Dial antibacterial soap advertises that it is "over 10x more effective at killing disease-causing germs than ordinary liquid hand soaps"(1). To the average consumer a soap with the ability to kill more germs seems to be more effective. But is a more powerful antibacterial soap always better? Various studies suggest that antibacterial soaps can be harmful and may lead to problems like super bugs, dry skin, and hand eczema. According to current research antibacterial soaps are no better than traditional soaps when it comes to house hold use.
Antibacterial cleaning agents have fast become a popular alternative to traditional cleaning products. These soaps, shampoos, dishwashing detergents, and toothpastes are marketed as antibacterial products and have become popular household items. In fact 75% of liquid soaps and 30% of bar soaps on the market are considered antibacterial(2). These antibacterial products are so popular because they are intended to decrease bacteria. They wipe out more germs than regular soap. This means that they should decrease a person's chance of getting sick. As Janet Donohue of www.germsmart.com suggests "they kill germs, thus breaking the cycle of infection"(3). In addition to killing germs some antibacterial products are easier to use than traditional soap and water. For example, there are many hand sanitizers that do not require water. A user simply applies the soap to his hands and the dirt "disappears". These products seem magic, but as we know magic does not exist in science.
To fully understand how antibacterial products work one must learn how soap works. Soap consists of an acid and a base(4). The acid known as triglycerides mixes with the base sodium hydroxide. This combination makes the fatty acid separate from the triglycerides and fuse with the hydroxide ions(3). This forms the salt we know as soap. Soap has the ability to decrease the surface tension of water. It also binds to dirt and germs. These two qualities allow soap to cling to unwanted dirt and wash away easily.
While soap does a good job of removing dirt and germ it does not kill all of the bacteria. Antibacterial soap has the ability to wash away more germs and bacteria. Antibacterial soaps are made with triclosan and some include triclocarbon. These agents are antibacterial and target certain bacteria. This means that antibacterial soaps are stronger than the traditional soaps. Scientist believe that "triclosan targets a gene in E. Coli bacteria"(1). The intention is to prevent the bacteria from reproducing. This limits the amount of bacteria present on a person's skin after using an antibacterial soap. In theory this helps decrease illnesses.
Despite it's intentions, triclosan may cause serious problems for its users. Although it was once believed that triclosan "attacks bacteria membranes and kills indiscriminately...much like a bomb"(5), new research suggests otherwise. Studies by...