Choose Regular Soap over Antibacterial Soap

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Learn more about antibacterial soap and the environment

Antibacterial soap and disinfectants may contain triclosan or other active ingredients classified by the EPA as pesticides. Studies by government scientists have shown that regular use of antibacterial soap allows bacteria to become resistant to them and can irritate the skin, especially the skin of infants and children. In fact, in 2005, an FDA panel, in an 11 to 1 vote, warned that popular mass-marketed antibacterial soaps and washes showed no evidence of preventing infections more effectively than hand washing with regular soap.

The FDA asked for the panel’s advice because of concerns that common antimicrobial agents used in the soaps, such as triclosan and triclocarban, that can also be found in products ranging from deodorants to plastics, accumulate in groundwater and soil. As they build up in the environment, these chemicals could eventually contaminate drinking water and farmed food. This could give rise to potentially dangerous resistant bacteria.

Several experts caution that even the potential risk of resistance may not be worth continued mass marketing of soaps that have no proven benefit to consumers. Drug-resistant bacteria are considered a major health threat by public health experts. Some strains, including S. aureus (staph), have shown increased levels of resistance to multiple antibiotics. The safest solution is to wash your hands frequently for 15 seconds at a time with warm soapy water and using paper towels or air drying to avoid transmitting infections.


Allison E. Aiello et al, “Consumer Antibacterial Soaps: Effective or Just Risky?” Clinical Infectious Diseases, 45 Suppl 2:S137-47, 2007

Litjen Tan, PhD; Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, PhD; Donald C. Young, MD; Zoltran Trizna, MD, PhD; for the Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association,

Get More Information:

Contact the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute ( for updated information and evidence-based resources.