Skip to content

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Plain Soap as Good as Antibacterial

Researchers Say Regular Soap Kills Germs as Well as Antibacterial Soap
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 17, 2007 -- Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than plain soap and water for killing disease-causing germs, but the jury is still out on whether they promote antibiotic resistance in users, a newly published research analysis shows.

Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health reviewed 27 studies examining the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial products containing the active ingredient triclosan.

That includes most commercially available soaps, detergents and other products with the word 'antibacterial' on their labels, with the notable exception of alcohol-based hand gels.

Soaps containing triclosan at concentrations commonly seen in products sold to the public were found to be no better for killing bacteria and preventing infectious illness than soaps that did not contain triclosan.

"Antibacterial soaps do not provide a benefit above and beyond plain soaps for generally healthy people living in the community," researcher Allison Aiello, PhD, tells WebMD.

"Washing your hands is extremely important for preventing the spread of infectious illness, especially at critical points like after using the toilet, changing the baby, or handling raw foods. But consumers can't assume that antibacterial soaps are better for this than other soaps."

Antibacterial Soap, Antibiotic Resistance

Along with University of Michigan colleagues Elaine Larson, RN, PhD, and Stuart Levy, MD, Aiello has conducted some of the largest and most rigorously designed studies examining the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial products.

Studies in their own laboratory first showed that triclosan can cause some bacteria to become resistant to widely used antibiotics like amoxicillin, but this has not been shown outside the lab.

In another of their studies, 238 families were told to either use triclosan-containing cleaning and hygiene products for a year or similar products without the antibacterial agent. Skin testing conducted before, during, and after the intervention suggested that both cleansing regimens were equally effective for killing germs.

There was also no evidence of an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the hands of people who washed with the antibacterial products.

A spokesman for the soap industry tells WebMD that no evidence exists outside the laboratory linking the use of antibacterial soaps and cleansers to the promotion of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

"It is egregious to continually hype the hypothesis that these products are contributing to antibiotic resistance," Brian Sansoni of the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) tells WebMD. "These researchers keep raising the specter of what could happen, but it is a ghost story without a ghost."

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
 
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
 
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
Slideshow
cold weather
VIDEO
 
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Article
Boy holding ear
Slideshow
 

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

woman receiving vaccine shot
Article
woman with fever
Article
 
Waking up from sleep
Article
woman with sore throat
Slideshow