You might assume that products listed as “antibacterial soap” offer a better job of killing microbes than standard soap. However, research suggest otherwise.
In 2019 the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) announced that “there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven. In addition, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised the question of potential negative effects on your health.”
But before we go on, what exactly is “antibacterial soap”?
Well, it’s regular soap (a mixture of fat or oil, water, and an alkali) with added chemicals. The main one of these being triclosan. Triclosan is an anti-bacterial which is used in many consumer products — including clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys — to prevent contamination.
Yet the effectiveness of using triclosan alongside regular soap has long been questioned, and the downsides may out-weight the benefits. Triclosan has been linked with increased food and environmental allergies in children. It is also suspected to have lead to a growing bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Patrick McNamara, an associate professor of environmental engineering at Marquette University explains: “I think soap companies pretty much know you don’t need this stuff, but they keep making them because they know there’s a market for it,” he says. “People would be better off using regular soap.”
The FDA’s advice is clear: “Wash your hands with plain soap and water. That’s still one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs.”