The Truth about Antibacterial Soap

By Kendall Stacey (RN & Board Certified Infection Prevention Specialist)

Recent research on antibacterial soap shows that triclosan, usually the main ingredient in antibacterial soap, is a carcinogenic – a cancer-causing agent. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there isn’t enough research showing a benefit to antibacterial soap and long-term use shows a negative effect on your health.

Mission Health Infection Prevention made the decision for Mission Health to go triclosan-free nearly three years ago due to concerns about triclosan. Here, we address some common questions and misconceptions about hand soap.

Q: Is antibacterial hand soap effective in killing germs and keeping us healthy?

A: Antibacterial soap is no more effective than plain soap at keeping us healthy. When washing your hands with soap and water, the most effective way to remove germs from your hands is by rubbing your hands together. The soap will remove the oils that bind dirt and germs to your hands. Then, when you rinse, the dirt and germs will go down the drain.

Q: Is it true that antibacterial soap can lead to new “super-bacteria” in our environment?

A: There are a few studies that have linked triclosan to antibiotic resistance. The scientific community recognizes that bacteria in labs are mutating to resist triclosan, but have had less luck recreating the resistance in real-life situations. The jury is still out on this one, but Mission Infection Prevention will be watching the research to keep abreast of new updates.

Q: What is your recommendation for hand soap at home: only antibacterial soap, only regular hand soap or a combination of the two?

A: Antibacterial soap is not necessary and is no better at preventing illness than plain soap and water. If you practice good hand hygiene, plain soap, 20 seconds of friction and rinsing with water, it doesn’t matter if the germs are dead, because the harmful germs will simply go down the drain.

Proper hand hygiene is the number one way to prevent the spread of infection. Everyone — healthcare professionals, patients, residents, families, and volunteers— should clean their hands thoroughly and at appropriate times to prevent the spread of disease.

Kendall Stacey is a registered nurse and Board Certified Infection Prevention Specialist at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. As an IP Specialist, Kendall’s primary IP responsibilities are in Emergency Management, Highly Infectious Disease planning, Environment of Care issues, Environmental Services Liaison. She is also the consulting IP to the Emergency Department, OR and Procedural areas, Sterile Processing, EMS and Decontamination Teams.