MadSci Network: Microbiology

Re: can germs be spread to others through the use of soap?

Date: Thu Apr 20 15:03:17 2000
Posted By: Dean Cliver, Faculty, Food Safety Unit, Uiversity of California, Davis
Area of science: Microbiology
ID: 955397504.Mi

Most tests of antibacterial soaps have looked at the bacteria that are 
naturally on skin, rather than bacteria that cause disease.  Killing normal 
skin bacteria may not favor disease prevention  there is some difference 
of opinion about this.

Disease bacteria are probably killed pretty well by the antibacterial 
ingredients in soaps; however, other kinds of disease agents, such as 
viruses and protozoa, are fairly resistant.  I don't really think much gets 
transmitted from person to person on the bar of soap, but disease agents 
(not just "germs," which are mostly harmless) need to be removed from the 
skin in washing; it is not absolutely necessary that they be killed in the 

It is important to wash hands after using the toilet and before eating.  
People who prepare food for others to eat should wash their hands before 
beginning and often while they work, especially after handling raw meat or 
poultry, and maybe even after handling raw vegetables.  Recently published 
tests again seem to suggest that careful use of regular soap and water, 
making sure to rub all over the hands and rinse carefully, probably does as 
good a job as is needed.  Some say you should spend at least 20 seconds on 
this.  Others think that drying the hands afterward is also important  I'm 
not exactly sure why.  At least, if you are preparing food, you should 
probably dry your hands on a paper towel or a cloth towel that has only 
been in contact with clean hands.  

Most important, if you are doing something that requires frequent hand 
washing, is to use a soap that doesn't irritate the skin.  If your skin 
gets irritated by the soap, you are less likely to wash as often as you 
should.  Antibacterial soaps aren't a substitute for thorough washing, and 
because not all disease agents are bacteria, it's washing that is most 

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