The Benefits of Plain Old Soap and Water

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

This health e-letter addresses the recent craze for the use of antibacterial soaps in the war against germs. You see them everywhere. They can be found in friends’ and family members’ homes, in the library soap dispenser, in schools, and public washrooms.

What’s responsible for this recent fad? According to many commercials, you need antibacterial soap to kill all the bad bacteria that are out there waiting to cause disease. Ads promote antibacterial cleansers that kill 99.9% of bacteria.

This sounds great, except that not all bacteria are bad. And consider this health advice: repeated use of antibacterial agents can cause those bacteria that are harmful to become resistant.

This poses a problem when you think about how good bacteria and bad bacteria normally coexist in your body. Good bacteria actually compete with bad bacteria. This competition prevents bad bacteria from aggressively multiplying and causing illness. Your system is set up to maintain a kind of internal balance for you. If you kill off all the good bacteria, then the bad bacteria can multiply out of control.

So what to do? A new study from the Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has found that hand washing with plain soap may be just as effective at killing bacteria as washing with antibacterial soap — without the added complication of killing off good bacteria.

The UK research team decided to investigate whether hand washing with soap is more effective at reducing contamination with bacteria associated with diarrhea than using water only.

For the study, 20 volunteers contaminated their hands deliberately by touching door handles and railings in public spaces. They were then randomly assigned to one of three groups: hand washing with water; hand washing with non-antibacterial soap; and no handwashing. Each volunteer underwent this procedure 24 times, yielding 480 samples overall.

The research team found that bacteria of potential fecal origin were found after no hand washing in 44% of samples. Hand washing with water alone reduced the presence of bacteria to 23%. Hand washing with plain soap and water reduced the presence of bacteria to a mere eight percent.

The researchers concluded that hand washing with non-antibacterial soap and water is more effective for the removal of bacteria of potential fecal origin from hands than hand washing with water alone and is effective for the prevention of transmission of diarrheal diseases.

If you would like to use some soap with a little more bacterial-killing clout than the regular kind, try using tea tree oil soap in the bathroom. It is naturally antiseptic and antifungal. Lavender and peppermint are also antibacterial. None of these alternative remedies should affect the balance of good bacteria in your body.