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Hygiene / Sanitation

Is Foaming Hand Soap Better or Worse?

My wife likes the Method brand hand soap. We’ve used it for years and I’ve always just refilled our hand soap dispensers from a large refill package I can get at Target rather than buying brand new soap dispensers each time. I think it’s more cost-effective considering that this soap is more expensive than generic hand soaps.

Anyway, I realized shortly after this whole pandemic started that I was running a bit low on this particular hand soap. Even though I have plenty of backup soap products stashed away I figured I should just get some more of what we prefer while I still could.

Rather than running to Target and hoping they had what I wanted in stock, I figured I would just order some from Amazon even though it was going to be a few weeks for delivery as it seems everyone else had the same plan. The soap finally showed up the other day and, to be honest, I’d forgot that I even ordered, so I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived.

Unfortunately, I was immediately disappointed when I opened the box.

Why?

Because it was FOAMING hand soap! I thought I bought the gel refills I always get and prefer. That’s on me for not paying more attention to the actual description.

While I was disappointed, my youngest was excited because he apparently likes foaming hand soap. Who knew after all these years? Maybe I’ll put that in their bathroom in hopes they wash their hands better than I assume they do… if they even use soap. Yikes!

Yesterday I got to wondering what the actual difference was between foaming hand soap and regular hand soap. So I looked it up, but what I found didn’t help much.

For instance, I found this article which states that foaming hand soap may be less effective: “The research team suggests foam soap may be less effective than liquid soap because it comes out of the pump as a lather, whereas the liquid soap lather is built up in the process of hand washing. Also, the amount of soap in foam is markedly less in a single pump than is found in its liquid counterpart.”

That makes sense to me. If I’m getting less soap on my hands then it would stand to reason that it’s going to be less effective at cleaning.

In fact, the same article stated elsewhere that: “When volunteers washed with foam soap, the average bacterial colony count on each hand went from 3.6 to 2.6, on a scale from 1 to 4 — a difference that could have been a coincidence. With liquid soap, the colony count went from 3.8 to 1.2 — a statistically significant drop, according to a report in the American Journal of Infection Control.”

Case closed, right?

Well, I also found this contrarian article which states that: “Truth be told, foaming hand soap is a form of liquid soap. It is derived from a diluted form of liquid soap that is infused with air to create a foamy lather as it leaves the dispenser… [and that] Foaming hand soap is considered to be easy on the environment, affordable, efficient, hygienic, and an all-around sustainable option.”

The same contrarian article goes on to explain how foaming hand soap is more cost-effective while still achieving the same level of cleanliness and that, “Because foaming hand soap lathers more easily, less of it is required to achieve an acceptable level of hand hygiene. Consumer surveys have also consistently revealed that hand washing is easier with foaming hand soap than with liquid soap.”

Personally, I’d prefer to pay attention to the actual science and bacterial counts referenced in the first article. And considering how important proper hand washing is these days (and really everyday to stay healthy) I want to get it right! Plus, I’ve found myself purposefully using more regular hand soap than I normally would, and since the foaming soap is designed to use less I’d suspect I’ll just pump more out until I’m satisfied, so what was the point?

Moreover, your ability to use foaming hand soap as designed actually depends on having the right type of dispenser. The dispensers we use are meant for regular, gel hand soap even though the foaming soaps seem to work in regular dispensers too. Even so, I do have a few foaming dispensers stashed away. I guess I’ll get one out for my kids.

So, what’s the right answer? I’m leaning towards foaming hand soap being less effective if used as intended. If you’re using foaming soap in a regular dispenser then it’s probably about the same effectiveness as regular hand soap.

What do you think? Is there something I’m missing?

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By Damian Brindle

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4 replies on “Is Foaming Hand Soap Better or Worse?”

Why was there a need to throw in an irrelevant political comment here? Another hypocrite who doesn’t check his skewed political sources! I arrived here after reading EWG product reviews and cross-checking with various sites, what we should all do whenever researching anything online/on any platform. The pilot study cited was a couple of years ago not using CDC guidelines but nonetheless important to consider in public spaces. Still, I appreciated your experience as a parent and consumer since many concluded that it comes down to personal preference in domestic use. Thank you!

If you assume that people knew how to wash their hands, foaming hand soap does use roughly less soap to get hands clean. You then have to check out the source of the article that “claimed” evidence that foaming soap is not as effective — anyone can fake statistics, the Democrats do it all the time. When it comes down to real evidence, if you wash your hands in very warm water with enough lather to notice and long enough to meet the current CDC standards your hands will get clean.

Fair enough point. But that’s assuming people are washing their hands correctly regardless of what type of soap they use. My guess is they don’t and, thus, I would prefer to use more soap to help alleviate problems with not using enough.

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