Lie — Soap Kills Germs

The Story

Your parents, your teachers, almost everyone, have always told you to use soap when you wash your hands, because it kills germs. The same rule applies for washing dishes, wiping down counters, and every other situation where you want to clean away germs.

It's just common sense to do this, and we no longer even think about it when we do it, it's become automatic with us.

Facts

Soap

Most of what we consider to be dirt, whether something disgusting or simply messy fingers from eating chicken wings or apple pie, fits into one of two major categories. One of them dissolves or mixes well with water but not with oil, and the other with oil but not with water.

Soap (or detergent) is a notable exception to this rule. One end of its molecule gets along well with water, and the other end with oil.

If you mix oil and water, the two parts will soon separate again. But if you add soap to the mixture, each soap molecule will attach to both oil and water molecules, and everything will mix together uniformly.

Washing

When you wash with only water, the water-friendly dirt dissolves or mixes with the water. Rubbing or other mechanical action separates the wet dirt from our hands, clothes, counter tops, or whatever, and then rinsing removes this loosened dirt.

But any dirt that is oil-friendly will remain in place, stuck in the grease. Washing with water will remove very little of it.

That's why we use soap to clean with. It allows oil and grease and attached dirt to mix with the water and to behave just like water-friendly dirt.

Germs

Germs are much larger than molecules, and can be embedded in oil-friendly or water-friendly dirt. But when it comes to washing, they behave just like any other kind of dirt. Washing with only water will get rid of some of them. Washing with water and soap will get rid of almost all of them.

Once you have both soap and water, the only important factor in removing dirt and germs is the thoroughness of the mechanical scrubbing (to loosen the dirt) and the thoroughness of the rinsing (to remove the dirt). That's why we're told to wash everywhere, even the backs of our hands and between our fingers, and why we rinse until all trace of soap is gone.

All of that washing does a great job of removing nearly all of the germs, but it doesn't kill them. A thorough washing will remove much more than 99% of the germs, and what remains is usually at a safe level that can easily be handled by our immune systems. Unless we're medical workers dealing with morbid situations, we don't need to be concerned.

Germicide

In some situations removing 99+% of the germs isn't good enough. When dealing with highly contagious diseases, the remaining germs need to be killed. When a patient is undergoing surgery, minimizing the number of germs that can contaminate the patient is essential: there is direct access to the patient's inside, and the patient is in a weakened state.

Special soaps were developed that contain germicides and antibiotics that kill almost all the germs not removed by thorough washing. For the patient, this is a good thing. But in general it can be bad.

Germ Resistance

If antibiotic soap kills 99.99% of the germs, what about that .01% that survive? For patients and contagion control, it usually doesn't matter, and the antibiotic soap serves its purpose well.

But that .01% ends up in sinks, on towels, on countertops, etc. Those surviving germs survived because the antibiotic didn't kill them, and in terms of micro-evolution that means that when they reproduce, the new germs will be much better able to survive antibiotic attacks.

This is how super-bugs are created. Every sink, nook, and cranny in a hospital becomes a breeding ground for these surviving germs.

This is why hospitals now use extra care to thoroughly sterilize as much as they can, using chemicals that kill 100% of the germs. (These chemicals are unsafe to use on people, so antibiotic soap must still be used.)

Germ Resistance at Home

The bad part of all this story is that many people think that killing germs is a good thing. They buy antibiotic soap because they think it is the right thing to do.

But what it actually accomplishes isn't to kill the germs on their hands (washing has already removed them), but to fill household sinks, countertops, drains, sewers, etc. with germs that are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics. As a result, more and more diseases and infections will become untreatable.

You can scrub your kitchen counter with cleaners guaranteed to kill 99.99% of the bacteria, but those 1 in 10,000 that are left will replace everything that was originally there in only four or five hours. But that's only if food and water is available to the bacteria. If the counter stays thoroughly clean and dry, it doesn't really matter whether there was bacteria on it; it will be fine. If the counter stays dirty and damp, it doesn't really matter how many bacteria you kill; the counter will soon be infested again.

Why

The evil part of all this story is that the soap and detergent manufacturers and the pharmacy industry are massively advertising and promoting the use of antibiotic soaps and cleaners for household use.

We're all conditioned to believe that soap kills germs, so when presented with soap that actually does kill germs, we think it is a good thing, and we buy it, and big pharma makes more money.