Wash your hands regularly, something we’re all taught from a young age to protect ourselves from sickness caused by exposure to pathogenic microorganisms.

Using soap and water together is universally recognised as the best method to reduce the presence of bacteria that gather on our hands as we interact with the world around us.

I use the word reduce because using soap and water does not sterilise your hands. Hand sterility is rarely required outside of a medical setting and the most common way to achieve  it is to use alcohol gel, combined with proper application techniques. It’s such an aggressive  technique that regular cleaning this way leads to cracked and bleeding skin that many nurses and doctors suffer with.

Instead, when we wash our hands with soap and water we are only aiming to reduce the number of bacteria present to safe levels and of course remove stains, greases and odours.

The soap element of the hand washing process is doing far less of the work than you might think, with many studies showing similar levels of bacterial reduction when comparing washing with soap and water with just water on its own.

 

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A lesser known fact is that soap might actually be leaving your hands dirtier than before you washed them. Studies conducted in both the USA, Japan and the UK have revealed that up to 1 in 4 ‘top up’ or ‘bulk fill’ dispensers contain excessive levels of bacteria not suitable for the cleaning of hands, with the problem being recognised as a health risk by the centre for disease control and prevention (CDC) within health care settings.

‘Top up’ and ‘ Bulk fill dispenser are those that have a bottle or container that is topped up as it runs low, most commonly seen in commercial facilities and transport hubs due to their aesthetically pleasing appearance favoured by architects and also their flexible approach to the soap used within them, allowing facilities management teams to negotiate with soap suppliers, with an aim to drive down consumable costs.

Bacteria are introduced to these products both during the refilling process and during use, as contaminated air is drawn into the container to replace the soap that is dispensed. The containers are warm and wet, ideal breeding grounds for certain microorganisms, which over time form large enough colonies as to become unhealthily. While that might seem unlikely due to the nature of soap, many bacteria can survive in the most unlikely of places, including diesel tanks, alcohol and even thermal vents under the sea. Some bacteria have even been proven to survive in the vacuum of space, so suddenly it doesn’t seem so strange they might be in our soap.

Once a bacterial colony count reaches a certain size, biofilms can be formed and are identified as a mucus like substance within the soap that can go on to block tubes or place strain on pumps, leading to product failure, a common problem with ‘bulk fill’ systems.

 

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My own personal testing of soap from these type of products has identified colonies of bacteria from several different species, some more nefarious than others including Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, which can cause skin rashes (Often know as hot tub rash) but for people who suffer with immuno deficiencies, exposure to this particular bacteria can result in serious infections, sepsis or even fatality.

‘Closed systems’ are much cleaner. Soap is usually stored in bags, which is then replaced as it runs out with a fresh clean supply. However the cost of the consumable is usually much higher than their less clean ‘top up’ counterparts and aesthetically, architects are very limited in delivering the washroom experience they are trying to achieve for their clients.

Rapid Washrooms Soap 10L Bag - Closed System

 

While the phenomenon of bacteria in soap is recognised in a health care setting, it is not widely discussed within regular facilities management and is very difficult, if not impossible to trace back to source. I wander how many times we got a rash or fell ill on holiday and blamed it on the pool, water supply or food, but perhaps it was when you washed your hands at the airport on the way there?

Because of the lack of traceability, architects and facilities companies are unlikely to change their habits, but if you’re designing a washroom right now, think carefully before selecting hygiene products for your project, there are some soap dispensers that can offer both a clean washing experience and a pleasing aesthetic. Ensure the dispenser you choose can be disassembled and maintained and if possible features materials resistant to bacteria. Allow for proper maintenance within your room design as well, so facilities teams can easily remove, clean and sterilise products periodically.

If you’re a cleaner or facilities manager who is responsible for topping up soap, it’s probably time you sterilised your soap bottle with chlorine.

 

‘It’s not a problem for me, my soap brand kills 99.9% of bacteria’

 

If this is going through your mind, think again, the 99.9% claim is one of the most misleading claims ever printed onto a product. It does not mean it kills the bacteria we are trying to avoid. Many bacteria are completely immune to the levels of biocide used within these soap products, In particular the aforementioned  Pseudomonas Aeruginosa seems completely unaffected by it

Most importantly, don’t panic! We’re not all going to become sick from washing our hands and not all soap dispensers harbour dangerous bacteria. I’m certainly not suggesting people should stop using soap in their day to day lives, it is still recognised as the most effective way to avoid sickness.

But in an age where bacteria are becoming immune to certain biocides and antibiotics, we should be conscious of the different ways we can come into contact with them, giving people with special health requirements the tools they need to avoid possible exposure and cleaning teams the insights they need to further develop good hygiene practices, such as the regular sterilisation of soap dispensers.

 

To find out about our Rapid Citrus Foaming Soap visit rapid washrooms.com/citrus-foaming-soap

 

 

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