Why Real Soap Is Better Than Detergent For Hand Washing

By Michael Raymond

With the rise of COVID-19 reminding everyone of the importance for diligent hand washing, more people than ever are washing their hands using soaps or detergents.  When choosing between soap and detergent for hand washing, you may be surprised to find that it can be difficult to tell the two apart.  Many detergents nowadays are marketed to appear as natural soaps, but the reality is that using real soap is much better than detergent for hand washing. 

Here are a few reasons why:

Soap Is Natural

Soap and detergent are made using two very different processes.  Soap is made using a natural fat/oil, alkaline, and water.  The combination of these three natural ingredients creates a chemical reaction called saponification, which results in a natural surfactant substance that can rid the body of viruses and bacteria. 

Detergent, on the other hand, is created by combining synthetic petroleum-derived surfactants with other chemicals in order to provide a substance that can be used for anything from hand wash to laundry detergent.  While soap has been around for thousands of years, detergents began popping up around World War II to account for the shortage of ingredients needed to make soap.  Detergents rely on potentially harmful chemicals such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate that give a detergent its signature “lather” at the expense of both the environment and our skin.

Hand Soap Is Easier On The Skin 

One of the biggest reasons why hand soap is better than detergent for hand washing is because soap is less damaging to the skin.  While detergents may be better used for getting out the stains of your laundry, these chemicals can cause a harsh and irritating reaction when used on your skin.  Because detergent is heavily processed and petroleum-based, it may give you dry skin or even contain contact allergens. 

The natural ingredients in soap have fats and glycerin that gently clean and moisturize the skin without causing irritation.  While detergents need to add synthetic chemicals to moisturize or reduce irritation, the naturally occurring glycerin in soap makes the skin smooth and soft without additional chemicals.

Hand Soap is Better For The Environment

The synthetic ingredients in detergent aren’t just harmful for your skin—they can also be bad for the environment.  After you finish washing your hands with soap or detergent, that substance washes down the sink and back out into the ocean.  While the natural oils and fats in soap are biodegradable and non-toxic, the synthetic chemicals in detergent can build up in waterways and become toxic to aquatic life.

Rigorous hand washing is vital to prevent the spread of disease, but it’s important to choose soap with high-quality natural ingredients over a synthetic detergent.  Be sure to pay close attention to labels when buying soap, as you may be picking up a detergent in disguise.  Always read the list of ingredients to ensure that you’re buying soap with natural ingredients—your skin and the environment will both thank you!