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Antibacterial Soap

Antibacterial Soap: To Use or Not to Use

Recent debate puts antibacterial soap into question: does it really work?

Washing our hands is one of the first things we learn to do growing up. It’s a crucial step that sanitizes our hands, ridding them of bacteria that can cause harm to us and others. It’s a simple process composed of a few easy steps:

  1. Wet hands in warm water
  2. Apply soap
  3. Wash and rinse hands for at least 20 seconds
  4. Dry

Although simple, recent debate has put step two into question. What type of hand soap should we be using — regular or antibacterial? Given the events of this year, this question has become particularly intriguing. Many want to know if antibacterial soap can help in the prevention of COVID-19 and other illnesses, but some presume that it could actually be doing the opposite.

What is antibacterial soap and how is it different?
Antibacterial soap uses different chemicals than regular soap — specifically ingredients that fight bacteria. These soaps are also described as antiseptic or antimicrobial. According to a study by Harvard University, antibacterial soap has many ingredients similar to that of regular soap. The only difference is an added chemical that supposedly prevents bacteria from multiplying. Something important to note is that antibacterial soap has no effect or preventative power over viruses, but is intended to stop bacteria from spreading.

Is it necessary?
Although antibacterial soap doesn’t prevent viruses like COVID-19, some have wondered if it can still help fight off bacteria-borne illnesses. Best practice is to wash hands with regular soap and water, using hand sanitizer as an additive.

This kind of soap might be labeled “antibacterial” but that doesn’t mean it’s working. Studies show that benefits from such soap haven’t yet been proven. Some suggest that it’s use might even be precarious to our health. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven. In addition, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised the question of potential negative effects on your health.”

When the COVID-19 outbreak first began, many gathered up on toilet paper, food storage and sanitizing supplies — including antibacterial soaps. And while antibacterial hand soap contains agents that may fight bacteria, the long-lasting effects of its use are still unknown. For now, it may be safer to use regular soap and water combined with hand sanitizer for the best defense against germs.


This article first appeared in the November 2020 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.