Should You Use Antibacterial Soap?

I have to make a confession; I am a YouTube addict. One of the channels I find most informative is Health Care Triage. Here, Dr. Aaron Carroll discusses various medical topics. One of my favorite episodes discusses the risks and benefits of using antibacterial soap. It sure sounds great, a magical substance which kills all the nasty bacteria coating your hands, but can we be so sure?

Supposed Benefits

ct-sc-biz-1217-fda-soap-jpg-20131216You might think that antibacterial soaps will prevent you from getting sick. Here’s the problem, most of your illnesses are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Both the flu and mononucleosis are caused by viruses, which antibacterial soap has no effect on. But let’s give the soap the benefit of the doubt.

If you are trying to kill bacteria, antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap. Some studies have shown that antibacterial soap is slightly better at killing off bacteria, but these studies also require their participants to wash their hands for 30 seconds more than 15 times per day. That’s just not realistic. When it comes down to normal hand washing, your regular soap is doing just fine.

The Risks

Now that we know antibacterial soap isn’t really helping, is it harming at all? This question has yet to be fully answered. All we can say now is that antibacterial soap may be detrimental to human and animal health.


A 2006 study revealed that the key ingredients of antibacterial soap may actually damage your immune system, increasing your risk of allergies and hay fever. Interestingly enough, this increased risk for allergies was consistent for minors of all ages, races, sizes, and socioeconomic levels. The harmful effects of antibacterial soap don’t discriminate.

Sadly, the antibacterial chemicals also leak into our watersheds, exposing animals to dangerous side-effects. Small animals in these watersheds are at a higher risk, as the chemicals build up faster in their systems than in larger animals like humans. It’s not just a local problem. Studies in the Atlantic have found antibacterial chemicals in 31% dolphins. While the long-term effects of these chemicals are not completely clear, I shudder to think how this will impact marine life.

The Decision

When it comes down to it, antibacterial soaps are doing more harm than good. These soaps are no more effective than regular hand washing and studies suggest that they may be damaging our immune systems. If these chemicals aren’t helping us stay healthy, why use them?

3 thoughts on “Should You Use Antibacterial Soap?

  1. Megan Fleming

    I find it fascinating that a product that is marketed to keep us healthy and germ free could actually be doing the opposite. While it is apparent to those who look at the research you analyzed that antibacterial soaps are actually causing more harm than good, many people do not realize this. I wonder if we will see any legislative changes in the future that will prevent these products from being marketed as safe and effective when research shows they are not.

  2. Genevieve Irene Stafford Post author

    Hey Kaitlin! It’s interesting that you asked about hand sanitizers, I have looked into that as well. The bottom line is, an alcohol based hand sanitizer is safe for use. Look at the bottle before you buy it. If the product contains triclosan or triclocarbon, do not purchase it. These are the antibacterial chemicals I was discussing. If the hand sanitizer is 60% alcohol or more, it should be effective. BUT the hand sanitizer only takes care of the germs on your hand. It will not remove any dirt or dust. Hand washing is always your best bet, but hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative.

  3. Kaitlin A Kemmerer

    A couple years ago my mom decided to stop buying antibacterial soap because regardless of how much we washed our hands we kept getting sick. So I find it really interesting that a study shows it could be hurting our immune systems. I was just wondering if you found anything about using hand sanitizer?

Leave a Reply