Does Antibacterial Soap Work Better Than Regular Soap?

Soaping up with warm water is the No. 1 way to fight against cold and flu viruses. But when it comes to the type of soap — antibacterial or plain old regular — does one work better than the other?

Also, watch out for TRICLOSAN in your soaps.

5 Replies

  • Shazie, good to see some balanced reporting on this real problem for us - what to wash with without risking further development of bacterial antibiotic resistance.

    I make one exception to the avoid triclosan recommendation. When I was diagnosed with CLL/SLL, my haematologist told me to stop flossing my teeth as I was very neutropenic (ANC = 0.4). I've found that Colgate Total does help reduce tartar build-up and hence the risk of gingivitis per the comment in the second reference: 'Dr. James M. Steckelberg of the Mayo Clinic. “While triclosan added to toothpaste has been shown to help prevent gingivitis, there's no evidence that antibacterial soaps and body washes containing triclosan provide any extra benefits, according to the Food and Drug Administration.”' I figure that if it helps me go for longer between dental cleans for which my haematologist has prescribed a prophylactic antibiotic, then that's a good trade off.

    Here are some previous postings on this subject with links to articles from academics published in "The Conversation":

    Health Check: should I use antibacterial hand sanitisers?

    The current situation with regards to Triclosan as of July 2014:

    If you can't be bothered to read the last article, at least don't miss out on this fun musical production to remind you to wash your hands - found by PaulaS


  • Possibly a dumb question from me. Why would we expect anti-bacterial soaps to be any better than normal ones in knocking out cold and flu viruses? They are anti-bacterial not anti-virus.

    What am I misunderstanding?


  • Good point Rob. It's a pity that the article doesn't reference the CDC study that purportedly triggered the article. Once you get past the introduction, mind, there's increased emphasis on reducing infection, rather than the narrow focus on cold and flu infection, which I agree you would not expect triclosan to influence given I can't find any indication that triclosan may have antiviral properties.

    I couldn't find the mentioned CDC study, but found that the CDC does have a good web page on antibiotic use and resistance:

    In particular this section on antibacterial products:

    which answers the posed question "Are antibacterial-containing products (soaps, household cleaners, etc.) better for preventing the spread of infection? Does their use add to the problem of resistance?" and includes this interesting sentence: "CDC looks forward to any future data about the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial consumer products and will continue to adjust recommendations based on the best available science."

    This article from the Kaplan University is dated today, talks about the same CDC study and includes CDC references - but from 2009 and one that was last accessed by whoever wrote the Kaplan article in 2005, yet it was updated by CDC a year ago!


    Who will find the actual CDC study and will it be a recent one?


  • Good posting by all so I will just add that I do not use antibacterial anything. In my context as a CLLer I am reasonably healthy regarding any infectious agents. I might think differently if I were frequently sick.

    My main beef with anti-bacterial stuff is that it goes down the drain and into the environment where bacterial critters will build up a resistance and everyone will be worse off. Secondly, the image of the product peddlers is that you are bacteria free after using the soap. That is not true. We live in a sea of ever renewable bacteria both external and internal. cultivating the healthy bacteria is the goal and routine hygiene to reduce excess population load at any given time is part of my strategy.


  • Well said. :) particularly when you also consider the concerns about the potential endocrine disruption by chemicals we let loose in the environment. We know now that bacteria exchange DNA, so by exposing bacteria in the environment to antibacterials, we are just increasing the opportunity for resistance to develop and find its way back into bacteria with which we are in contact or in fact live within us. Then all we need is for an antibiotic administered for a minor infection to kill off good bacteria that normally reign in bad bacteria and the bad bacteria, now with antibiotic resistance, run riot. Nearly killed me 35 years ago when that happened to me after being given antibiotics for an ear infection.


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