Do I Need To Use Antibacterial Or Disinfectant Cleaning Products?

Blueland hand washing foaming soap

Written by: Syed Naqvi, Head of Product Development + Innovation @Blueland

Antibacterial cleaners and hand soap sound good for keeping germs, like bacteria and viruses at bay, but are they? According to the FDA, there is no evidence that antibacterial hand soaps have any added benefit for fighting germs compared to non-antibacterial soaps. In addition, there are several studies that show non-antibacterial cleaners to be just as effective at removing bacteria and viruses as antibacterial cleaners, without the potential health risks associated with antibacterial cleaners. These studies suggest that antibacterial soaps and cleaners might actually be doing more harm than good. 

Should I Use Antibacterial Soap? 

According to the FDA, there is no evidence that you should use antibacterial soaps, as they contain ingredients like triclosan, which have no clear benefit. Antibacterial agents in cleaners and hand soaps are a relatively new phenomenon. In the 1940’s a Swiss company patented a chemical ingredient called triclosan. By the 1970s, triclosan was the main ingredient in commercial and household antibacterial soaps. And even today, triclosan continues to be the primary antibacterial agent in most hand soaps, despite published concerns from the FDA. While triclosan has some useful properties in personal care products like toothpaste, there are concerns over the addition of triclosan everyday soap products. Large amounts of triclosan cause negative impacts to the environment. Specifically, algae in aquatic ecosystems are harmed by high concentrations of triclosan leaking into the environment. 

Another concern with triclosan and other antibacterial agents is the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. Widespread use of antibacterial cleaners and soaps with triclosan and other agents are a public health concern, as it allows bacteria to adapt and mutate, developing properties that cause triclosan resistance and could expand to other forms of antibacterial resistance. 

In addition to triclosan, there are other additives to soaps that make them antibacterial. In 2016, the FDA proposed a ban of 19 of these additives because there was no direct evidence that they actually improved the performance of hand soap. 

Should I Use Antibacterial Cleaners? 

Similarly, antibacterial cleaners contain ingredients that cause health concerns. According to a Canadian study, referenced in the Harvard Medical School Health Blog, antibacterial cleaners are linked to health effects like childhood weight gain and obesity. Antibacterial cleaners kill bacteria on surfaces, including good bacteria. Some types of bacteria are important for early childhood development, as they help children’s gut health develop normally. If these bacteria aren’t present in a child’s normal home environment, there might be health consequences. The Canadian study suggests there is a link between antibacterial cleaners and early childhood obesity. 

In addition to potential health risks, concerns over drug-resistant bacteria are also applicable for antibacterial cleaners. Like antibacterial soaps, antibacterial cleaners create an environment in which certain types of bacteria adapt and become resistant to the antibacterial agents in cleaners. 

Are Antibacterial Cleaners And Soaps Effective? 

According to several studies, antibacterial cleaners are no more effective than non-antibacterial cleaners at removing germs. In one study, by Cook’s Illustrated, antibacterial and non-antibacterial cleaners had the same amount of bacterial removal. The FDA states that regular, non-antibacterial hand soap is effective for the removal of bacteria and viruses. Hand washing with plain, non-antibacterial soap is the best way to prevent the contraction and spread of illness.

It should also be noted that antibacterial cleaners and soaps that aren’t disinfectants are not anti-viral and don’t contain any additives to kill viruses of any kind. Disinfectants do contain antimicrobial ingredients that can kill viruses and bacteria. Antimicrobial ingredients target microorganisms in general, which can include bacteria and viruses, but not all disinfectants are antibacterial and or anti-viral. Many disinfectants, including disinfecting wipes, contain quaternary ammonium compounds. These compounds serve as an alternative antimicrobial agent to bleach. While these compounds are effective at killing bacteria and viruses, they are not typically recommended for household use, where regular cleaners and soaps are sufficient, as they can cause skin and eye irritation. 

The FDA suggests that there is no need to use antibacterial agents in hand soaps, as there are no added benefits and the potential health impacts are still unknown. How can non-antibacterial cleaners and soaps be as effective as those that contain antibacterial agents? We’ll explain. 

How Do Non-Antibacterial Cleaners And Soap Work? 

Non-antibacterial and antibacterial cleaners and soap have the same basic properties. Both types of cleaners and soaps contain surfactants that break up and loosen the adherence of bacteria and viruses on your skin and surfaces. This allows the germs to be washed off of the surface of your hands and home surfaces. Non-antibacterial cleaners and soaps are as effective at washing away germs, leaving your hands and surfaces clean. The difference is that non-antibacterial cleaners and soaps don’t contain any agents to kill the bacteria on your hands, just remove them from your hands and surfaces altogether. Non-antibacterial cleaners and soaps provide the same level or cleanliness without the added risk to the environment and potential risk to your health. The FDA states that hand washing with regular, non-antibacterial soap is an important part of staying healthy. 

FDA Quote one use of plain hand soap

How To Effectively Use Non-Antibacterial Cleaners And Soaps 

Studies have proved that non-antibacterial cleaners and soaps are effective at removing germs. For cleaners, spray non-antibacterial cleaners on the surface. Wait a few seconds, and then wipe away with a clean towel.

For hand washing, what is most important for keeping germs at bay, is how you wash your hands. When you wash your hands, doctors recommend washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. First, run your hands under warm water. Then add soap, and wash your hands together for 20 seconds, making sure to wash your palms, backs of your hands and under your fingernails. Washing your hands with plain soap and water for 20 seconds allows the surfactants of the soap to work with the washing motion and break up bacteria and viruses. Finally, rinse your hands with warm water and dry with a clean towel or air dry. According to the FDA this is your best defense against bacteria and viruses. 

Blueland’s Foaming Hand Soaps 

Our Foaming Hand Soap is made with non-toxic ingredients. We don’t include any antibacterial or disinfectant agents in our hand soaps. Instead, we rely on the surfactants in our hand soap to wash away viruses and bacteria. What is most important with our products and other products is how you use them.

WHO Hand washing guidelines

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