Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dirty Hands?

Today’s “Don’t Need It, Won’t Buy It List” is headed by: Automatic antibacterial soap dispenser pumps for the home. (I’m gung-ho on soap dispensers in public restrooms, medical offices, and hospitals, because in those places, I don’t want to touch anything.)
At first glance, or touch, an automatic soap dispenser sounds like a good idea. Soap pumps get sticky, slimy, and even dirty. After all, it’s a dirty hand that presses the pump—that’s why we have the soap—to wash our hands. But wait a minute: Why use an automatic dispenser to avoid germs when the antibacterial soap you’re pumping should kill those very germs? If the soap cannot annihilate the germs that reside on the pump, it probably won’t kill the bacteria we try to avoid in our constant quest for a dirt-free, germ-free life.
Antibacterial soaps aren’t such a grand idea, anyway. When we wash our hands, or any other body part, it’s the soap itself—a blend of acids and fats—the time spent washing, and the friction applied that remove dirt (and germs). Good old everyday soap does a fine job.
What about germs targeted by antibacterial soap? Triclosan or triclobarbon, the antibacterial ingredients in such soaps, need a full two minutes to do their job. I can barely stand still until the two-minute timer on my electric toothbrush beeps. There’s no way I’ll spend two minutes each of the ten to fifteen times a day I wash my hands. I wouldn’t have any skin left after one day of such a regimen.
Sneakiness is built into bacteria, too. As soon as we figure out a way to kill them, they mutate so they can keep on going, going, going. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA and the newer incurable tuberculosis are the deadly results of such bacterial switch-ups.
Worried about cold and flu season and the dreaded stomach flu? Aren’t we all? Antibacterial soaps won’t help us. Viruses cause colds and flu and antiviral soaps aren’t widely available—yet.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Some bacterial are beneficial. And when it’s time to clean up, follow the advice of my life science professor: scrub your hands for about twenty seconds—just about long enough to sing the ABC song. A-B-C-D-E-F-G . . .