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Soap or Sanitiser? Which One Is More Effective?

Soap or Sanitiser

Soap or sanitiser? That is the question. It’s certainly one of the many questions being asked in this strange world that we now find ourselves in. So, is soap or sanitiser more effective to protect us from germs? 

If there is one thing that the current situation has highlighted it is the importance of washing our hands. It seems a rather alien concept to me that people don’t wash their hands, but apparently there are plenty of folks out there that don’t do it. 

It was back in 1847 when Dr Ignaz Semmelwies, known as the ‘father of infection control,’ discovered the medical benefits of hand washing. When he was appointed as chief resident at a hospital in Vienna, he requested that all the physicians disinfected their hands. As a result, infection rates in the hospital dropped and so did mortality rates. Of course, he was ridiculed at first because who would have believed that the simple act of hand washing could save lives? It wasn’t until after his death that his theory was proven and gained widespread acceptance. 

The Importance of Soap 

We all know what soap is, whether it is in solid form or liquid form. But how does it work? This is where the science comes in:

As we know oil and water don't mix and if you have ever tried to mix them together you will have found out that they separate into two different layers. Our hands are naturally oily and when we wash our hands the soap we use lifts the oils together with any germs/bacteria away from our skin and is washed away down the sink. Soap is a bit like a mediator between the water and oil molecules. The action of using soap breaks up the oil on our skin into smaller drops that can be easily rinsed away.

And we can dive a bit deeper. Soap is made up of molecules with two very different ends. One end of soap molecules love water - they are known as hydrophilic. The other end of soap molecules hate water - they are known as hydrophobic. One end attaches to the oil (hydrophobic) and one end attaches to the water (hydrophilic) and they work in harmony to create a very effect hand wash.     

You might think that antibacterial soap is better than ordinary soap but that’s not the case. Studies have shown that antibacterial soaps are no more effective at removing bacteria.

It’s worth noting soap doesn’t kill germs on our hands, but it does a really good job of removing them.

Follow these five simple steps every time you wash your hands.

1. Wet hands with clean, running water and apply soap.

2. Lather your hands, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.

4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

5. Dry your hands using a clean towel.

What About Hand Sanitiser?

Hand sanitisers are for use when soap and water are not readily available. So, when you are out and about you might want to make use of a hand sanitiser. You certainly wouldn’t want to use hand sanitiser too often though as the alcohol content would make your hands very dry and sore. Studies have found that hand sanitisers with an alcohol concentration of 60% or above are more effective at killing germs than non-alcohol sanitisers. The alcohol content kills bacteria and viruses by breaking down their protective membranes.


Hand washing with soap is, by far, the most effective method for keeping harmful germs at bay. So now is a good time to stock up on soap or better still learn to make your own soap to ensure that you are never without any. Find out more about my soap making courses here.