1. Health

Are Antibacterial Soaps Better Than Regular Soaps?

Are They More Effective and Worth Paying More For?

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Updated December 12, 2012

Those of us who choose to stay healthy, but are exposed to germs at work, school, on public transportation, at the supermarket, anywhere else in public, and even at home, know that one of the most important keys to prevent illness is to keep our hands clean.

And, of course, the best way to keep our hands clean is to keep them washed.

In recent years, soap manufacturers have put antibacterial soaps on the market. They may be called other names, too, like "antimicrobial" or they may say "contains triclosan." Consumers purchase them, and sometimes pay extra for them, in hopes of killing the germs they've picked up. The belief must be that they will kill more germs, or more kinds of germs, or will kill them faster, or - who knows? - because most of us already realize that simply washing our hands well with regular soap will do the trick and get our hands clean.

So we have to ask two questions:

Question 1: Do anti-bacterial soaps kill more germs, or more kinds of germs, or kill germs faster?

According to many resources, including the CDC, anti-bacterial soaps aren't necessary for getting hands clean, and may even be dangerous. Here's why:

When hands are washed correctly for the right amount of time, then all the germs that need to be killed will be killed.

For any anti-bacterial agent to work effectively on hands to kill any additional germs, hands would need to be washed for two minutes or longer - something most of us don't do. (Although, that probably explains why surgeons seem to scrub their hands for such a long time.)

Perhaps surprisingly, the goal for most of us is not to kill all germs. In fact, some germs are good ones and are necessary for healthy living.

Finally, one problem with the widespread use of antibiotics is the Darwin effect; that is, that the germs learn to overcome the agent that's killing them. By putting antibacterial agents into our everyday-use soap, we invite those germs to get stronger, quicker, which means we may eventually get sicker from them.

Question 2: Are anti-bacterial soaps worth the price?

Based on the answer to question #1 - the answer would be no.

It seems, then, that not only should we NOT be purchasing and using antibacterial soaps, we should also be actively avoiding them. Continued and constant use of regular old soap and water, using good hand washing practices, should do the trick.

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