Antibacterial Soap a Wash

Old-Fashioned Soap Works Just As Well

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 24, 2002 -- Sure, it matches your gorgeous towels. But most "antibacterial" hand soap kills germs no better than regular soap, according to an NIH study.

The results were presented at the 40th annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America held in Chicago this week.

"It makes you wonder why they call it antibacterial, because according to our research, it isn't any more so than plain soaps," says lead researcher Elaine Larson, PhD, RN, associate dean for research at the Columbia University School of Nursing in New York, in a news release.

In their study, Larson and colleagues focused on the hand-cleaning habits of caretakers in 222 New York households. Every day for a year, half used an antibacterial soap and half used regular soap.

Bacterial cultures were taken at the beginning and the end of the year. They showed that both groups had fewer bacteria at the end, but neither had more than the other.

"We found antimicrobial or antibacterial soaps provide no added value over plain soap," she adds.

But what about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance? Many health experts are concerned that the ubiquitous use of triclosan, the antibacterial agent most commonly found in such soaps, could add to that problem.

While there is no proof that antibacterial soaps can lead to resistance, "if there's even a theoretical risk of that, why use it," says Larson.

The Soap and Detergent Association sees Larson's study as testimony that the products do their job -- "since the primary role of antibacterial hand soaps is to kill transient bacteria that are acquired and which may be transferred following such tasks as preparing food, changing diapers, caring for a sick person, etc., and not to affect or eliminate normal skin bacteria," according to the association's news release. -->