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How Soap Provides a Protective Shield for Hardworking Hands

Patrick Boshell
February 13, 2018



When it comes to protecting hands and health in the workplace, personal protective equipment (PPE) comes to mind, from chemical and flame resistant gloves to pre- and post-work hand creams. All of which and more are required in order to keep workers protected in the workplace, but there’s one other step – the first step – that’s not always considered an essential to keeping hands safe, clean and in good shape for any type of project: accurate and frequent handwashing.


A typical person's hand can carry many millions of bacteria, some of which are naturally found on our bodies (the human microbiome) and some of which are pathogens (otherwise known as “germs”). Some bacteria or viruses may be harmless to one person but can cause illness in others. For these reasons, we can never fully know what we are carrying or what impact it may have on those around us. Proper handwashing at all times whether healthy or not is vital to preventing the spread of germs throughout the workplace.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps people can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Frequent and thorough handwashing is the single best way to protect yourself and others against the seasonal flu, colds and other occupational infections. By shielding hands with soap and water frequently, hands are better protected against harmful bacteria and the negative effects of oil, dirt or chemical exposure on skin.


Applying a Protective Layer of Soap


Washing with soap – not just water – is vital to proper hygiene. While water is powerful at rinsing away dirt, it cannot easily remove soil or organisms that are attached to the hands. Soap is able to do this effectively, maximizing the rinsing benefit of the water.


Despite this, in recent times some manufacturers have promoted smaller and smaller hand soap dosages, enabling them to claim an economic benefit due to more doses per liter of soap. Sadly, such claims are not supported by evidence and indeed product testing has shown[1] that low dosage levels do not, in many instances, result in cleaning any better than using water alone, leaving people misled and potentially at risk of spreading infections despite their own best and well-intended efforts.


So how much soap should you use, and what type? Foaming hand soap has been demonstrated[2] to enable a significant reduction in the environmental impact of commercial washrooms through a combination of water and energy savings and lower chemical impact compared to traditional liquid soaps. Foam soaps also cover more hand surface area per dose, providing a more effective wash.

A recent test concluded that a dose of 0.7ml is the lowest dose sufficient to comfortably spread across all surfaces of most people’s hands[1]Therefore, the test concludes that this dose is the best balance between required effectiveness and economics. Many manufacturers suggest using much lower doses however in testing, a dose of 0.4ml only covered 53 percent of the hand surface area and did not produce a cleaning result any better than water alone.1 Using the optimal amount of foam soap is necessary to produce clean, bacteria-free hands.


Maintaining a Handwashing Skill Set


Separate washroom studies from around the world show that only 70 percent of people wash their hands after using the restroom and only 30 percent of people use soap when washing their hands. Handwashing bad habits can easily arise, from washing hands too quickly to assuming hands aren’t dirty without visible proof, especially during a busy workday. If you’ve fallen into any bad handwashing habits, now is the time to scrub them off.


Hands and other soiled parts of the body should be cleaned at least at the end of each work period, prior to breaks, after coughing or sneezing and when visiting the restroom. Follow these easy-to-remember handwashing steps to ensure all dirt and contaminants from the skin are removed during handwashing:



  • Wet hands before dispensing a dose of soap into your cupped hand, if using foam soap you can dispense directly onto dry hands
  • Make sure soap covers the total surface of both hands
  • Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds and try humming the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of hands, wrists, between the fingers and under the fingernails
  • Properly dry hands with towels to avoid risks of chapping and spreading infection. Ideally, ‘single use’ disposable towels should be used as the use of a ‘communal’ towel or air dryers can lead to contamination
  • Use a disposable towel to turn off the faucet and when exiting the restroom door


Learn more about the Hand Washing Technique


Washing hands correctly is a habit that can easily be incorporated into your everyday routine. Making sure hands are scrubbed long enough with soap and using clean towels to dry off is the basic formula for proper, protective hand hygiene.


Additional Layers of Protection


When water and soap aren’t available, hand sanitizers are a common and simple solution for hand hygiene. Placing cleansers at easy-to-find places enforces the importance of clean hands throughout the day.


Another important step for workplaces to take on is to begin providing hand care creams for workers in industrial environments. Pre and post-work creams improve hand health, prevent skin irritation, and lower the risk of occupational dermatitis, a common infection suffered by many that work within the industrial industry. With proper hand hygiene and care, protective equipment such as safety gloves can be put on as the final layer of protection – keeping employees and organizations safe and secure.


Protection at Every Step


Keeping the workplace clean and safe starts with shielding the most commonly used and multi-talented tools available: our hands. Just as most work projects require multiple steps, so does ensuring the correct hand hygiene and care regime. For any organization, implementing and maintaining these practices is no simple task, but by providing reminders during training as well as hanging posters around a facility, hand hygiene and care will be taken more seriously and frequently, resulting in improved worker productivity and a more positive working environment.


[1] “Optimizing Foam Soap Dose for Hand Washing”; Deb Group, January 2012

[2] “Soap Suds and Savings”; Durrant, A.; McKay, A.; Sustainable Business, August/September 2011, 32-33


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