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How Does Soap Actually Work?

You probably read the title of this article and thought to yourself, “who doesn’t know how to use bar soap?” However, I’d like to move beyond the basic, lather, rinse, repeat, and into the science behind what actually makes soap work and how it actually cleans your body.
No matter what kind of soap you are using, vegan, non-vegan, natural, or a large commercial brand filled with chemicals, bar soap, or liquid, every soap is made up of the same basic ingredients – a base like lye or potash, oil, and water.
In commercial soap, most commonly, this oil is some kind of animal fat, but in any soap, it can also come from plant oils. These fats/oils serve the more obvious purpose of moisturizing the skin. In addition, the fats/oils help bar soap actually wash grease and dirt off of your skin.
Soap is the vehicle that helps oil and water come together as is necessary to wash dirt and grease away, and warmer water allows the oils in your bar of soap to melt quicker and attach better to the water and wash away easily.
Additionally, soap is a natural surfactant, which is a substance that reduces the surface tension of the liquid it is dissolved in. They are compatible with water and oil and when the surface tension of water is lowered, it essentially makes the water even more slippery.
The water molecules react with soap in such a way that they are less likely to stick to themselves and more likely to stick to oil and grease. This is how you get squeaky clean!
Contrary to popular belief, soap and water do not actually kill germs, unless you are using a commercial antibacterial soap with added chemicals that serve as an antibacterial.
Natural soap, however, does work with water, as above, to remove germs. Water actually can remove germs on its own, but germs are removed more effectively when water and soap work together, as soap binds to dirt, grime, and grease as mentioned above, and washing them away.
This is why antibacterial soap is a bit of an oxymoron.
Soap is already doing that job effectively, without needing to add any harmful chemicals to actually “kill” germs, as in antibacterial soap.
Many natural soaps will go above and beyond and add essential oils like orange, lemon, or tea tree that are known to have antimicrobial or antibacterial properties, and this also contributes to a nice scent. This is, however, and as discussed, totally unnecessary for germ removal.
So, the next time you lather, rinse, and repeat in the shower with your favorite natural bar soap, don’t worry about if the germs from your last workout are dead. That bar of soap is working overtime for you to make sure all of those nasty germs are washed off and down the drain where they belong.
Blog written by Kristen Flowers