What Is Hand Soap?
People often take for granted the role that handwashing plays in the prevention of infection. This simple and often ignored practice now takes center stage in the war against the coronavirus. The simple act of washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds could be the difference between life and death, quite literally. People are wondering what is the best hand soap? The reality is that most will do fine but finding some available online is a challenge right now.
This begs the question: What is hand soap, and why is it important? Hand soap is a cleansing agent for the skin, manufactured from plant oils, saponified animal fat, or a combination of both. Saponification is the chemical process through which potassium, otherwise known as “potash,” or sodium hydroxide, otherwise known as “lye,” reacts with the triglycerides present in fat to produce soap.
Essential Ingredients in Hand Soap
The following are the essential components that are an absolute must-have for any hand soap.
Without an alkali like sodium or potassium hydroxide, you wouldn’t have soap. It is arguably the most important ingredient you’ll find in any hand wash. The difference between the two all boils down to the properties you want to have in the final product.
Lye makes hard soap while potash makes fluid hand wash. However, lye tends to leave you with dry skin compared to a potash-based soap.
There are many different types of fat that you can use in soap-making. Traditionally, animal fat, which was primarily lard or tallow, people would save to use in the manufacture of soap. Today, however, a wide variety of plant-based fats are now used to make many of the hand washes you come across every day.
Some of the popular plant and vegetable oils used in the manufacture of hand soap include coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, and many more. Keep in mind that animal fats like lard make soap that is somewhat difficult to lather in water.
Plant fats like those you derive from coconut make soap that is lighter, softer, and much easier to foam when compared to their animal fat counterparts.
An alkali plus fat equals very basic hand soap. It will get the job done when it comes to getting your hands clean, but that’s just about it. Chances are it will leave your hands feeling and looking dry and ashy. The best hand soaps have something a little extra to add value to your hand-washing experience.
That’s where additives come in. Most soap manufacturers infuse ingredients formulated to enhance the product. These include fragrances and additives that promote natural skincare. Some of the popular ones include moisturizing hand elements like Aloe Vera, honey, and essential oils like lavender. Soaps for sensitive skin, in particular, usually have a healthy dose of these ingredients.
What Is the Difference Between Soap and Detergent?
While the two terms are often used interchangeably, soap and detergent are quite different. Lye and natural fats are the main components in the manufacture of hand soap. You can’t say the same for detergent since it is a by-product of petroleum.
Petroleum products naturally have a strong and pungent smell. This is why they have heavily scented perfumes and fragrance to mask the unpleasant smell of petroleum.
Many of them also have harmful chemical preservatives known as parabens. Many studies have linked these substances to the development of cancerous tumors. If you come across any hand or body wash that lists this preservative among its ingredients, you should steer clear of it.
How to Properly Wash Your Hands
There’s a right way and a wrong way when it comes to handwashing techniques. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide guidelines on how to wash hands properly to curb the spread of illnesses and infection. It recommends taking these five steps:
- Wet your hands with running water. Turn off the faucet before applying hand soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together. Ensure that you work the lather on to the back of each hand, in between your fingers and under the nails.
- Scrub both hands for at least 20 seconds while the lather is still on. This is the duration it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice over.
- Rinse your hands under clean running water.
- Air-dry your hands or wipe them on a clean towel
When to Use Hand Soap
Using water and soap is the most effective way to get rid of germs, bacteria, viruses, and any other microbes that may be present on your skin. It is even more effective than using hand sanitizer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you use sanitizer only if soap and water are not readily available.
Here the other times that you should use hand soap to clean your hands:
- Before, during and after the food preparation process
- Before you eat
- Before and after treating a wound or cut
- Before and after caring for someone who is ill especially if they are vomiting or suffering from diarrhea
- After using the toilet
- After touching pet food or treats
- After touching an animal and handling animal feed or waste
- After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
- After coming into contact with garbage
- After changing a baby’s/toddler’s diapers or cleaning a child who has just used the toilet
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers also recommend that you wash hands:
- Before touching your eyes, nose or mouth since these are the three main entry points for germs, bacteria, and viruses
- After you’ve been out in public since your skin will likely have come into contact with surfaces that are frequently touched by other people. These include shopping carts, door handles, gas pumps, tables, ATMs, electronic cashier touchscreens or registers, etc.
How Can Hand Soap Protect You?
To know how hand soap can help protect you against infection-causing organisms, you first need to understand how germs, bacteria, and viruses spread in the first place. Your chances of getting infection increase when you touch a contaminated surface and fail to wash your hands:
- Before, during and after the food preparation process
- Before you touch your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Before you eat
- After you’ve coughed or sneezed into them and then touch other people’s hands or common objects that they are also likely to touch
- After touching contaminated surfaces
Washing your hands with soap is the most effective way to safeguard against infections and illnesses. It creates the friction necessary to dislodge microbes from the skin. It also works effectively as a cleansing agent to get rid of dirt and grease that would not come off otherwise.
What to Do When You Don’t Have Hand Soap
Using water and soap is undeniably the most effective method of getting your hands clean. If, however, soap is not readily available, there are some alternative hand-hygiene measures you can take to help minimize your chances of getting sick or infecting others.
Use Plain Water
Something is better than nothing, right? If there’s no soap available, but running water is, you can still use it to clean your hands. Simply rub your fingers and palms together under running water to get them clean. While it’s not as effective as when you use soap, it will reduce your chances of spreading germs that may be present on your skin.
Use Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers
Hand sanitizers exist for just this purpose. They come in handy when you need to clean your hands and don’t have soap available. As long as the concentration of isopropyl alcohol is 70% or higher and your hands aren’t visibly dirty or greasy, it’s an effective way to sanitize them.
Simply apply enough hand sanitizer gel onto the palm of your hands and rub them together to cover all the surfaces of the skin on your hands. Then wait for it to dry. This typically takes about 20 seconds.
Make Your Own Hand Soap
If you don’t have hand soap, consider making your own from scratch instead. It’s a lot easier than you think. To make hand soap, simply:
- Place your desired oils like lard or coconut oil into a crockpot to melt them
- Add distilled water in a separate bowl and slowly pour in potash into the water while stirring
- Once everything combines, add the mixture to the oil, blend the solution with a stick blender and leave to simmer for about 2 hours
- After the soap paste has fully cooked, mix vegetable glycerin into a separate bowl of hot water
- Add this mixture to the soap paste and mix it in well
- Cover it and let it sit for a couple of hours with the heat off. The good liquid soap will have settled to the bottom while the undiluted soap paste should rise to the top
- Sieve the good soap and store it in hand soap containers
- Add your favorite scent or any other nourishing additives like Aloe Vera, Lavender, etc.
Buyers Guide to the Best Hand Soaps
There are three different types of hand soap you’ll come across in the market today. These are bar soap, liquid soap, and foaming soap.
Solid soap has lye as its main alkaline ingredient. Liquid soap, on the other hand, uses potassium hydroxide. Foam hand soap is technically a type of liquid soap, except that it infuses air to create a foamy lather as it exits the soap dispenser.
While all three types are effective in getting your hands clean, the choice of one over the other all comes down to style and personal preference. Foaming hand wash is, however, more economical and environmentally friendly since you end up using less soap overall compared to other types. When it comes down to it, foaming soap is not as effective as liquid soap.
Hard soap is more alkaline, which makes your skin quite dry compared to using any other type of soap. Liquid soaps generally contain higher levels of moisturizing ingredients, which makes them better for sensitive skin types. On the flip side, the cost of bar soap is considerably less than the other two alternatives.
What to Look for When Buying Hand Soap
Some of the questions you need to ask before you settle on a specific product include:
- Is it made from natural ingredients? Look for soaps that have sodium/potassium hydroxide, water, and oils in their ingredients. You’ll find this information on the bottle label.
- What additives does it contain? You want to pick a soap that has all-natural additives. Examples of these include essential oils such as Lavender, herbs such as Chamomile, or moisturizing compounds such as Aloe Vera gel and Shea Butter.
- Does it have any chemicals? Anytime you see ingredients like Sodium Lauryl Sulfates, Triclocarban, Triclocarban, Triclosan, Propylene Glycol, Polyethylene Glycol, Parfum, Fragrance, and Artificial Colorants then you know that they are all artificial additives. If you can avoid them altogether, the better.
- Does it contain parabens? Check the additives listed on the bottle and avoid soaps that have ingredients with the suffix “-paraben.” Research shows a connection between the chemical and the development of cancer.
- Does it have liquid hand soap refill options? Getting a soap refill bottle is an economical way of ensuring that you never run out of hand wash, especially if you already have soap dispensers at home.
- Is it a trusted brand? If you want the brand of hand wash you buy to live up to its promise, ensure that your brand of choice is recognizable, credible, and adheres to high standards in their production process.
Some of the top hand soap brands that you can trust include Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, Softsoap Liquid Hand Soap, Dr. Bronner’s Organic, Puracy Natural, Method, and Aesop.
Where to Buy the Best Hand Soap: Our Recommendations
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