“What is a good antiseptic?” is a question which is frequently asked. One of the best is pure soap.
It is probable that the fact most of us keep as free from infections as we do is owing to the regular use of soap and water. The surgeon who prepares his hands for an operation is always more careful of the preliminary scrubbing with soap than he is of using the various germicidal solutions that are prepared for him. These are considered of relatively little value, but the soap and water cleansing is important.
Soap consists essentially of a mixture of strong alkali with fat of some kind. It does not need to have any germicide added to it to be antagonistic to germs, because the mechanical action alone, by removing the surface film on the skin, also removes the germs with it.
But there is considerable evidence that soap also disinfects. As long ago as 1890 Behring stated that a solid washing soap killed bouillon cultures of anthrax bacilli within two hours.
Among the organisms affected by soap are the pus-producing germs, the germs causing meningitis, pneumonia and diphtheria. The activity of soap in this way is greatly enhanced by raising the temperature, i. e., of the water which is used.
Increasing the amount of alkali in the soap does not increase its disinfectant power, and really increases the irritant action of the soap on the skin. For that reason I have been careful to say PURE soap. Pure soaps are far superior to any other in disinfecting power.
Soaps have a strong sterilizing influence on germs commonly occur-ring in the mouth, although nobody would recommend their use for this purpose except under unusual circumstances. For that reason, however, soap can be used beneficially as a tooth paste.
Soaps are potent factors in preventing the spread of disease, not only on account of their germicidal action on the common germs, but also because no antiseptic can replace cleanliness. Soap is the best disinfectant for everyday life, to be supplemented when occasion arises by antiseptics such as iodine, alcohol and other surgical antiseptics.