Foam or liqud soap?
September 25, 2012 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Does foam hand soap work as well as liquid soap for cleaning purposes?

I'm thinking of switching over to avoid having to constantly refill my soap bottles, but it seems like it might not have as much cleaning strength as regular liquid soap. Which is better?
posted by roaring beast to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you mean the kind of foaming hand soap I think you do, it's just a basic skin safe detergent, the foaming comes from the bottle (which is always like magic for me), which is probably pretty much the same stuff as your liquid soap (unless it is actual soap, in which case the soap will have a higher pH (probably), so you could probably use them interchangeably. Stuff made for hands probably has more "gentle" ingredients, and might be more likely to have some kind of alleged antibacterial qualities. Is this for personal or household use?
posted by thylacinthine at 8:12 PM on September 25, 2012

As far as foaming hand soap vs. regular liquid hand soap goes, I think the foaming stuff actually works better. A nice, thick lather seems to be easier to scrub with, and easier to see which parts of your skin have been covered and which parts have not.

As far as the soap itself goes, the first foaming dispensers I saw were from The Pampered Chef, and they came with instructions (still do, AFAIK) to fill to X line with liquid hand soap, and top up with water. Dial, Softsoap, and other brands have "for foaming dispensers" liquid soap refills that are just really runny liquid soap--probably their regular soap cut 50% with water (and sold at the same price per bottle, whee!)

I think you're getting about the same amount of soap from each pump either way, whether it's about a tablespoon of full-strength liquid soap, or about a cup of thick, foamy lather. My sister swears by the foaming dispensers, claiming she just can't get a good lather with regular liquid soap, so I imagine your water quality (hard/soft water, I have no idea) might play a part in how clean one type of soap feels compared to the other.
posted by xedrik at 8:27 PM on September 25, 2012

For cleaning what? Hands? It works just as well, most of us use too much soap on our hands anyway.

I did try using one of those foaming dispensers with watered-down Dr Bronner's in my kitchen to do dishes, and that did not work well. You need more soap on your sponge than a foaming dispenser will provide.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:30 PM on September 25, 2012

I actually find that the foaming handsoap doesn't last as long as the liquid type. YMMV.
posted by twblalock at 8:56 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm quite positive that the method with which you scrub your hands and handle the faucets has more effect to the levels of unwanted bacteria on your hands rather than the dispenser. (many people don't wash thoroughly enough in fact suggested time is usually about 30 seconds spent doing so...)

Don't mind the terrible music and exciting content of the following video for reference.
(I've been forced to watch more than my fair share of these in the nursing program I'm in.) But a change in technique is likely to be more significant than most other decisions you could make on the subject.

Of course if you wanted to be really picky, turning off the tap with paper towels and avoiding touching the sink itself are also important.
posted by ~Bert at 8:59 PM on September 25, 2012

I think they work just as well but it mostly depends on your hand washing technique. I bought a Dial foaming soap bottle and when it ran out I kept the bottle and fill it with dishwashing liquid and water (about 40/60%) and it seems to work just as well. Good for cleaning a glass or two quickly, too.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:04 PM on September 25, 2012

The thing with liquid soap is that you typically get a big glob of it on your hand that doesn't get well distributed over your skin. It's thick so much of it gets washed away without making contact with you, unless you are diligent about rubbing it over you.

Foamed soap is much easier to get it all over your hands, and you typically use fairly small quantities of actual soap. You just use that quantity much more efficiently.
posted by chengjih at 2:25 AM on September 26, 2012

In most cases there will not be a big difference. The soaps used in hand and other liquid soaps like dishwashing liquid don't, by themselves, foam very much. Foaminess is something the soap makers can add to most common liquid soap varieties. One of the common foaming agents for hand soaps and shampoos is pantheol, which also acts as an emulsifier to reduce the "harshness" of the soap.

Foaminess is desirable in consumer soaps because many people associate foam with the soap working. No foam---need more soap. It's a useful marker when washing dishes for instance. In terms removing dirt and grease however, there is little change in effectiveness to the soap with the addition of the foaming agent.
posted by bonehead at 6:29 AM on September 26, 2012

I would think the foam would work better. Possibly much better. See, the whole point of soap is that it's foamy, so you lather your hands up and the lather has far more surface area than your hands do, and the bacteria and stuff gets distributed evenly over all of that surface area (including your hands). So if you lather up, the soap might have 9 times the surface are of your hands, and you end up with 10% of the stuff on your hands that was there before.

I seem to remember some debate about other mechanisms like lubrication and hydrophobic/phyllic bubbles or something, but still. Lather is good.
posted by cmoj at 7:20 AM on September 26, 2012

We have been diluting regular liquid hand soaps for a number of years in order to use them in our foaming hand soap dispensers. The ratio that we use is generally 1/4 soap and 3/4 water, give or take, depending on the thickness of the soap. We've diluted Dr. Bronner's liquid soap, various Dial soaps, and even shower gel (because it was grape scented and I wanted grape scented hand soap because I am apparently a 5 year old).

It works wonderfully and, at least with our kids, it seems to last a long time. We've had no complaints and I've even convinced my officemates to do the same at work. So, that's 3 kids and at least 6 adults who use it regularly and have no complaints about its efficacy.
posted by VioletU at 5:17 PM on September 26, 2012

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