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Dangerous infections and infectious diseases are on the rise, so it's important to know what works best to keep you and your loved ones healthy and safe. There are numerous anti-bacterial soaps and alcohol-based waterless cleansers on the market, but there are also questions regarding their effectiveness. Chlorhexidine soap has been in use for decades, but most people have never heard of it.

What Is Chlorahexidine Soap?

Chlorhexadine soap is simply any cleanser that contains the antibacterial chemical chlorhexidine. It works by disrupting the cell membranes of bacteria. Chlorhexidine soap can affect viruses, but only weakly. It has no effect on spores and fungi, though it its effects are long-lasting and it has low toxicity.

Types Used in Hospitals

Many hospitals put chlorhexidine soap in the dispensers doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals use to wash their hands. The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne use at least two types of the soap: a green-tinted 2 percent solution of chlorhexidine gluconate soap for routine hand-washing and a pink-tinted 4 percent solution for use in the operating room and on patients who are about to undergo surgery.

Surgeons should use a waterless, alcohol-based 1 percent chlorhexidine solution to clean, and then coat their hands and arms before putting on their surgical gloves.

Hospitals also use pre-wrapped chlorhexedine-soaked sponges to clean wounds as well as catheter, intravenous needle and injection sites.

Types Sold to Consumers

Many popular brands of antibacterial soaps contain chlorhexidine, usually in a 1 to 2 percent solution. Hibiclens, the most popular chlorhexidine cleanser, is available at most drug stores.

The Committee to Reduce Infectious Deaths recommends that people about to undergo surgery scrub their skin from the neck down with a chlorhexidine soap every day for three days prior to surgery. The Committee postulates this will decrease risk of infection.

Types for Feminine Use

Many feminine hygiene sprays and wipes contain chlorhexidine; hospitals use it to clean the vaginal area after birth and to care for the incisions made during a Ceasarian section. Washing mother and baby with chlorhexidine immediately before and following birth drastically has been known to decrease infant mortality rates in third-world countries.

Types for Animal Use

Chlorhexidine is routinely used in veterinary practices as a wound cleanser. According to many studies, including one published in "Veterinary Surgery" in 2009, wounds in dogs treated with chlorhexidine heal much more quickly and with less infection than wounds treated with clear saline.

Cats have gone deaf when the chlorhexidine they were being washed with leaked through a perforated eardrum. In other words, don't use it on your animals without consulting your veterinarian.

Types for Oral Use

While mouthwashes such as Oral-B might not technically be called "soap," it is interesting to note that chlorhexidine is also used by dentists to clean the sites of dental implants to help prevent gingivitis and dental caries and as a general antibiotic mouthwash.