When you were young, your mother probably told you to wash your hands before you eat to kill germs. It was good motherly advice, and you probably did as you were told. But was mom really right when she offered those words of wisdom that have been repeated by mothers for centuries? Does soap kill germs – or not?
Does soap kill germs?
Mom was right – sort of. Regular hand and bath soap doesn’t really kill germs, but it dislodges them from the surface of the skin so they can be washed down the sink. Even after rinsing your hands thoroughly under running water to remove the soap, some bacteria and other micro-organisms still remain on the skin. That’s why it’s important to use a paper towel to dry your hands thoroughly – to remove any organisms that remain.
On the other hand, antibacterial soaps do kill bacteria and “germs” – but there’s a problem with these soaps. They contain an antibacterial chemical called triclosan. Triclosan encourages the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and it’s not healthy for humans or the environment. It acts as a hormone disruptor in the bullfrog – and possibly other species as well. Because of this, some experts recommend that antibacterial soaps only be used in institutions and health care settings.
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The good news is this. If you do a thorough job of hand washing, there’s no need to use antibacterial soaps or wipes to reduce the risk of infection. Washing with plain hand soap is still one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of infection – without fostering the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Wash your hands well
When you wash your hands, wet your hands with warm water, and apply a generous amount of soap. Rub your hands together vigorously, and scrub each area of your hands up to the wrists. Don’t forget to wash between your fingers and underneath your nails. Thoroughly dry your wet hands with a dry paper towel. Don’t neglect this step since it removes any remaining bacteria that didn’t slide down the sink when you rinsed.
The bottom line
Soap helps to unseat germs from your hands, but it doesn’t kill them directly. So use proper hand washing techniques to make sure the bacteria and germs go down the sink or end up on the towel. It works.