Antibacterial soap in graywater vs. soil microorganisms

stitches216(8/9 Hou-Galv)August 26, 2002

I am pretty sure this topic is unmentioned so far. If you use bathwater containing residue from antibacterial soap, will the same antibacterial action do more harm than good to beneficial soil bacteria?

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rich_in_nfpa(Z6 S Central PA)

I'm not an expert but I have to believe that the antibacterial properties of the soap would be so diluted as to not be a threat to the beneficial soil bacteria. After all, there are many antibacterial agents in soil already. Many of the -mycin family of antibiotics were originally isolated from soil organisms.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2002 at 8:02PM
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hollyk(5A or 5B)

I've heard that, too. I've even heard that there isn't enough anti-bacterial "stuff" in the soap to actually make it beneficial to wash your hands with it. Not enough stuff in it, and we don't leave it on our hands long enough!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2002 at 2:15PM
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The typical soil microbes scoff at the so-called antibacterial ingredients in soap.

BTW - they are usually too weak to do any more for you than plain soap, so save your money.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2002 at 10:08PM
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Those of you with eczema, try not using antibacterial soap for a month or two, bet it clears up.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2002 at 12:31AM
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Meghane(7b NC)

All antibacterial soap does is breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Wash your hands with plain soap and water for 20 seconds and you won't have a problem. I even have iguanas that I handle often and don't use antibacterial soap, and I've never contracted salmonella or any other dread disease.

BTW, epidemiologists hate grey water because it can spread bacteria into the groundwater that may not be able to handle it.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2002 at 1:24PM
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You actually need to wash for 15 minutes, and then rinse for about five to get your hands and forearms sterile. Anti-bact soaps are a rip off.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2002 at 11:29PM
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stitches216(8/9 Hou-Galv)

Thanks to everyone who has posted! My intuition leans me toward agreeing with Rich, lazygardens and Barb. Caution or alarm on AB soap vs. soil is probably a waste.

Meghane makes a comment that intrigues me, and I have already asked her about it privately. But since I am here, what I am wondering about now concerns use of graywater, the percolation of it into groundwater, and the possible spread of disease from that percolation.

Forget soil bacteria for now. Is it better overall for the environment to sterilize graywater before "re-using" it? And, is it unwise to use unsterilized graywater on food plants? Again, intuition tells me that the "ideal" answer to the first question is yes, while a "good" answer to the 2nd question is a more emphatic yes.

What do all y'all think?

    Bookmark   August 29, 2002 at 2:36PM
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Meghane makes a valuable point. Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics and incorrect use by patients has caused drug-resistant bacteria. The same thing could be happening with antibacterial soap, although this has only been shown in laboratory conditions so far. Worth thinking about the next time you hear of someone getting sick with one of those superbugs.

Since the soap isn't particularly effective at killing bacteria on your hands I doubt it is going to cause the soil bacteria any trouble after being diluted in several gallons of water.


Here is a link that might be useful: AMA concerned about soap

    Bookmark   August 31, 2002 at 4:01AM
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Stitches -
To get to the groundwater, any bacteria in the bathwater used in irrigation would have to make it past an incredibly hostile environment created by the soil's microorganisms. That first 6 inches is a killer enviromnent.

Groundwater pollution by human pathogens usually happens when outhouses are used - effectively dumping pathogens at the same level as the groundwater, and below the level of the soil bacteria.

Biofilters are very effective at removing pathogens because the earth-living organisms use the pathogens as food.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2002 at 11:12AM
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byron(4a/5b NH)

Dumping grey water on the surface is illeagal in most area's

Some antibacterial soaps contained a 1st cousin to 2,4-D
a herbicide.

Anti-bacterial soaps used for aphid controls make plants very sick, or it kills them.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2002 at 11:53PM
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Based on what evidence. I have never had such a problem, and I am pretty indiscriminate about such things.

If your theory does not agree with the data, it is wrong
-Richard Feynman

    Bookmark   September 6, 2002 at 11:27PM
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stitches216(8/9 Hou-Galv)

I especially appreciate iannÂs, lazygardens and ByronÂs additional points. Not to be an Ol Perfesser, but I am still hearing two opposing takes on truth in this thread.

I can accept that AB soap residue may be too weak to threaten most soil bacteria. Bugs that live constantly in the soil outdoors are probably tougher than most bugs that live temporarily on our mostly indoors-dwelling bodies. That makes sense to me  mostly.

But, if use of antibacterial soap risks the evolution of superbugs, then there seems to be at least a possibility that eventually, graywater will carry bugs that can survive outdoors  maybe, even, bugs that compete with beneficial soil bacteria.

I donÂt mean to ruin anyoneÂs appetite for brunch: A few years ago I toured an 1800s gold mine in South Dakota. Over 100 feet vertically above the shaft, miners used an outhouse. I was astounded and alarmed to see that outhouse residues were percolating THROUGH ROCK into the shaft, with obvious discoloration and growth of something, where the residues were oozing and dripping. I donÂt recall a smell.

Add to that, our recent discoveries of extremophiles  microorganisms that can live in extreme environments including for example, boiling water  and I get the impression that we are the eventual certain losers of any fight against bacteria.

So for now, my practices are going to include (1) shopping for soap without insistence on antibacterial performance, and (2) use of any unboiled graywater only in areas where I do not plan to grow vegetables nearby, say, within 10 feet. Happy risk-taking, all!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2002 at 12:10PM
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stiches, I don't know of any bacteria that can be absorbed by plants and then passed on through their fruit or foliage. And if you are so concerned about bacteria I'm sure you wash your vegetables, so splashing would not be a concern either.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2002 at 2:52PM
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