Why You Don’t Need Antibacterial Soap

Antibacterial soap not only hasn't made us safer from germs, the germs are becoming stronger.

| October/November 2006

antibacterial soap - product assortment

Antibacterial soap and other products aren’t any more effective than ordinary soap and water, and they can actually be harmful.

Photo by Matthew T. Stallbaumer

If you choose “antibacterial” soap and other products because you trust them to kill germs, think again. According to recent studies, antiseptic ingredients added to numerous products are not effective and may actually be harmful.

In 2005, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel concluded that there is “no added benefit” from using antimicrobial products over plain soap and water. There’s also toxicity to consider. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered that one of the most popular antimicrobials, the pesticide triclocarban (TCC), defies water treatment methods after we wash our hands of it. Once it’s flushed down drains, about 75 percent of TCC makes it through treatments meant to break it down, and it ends up in our surface water and in municipal sludge. This sludge is regularly applied to U.S. crop fields as a fertilizer, meaning the chemical could potentially accumulate in our food, too.

According to Rolf Halden, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the most recent study, TCC contaminates 60 percent of U.S. streams. In addition, he says it is known to cause cancer and reproductive problems in mammals, and blue-baby syndrome in human infants.

Introducing an antimicrobial into the environment in this way also has the unwanted effect of increasing pathogens’ resistance to clinically important antibiotics. The antiseptic triclosan — another popular antimicrobial added to numerous products — is known to promote the growth of resistant bacteria, including E. coli. In fact, the American Medical Association (AMA) took an official stance in 2000 against adding antimicrobials to consumer products. The AMA has repeatedly urged the FDA to better regulate these chemicals, advising that they should be avoided “until the data emerge to show antimicrobials in consumer products are effective at preventing infection.”

Currently, there is no mandatory monitoring of TCC, but approximately 1 million pounds of it are released annually in the United States. Since 2000, about 1,500 new antibacterial products have hit store shelves.

Halden says the irony of his research is two-fold: “First, to protect our health, we mass-produce and use a toxic chemical which the FDA has determined has no scientifically proven benefit. Second, when we try to do the right thing by recycling biosolids, we end up spreading a known reproductive toxicant on the soil where we grow our food.” He emphasizes the importance of considering the full life cycle of the chemicals we manufacture.
anabell jones
11/8/2013 1:39:02 PM

Links to studies on which this conclusion is based please!

6/29/2013 4:23:23 PM

This is the main reason I began making my own handcrafted soaps. I wanted a cleansing product for my family that wouldn't destroy the natural, protective flora on our skin or endanger the environment. You can find my soaps at www.sonoranscentsfromtheheart.com

4/28/2013 7:36:14 AM

Excellent information and posts.    About 5 years ago, I stopped using anti-perspirants and recently stopped using scented deodorants.  I use several products from the Secrets of Eden that uses organic ingredients including essential oils but without SLS.  Love it!  Also, I've stopped using fluoride toothpastes and drinking fluoridated water as much as possible.

4/22/2013 7:54:07 PM

Hey, now antibacterial soap is confirmed not good for the environment. 

caroline halliwill
3/30/2010 9:36:31 AM

I have asthma and find that the smell from the antibacterial soaps and the hands of the users causes uncontrollable coughing. I have had to spend time in hospitals due to my husband's health. I have asked the nurses not to use the soaps and washes while I am in the room. When I picked up a friend from the hospital, I noticed that the room had no less than four of the soap dispensers in the room. One at the desk area when you come into the room, one about 5 feet away on the same wall, one between the beds, and one in the bathroom. I spent the time waiting for my friend to be discharged looking for a place to wait free from the soaps and their smells. I gave my own health care provider this information to put in my file. I will be interested to find out what happens when I have to go to the hospital for treatment.

carol troxel
3/16/2010 9:03:43 PM

I agree that antibacterial soaps are not advisable. I feel more should be said and taught about living a healthy diet, and healthy life style so desease can be prevented. cjt

3/15/2010 5:34:52 PM

I have been using non-antibacterial soaps for years. I felt they would be detrimental to the bacteria that are necessary in a healthy septic system. Liquid soaps that are NOT antibacterial are hard to find. Some people thought I was crazy for not using the antibacterial soaps, but I knew that not all bacteria are bad. Now the research proves that antibacterial soaps CAN do harm! I guess that I am finally vindicated!!!

8/25/2009 5:23:22 PM

we use soap that is certified 85% from a company called www.TheOrganicSoapCompany.com..we love the stuff and they have multiple soaps and foaming soaps as well....it better natural and we agree much better for your health, at least my family thinks so. S

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