Green Clean Hands
This month has a green theme, from cleaning to lunch boxes to composting. Being green, with something as simple as using soap, especially when we are hearing about how important it is to wash your hands, is worth a bit of research.
Soap, in the simplest terms, is the chemical combination of a fatty acid and an alkali metal hydroxide. This combination creates a cleansing agent known as saponification, or soap. Ancient Romans made soap by boiling animal fat (tallow) with ashes (alkali). The process was long and costly so only the wealthy used it. Skip ahead to 2020 and soap is available in many price ranges, and as solid or liquid. So what makes good soap? And what is the greener choice?
The first answer is ingredients. Generally, good soap has fewer ingredients, and those ingredients are higher quality oils and fats, with no parabens and only the necessary additives to bind the oils and alkali into a solid product. Good soap is harder, lasts longer, lathers well and does not dry the skin. If your soap dissolves into a puddle after a few uses, it has too much ‘filler’ and not enough soap. Liquid soap may have a lower ph value than average bar soap so could be less drying to your skin. Its main ingredient is water in order to liquefy similar ingredients to bar soap into a pump-able form. The primary attraction is convenience.
The greener choice is obvious as even quality bar soap costs less to produce and is packaged in paper.[i] Liquid soap production is more costly and it’s ‘wrapped’ in a plastic bottle. Something else to consider is that each pump will squirt out a pre-determined dollop of soap, an amount you cannot control, or may not need, so you go through the soap faster. High quality bar soap will not go to mush in the shower (as long as it can drain dry). A 170g bar of Perth Soap, made in Canada, will last between 4-6 months in my shower. Investing in a soap pump such as the Presto™ Hygienic soap dispenser from Joseph Joseph, and refilling it using quality bulk liquid soap, is a green option. You use your wrist to press down on the dispenser.
Frequent hand washing is the best form of defense against viruses and bacteria. Pick up your bar of soap, rinse it under the tap to remove any possible bacteria left on it from the last use, lather well. Put down the soap and work the lather into your hands, including the backs and fingernails, for 20 seconds. Count it off or sing the ‘A-B-C’ song and then rinse well under running water. Dry your hands, and remember to change that hand towel frequently too. Use a moisturizer to keep your hands from drying out from washing and drying. Use the same hand-washing technique for liquid soap.
The last question is, does soap work better than hand sanitizers? If you have a choice, yes.[ii] Soap works by surrounding dirt and bacteria in the soap oils, lifting it from your skin, and then running water rinses everything from your hands. Soap removes bacteria while sanitizer kills it. Sanitizer is perfect for situations where there is no soap or running water, however using it exclusively will dry your skin. Really dirty hands, from gardening or other activities, cannot be cleaned with sanitizer as nothing is ‘washed away’.
All of us can do our part to keep our hands clean and green. Good, nice smelling soap is a great way to do this.