The accepted answer in When is hand sanitizer appropriate/sufficient in place of warm water and soap? mentions that you should avoid bar soap yet the link provided no longer says this.

I have heard before that it is advised to use bottled soft soap rather than bar/block soap as soft soap is more hygienic.

Is this idea backed by science?

  • Where have you heard before that it is advised to use bottled soft soap rather than bar/block soap as soft soap is more hygienic? Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 16:21
  • Word of mouth @America and seeing as it was quoted from a webpage which has subsequently been edited, it does seem possible but I have not found anything conclusive. Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 16:23

1 Answer 1


TLDR: They're both equally effective. Technically, liquid soap is "cleaner" than bar soap unless the soap container is usually refilled.

In more detail:

From my understanding, any soap is effective at destroying viruses because it literally shreds apart the coating of the virus, obliterating it in the process. This is due to the nature of the soap being both hydrophilic (bonding to water) and lipidphilic (bonding to the viruses' lipid shells). So you would be seeing the same outcome from both bar and liquid soap.

Then, the question remains on what happens to the shredded bodies of the pathogens. Well, when you rinse with water, any of the viral remains will wash down the drain, so again there is effectively no argument for neither bar nor liquid soap.

However, when first making contact with bar soap, you are effectively transferring some of the pathogens onto the surface of the soap. These pathogens will still be destroyed, but their remains will sit on the soap. So in that sense, using bar soap is "less clean" because you are leaving viral debris on the surface of the soap (though this debris is benign). Score 1 for liquid soap

Now, if the liquid soap is being refilled regularly (like a refillable pump bottle, or a refillable public bathroom dispensor) then this soap container is likely to already be contaminated with live pathogens. Score 1 for bar soap

In the end, both bar soap and liquid soap are equally effective at destroying pathogens. If you wanted to get really nitty-gritty, I'd say liquid soap is the "cleanest" option, unless the container is one which gets refilled, then the bar soap is the "cleanest".

  • "equally effective at destroying pathogens", and equally ineffective. While soap kills viruses, it doesn't kill bacteria. "Soap and water don't kill germs; they work by mechanically removing them from your hands." — The handiwork of good health - Harvard Health Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 20:52
  • a few fragments of RNA on the soap isn't infectious. Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 20:54
  • 1
    @RayButterworth: with the possible exception of soaps in the chemical sense (for washing, these are the sodium or potassium salts of fatty acids): besides being amphiphilic they are also alkaline and thus catalyze hydrolysis of protein. Unfortunately, they are about as bad for the proteins in human skin as for the proteins in bacteria... Which is why we usually prefer neutralized or slightly acidic formulations.
    – cbeleites
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 22:07
  • @RayButterworth Soap doesn't kill bacteria but it does disrupt the bacterial slime layer that protects them and allows them to adhere to surfaces, and thus allows them to be removed and washed down the drain.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 19:21
  • @CareyGregory, right. As I quoted: "mechanically removing them from your hands". Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 19:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.