Are Bar Soaps Hygienic?

Sometimes we receive questions asking whether “bar soaps” are hygienic?

When I meet people and tell them that I own an organic skin care company the discussion often leads to questions about “bar” soaps. So many people tell me that they would love to switch to a natural soap to get rid of the chemicals and the plastic bottles.

So what is stopping them? Some people believe that bars of soap are less hygienic than liquid soap.

So, are bar soaps hygienic? Of course, for me, the answer is YES!

The strange thing is that when I was a little girl (a long time ago) we had one bathroom and one bar of soap that was shared by the entire family. We never thought anything of it and we seldom got sick.
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.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word hygienic means, “Conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease, especially by being clean; sanitary.” It may seem like an odd question to ask whether something specifically created to help make you clean is hygienic, but actually, it is a very good question.

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. Numerous studies have shown that we transfer this bacteria to our cell phones, keyboards, remote controls, doorknobs, faucets, liquid soap dispensers, light switches, showerheads, 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.

J. E. Heinze and F. Yackovich published a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Infection in which they inoculated 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. (It is worth noting that the makers of Dial soap, a company that makes both bar and liquid soap, paid for this research.)

The idea that the bacteria on a bar of soap are not transferred to your skin may seem odd, 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:Store soap out of the water and allow it to dry between uses to get rid of the moist environment that germs enjoy. If you take lots of showers consider using a couple of soap bars and alternating them to allow enough drying time between each use.
  2. Rinse Your Soap: If your soap is not dry, rinse it under running water before lathering up to get rid of the wet outer surface. 


Is Liquid Soap 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 my 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 most abundant ingredient in liquid soap? Yes, it is water!

Now let’s consider your liquid soap dispensers: 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 FDA due to contamination with disease-causing bacteria.
  • Public bathrooms usually do not usually 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 (rather than ones that have a replaceable single-use soap pouch) 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

Summary

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

Obviously, I am natural “bar soap” biased!

I never doubted the cleanliness of a natural bar of soap, but after all of my research on liquid soaps and soap dispensers, I am now more convinced than ever–I will take a natural bar of soap over liquid soap any day.

Eighty million. That’s the number of germs exchanged in a kiss. Ten to two hundred million. That’s the number of germs that are found on an average cell phone.

What is a clean freak to do? How can we possibly combat all of those germs? This question comes from listener Geraldo in Brazil and I think it’s a great one. Does soap really kill 99.9% of germs?

How Does Soap Clean?

Remember that a germ is what we call any microscopic particle or organism that can make us sick, so this includes viruses and bacteria. Most of the gunk we want to wash off of our hands, whether it be dirt or germs, adheres to us thanks to the oils on our skin. Destroying the oil with a solvent like alcohol or kerosene will thus remove the associated germs.

However, although soaps used in hospitals are often strong, alcohol based versions, alcohol and kerosene are themselves toxic to varying degrees and thus not ideal for frequent in-home use. Imagine smelling like kerosene all day? Luckily, we have soap.

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10 Items That Should Never, Ever Be Shared

Disclaimer: Just so you know, if you order an item through one of our posts, we may get a small share of the sale.

You know that couple (or those besties)…the ones who share everything. And we mean everything. Not normal things like clothing, blankets, or coffee cups. But things you think shouldn’t be shared. Disgusting, potentially germ-growing, virus-breeding, fungus-festering things.

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Some people believe that routinely exposing yourself to bacteria and germs makes your immune system stronger. Others are so grossed out by germs that it causes them to be obsessively, maniacally clean.

Most of us fall in the middle somewhere. We basically like things clean and keep stuff to ourselves, but sometimes we venture into “we know we shouldn’t borrow this, but how bad can it be?” zones. Did you ever find yourself wondering just how many germs you share with your boyfriend when you slurp out of his soda can? Or how gross it really is when you swipe your pits with your sister’s deodorant—even just once? Unfortunately, it’s worse than we thought. Grab your garbage can and bravely read below.

1. Earbuds

Your friend wants you to listen to her new song, so she pulls out her earbuds and jams them in your ears so you can listen. You would think that sharing them would be benign, but it’s not. The ears normally contain bacteria like pseudomonas, staphylococcus, and strep, which you’re used to and typically don’t cause any health problems.

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It’s when you start swapping bacteria with other people that you get in trouble. Add in the moist environment of sweating and working out, and you have the perfect breeding ground for an overload of bacteria that can cause infections, pimples, boils, ear fungus, or swimmer’s ear.

Over-the-ear listening devices prove to be even more troublesome because they transmit not only germs and wax, but they can also transmit lice. The best thing to do is to tell your bestie to buy her own earbuds. If you must share, wipe the earbuds down with alcohol.

2. Towels

You jump out of the shower, see a towel, grab it, and use it. What you don’t realize is that towel may be covered in bacteria, fungi, and mildew. Towels are the perfect breeding ground for germs because they hang in dark, wet places and never really get a chance to dry out.

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Small amounts of bacteria are always present on a used towel, but if you notice a funky smell, you can be sure there are colonies of things you don’t want on there—things that can cause acne, pink eye, cold sores, bacterial infections, or even chlamydia.

The best practice is to not share towels at all and to wash them after one use. If you have to reuse them, make sure that they hang in a well-ventilated, bright place and that they dry out completely. Having trouble figuring out whose towel is whose? Try color coding them so everyone has their own, or use a waterproof marker to label them.

3. Bar of Soap

Soap cleans your body, so it must clean itself after each use, right? Unfortunately it doesn’t. Each time someone uses a bar of soap, the “slime” on it gets covered in organisms from that person’s skin—everything from harmless germs to serious pathogens like norovirus (which causes the stomach “flu”) and staph (MRSA).

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You might think that antibacterial soap would be better and save you from the harmful stuff, but it won’t. Antibacterial properties don’t kill germs the way alcohol does.

If you’re sharing the bar with just your family members, you really have little to worry about because you share many of the same microorganisms anyway. But if you’re out and about and there’s no liquid soap in sight, the best thing to do is rinse the bar off in running water to wash away the slime. It’s always good practice to store soap out of water and allow it to dry completely between uses.

4. Razors

You forgot your razor, so you’re just going to use your friend’s. Not so fast! It may not be worth it. When you shave, your skin’s dead cells mix with bacteria, which can cause a host of issues.

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Even if you don’t cut yourself, shaving can cause tiny nicks in the skin where viruses and bacteria can enter the blood quickly. It’s probably better to have a little stubble and wait until you get home to use your own razor.

5. Water Bottles

You’re dying because you forgot your water and your friend kindly offers hers. You take a swig, praying that she doesn’t have any germs that you can catch. Bad news! She does. We all do.

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Some can be as harmless as the common cold, or as menacing as strep, mono, herpes, mumps, and meningitis. You won’t always get sick if you share a beverage with someone, but in this case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

6. Keyboards/Cellphones

Your cubicle mate eats a ham sandwich and then jumps on your computer to look something up. Your friend comes back from a quick trip to the bathroom, then grabs your phone and heads to Instagram. You’re hoping that the germs you know they deposited aren’t that bad. The truth is that keyboards and cellphones can have more bacteria than a toilet.

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And the more people you share your things with, the worse it becomes. If you can’t insist that people wash their hands before they put them on your tech stuff, then make a regular practice of wiping down your screens with alcohol wipes.

7. Underwear/Swimwear

Hopefully you know better about this, but just in case, we’ll come out very strongly against this one: you should NEVER, EVER wear someone else’s underclothes next to your private parts.

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Damp, dark places are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Even though the clothes may be washed before you wear them, studies have shown that washing them in even in the cleanest conditions doesn’t always get rid of the intruders.

8. Deodorant

We doubt anyone thinks it’s okay to share a product that’s intended to combat sweat and smell from under the armpits, but are you wondering (if, heaven forbid, you were in a pinch) just how bad it may be? Eh, it’s not great. The odor that comes from under your pits is from bacteria that breaks down the sweat on your skin.

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If you’re sharing deodorant it’s not too bad, because it normally has some antibacterial properties—unless it’s organic. Most organic deodorants just mask the smell and don’t contain powerful enough (or any) ingredients that can fight bacteria.

If you’re using a roll-on antiperspirant, it’s even worse. Antiperspirants only decrease perspiration and don’t have any germ-killing stuff that deodorants have. You could be sharing someone else’s germs, bacteria, fungi, and yeast—or at the very least, their skin cells and hair. Switch to a spray, and you’re all good!

9. Pumice Stones

The job of pumice stones is to scrape dead skin from the heels and soles of feet. When you borrow someone else’s stone, you’re not only getting all of that gross personal debris, but you can also catch any foot fungus or plantar warts that they may have.

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HPV, the virus responsible for foot warts, is highly contagious, and unfortunately the warts are really hard to get rid of.

10. Tweezers

How harmful can borrowing someone’s tweezers be? You pluck a couple of hairs and everything is fine and dandy. It’s okay if you don’t dig around, but start prodding and puncturing your skin and things can get messy.

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As with sharing a razor, you can transfer blood-borne diseases. Soak tweezers in a jar of alcohol if you think they may have come in contact with blood.

Warning: Sharing these everyday items could endanger your health

Learning to share is perhaps one of the cornerstones of childhood. But, as adults, we learn—or even intuit—that there are some things that just should not be shared. As a physician, you already know this, but the list of things you shouldn’t share may include some items you may not have considered before.

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Here are a few:

Soap. Bars of soap must be clean, right? Maybe not. Think of the bars of soap in your bathroom. They are probably shared by everyone in your household, and usually don’t dry completely between uses, which may lead to an accumulation of bacteria, fungi, and yeast that could—potentially—be transferred from person to person.

Although researchers of a study done in 1988 found that germ-laden soap isn’t likely to transfer bacteria, a previous study found that bars of soap were sources of continuous reinfection in dental clinics. To prevent the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in athletic settings, the CDC recommends not sharing bar soap. The agency also warns that in healthcare settings, handwashing with plain soap could actually increase bacterial counts on the skin and, in the case of using contaminated soap, lead to gram-negative bacilli colonization.

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Flip-flops. These cheap summer staples may seem to be relatively innocuous because they are open, rather than closed like regular shoes. But be warned—they can spread athlete’s foot like any other shoe. Wet shoes are particularly susceptible to harboring this fungal infection, and flip-flops are often just that.

Hats and helmets. According to the CDC, sharing any sort of head gear can contribute to the spread of lice. Make sure everyone in the family has their own hats now that cold weather is here, as well as their very own helmets.

Earbuds. Did you know that the more you use earbuds and earphones, the more you increase the amount of bacteria in your ears? Sharing these with someone else can obviously transfer these bacteria, and can lead to otitis media and otitis externa. If you must share, try to sanitize them with an antibacterial wipe thoroughly, especially the parts that go inside the ear. And perhaps it would be wise to warn your children and teens of this as well.

Antiperspirant. Although deodorants do have some antibacterial properties to stop the breakdown of sweat by bacteria present on your skin, antiperspirants do not. Sharing roll-on antiperspirants—and even deodorants—can results in the transfer of germs, bacteria, fungi, and yeast from one person to another. Not to mention skin cells and hair. Gross! Try to stop sharing, or start using a spray.

  • See Also: Could your car be making you sick?

Razors. A great rule of thumb to follow—even with those you are most intimate with—is to not share any personal item that has the potential to be exposed to blood. With their potential to cause nicks and cuts, razors absolutely fall into this category. Further, shaving—especially with a dull blade—can cause tiny nicks in the skin that may not be readily apparent, giving any viruses or bacteria on the razor an open doorway into your body. Just think of all the dead skin and bacteria that may be living on those thin razor blades and keep your razor to yourself.

Mani/pedi accessories. Things like nail clippers, cuticle sticks and trimmers, nail buffers, and files should not be shared. With all the pushing and clipping of cuticles, skin, and nails these tools are used for, it’s no surprise that sharing them can actually spread a lot of diseases, including hepatitis C, staph infections, and warts. Because of this, salons now have strict protocol on sanitizing these tools between uses and between clients. Unless you are willing to do the same, forego sharing your manicure tools.

So, remember: Sometimes sharing is not always caring, especially with personal items you use regularly. Keep these things to yourself. Do not share them with your friends or family. For your sake and theirs.

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We’ve all been brought up to believe that in order to remove icky stuff from our hands and pretty much our entire bodies we should wash and clean ourselves with soap. But bar soap in essence just removes grime and germs from your skin—it doesn’t kill bacteria; it just moves it from one location to the next. So could that gross stuff that you thought that you were ridding yourself of might actually be hanging out on your favorite bar of soap? Try not to think about that the next time you lather up. “Bar soap can and likely does have germs living on it, says Debra Brooks, MD, at Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care. But don’t panic just yet because they are not likely to make you sick, she says. (But these showering mistakes might!)

In a study that was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Infection it was found that even when participants used soap that had been contaminated, their risk of the bacteria transferring to them was unlikely. Dr. Brooks concurs. “If you are in good health, you should have no problem naturally defending against the germs on bars of soap,” says Brooks. “Plus it is easy to disinfect your soap because the top layer usually dissolves in water,” she says.

If you are still concerned and want to take extra precaution you should cover and store your soap in a dry place, as this will also help it to last longer. Also, rinse it off before and after using. Finally, if it still freaks you out and you are worried just stick to liquid soaps or shower gels instead. In other news, have you realized how icky showerheads are?

The way we like to get clean is changing.

In ancient Rome, people smeared themselves with pumice or ash to clean their bodies. Then, they’d layer on some oil.

“If the kids got kind of messy in the backyard, basically Mom would get out some olive oil and kids would rub it over themselves and then scrape it off,” said Robert Cohon, curator of art of the ancient world at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.

Rome was known for its public baths, Cohon said. But you’d go for a spa soak to be social. Cleanliness wasn’t really the focus.

“One gets the sense that there are different attitudes toward hygiene in the ancient world than what we have today,” he said.

Soap science

Without soap, you can only get so clean. But those who used ash and olive oil were on to something.

Basic bar soap begins with animal fat or vegetable oil. You add an ingredient that both dissolves in water and cuts through grease, such as ashes. Then a chemical reaction happens to make soap.

Gunk, like dirt or germs, sticks to our hands because of the oils on our skin. Soap molecules grab onto oil particles. Then water washes the gunk away. If you use enough soap–and rub your hands together for long enough– you’ll have less oil and germs left on your hands.

That’s why public health officials are always trying to get us to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds.

Plain soap doesn’t kill bacteria, but microbes get flushed down the drain.

Personal preference

Still, lots of U.S. consumers think bar soap is covered with germs after you use it, according a recent poll from the Mintel, a global market research firm.

These days, when it comes to cleanliness, there are lots more choices including body washes, foams and liquid soaps.

“The market for bar soaps is declining,” said Frauke Neuser, principal scientist with Procter & Gamble’s Olay Skin Care. “Probably about two percent over the last five years. But it is definitely declining.”

P&G—the home of Ivory Soap–has been making and selling soap since the 1830s.

Neuser says more people, at least in North America, are opting for liquid soaps or body washes over bar soaps. But it’s not really the gross-out factor that’s driving down bar soap sales, she says. It’s more about personal preference and how people want to experience getting clean.

Is it sanitary?

In our informal survey of visitors to the Kansas City Folk Festival—liquid soap was the definite crowd favorite.

One person said, “It just makes me feel cleaner.” Another said, “Seems a little bit more sanitary.” One person was grossed out by that nasty ring that bar soap leaves around the tub.

But is liquid soap somehow cleaner than soap in a bar?

Allen Greiner, a professor and vice chair of the department of family medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, was working at a pop-up clinic at the music festival. Greiner and his colleagues staffing the clinic were using lots of alcohol-based hand rubs. But for the rest of us, should it be bar soap or liquid soap?

“The truth is… there’s probably not a real big difference,” Greiner said.

By email, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said: “CDC does not have a recommendation for using bar soap or liquid soap over the other in a community setting…We are not aware of data to suggest that liquid or bar soap is more effective when used inside the home.”

“You can get some bacteria that will stay on a bar of soap,” Greiner said, “but by and large, when you use that bar of soap, all those bacteria are going to be washed away with the water that’s flushing things out.”

“I don’t think there’s any major reason to feel like it’s icky.”

Many of us are hypersensitive to cleanliness. We’ve been trained to wash our hands numerous times a day and to avoid contact with germs at all costs. As a means to this end, soap is an important facet of our daily lives. For many years, the market consisted of only bar soap and everyone seemed completely satisfied. Then liquid soap arrived on the scene and the debate opened. Which is better to use – bar soap or liquid soap? For most of us the answer comes down to the things we personally consider most important. Let’s examine the pros and cons of each.

Bacteria.

We all know that bacteria are a major cause of disease and the primary reason we wash our hands as frequently as we do – to prevent the spread of germs. Liquid soap has been promoted as being anti-bacterial almost from the beginning of its introduction into the marketplace. Given that people have been using bar soap for generations, even centuries, it seems unlikely that bar soap lacks in this area. A 1988 study conducted by the Dial Corporation looked at whether or not bacteria from a used bar of soap transferred to the skin. Commercial deodorant bars of soap were softened and pre-washed, then inoculated with E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa to create contaminated soap. The test bars actually contained 70 times the contaminants that would typically be found in used soap bars. Sixteen volunteers then washed their hands with the contaminated soaps and none showed detectable levels of either of the bacteria. The researchers concluded that used bar soap did not lead to the transfer of bacteria from the bar to the skin and that they were safe and recommended for use when washing hands to prevent the spread of disease.

Dealing with the mess.

Though liquid soap has been around since 1865 and possibly even earlier, it didn’t become mass-produced until 1980. Prior to that bar soap was the primary way to wash hands. A frequent complaint about bar soap was the slippery nature of the wetted soap and the lathery residue it left on counters and in soap dishes designed to contain it. Minnetonka, the makers of Softsoap, cornered the liquid soap market with a strategy that focused on buying up all the plastic dispensers. The dispensers were wildly popular as they were easy to use and all but eliminated the sudsy residue bar soaps left behind. Dispensers also weren’t slippery to handle. They were disposable and easy to replace. People didn’t have to spend time each week or day cleaning up the soap scum left from repeated uses of a bar of soap.

Soap pH level.

Liquid soap proponents often cite the drying effect bar soap can have on the skin. When this occurs, it is generally because the bar soap in use has a higher pH level. This can be very drying, particularly to sensitive skin. The upside is that there is more than one type of bar soap available, many with lower pH factors and other ingredients that help prevent the stereotypical ‘drying” complaint associated with bar soap. As a matter of fact, most bar soaps do contain glycerin which is very therapeutic for dry skin and other sensitivities like eczema.

Fragrance-free options.

Some people have allergies to fragrances while others simply do not like them added to their soaps. Liquid soaps that are fragrance-free can be difficult to find. Bar soaps offer numerous options for those who prefer to use fragrance-free.

Recognizing waste.

When you wash your hands with bar soap, you rub the bar between your hands until you create the desired amount of lather. The ease and convenience of the pump on the liquid soap dispenser makes this harder to control. Typically, they dispense a predetermined amount and there is almost no way to adjust this. Often it is more than is needed to create a sufficient lather. This translates into a waste of the liquid soap as compared to using bar soap. On the other hand, as bar soap gets smaller with use, it sometimes breaks into small pieces that are too difficult to use and must be thrown away.

Speaking of lather.

A lush lather feels good on the skin and whether you are washing your hands or your entire body, the feel of the lather may encourage you to wash longer. If you are washing longer, you may do a better job of getting clean. Liquid soaps are better at producing this type of rich lather with minimal effort.

Money down the drain.

One experience most bar soap users have dealt with is dropping a slippery bit of soap down the drain. As the bar is used, it gets smaller and smaller. This can make it a bit tricky to use. Holding on to the small slippery pieces sometimes means they slide out of your hands and wash down the drain before you can catch them. This means that while bar soap may be less expensive, some of it is being wasted if it escapes down the drain.

Built-in moisturizers.

Some bar soaps do contain moisturizers but many people use bar soaps for their deodorizing abilities. Some of these deodorant soaps can be harsh on sensitive skin. Women’s skin tends to be more delicate than men’s and reacts more harshly to deodorant soaps. More liquid soaps contain moisturizing ingredients and can be kinder to sensitive skin.

Exfoliation.

We ask a lot of our soap products today. Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin from the face and body. With soap, this is accomplished by adding mild abrasives to the product. Bar soaps provide a more intense scrub and stimulate circulation in the skin. Liquid soaps with exfoliating properties must be used in conjunction with a loofah or sponge to achieve the same effects. Over the long term, the liquid soap varieties with glycolic or salicylic acid seem to do a better job of brightening the skin. Liquid washes also tend to leave the skin feeling less gritty after the wash is completed.

Basic ingredients.

Bar soap is most commonly made from saponified animal fat and plant oils. Saponification is the name of the process by which animal or vegetable fats are blended with a strong alkali to make soap. Conversely, liquid soaps are petroleum based and require emulsifying agents and stabilizers in order maintain their consistency. These agents have been tested and approved by the appropriate governing agencies but few if any studies exist showing the long-term effects of repeated use of these chemicals. Diethanolamine (DEA) is often added to liquid soap to bolster its creamy texture and foaming properties. A study done on baby mice showed that DEA inhibited their ability to absorb a key ingredient necessary for brain development. In high concentrations, mice also developed toxicity affecting mild blood, liver, kidney and testicular systems.

Ecological considerations.

A 2000 study done at the University of Missouri Outreach and Extension determined that 40% of female shoppers buying skin care products considered themselves “ecologists” or having concern for environmental factors. That percentage has probably risen since the time of the study. A 2009 study done at the Institute of Environmental Engineering concluded that liquid soaps leave a 25% larger carbon footprint than do bar soaps. Why is that? It takes more chemical feedstocks and processing to manufacturing liquid soap, 7 times more and that means 7 times more energy use and carbon emissions. Liquid soaps are also packaged in plastic containers which are harder on the ecosystem to break down and dispose of that are the paper cardboard wrappings of most bar soaps.

Cost per use.

Simple math will reveal the better buy when comparing bar soap to liquid soap. Standard bar soap without any fancy additives goes for approximately 1.2 cents per gram while your basic liquid soap sells for about 1.5 cents per gram. Bar soap is a better bargain but not by a huge margin until you look at how much it costs per hand wash. We tend to use more liquid soap than we really need so when it’s all said and done, the bar soap costs about 0.4 cents per hand wash and the liquid soap costs 3.5 cents per wash. That can up to tidy sum in no time.

So, what can we conclude about whether bar soap or liquid soap is better?

It depends on the factors that are most important to you. If ecology and going green are important then bar soap wins hands down. If the decision is financial, bar soap wins again by a significant measure. If moisturizing effects and rich lather are on the top of your priority list, then liquid soaps are the way to go. From a purely health-conscious standpoint, bar soaps contain fewer chemicals and do just as good a job in preventing the spread of germs as their liquid counterparts.

Whatever the parameters are that you use to make your soap buying decisions, one thing is clear. Old fashioned bar soap is far from being all washed up.

Can bacteria live on soap

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