You'd be forgiven for thinking that any soap is good soap when it comes hand washing, but new U.K. guidelines suggest you might be better off using one type: The U.K. National Health Service advice recommends people stop using soap in bar form and switch to a liquid alternative in order to combat the spread of superbugs, reduce infection levels, and tackle the rise in antibiotic resistance.
The January 2017 guidelines, which were created by the U.K. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), provide new recommendations for hand washing, citing liquid soap and room-temperature running water as key to good hand hygiene. The guidelines also call for more education at nursery, school, and university levels about the importance of hand washing, plus a wider spread of public knowledge on the basics of general cleanliness.
Bar vs. Liquid Soap
At a basic level, there is no difference between the two forms of soap. Both are made from the same essential components and have detergent properties. However, some studies have found bar soap to harbor bacteria on its surface, which can potentially be spread when multiple people use the same product.
"There are two reasons why we reference liquid soap rather than bars of soap [in our new recommendations]," explained Gillian Leng, MD, deputy chief executive of NICE. "Partly it's that all of the evidence we have is about the role of liquid soap. But also it is because, intuitively, when you see a bar of soap collecting dirt, you don't need a microscope to know that it's not the most hygienic approach."
Antimicrobial resistance refers to the process through which diseases caused by viruses and fungi grow resistant to medicine (think: similar to what happens when bacteria become resistant to antibiotics) and ultimately become what we know as "superbugs." According to the new guidelines from NICE, good hygiene can help tackle antimicrobial resistance by preventing the spread of disease and reducing public reliance on medicines.
"We need to address the growing problem of drug-resistant infections as the global medicine cabinet is becoming increasingly bare," Dame Sally Davies, England's Chief Medical Officer, said. "Preventing infections in the first place is key, and so is education on how to use antibiotics appropriately."
NICE's Hand-Washing Tips
- Run hands under room-temperature running water.
- Apply liquid soap, and rub hands together vigorously for a minimum of 10 to 15 seconds.
- Pay particular attention to the tips of the fingers, the thumbs, and the areas between the fingers.
- Also be sure to wash the palms, backs of the hands, and the backs of the fingers.
- Rinse thoroughly before drying with a clean and regularly laundered towel.