Why Antibacterial Soap Isn’t Typically Worth the Hype

When it comes to keeping hands clean, nothing more is needed than good old-fashioned soap and water.

In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is urging consumers to opt for plain soap over products that expose people to unnecessary and potentially damaging ingredients. In addition, a recent ruling states that “antibacterial active ingredients—including triclosan and triclocarban—will no longer be able to be marketed.”

Why is hand washing important?

Jill Geisler, RN, CIC, System Infection Prevention & Control Manager, ProMedica, explains, “We pick up transient bacteria when we touch doorknobs, weight-lifting equipment, water taps and grocery carts, for example, and pass it on to anything—and anyone—we touch.”

As stated on the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Feces from people or animals is an important source of germs like Salmonella E. coli and norovirus that cause diarrhea, and it can spread some respiratory infections like adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease. A single gram of human feces—which is about the weight of a paper clip—can contain one trillion germs.”

These germs can—and do—kill. According to the CDC’s website, approximately 1.8 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia (learn more about how a pneumonia vaccine can help protect children). Hand washing with soap can protect one out of every three children who get sick with diarrhea and one out of five with respiratory infections.

Is your child washing their hands correctly?

This infographic will help make sure you’re getting rid of all the germs.

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How does hand washing work?

Geisler stresses, “You just have to be thorough—wash all surfaces of your hands and between fingers for at least 20 seconds and then rinse and use a paper towel to dry off and to turn the water off (so you don’t pick up the same transient bacteria you picked up when you turned it on).” The soap chemically works to break down the oil while the “lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, which helps lift dirt, grease and microbes from skin,” according to the CDC.

While ruling that antibacterial soap may no longer be commercially marketed or sold, “the FDA has not suggested removing it in healthcare settings,” Geisler says. “They are recommending its continued use in health care while more studies are being conducted.”

Geisler stresses that because “it is the most important factor in preventing the transmission of organisms that cause infections in healthcare settings, every ProMedica employee is educated in hand hygiene. Also, hand hygiene compliance is monitored and the results are used for an overall plan for improvement.”

Bottom line: Focus on the quality of your technique and not the quality of your soap.

Click here to learn why hand washing is especially important in preventing norovirus.