Please Do Not Use Antibacterial Hand Soap

by updated 2008/06/16

This is certainly not a new request, but one that has recently received more study and publicity. I wrote a while ago on environmental problems caused by soap in lakes, rivers and streams. The addition of the chemical antibiotic Triclosan to so many consumer products is just compounding the problems.

The group Beyond Pesticides has written a very complete fact sheet on the use of consumer products that contain Triclosan. There is also a much more recent study comparing antibacterial soap with regular soap that definitively shows no difference between the two in germ killing effectiveness.

We no longer use the Soft Soap brand antibacterial in our home. We started using it without thinking because this was the only large size hand soap that was sold at our local Costco. We have switched to using Lifetree brand liquid soap. I recently sent Costco an email asking them to discontinue selling the antibacterial soap. If any of you are Costco members, please feel free to copy and edit the below text of the email them. As they are usually pretty good about responding to customer requests, if they get a few emails, a change might actually be made!

_________________________________

Dear Costco:

At our local Costco you sell the large bottle of Soft Soap anti-bacterial hand soap. Recent evidence shows that non-antibacterial soap does as good a job at cleaning hands and killing germs as the anti-bacterial products. Also the bacterial soap creates real environmental problems. It has been shown to cause sex and reproductive problems in fish, for example. There is also the long standing concern of scientists and doctors that repeated use and exposure to the antibacterial soap is creating germs that are more resistant to antibiotics.

It would be nice if Costco offered a large size liquid hand or dish soap that was more environmentally friendly. One that we use, but of course were not able to purchase at Costco, is the 1 gallon size Lifetree brand biodegradable, phosphate-free dish and hand soap.

Thanks!

Related Post: Antibacterial Soap – The Saga Continues

Will Sig
1 Anna

Hi Will, good call with the soap. Funny how we as consumers get attracted to those things, but I think the soap and many other chem products are just big marketing scheme. When you work for manufacturing places, or know someone from those places you will know how marketing plays a big role in selling such products to consumers. I just wished that such studies were performed on many other products. They add little ingredient or no ingredient, or die (which is not healthy also) and suddenly they are saving a world. lol. anna :)

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2 Will

Hi Anna! Yes, that is a great point! Things like this come about more from marketing than science and that can sometimes cause trouble. I am doing some research right now about a chemical that has made its way into the blood of something like 97% of Americans and few know about it or if they have heard, don’t give it a second thought.

-Will

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3 Will

I received an email from a reader today saying that even though the Beyond Pesticides fact sheet is very thorough, it is a bit confusing. They thought that the most important part of the fact sheet, the list of products containing triclosan, was hard to read and buried too deep in the fact sheet and asked me to reproduce the list here. I did notice I had the link wrong, so now “fact sheet” in the post links directly to the PDF file. That might make it easier to read. I usually don’t like to reproduce content I can link to, so hopefully the PDF file will be easier to read.

The reader is correct though that the list is very important. It is on the bottom of page 4, (what they have labeled as page 15), so be sure to at least look at that.

-Will

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4 Marisa

My mom, a retired surgical RN, has been saying this very thing every since the whole antibacterial craze began. I’ve always valued my mom’s knowledge in such matters so I stuck with regular soap. In fact, I make my own soap. :)

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5 Will

Hi Marissa! I like your site. You are a very regular poster, sometimes more than one in a day! Sometimes I wish I was that way, but I have so many other activities I love! I am sure it is just good discipline on your part and I could do it if I really tried. Sometimes I wonder if what I write is really helping anyone. Then I get an email or comment that says “yes” and the motivation really gets a kick in the pants!

You make your own soap, wow. I would be interested in how you do that. Is there a description / recipe on you site?

I also would value your mother’s opinion on the use of the antibacterial soap in hospitals. I know they use a stronger solution and clean hands are very important in patient care. But I have heard from a few doctors and nurses that regular soap does as good a job even for the health care field. The studies I read make a point to exclude health care from their results. It may be that they are worried about liability?

-Will

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6 Marisa

My mom has been retired for 15 years but from what I remember, they may use antibacterial or stronger solutions due to open wound situations. It’s probably just an added measure of safety in the ER, surgery, etc. I’ll have to ask my mom about that.

I make soap using various types of oils and butters and lye. You can’t make soap without lye. Of course, the oils and butters react with the lye to cause a chemical reaction known as saponification. The end result, soap, should have no lye left in it. People always hear “lye” and think harsh. It isn’t, or at least it shouldn’t be.

I make a really moisturizing soap substituting goat’s milk for the water and it’s the creamiest, gentlest soap I’ve ever used. :) I’m planning to make a fresh batch soon and was thinking about posting some pictures of it if I remember.

Until then, I helped my youngest son with a school assignment a few years ago. He had to make a dinosaur with any material he chose. We used soap scraps from one of my batches, shaved it, wet it, and molded it like clay to make this:
http://www.mydandelionpatch.com/grph_lss/dino.jpg
http://www.mydandelionpatch.com/grph_lss/dino2.jpg

He got an A!

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7 Will

Cute!

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8 Will

And also, Marisa… If you do post the recipe for your goat’s milk soap on your site, feel free to link to it here so we can all try it!

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9 Shelley

I was just at Costco yesterday in Phoenix, AZ and purchased liquid soap which was anti-bacterial. It was called Method and is in a cool looking clear bottle in the shape of a teardrop. On the back it suggests that you reuse the bottle (which is this very cool shape) for a water bottle, vase or piggy bank. It also says, natural essential oils, triclosan free, no animal testing

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10 Will

Hi Shelly – Thanks for that. I found the Method soap on line. Could you take a look at this link and let us know if this is what Costco had? Method has this page also which leads me to believe that they indeed are making a antibiotic free product.

If this is the soap you bought, maybe you had a typo in your comment where you said it was advertised as antibacterial? Or maybe because any soap does the job of killing germs if you wash properly, Method chooses to advertise it as “antibacterial”. I have not seen this yet in our Costco, but would be interested in knowing if it does indeed say antibacterial on the bottle?

In any case, I would NOT reuse the bottle as a water bottle. Does it really suggest that on the packaging?

Thanks – Will

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11 Tria

Very interesting. I personally never fell into the “gotta have antibacterial soap” trend. I always felt that we need to build up natural immunities to bacteria instead. Nice to know, by not using it, I was doing my part for nature.

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12 Will

Hi Tria! Thanks for the comment and the digg. Many people never really had to have antibacterial hand soap, but for a while that was all Costco sold. So if you wanted to save money and get a big jug of soap to refill your dispensers, a lot of people just grabbed the Softsoap brand that Costco sold. Now they apparently have a better choice. I would like to think the got rid of the antibacterial altogether, but I don’t know. I’ll check the next time I am there.

I would also like to think that the reason Costco changed was the result of letters and emails like mine! It feels good to think that maybe we influenced a big business like Costco to make a positive change.

-Will

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13 AJ

You want to help save the planet? Stop shopping at Costco. Find a locally owned store that you can walk to. Walk there. And buy the soap there (and tell all of the people in your neighborhood to do the same). If there is merchandise the store does not have that you would like to purchase (hopefully locally made products with recycled packaging), tell them … no mass emails with the hope of a friendly response required. The amount of energy that goes into the production, packaging and distribution of the merchandise of the big box stores is incalculable.

I am sorry if my tone seems harsh. I am glad that you are considering the chemicals that you put on your body, let alone the chemicals you allow to be released into the environment. But this is not a small issue that can be solved with a small solution. The reality is that no person NEEDS ANYTHING that is not available in this small scale. Our demands for low cost has taxed our environment beyond repair, and we have destroyed the economy at the same time.

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14 Will

Hi AJ. Thanks for your comment! You are right on with supporting your local economy suggestion. We actually buy an environmentally friendly hand soap, in a gallon jug, in addition to most of they food I eat from a local health food market and are trying to get a food co-op started in town.

But, I believe that most people will also continue to shop at places like Costco, Home Depot, and probably the worst of them all, WalMart, because of the prices. People vote with their wallet and if we can influence their buying decisions at those stores and the influence the products those stores carry, this can make a difference.

Everything you say is correct and people who follow your advice are indeed making a bigger contribution than people who don’t. But I am just not an all or nothing personality, either in what I do or what I suggest to others. I am glad there are people like you to point out that there are ways folks can make a bigger difference if they choose to make bigger changes.

I do think insisting that people can only make positive changes in their lives if they go all the way, leaves the vast majority of people out of the loop of positive change. Sort of like telling someone that eats red meat three times a day and no vegetables they can only improve their health if they become a vegan. There is a lot in between the two ends of the spectrum.

-Will

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15 SusanneUK

Hi Will,

Another point on Triclosan, it’s a Carcinogen – over here in the UK one of our Supermarkets “Co-Op” stopped selling Carex Hand Pump Soap because it contains Triclosan.

I am also of the mindset that, if we bring some things to people’s attention that on a small scale, they can make a difference, then in effect, slowly but surely, we can make a difference to the planet, one household at a time. People tend to think that making a difference to the planet is lots and lots of huge steps which puts them off even trying, doing something little is better than doing nothing at all.

See you over at Blog Engage Forums :)

Sue

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16 Will

Hi Sue! Thanks for your comment. Triclosan in nasty all the way around!

I agree with you that bringing even just a few people’s attention to things like this help spread the knowledge needed to make informed consumer buying decisions.

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17 frogpondsrock

Thanks for that bit of information.. I didn’t know there were antibiotics in soap *sigh* I am pleased that I only use normal soap.. but I might have bought the anti-bacterial stuff if it was on special.. I wont buy it now..

cheers kim :)

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18 Will

You are welcome! I like your blog from Tasmania, a place I have always wanted to visit.

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19 Andy

hi there. good old soap is better than antibacterial. no issues in the waste stream. no issues re creating resistant bacteria. much cheaper. and when you consider how soap works, the antibac just isn’t needed. the value comes from getting rid of the bacteria, dirt etc… not killing it! soap is a surfactant. it causes stuff to become miscible in water — particularly warm water — so that it rinses off down the drain. the key is to wash with soap and tolerably hot water more often than most people do during the course of a normal day, particularly if you’re (for example) a parent caring for a child with a cold, or if you’re ill yourself and don’t want to spread the good news around. now here’s my cheapie tip: i always save those slivers of soap from the shower and then just sort of squeeze them onto the lump in the soap dish next to the sink. it’s fun! but then i’m starved for entertainment. I haven’t bought a bar of soap for the sink, or a bottle of liquid soap, in many years. it’s been the same hunk of soap in the dish all that time, it looks funky, I think it’s been since the Carter administration. I must say, it’s pathetic as a conversation starter.

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20 Mike Touch

The most effective part of washing your hands is the physical rubbing though obviously rubbing your hands in grime will not clean them!

Interesting post.

Cheers Will

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21 Betty

Good information…I will start changing my family soap with something else which does not contain Triclosan. Thanks for writing about this.

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22 Organic Eating Daily

Yes yes and yes. Anyone who hasn’t yet bothered to put some time into reading the comment string on this post in particular should take a minute — I believe the fundamental difference in the eco movement is laid out pretty clearly. Either you think there should only be massive, large-scale change, or you believe many people need to begin making small changes. I believe both need to happen, and the more everyone can do to support any kind of change, the better off we’ll all be.

Organic Eating Dailys last blog post..GT’s Multi-Green Kombucha

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23 Warcraft 3 Autorefresh

Man, I hadn’t even thought about this until reading this post. The runoff must be killer (literally).

Thanks for raising the awareness on this topic.

Warcraft 3 Autorefreshs last blog post..Improve Your Technorati Rank, Traffic, And Pagerank With Blog Carnivals

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24 Carla

I ran across the dangers of Triclosen accidentally which has
opened up a whole bag of worms regarding household cleaning products,
makeup, soaps ad infinitum. Is there anyone who can bring me into the
21st century with a list of products or website for a whirlwind
education. Lead in lipstick? I shudder to think I’ve been poisoning
my family all these years. So old, so little time and so worried!
Thanks Carla

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25 MRSA

How serious is MRSA and can you get it from human skin to skin contact?
My daughter just found out she has MRSA . She just recently had a baby 3 months ago. Can her baby or her sister’s get this from just being around her?

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26 Free Samples By Mail

Hi there Will,
It’s nice to know about that antibacterial soap. I never thought and know about that. I just think that my family can use it safely and that’s what matter. Never thought about the environment safety. So thanks for reminding me.

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27 Crazy Blogger

Maybe it depends on the kinds of product you used. Not all the anti bacterial soap used tat kind of thing. So maybe you can check before you buy. Keep it in mind and happy *soaping*…
.-= Crazy Blogger´s last blog ..Nokia Mobiles Tips and Tricks =-.

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28 Women's Clothing

I knew about this long time ago and have been warning people around me. I used to write it in my blog too, but the last blog had been swarmed by spammer, so I’m using the new one. Thanks for reminding us, though.
.-= Women’s Clothing´s last blog ..Shop For Zara Clothing Online =-.

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29 Going Green

I don’t think that all that kinds of soap are dangerous. Just be wise to choose which is good and which is bad.
.-= Going Green´s last blog ..Underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the threat about global warming =-.

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30 restaurantes madrid

What is the best about costco? That’s also antibacterial soap. What is the different then?
.-= restaurantes madrid´s last blog .. =-.

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31 Baseball Gloves

I always take caution while using the chemical products because it will do more harm then good. All those chemicals will have bad affect. I always choose natural products as far as I can.

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32 ghillie suit

It is always wise to avoid chemicals for you. Use natural products because they are 100% safe with zero side effect.

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33 cafe chairs

Yes, it’s been in the news few years ago, but there are still many people use antibacterial soap because some adverts said that it’s a great product. Gotta choose your add, I guess.

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34 zara clothing

Did you ever hear anything back from the company? I would love to know.
.-= zara clothing´s last blog ..Nordstrom Clothing =-.

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35 Will

I never did hear back. But out Costco stopped carrying it soon after.

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36 onagra

How serious is MRSA and can you get it from human skin to skin contact? Interesting post, i enjoy reading your blog

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37 Venus Smith

Having a knowledge on making soap at home is very important than using chemically anti bacterial soap. Hence, sanitizers or hand sanitizers before eating is most important than using hand soaps.

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38 Michelle Whyte

Hi,

I just started researching Softsoap Antibacterial soap because I had a allergic reaction to something and it was so bad I went to get a patch test. After the patch test the 1st chemical I was most allergic to was one called methylisothiazolinone and I started looking through all products in my home. Question: now knowing that this soap is environmentally bad I will stop using anyways but was hoping I can get help. In products I see an active ingredients and an inactive ingredients and wondering should I still pay attention to the inactive ingredients. What’s the difference between the two? Please help!

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