We all use antimicrobial soaps. They are ubiquitous in every hospital, clinic and care home, and across the waste industries though in this latter sector getting workers to wash their hands properly and at a suitable frequency remains a challenge.
Antimicrobial soaps rid our hands of the nasty bugs that may cause infections, in ourselves or others. They protect.
Or do they?
If you test the standard formulations of antimicrobial soap against a cheap and cheerful non-antimicrobial equivalent the number and types of bugs remaining on skin is the same whichever product is used. Indeed, if you use just plain water – and this is NOT a recommendation – then the reduction in bugs on hands can be just as good.
This forms the basis of a series of experiments I use in teaching nurses, to highlight the importance of good handwashing technique. It I this which removes the bugs, with soaps providing useful lubrication and detergent activity that additionally removes oils and greases. Of course, soap makes a difference, especially on heavily soiled hands, but it is technique alone, of rubbing one hand vigorously against the other aided by the lubricating action of soap, that removes bacteria.