In the summer of 2007, we were enjoying our first summer with our oldest son, W, who at the time was 5 months old. Like many parents (especially new ones), we cautiously researched products we used for and around our baby boy, wanting to make the best and healthiest decisions for him.
Because of concerns about my immune system, I was already cautious about the cleaning products we used, and opted for non-toxic brands - often using natural cleaners such as vinegar. We also used regular hand-washing as a tactic to help prevent the spread of germs and keep our little guy healthy. I didn't put much thought into the hand soap we used, and usually just purchased what smelled good. That year, however, I started paying more attention.
#1: Anti-bacterial soaps can foster the growth of resistant bacteria
In their June 2007 issue, Scientific American published an article reporting that regular hand soap not only works as well as anti-bacterial hand soap, but that the anti-bacterial variety could be doing us more harm than good. Basically, regular soap does its job by lifting germs from the surface of your hands so that they can be washed away. But anti-bacterial soap leaves behind a residue that could actually promote the growth of resistant bacteria. It was at this time that I stopped buying anti-bacterial soaps, and from then on have purchased regular soap. It was also at this time that I stopped buying soap from Bath and Body Works, when I couldn't find a one there that wasn't anti-bacterial.
The active ingredient in many anti-bacterial products is triclosan. At the current time, the FDA has taken the stance that triclosan poses no risk to humans. However, it does concede that animal studies have shown that it can impact hormone regulation and the agency is currently exploring human and environmental impacts further. Additionally, the FDA has not found any benefit to using anti-bacterial soap instead of plain old soap and water.
#2: Anti-bacterial products can harm the environment
In January 2013, the University of Minnesota published a study that found large amounts of triclosan in bodies of water that receive treated waste water. Even after treatment, triclosan can harbor the growth of dioxins, which are a chemical contaminant potentially toxic to the environment, and which can cause health issues in humans.
Based on this study, the state of Minnesota decided to phase out the use of anti-bacterial products in state agencies by June of this year.
The bottom line...
There are no known benefits for using anti-bacterial soap for most of the population. However, the costs include harming our environment and potentially sickening ourselves. In fact, in doing my research, I found a presentation published by Tufts University with concerns about anti-bacterial household products, even linking them to allergies. It was dated June 2001. Why are we still using these products?
While we're on the topic of soap...
I like method soap (among other products), available at Target. For the soap pumps used by our children, I prefer the foaming pump over the regular liquid soap. We tend to get more uses per ounce from those, and the bathrooms don't end up with liquid soap "goop" all over the dispenser, counter, and sink. In the kitchen, I like Caldrea or Thymes.
What you can do