Could Antibacterial Soap Do More Harm Than Good?

Should you use antibacterial soap?. Mike Kemp/Tetra Images/Getty Images

Antibacterial soaps are everywhere these days. It seems like every other commercial on TV is advertising soap or a cleaner that "kills 99.9% of germs." It sounds great. Who wouldn't want to have cleaner hands and countertops, right? I know I don't particularly want nasty bacteria and viruses crawling all over my house and my kids. After all, that's how you get sick.

Current Status

However, there is increasing concern that all these great antibacterial products may actually be contributing to the resistance of bacteria to medications that we currently use to kill them. Although antibacterial soaps were developed with the intention of reducing illness, there is little evidence they are actually doing that and increasing concern that they could actually contribute to the very real threat of antibiotic resistance.


Many studies have been performed over the past 30 or so years to test the efficacy of various types of soaps and cleaners.

In 2013, the FDA decided to require manufacturers of these over the counter antibacterial products to prove that their products are not only safe but that they provide a benefit that outweighs any risk the ingredients in their products might carry. There is increasing consumer among consumer and environmental groups that ingredients in these products - namely triclosan - may be harmful.

Study Results

In a review of multiple studies spanning nearly thirty years, no significant benefit was found when comparing antibacterial soaps to "regular" soap. Some studies found a connection between the use of triclosan and an increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria. Those results have not been duplicated enough to determine a definite risk, but many researchers and the FDA believe more studies need to be done to determine if the benefits of these products outweigh the potential risks.

Where It Stands

  • Antibacterial soaps and cleaners provide no greater benefit than regular soaps and cleaners.
  • Antibacterial soap and cleaners (with 0.1-0.4% triclosan) do not necessarily contribute to drug resistance, but more research is needed to determine if there could be a correlation.
  • More research is needed to come to any definite conclusions about the risks or benefits of antibacterial products.
  • The FDA and EPA are reviewing the safety and efficacy of triclosan both in antibacterial products and pesticides.


    Aiello AE, Marshall B, Levy SB, Della-Latta P, Lin SX, Larson E. Antibacterial cleaning products and drug resistance. Emerg Infect Dis. 2005 Oct. 17 Apr 2007.

    Aiello, Allison; Larson, Elaine; Levy, Stuart. Consumer Antibacterial Soaps: Effective or Just Risky? Clinical Infectious Diseases Vol 45. Issue Supplement 2. Pp S137-S147. Oxford Journals. 18 Feb 14.

    FDA Taking a Closer Look at "Antibacterial" Soap. Consumer Updates. 24 Dec 13. US Food and Drug Administration. Department of Health and Human Services. 18 Feb 14.

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