Antibacterial Soaps and Disinfectants

There are nearly 5000 synthetic and natural antimicrobial agents approved for use to kill germs and other microorganisms in consumer products. Antibacterial agents can now be found in antibacterial soaps, cosmetics, antiperspirants, toothpaste, clothing, lunch bags, mouse pads and clothes!  The overuse of antibacterial hand soaps, cleaning products and disinfectants comes with some unintended consequences. In fact, overuse of antibacterial products in the home has shown to cause chronic health effects such as endocrine disruption and allergies.

No added benefit for domestic use

The FDA states that antibacterial soaps are no more effective than just washing your hands with traditional soap and water furthermore traditional soap does not carry the numerous health and environmental problems that antibacterial are connected with. Disinfectants and hand sanitizers contain ingredients that can cause asthma.

Create Super Germs

Overuse of antibacterial contributes to stronger germs and less effective antibiotics.  How does this happen? When you overuse antibacterial soaps and when you take antibiotics unnessarly. Since they continue to kill some bacteria but not all, this leads to resistant super bacteria. So while you may be trying to kill germs immediately, ironically the use of antibacterial is actually contributing to build a larger and stronger germ population. For more information about super germs click here and here.

Hygiene Hypothesis

The hygiene hypothesis theorizes that being overly hygienic and killing off good bacterial exposure, can actually increase the chance of developing allergies and asthma. Studies have found that children who were exposed to more dirt and germs experienced less allergies in adulthood, compared to children who grew up in cleaner environments. For more information about the hygiene hypothesis, click here and here


Triclosan is one of the most common synthetic antibacterial agents found in products.  It is labeled as Microban in plastics and clothing and as Biofresh when used in acrylic fibers. Triclosan has been found to particularly harmful to health and has been linked to endocrine disruption, allergies and may affect breast cancer cells.  It also greatly affects the ecosystem and can impact the hormonal system of aquatic life.


Since most disinfectants contain ingredients that can cause asthma, it is important to use them wisely.  In order to kill germs as designed, most products must remain on the surface for 10 minutes; don’t just spray and wipe! Use disinfectants for places that people touch with bare skin – doorknobs and bathroom sinks, for example.  Remember that a good cleaning with general purpose cleaners alone removes more than 99% of germs.

What you can do

Instead of using antibacterial, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with traditional soap and water for at least 10-15 seconds.  When it is absolutely necessary to sanitize, use alcohol-based sanitizers. Read product labels, since antibacterial agents such as triclosan are found in many products such as toothpaste and are not always clearly labeled as antibacterial.

Additional Information for Antibacterial Soaps and Disinfectants

Commonwealth of Massachusetts
The State of Massachusetts guide of approved environmentally preferable products for procurement and purchasing for State agencies
Center for a New American Dreams
Tips on selecting cleaning products with the least toxic ingredients
Green Seal
Screens cleaning products for life cycle based environmental sustainability and safety
Janitorial Pollution Prevention Website
Deals with pollution prevention and increasing safety when working with cleaning products
National Institutes of Health’s Household Products Database
Helps to explain what exactly is: "nder your kitchen sink, in your garage, in your bathroom, and on the shelves in your laundry room"