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Do You Need To Add Soap To Water?


Charles Fishman taught us in The Big Thirst  water can be too clean to drink. The purest water possible is used as an industrial solvent for high tech manufacturing of computer chips. The ultra-clean water (many steps past reverse osmosis) molecules have a slight negative charge attracting small specks of dirt. The reason we don't want to drink ultraclean pure water is that it attracts valuable minerals from your body. So if water by itself is so good at cleaning do we need to add soap to our water?

How Does Soap Work

Public health officials tell us washing our hands with soap, and clean running water is the key to prevent the spread of germs and infection. Even if the water isn’t clean using soap will make a difference identifying soap as the number factor in clean hands. Before determining if we need soap, it's best to learn how soap works. Most everything around us is made of molecules. Some molecules love water, and some are repelled by water. Oil attracts dirt and grime and is repelled by water. Oil and water don't mix is a common term will all know. Add soap to water, and it forms tiny clusters. The water-loving part of the soap molecule points out, and the water-repelling parts hang together on the inside. The clusters trap the oil on the inside, so they don't come in contact with water. Soap suspends the oil and dirt maximizing the rinsing benefit of water.

How Much Soap Should Be Used

Sometimes it feels like we waste water by having to rinse our hands or dishes to wash off the soap suds. Pre-cleaning your dishes helps save water when cleaning the dishes and pots. Do your best to remove the majority of gunk on your pots and dishes before you use soap. If just oil and grease remain on your dishes and pots, the soap can do its best work in the fastest amount of time lessening the amount of time you need to rinse the grime away with water. Eating a diet lower in oils and fats is also going to help reduce the amount of soap, water, and time needed to wash your dishes.

As far as the amount it’s variable by the job. How dirty are your hands or dishes? Dawn (makers of Dawn dish soap) teaches us a few drops to a wet sponge to wash dishes is better than adding it to the water.

As far as your hands, all soaps are not equal and depending on the quality of the soap, the amounts vary. The Center for Disease Control wants you to be sure to the lather reaches the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.

Cleaning your hands or dishes without soap is possible, but you will use considerably more water. This water will have to be very hot as well wasting another precious resource. A little bit of soap saves both water and energy. As for the dog in the photo, cute, but none of the experts I talked with thought it was a viable solution. If you have additional tips we missed, please share them in the comments section of the blog.

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Richard Restuccia

Richard is a water management evangelist. He believes passionately in water efficiency and sees the financial and social benefits far too often to keep a secret. Richard is a spokesperson at industry events and on the Hill to provide direction and insight on landscape water management best practices. Richard puts his words into action through service on various boards and committees. He served on the Irrigation Association's Board of Directors and is a University of California Master Gardener. Richard also writes for other publications and is an award winning contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine. In 2014 his efforts were recognized with a “Leadership in Landscape” award. He has a great interest in the supply of clean water for people in developing countries and as an outdoorsman, spends his free time running, swimming and surfing.

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