Germs attach to the oils on our skin. Solvents like alcohol, kerosene, or soap can clear those oils and thereby remove illness-causing bacteria. Kerosene is highly toxic and should only be used by people like mechanics or painters who work with a lot of oil, dirt, or grease. And the soap used in hospitals is often alcohol-based and quite strong. But what kind of soap is best for daily use at home and in other places?
Studies have shown that antibacterial soaps are not necessarily more effective than plain soap and water for killing the bacteria and viruses that cause diseases. And the U.S. FDA doesn’t recommend over-the-counter antibacterial soaps over plain soaps for preventing diseases. So using plain soap to wash your hands is fine for daily use unless you are instructed otherwise by your doctor.
Which brand of soap to use is up to you. Both plain and antibacterial soaps come in varying price points and fragrances, and some have moisturizing agents or other properties. If you have sensitive skin, an active skin infection, or a skin disorder, you may want to consult your doctor for recommendations on what type of soap is best for you.
Antibacterial soap vs. plain soap
In non-healthcare settings, plain soap is sufficient, affordable, and often easily accessible compared to antibacterial soaps. As mentioned above, antibacterial soap and plain soap are both effective at killing bacteria on your body, and either can be used in businesses or in the home unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
Whether you are using plain or antibacterial soap, it’s important to create a good lather, rub your hands together and clean between your fingers and up to your elbows. You should also leave the soap on your hands for about two minutes to effectively kill bacteria.
Liquid soap vs. bar soap
When it comes to washing hands, liquid soap is usually recommended over bar soap. Liquid soaps are easy to use, hygienic, and prevent the spread of germs from one person to another. They may also contain moisturizing ingredients to prevent your hands from drying out quickly.
Bar soaps typically tend to be cheaper and may be used in the home if no one in your household has any infections. However, bar soap should never be used in public places. Since bar soaps are left out in the open and touched repeatedly by multiple people, bacteria can grow on the bar soap and cause bacteria to spread easily from one person to the next.
Do antibacterial soaps cause antibiotic resistance?
What are alternatives to soap?
Washing your hands with soap and water is ideal. Sometimes, however, soap and water may not be available, especially when you’re traveling or using public bathrooms. When that happens, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (wipes or gel), which is easy to carry and can be used on the go. They are effective in killing bacteria and viruses.
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American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org
Levy SB. Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2001;7(7):512-515. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/7/7/01-7705_article
Minnesota Department of Health. Handwashing for Employees. https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/food/docs/fs/handwashfs.pdf