid soaps need a synthetic preservative to prevent germ growth. These preservatives do not always work. They can break down over time, they may not be formulated properly and sometimes manufacturers will dilute the liquid soap to increase profits. Thus, even with these preservatives, there have been a number of liquid soap recalls by the authorities due to contamination with disease-causing bacteria.
  • Public bathrooms usually do not use bar soap, but microbiologists have discovered that a quarter of the liquid soaps and dispensers in public restrooms are so contaminated with high concentrations of nasty bacteria that even after washing, your hands are actually less clean than before washing. Especially beware of the refillable type liquid soap dispensers in public restrooms since they are usually not cleaned when refilled and are loaded with bacteria including many that cause disease.
  • Be cautious even if the commercial liquid soaps contain antibacterial agents that are designed to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Many scientists believe that the effectiveness of these antibacterial agents may be compromised because:
    • the chemicals break down over time
    • you have no idea how old the liquid soap is
    • sometimes the products get diluted in order to save money

Liquid body washes and soaps are made with synthetic detergents, fragrances, and preservatives that provide no benefits to our bodies and are harmful to the environment.

I never doubted the cleanliness of our natural soap and shampoo bars, but after all this research on liquid soaps and soap dispensers, I am now more convinced than ever; I will take and use our natural soap- and shampoo bars each and every day.

Also for traveling they are the ones to prefer. Just take a good soap box plus: you carry no liquids!