What is the real world risk of sharing bar soap?

The First Aid committee I work with is in discussions about whether we should permit or forbid people from leaving bars of soap in the shower house for other people to use. The population under question is approx. 1800 people of all ages camping for one to two weeks, mostly in tents. Many people come woefully unprepared for camping, including a lack of bringing soap. A few people want to put out a basket full of donated toiletries (hotel soaps, half bottles of shampoo and such that they’re not using) in the showerhouse with a sign inviting people to use what they need.

The shampoo and liquid soap doesn’t have anyone really bothered. But the potential for shared bar soap is triggering debate. One camp is of the “ew…that will transmit diseases, won’t it?” mind and the other, “better clean hippies than dirty hippies.” We’re not finding a lot of scientific support one way or the other. I’ve found a slew of google hits suggesting that bar soap is a “personal item” which should not be shared, along with razors and the like - but when I go to those pages, either I can’t find the actual word “soap” anywhere in it, or there’s no citation for why that advice is given. I’ve found this article about a study suggesting that “washing even with contaminated bar soap is unlikely to transfer bacteria”, but the study is 26 years old and sponsored by “the Dial Corporation Technical Center,” which makes me dubious.

Anyone know?

My guess is that the risk is close to zero, especially compared with all the other risky behaviors likely going on at a gathering of 1800 hippies. But in this situation liquid soap might be a better solution for practical reasons. “Hotel-sized” bars of soap tend to get soft and slimy when sitting in a damp shower, and people tend to drop bars of soap as well which could lead to someone slipping.

I googled “sharing soap and skin infections” which came up with a bunch of PDf’s from different states regarding staph/MRSA, and sharing soap is one of the no-no’s. So it seems, at the very least, a staph infection could be spread with bar soap.

I know this isn’t the GQ answer and not really what you’re looking for, but as I tell my teenaged son when he “forgets” to smear the bar soap on a washcloth and use that and instead he just rubs the soap on his body, and then I use the soap after him (albeit on a washcloth), that’s essentially like we’re rubbing our naked skin all over each other. Not a very attractive scenario between mother and son, no, but it’s true. So think of yourself rubbing your naked skin against the naked skin of hundreds of other campers- even if you don’t contract a nasty infection from it, is it really something you’d want to do?

Let’s see:

[li]Herpes[/li][li]Crab lice[/li][li]Body lice[/li][li]Scabies[/li][li]MRSA ( the so-called flesh eating pathogen)[/li][/ol]

Sharing a bar of soap with strangers (even anti-bacterial kinds) is always a poor idea. And frankly pointless, given the relatively inexpensive nature of bar soap.

Thanks. That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m finding - recommendations with no citation or evidence. I find that…unsatisfying.

Okay…so are any of those spread by sharing bar soap?

I imagine you found this one already, and didn’t find it useful, but I’ll stick it here anyway. A 2006 study in the Indian Journal of Dental Research. A very small study of 32 samples from just hand washing found the following:

No, I hadn’t, and yes, thank you! That’s exactly the sort of thing I’m looking for!

I’ll keep looking, because one study does not an evidence based practice make, but thank you so much for that one!

All of them can be spread by close human contact, so all of them can be spread by sharing bar soap.

Not necessarily. You need to show that bar soap is at least not inhospitable to those organisms.

Need to show,whom?
Are you arguing that sharing a bar of soap with a stranger is sanitary?
Please feel free to provide of this.


Crab lice:http://www.emedicinehealth.com/crabs/page6_em.htm#prevention

Given the serious health and social problems from contracting any of the above it seems exceptionally unwise to infection by unnecessarily sharing something like bar soap. To argue otherwise, seems to be rather poor judgment.

The real world risk is negligible.

But I am confused about the problem. Wouldn’t the nervous nellies use and keep for private use, their own soap, and the filthy masses who don’t care be better off with some soap than with none?

Do these sorts of things require a policy these days?

You will not find a study, by the way. What would need for controls are groups with no soap, groups with shared soap, and groups with private soap.

You can’t demonstrate which flora (and fauna, I guess) can be found on bar soap. Plenty of other more hospitable fomites exist for which you cannot control. Besides, the major cause of disease is crappy host defense and not the germs themselves.

Now get off my bed, you bedbug-infested, scabies-ridden filthy public.

Work on some useful policies, like safer sex and spitting.

Yeah, I’m far more concerned with the rampant trench foot from people walking around in bare feet in the mud for two weeks, personally. But I was asked for a science based opinion on the topic, so I’m trying to form one. I started off in the “better a clean hippie than a dirty hippie” camp, but admittedly that’s based on zero evidence.

(As for the “other risky behaviors likely going on,” We have literal buckets of condoms for the taking, thanks to the local AIDS awareness group. Male and *female *condoms, even. They come with instructions, safer sex pamphlets, phone numbers for HIV testing and even little tubes of condom friendly lube. I provide demonstrations and lectures on safer sex on demand. Sexual health is something this group is actually pretty good at.)

I’m not sure why you linked to explanations of what those parasites and MRSA are and how they can be transmitted via human-to-human contact, as I know what they are. I asked whether there is research that those organisms can survive on bar soap and be transmitted alive to another human via that method.

And I’m not arguing that they cannot be transmitted on soap - you were arguing that they can be/are merely because they can be transmitted between people’s skin, and I asked you for citations regarding soap as a medium.

May I ask who “this group” is?
Where do you collect 1800 hippies, whether dirty or clean? :slight_smile:
I haven’t heard the word “hippy” for 30 years.

Why are they all going camping together, and forgetting to bring condoms? And where?—1800 people in one place is a bigger-than-average campground.

There’s a charitable operation that donates used bar soap from US hotels to third world countries. They use 2 methods of sterilization, depending upon how used the bar is.

That isn’t conclusive evidence, but it’s indicative.

Here’s another citation: Contaminated Bars of Soap
It has been demonstrated that bacteria from contaminated bars of soap (without antibacterial additives) are not transferred from person to person during common use (9, 42). These studies demonstrate that bar soap is inherently antibacterial and will not likely support the growth of bacteria. The American Infection Control Guideline (54) recommends that if bar soap is used, it should be provided in small bars that can be changed frequently,** with soap racks to promote drainage.**

Liquid Hand Soaps or Detergents
Many regulatory agencies forbid the use of bar soaps for employee hand washing and have mandated the use of liquid hand soaps or detergents for hand washing. This is not necessary. The use of liquid soap has not been demonstrated to be better for removing transient microorganisms than the use of plain bar soap for washing hands and fingertips.

Bannan, E. A. and L. F. Judge. 1965. Bacteriological studies relating to hand washing. I. The inability of soap bars to transmit bacteria. Am. J. Public Health. 55(6):915-921.

Heinze, J. E. and F. Y. Yackovich. 1988. Washing with contaminated bar soap is unlikely to transfer bacteria. Epidem. Inf. 101:135-142.

Larson, E. 1995. APIC Guidelines for Infection Control Practice. - APIC guideline for Hand Washing and hand antisepsis in health care settings. APIC (Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc.) Washington, D. C.,. Emphasis added, since that point was made elsewhere in the article.

ETA: Another cite: “Either bar soap or liquid soap is OK. If using a bar, rinse it first and hold it the whole time you are lathering.” PDF! http://www.hcpro.com/content/40615.pdf

No citation, but I remember listening (south Alabama, 1994), to an NPR discussion in which the “expert” was finally pinned down to (reluctantly) say that, yes, bacteria and viruses can be cultured from bar soap. But his main point was that cleansing with soap was a “mechanical” process, and the likelihood of transmitting disease was next to nil.

No cites or ideas either way, sorry, but perhaps a suggestion:

You could slice the bars into individual slices and place those in buckets. That way you take one little slice into the shower with you and use that up, all for yourself. I do it when travelling, so I’m not carrying wet soap.

To be realistic, the question is whether that is more sanitary than not using soap at all.

Because that’s what the OP is asking – for people who come without any soap, is it a good idea to provide them with soap, even if it’s previously been used by other people.

I was a little incredulous when I read this. OK, I get that a mother and son wouldn’t want to be “rubbing our naked skin all over each other”, but come on… He lived inside you for nine months, and, presumably, in close proximity ever since. Give the kid a break - even smelly teenagers need hugs.

And -* " rubbing your naked skin against the naked skin of hundreds of other campers ~ is it really something you’d want to do?*" - Hmm - Isn’t that precisely the reason most young men go to these events? Maybe not “hundreds” but at least several.