Saturday, August 3, 2013

Is Antibacterial Soap Really More Effective?

Dial says that there antibacterial soap is ten times more effective at killing disease causing germs than a regular liquid hand soap. To a consumer, a soap that has the ability to kill more germs seems more effective. However, a variety of research has shown that antibacterial soaps can be harmful and can lead to problems such as dry skin and superbugs. Professionals are now starting to think that antibacterial soaps are no better than regular soaps when it comes to household use.
Antibacterial products have become more popular than the traditional products for household use. They have become so popular because they wipe out more germs than regular soap. This means that they should lower a person's chance of getting sick. In addition to killing germs, antibacterial products are also easier to use than traditional products. Hand sanitizers are a great example. Instead of using soap and water, the person simply puts a dab of hand sanitizer on his/hers hand and the germs disappear like magic. But as we know, there is no magic in science.
So how does this magic happen? Well to understand how antibacterial products work, we have learn how soap works in general. Soap consists of an acid and a base. The acid, triglycerides, mixes with the base, sodium hydroxide. This mixture makes the fatty acid separate from the triglycerides and fuse with the hydroxide ions. This forms the salt we call soap. Soap has the ability to decrease the surface tension of water and bind to dirt and germs. These qualities allow soap to cling to unwanted dirt and wash it away easily.
While soap does a good job of removing dirt and germs,  it does not do a good job of killing all the bacteria. Antibacterial soaps are made with triclosan, some even include triclocarban. These agents are antibacterial and target certain bacteria. This means that antibacterial soaps are stronger than the traditional soaps and can wash away more germs and bacteria. Researchers believe that triclosan targets a gene in Escherichia Coli bacteria, trying to prevent bacteria from reproducing. This limits the amount of bacteria present on a person's skin. So in theory, this should help lower the risk of illnesses.
Despite triclosans intentions, it could cause serious problems for users. Studies have shown negative attributes for antibacterial products. Triclosan does not kill off all the bacteria, it only kills weak bacteria leaving the stronger bacteria to reproduce. Inhibited by an enzyme in fatty acid biosynthesis, triclosan produces a gene called FabL. This mutation in the FabL gene causes resistance to bacteria. Meaning that antibacterial products are strengthening bacteria rather than killing them off.
A problem with antibacterial products is the creation of superbugs. It is the nature of bacteria to adapt so that it can survive. The bacteria with the ability to survive antibacterial soaps reproduce, making bacteria as a unit more powerful. Researchers fear that after years of killing off weak bacteria, all that will be left is a powerful bacteria that we are not able kill off. The sterile environment created by antibacterial washes might be more conducive to more powerful germs. In addition to strengthening bacteria, dermatologists say that overuse of antibacterial soap can spread certain skin diseases. Antibacterial soaps can dry out skin which can lead to open sores. When someone shakes other peoples hands with those open sores, that person could spread more bacteria than if they would have just used regular soap. However, since hospitals are an environment that is so encouraging for bacteria, the use of use of antibacterial products have been proven effective in those types of places. The problem is that the antibacterial soaps are so readily available to consumers, that they are being abused in homes.
In conclusion, antibacterial soaps are more trouble than they are worth. They are useful in hospital type places, but at home they are no more effective than regular soaps. Many researchers believe the problem of spreading germs actually falls on improper hand washing. Most people don't wash their hands thoroughly or long enough. As a result, germs are spread through handshakes and everyday contact. Studies of antibacterial soaps prove that there is no absolute way to prevent the spread of bacteria. Instead of trying to wipe bacteria altogether, we should just work on limiting our exposure to too many bacteria with regular products.


  1. I found your research very interesting. Antibacterial sounds so much better than just regular soap. If you go to Walmart it seems like everything is antibacterial anymore, after reading this article its more or less just a marketing scheme. I am frequently using hand sanitizer thinking that it is doing the same job and using hot water and soap, I will now think twice when I wash my hands.

  2. Bacterial resistance to medication is a huge problem. While reading your article, I remembered the articles that we read/ listened to that talk about how we need bacteria just as much as we need to get rid of it. Did you find any information on how antibacterial soaps might be washing away good bacteria? Just a thought.

  3. I liked this post, it's interesting. I work with someone who is always going on about how people get sick because they use all the hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps which leads to weaken immune systems. Which I think is true because if we dont expose ourselves to germs, how will our body's build up immunity to them? Not that I go rolling around in the mud or anything.

  4. My mom always tells me about the anti-bacterial clorox wipes. It is interesting how does help but when you think about viruses, it doesn't help in that affect.