Normal soap requires scrubbing, does anti-bacterial soap require scrubbing too? Since it (I assume) works chemically, can I produce the same cleansing effect without lathering with soap and using anti-bacterial soap instead? It could save me a lot of time showering in the morning.

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    $\begingroup$ The point about scrubbing with soap is usually not to get rid of bacteria (which colonize your skin anyway) but to get rid of dirt. I am not sure, if it is really advisable to always use a real antibacterial soap, since the bacteria on our skin are not doing any harm. It will probably irritate the skin. $\endgroup$ – Chris Feb 26 '14 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ most antibacterial soaps contain triclosan, which would work just on application. However, the objective of bathing is not just to get rid of microbes but also to clean the dirt, dust, oily sebaceous secretions etc and therefore scrubbing is still important. If you have rashes/cracked skin then you can avoid scrubbing.. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Feb 26 '14 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ How does "waiting a minute or two" as opposed to "scrubbing for a minute or two" change the time it will take you to shower? How long do you scrub for? Why in the world do you shower using antibacterial soap? Depending on the soap that can be dangerous and is almost certainly unnecessary and very likely counter productive. $\endgroup$ – terdon Feb 26 '14 at 14:27

What the comments are trying to say might go something like this.

The antibiotic triclosan that's used in almost all 'antibacterial' products works pretty quickly - by interfering with several processes in the bacterial and fungal membrane. It doesn't need much more than contact to work.

That being said, the longer your exposure to the antibiotic, the more thoroughly it will work. Triclosan can penetrate the blood stream through the skin. If you have soap suds scrubbing may or may not get the triclosan into more contact with a greater surface area as it diffuses into the skin, but probably won't affect the substantial effect it has killing surface bacteria and fungi/yeasts.

Its worth noting that the FDA doesn't recommend the use of antibacterial soap or other antibacterial products. Soap itself is a powerful agent for killing bacteria and other microorganisms and biocides like triclosan probably encourage the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains which present a medical risk to people.


This is a very good question, and a very important topic in the healthcare and biological world. It is something that everyone should consider, as the answer is not as self-evident as it may appear. The responses here are excellent. I would like to add a few things from a healthcare perspective.

This is the WHO recommendation on how to wash your hands. It is in agreement with the CDC recommendations. This includes use of antibacterial soaps.

The reason for friction in handwashing is as Chris and WYSIWYG said: removal of oils, dirt, bacteria and other things accumulated in the crevasses of your skin and nails (including microbes and biological residues).

Regular soap on its own is a surfactant; it is a molecule with a polar end (and a non-polar end. It basically dissolves in both oils and waters. It is perfect for removing oils and rinsing them off in water. Detergents such as soaps are cell membrane disrupters, and as such, it is capable of rupturing cell membranes of many microbes on its own.

Shigeta is right-on with the FDA recommendations to not use antibacterial soaps. They are completely unnecessary is most situations and actually do harm by putting selective pressure on bacteria strains to become stronger by killing off all but the most resistant ones, which then breed and overgrow.

In daily use, alcohol foams are a convenient way to sanitize if soap and water are unavailable, but it's often overused. Soap and water are better in the daily environment, and always better before eating, because alcohol does not kill spores nor denature toxins.

Overuse of antibiotics in general is the reason why MRSA and other multi-drug resistant bacteria have emerged, and these are extremely dangerous because they are so difficult to treat. We're struggling to catch up with antibiotics to kill the newly emerging strands. There are cases I have seen where all efforts to treat an infection failed due to resistance. So I guess I'm saying all this to emphasize that yeah, it's important to not go overboard on antibacterial cleansing :) /end soapbox.

Well, one more quick thing - I do want to add that healthcare settings are slightly different. The use of antibacterial soap in hospitals is approved for the purpose of reducing the microbial load on skin between patients, to reduce transmission as much as possible. Alcohol foams have been found to be comparable, but are insufficient in several cases (such as spores). (See the CDC for more info on alcohol foams: http://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/faq/hand.htm#a3). In daily use, alcohol foams are a convenient way to sanitize if soap and water are unavailable, but it's often overused. Soap and water are better in the daily environment, and always better before eating, because alcohol does not kill spores nor denature toxins.

References for following information: I personally have been involved in patient counseling discussions in clinic with a patient and an attending physician (a supervisory teaching doctor) discussing best practices in hygiene. This includes two dermatologists, two Emergency physicians, an OB/Gyn physician, and a pediatrician - and all concur:

For general washing in the shower, unless you sweat a great deal or are exposed to dirt and chemicals, the majority of your exposed skin does not require extensive scrubbing to become clean. In fact, scrubbing can irritate skin, worsen dry skin, or exacerbate conditions such as eczema. Warm water, normal soap (or even better for sensitive skin / eczema, moisturizing body wash like Dove), and a soft washcloth are completely sufficient. If using a pouf or exfoliator, only apply light pressure, never aggressive. Armpits, groin, and feet do require more attention, but hard scrubbing is unnecessary.

Interestingly (and hopefully not TMI in this post), I learned from the OB/Gyn's patient counseling that it is unnecessary (and actually irritating to the mucous membranes) for women to use more than warm water to clean between the labia majora. I looked this up and found supporting information for this. Other genital surfaces should be washed well, but as mucous membranes, that area has a self-cleaning system of secretions. This is similar to the strong recommendation for women not to use vaginal douching - it upsets the balance of natural bacteria (flora) in the vaginal canal.

The WHO handwashing instructions: enter image description here


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