Posted by: soapchix | March 19, 2008

The Problem with Antibacterial Soaps

I live with a research scientist in molecular biology and am constantly amazed by the things he knows before the general public does. When all the hype about antibacterial soaps started years ago, his response was downright annoying, but wise. He simply told me not to use it at all if I could help it. His reasoning was that he did not believe that it was truly effective, for one. Now, darn it, a study has shown that he (as always!) is probably right.

I got this information from the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) Healthehouse website, a great resource for parents. This is what they wrote:

“Antibacterial soaps are no better than plain soap in preventing infectious disease, according to a recent study from Columbia University. Researchers found that there is virtually no difference in the rate of symptoms between those using antibacterial products and those who do not.

The researchers followed 238 Manhattan households with at least one child of preschool age for one year and compared how often occupants had either runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, vomiting, diarrhea or skin infections like boils or conjunctivitis.

Half the households were given general purpose cleaners, laundry detergents and handwashing soap with antibacterial ingredients, while the other half were given the same items without the antibacterial ingredients. All of the products used were commercially available. None of the participants or the researchers knew which type of product the families had received.

The study concluded that the use of antibacterial products does not reduce the risk for symptoms of infectious diseases among generally healthy people. One likely reason: Many of the symptoms studied are usually caused by viruses, which are not killed by antibacterial ingredients. “

If that weren’t enough reason not to use it, this one definitely is, and an argument my hubby has been making for years. Many scientists feel that antibacterial soaps could be contributing to the growing problem with of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which happens to be an area that he is extremely familiar with as he is working on a MRSA-related study. MRSA is the “killer staph bacteria” or superbug that people used to only contract in hospitals. Now it is being found in schools and other public areas. The chances of contracting it are still low, so don’t call me an alarmist, but there is growing concern in the scientific community about it. My hubby has a job because of it.

The CHEC Healthehouse website, also had this to say (again, this is a direct quote):

“The active ingredient in antibacterial products is often triclosan, which is also used to fight Staph infections that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. Some scientists fear that overuse of and resistance to triclosan could make this Staph more difficult to fight. Another reason to stay clear of antibacterial personal care products: The FDA doesn’t have a policy on antibacterial ingredients in personal care products yet. (Antibacterial ingredients in cleaners are considered pesticides and are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.) Soap and water work perfectly well for loosening dirt and germs so that they can be rinsed away.”

You can see the CHEC’s article here.


One more thing. Stealing a cue from Soap Chix Tiff I went and checked out some antibacterial products at the grocery store. It is alarming how many are out there! Stay away from Vick’s Early Defense Foaming Hand Sanitizer. It uses triclosan as it’s active ingredient. Triclosan is touted as a great thing because unlike alcohol-based santizers, it does not dry out your skin. (Neither does handmade soap!)

Triclosan is also known as Irgasan and Microban.

You can read more about triclosan here:

As far as I’m concerned, this is actually one less thing to worry about. Just grab a bar of soap, preferrably handmade by two amazing Soap Chix, and don’t worry that the soap isn’t anti-bacterial. By choosing a bar of soap (again, handmade, of course) you are actually doing a good thing for yourself short-term and long-term.



  1. Damnit! I hate when those husbands are right!!! My smarty-pants works for NASA & don’t you know THAT comes up when we’re debating issues.

    Interesting article & thank you for sharing!

    xoxox Amy

  2. I’ve shared the same concerns about these products. I no longer use them and won’t let my family use them. Good post. The dramatic rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria is scary so we should all do what we can to try and minimize this increase.

  3. You girls are just a stock pile of useful information. I heart you. Also? I got your soaps and have been SERIOUSLY enjoying them since they arrived. It’s official. I’m hooked.

  4. […] antibacterials because of the potential to create antibiotic-resistant bugs (see my previous post here). That is enough reason for me. But if you also consider that we really don’t need to be […]

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