THE GREAT DEBATE : IS THE BAR SOAP UNHEALTHY?
Bar soap got a bad rap not so long ago because of claims that it harbored bacteria and germs in unhealthy numbers. Many consumers accepted those claims as the gospel truth and switched to liquid soap, believing the latter eliminated the bacteria issue
The real truth, however, isn’t nearly as cut and dry, in fact, bar soap isn’t bad for us at all. Sure, some bar soaps may dry out or irritate your skin, which is why it’s important to choose the right soap for your skin type, but that’s no different from any grooming product. You’re exposed to bacteria more readily in other places.
The bacteria found on your bar soap are much less of an issue than the bacteria you come into contact with in many other places, such as cell phones, computer keyboards, doorknobs, faucets, light switches, and even on the towels we use to dry ourselves after a shower. In fact, towels are among the most germ-laden items in your home, especially when they’re used often and retain moisture for a long period.
BUT ISN’T LIQUID SOAP MORE HYGIENIC THAN BAR SOAP?
While most liquid soap is antibacterial, or is marketed that way, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely germ-free, either. Consider the liquid soap dispenser. If you're not already cleaning it regularly, now’s the time to start because you’re constantly touching its pump with dirty hands. You should also clean your liquid soap dispenser regularly if you refill it often. The water used to create liquid soap can form a film inside your dispenser that’s laden with bacteria. Let the dispenser dry out completely before you refill it.
Something else to consider is the cleanliness of that liquid soap dispenser in your kitchen. It only stands to reason that a pump you frequently touch with hands that have just handled raw meat and other items would harbor a boatload of bacteria.
We don’t mean to bash liquid soap unmercifully, but finally, the liquid soap and dispensers found in public bathrooms of course also have high concentrations of bacteria. If you touch them after washing, your hands may end up with more bacteria on them than before you washed.
We all know that scrubbing our hands with soap and water is good for our own health, but how do different soaps stack up in terms of environmental health? A recent study on the environmental impacts of soaps and their associated packaging found that bar soaps have a lower environmental impact than liquid soaps in many important categories including carbon footprint, ecotoxicity, ozone depletion potential, and eutrophication potential. This is due largely to the higher energy requirements of producing the raw materials and packaging for liquid soaps. From cradle to gate, liquid soaps require five times more energy for raw material production and nearly 20 times more energy for packaging production than bar soaps do. What’s more, the authors note, on a per-wash basis consumers use more than six times the amount of liquid soap (by weight) than bar soap.
HOW TO KEEP YOU BAR SOAP CLEAN
The best ways to ensure that your soap bar remains as sanitary as possible is by keeping it clean :
- rinse it off with running water before cleaning yourself to wash away any of the germy “slime” that may have collected on it since the last time you used it.
- store your soap away from water whenever possible while allowing it to dry between uses. Keeping it dry is also a way to extend your bar soap’s lifespan, which we mentioned previously.
- place a sponge in your soap dish underneath the bar of soap to absorb the soapy liquid and potentially germ-laden gunk that may congregate on it.
You don’t have to spend much time worrying about sharing the same bar of soap with family members since you share many of the same microorganisms, anyway. But your soap will last longer if each member has his or her own soap.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR BAR SOAP LAST LONGER
A few tips to follow…
It sucks when you find the perfect bar of soap and the next thing you know it’s the size of a sliver. While some bar soaps may last longer than others, there comes a time when you have to unwrap another bar and toss out what’s left of the old one.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, but if you are budget-conscious, or prefer your soap to last longer than it does now, there are things you can do to extend its lifespan.
KEEP IT DRY
True, you can’t help but get your soap wet while you’re sudsing up, but keeping it between uses makes a huge difference in your bar soap’s lifespan. Don’t keep it on a ledge in your shower where it’s exposed to a stream of water or excessive steam. Instead put it in a soap dish that drains water and put the dish on a ledge away from water.
Another tip: if multiple people use the same bar of soap, the chances of it becoming completely dry are slim to none. One way to resolve this issue is to give everyone a bar of soap and a place where they can store it between uses so it dries out.
USE A WASH CLOTH
While your hands are excellent for producing lather, a washcloth or loofah absorbs the lather and retains it for additional use. You’ll use less soap but get a nice sudsy lather that extends your bar soap’s lifespan. Just be sure not to keep that washcloth around too long before you refresh with a new one or it’ll start to smell musty (keep reading for more pros and cons regarding washcloths).
CUT THE BAR INTO PIECES
It only stands to reason that a bigger bar of soap should last longer than smaller bars. Or, maybe not. There’s evidence that a smaller surface area of soap means less soap hits the water, and that makes it last longer. Cut your bar of soap in half, or thirds – you may be surprised how long each piece lasts.
CHECK THE INGREDIENTS
A bar soap’s ingredients contribute to its lifespan, as well. Soaps made with oils and fats last longer than those made of softer, liquid oils.
LOWER THE HEAT
There’s nothing like a hot shower combined with a bar of soap that builds a wondrous lather. There’s a downside, however, because hot water makes bar soap dissolve more quickly and requires a bit more effort to work up a nice set of suds. Cooler water helps your soap last longer while also enabling it to maintain its shape and consistency.