Can Soap Get Dirty?


| 3 Comments
As I was showering this morning, I dropped my bar of soap onto the (not so clean) floor of the mens bathroom. As I picked it up, I immediately ran it over the water to get rid of whatever germs were on the bathroom floor. Then I thought, is this process of washing my soap getting rid of the germs on the soap? Or does the soap just completely destroy those germs? (because it is soap after all) I didn't know if it was safe to wash myself with this contaminated soap! I seeked an answer. I realized that I had my...FIRST BLOG IDEA!! So, is there such thing as dirty soap?
Ok, so after a brief google search, I found out some information that helped me solve this epic mystery. Soap is made up of sodium and potassium salts, which come from fatty acids and alkali solutions, through a process called saponification. All of the molecules in soap repel water, and attract oils and dirt. They are trapped, then washed away by water. So, indeed, soap DOES in fact get dirty. But, soap can trap harmful microorganisms from being dropped or sitting on a dirty counter. This does not seem to propose a problem, because of some tests that have been run. In one study, test subjects were given soap with trapped E. coli and other bacteria. They washed up, and nothing was transferred to the hands.
My question was, can soap get dirty. The answer is YES it can, but soap can clean itself, so there is no need to fear some dirty soap.

3 Comments

Michael-
Haha it is funny you chose to write about this topic. When I was younger, my brother never wanted to share the bar of soap we had in the bathroom because he always claimed I was putting germs all over it when I used it. And so- for years, up until I read your post actually, I always wondered about the answer to your question, but was too lazy to ever look it up.
After doing some more research on your topic, I found out that soap, both liquid and bar form, can collect microorganisms. According to Slate Magazine, the article “Is Soap “Self Cleaning?”
stated that in the 1900’s experiments were done to test the cleanliness of soap.
In 1965 and in 1988, two experiments were conducted using similar methods. Scientists covered bars of soap in E-coli
and other bacteria, and then proceeded to give the soaps to humans to test it out. I would certainly not volunteer for this position! Anyway, both experiments found that the infected soaps did not transfer any bacteria to the humans! As much as we would love to be able to 100% rely on these experiments, they are somewhat outdated and both were spoiled by conflicting interests. They were conducted by Procter and Gamble and Dial Corp, two corporations that create skin and household cleaning products, therefore, their results were deemed as unfair.

I wonder if our teacher, Dr. Read, has ever done a similar experiment since he specializes in disease ecology!

Michael-
Haha it is funny you chose to write about this topic. When I was younger, my brother never wanted to share the bar of soap we had in the bathroom because he always claimed I was putting germs all over it when I used it. And so- for years, up until I read your post actually, I always wondered about the answer to your question, but was too lazy to ever look it up.
After doing some more research on your topic, I found out that soap, both liquid and bar form, can collect microorganisms. According to Slate Magazine, the article “Is Soap “Self Cleaning?”
stated that in the 1900’s experiments were done to test the cleanliness of soap.
In 1965 and in 1988, two experiments were conducted using similar methods. Scientists covered bars of soap in E-coli
and other bacteria, and then proceeded to give the soaps to humans to test it out. I would certainly not volunteer for this position! Anyway, both experiments found that the infected soaps did not transfer any bacteria to the humans! As much as we would love to be able to 100% rely on these experiments, they are somewhat outdated and both were spoiled by conflicting interests. They were conducted by Procter and Gamble and Dial Corp, two corporations that create skin and household cleaning products, therefore, their results were deemed as unfair.

I wonder if our teacher, Dr. Read, has ever done a similar experiment since he specializes in disease ecology!

Like Paulina mentioned above, The Slate published an article on this very topic. It says that dirty soap, just like dirty water, may not influence how dirty hands get from washing with it (the germs may not transfer). “It's not even clear that you need clean water to get the benefits of a hand-washing. Recent hand-hygiene studies in the developing world have found that washing with soap and water reduces infections even when the water supply might be contaminated. Dirty water, like dirty soap, might not make washing less effective.”

The article says that the studies done in the past are hard to trust since they were endorsed by major soap companies (P&G and Dial). The Slate article also mentioned something that we had discussed in class as well. Leaving your hands wet after washing them is worse than not washing them at all. The areas around sinks (communal hand towels, sinks, walls, etc.) are covered in germs that can make you sick (with the ads running on the side of the screen for the Dyson hand dryers). One thing I learned from this that I hadn’t thought about before was “The hand-washing paradox might also result from soap-induced skin damage: Dry skin tends to crack and flake and may become more permeable to infectious agents. (You're more susceptible to this if you wash many times per day.)”

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