In September 2016 in the USA, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) made this statement that antibacterial products are no more effective than soap and water and could cause long term harm. They have now passed a federal law and companies have till September 2017 to remove the identified harmful ingredients. Press Announcement . The ruling applies to antibacterial soaps and washes that contain one or more of 19 active ingredients, the big culprits being the most commonly used chemicals triclosan and triclocarban. This affects 2100 products, about 40 percent of the over-the-counter antibacterial soap market.  CNN Report

In 2002, Dr Peter Collignon, Director of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Canberra Hospital, wrote this article. It was published in ABC Science.

The Australian Institute of Dangerous Goods Consultants defines PERC as:

A leading Australian microbiologist has labelled the widespread use of antibacterial agents on consumer goods as moronic”.

Dr Collingnon believes the use of antimicrobial agents on everything from pillows and mattress protectors to lunch bags and garbage bags is not only ineffective, but may be bad for public health. 

Antibacterial agents in garbage bags and lunch wrappings is a moronic use,” said Dr Collignon. What will kill you is not the bacteria in your lunch bag, but the bacteria in the chicken that you’ve left standing at room temperature for too long.”

“These disinfectants and antibacterial agents are basically a waste of money and they are giving people a false sense of security,” he said. The whole ethos is wrong.”

Dr Collignon said there was “little justification” for the use of antimicrobials even in rags used to wipe kitchen benchtops, where soap and water would do just as well. 

“Basic things turn out to be the most effective. This is just marketing exploiting people’s fear.”

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Here we are 15 years later. A big concern is the widespread use of antibacterial soaps in the schools of Australia. As parents we are asked to donate hand washes each term (which I support) so children can wash their hands properly BUT there are no controls over the product choices. A starting point, talk to our local school.

It is important to note that antibacterial products can also be labelled as antiseptic or antimicrobial and can include:

  • Soaps and detergents
  • Hand lotions
  • Disinfectants
  • Cleaning cloths
  • Window cleaners
  • Surface sprays
  • Mouthwashes
  • Toothpastes
  • Garbage bags and plastic wrap
  • Textiles and carpet underlay.

The Concerns

  1. The products are ineffective in their claims - a waste of time and money.

    Back in 1997 a company Hasbro was fined for false advertising, claiming their Playskool toys laden with the antimicrobial chemical triclosan would keep kids healthier.

    Studies cited by manufacturers to support claims for their products have been largely dismissed by the FDA. Of the best available studies the agency identified, none showed any clinical benefit for consumers from using antibacterial soap over regular soap and water.
  2. The products present a health risk

    Triclosan is linked to hormone disruption amongst other things. In 2014, the FDA requested companies demonstrate the safety of the chemicals for long term use and they didn't or couldn't prove it. A big concern is that use of triclosan is not regulated in other products such as plush toys, building blocks, craft supplies like markers and scissors. The only guide for consumers is to avoid anything labelled as anti....; antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic.

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    Dr Louis Tremblay, an environmental toxicologist and project leader for the government-funded Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research in NZ stated that “Triclosan is constantly being released into the environment. The fundamental question is whether it’s increasing the resistance of bugs”.

    The research, (part of a project investigating the environmental effects of ingredients used in common household products), expected to be published soon, also suggests the concentrations of triclosan being found in wastewater at some sites could be toxic to certain marine organisms. Further work is planned to confirm the findings.

    His advice for consumers: if you want to do something for the environment, choose a plain bar of soap.
  3. Antiobiotic Resistance

    Prof Liz Harry, a microbiologist from Sydney's University of Technology (the ithree unit researching infectious disease) applauded the legal action in America. She said the routine use of antibacterial soaps was promoting so-called "superbugs" and called for a similar ban to be introduced in Australia.

    "An antibiotic, a drug that you take for infection is the same type of entity that's in an antibacterial soap. They're just different types of chemicals. But they're all called antibacterials," she said.

    "Bacterial DNA can encode resistance. On these same pieces of DNA are resistance to things like penicillin and your basic antibiotics … So that whole piece of DNA goes from one bacteria to millions of others on the bathroom floor."

    "Then they're all resistant, not just to the antibacterial in your wash, but also an antibiotic. That's where you have a problem."

    "There will come a time when antibiotics won't work. They're already not working for some diseases. And we don't have anything else in the pipeline."

    Read more.

    The Victorian Government, on their website Better Health, made these statements:



  • Evidence suggests that the use of antibacterial and antimicrobial cleaning products – particularly in combination with the over-prescription of antibiotics – may produce strains of multi-resistant organisms.
  • Antibacterial and antimicrobial cleaning products are no better at eliminating bacteria than cheaper plain soaps, detergents and warm water.
  • Consumers should avoid using antibacterial and antimicrobial cleaning products unless they have a specific medical reason and have been advised to do so by their doctor.

The safest way to wash your hands…

“I think warm, soapy water and drying your hands is quite adequate.”

Gulietta Pontivivo, Nurse Manager for Infection Prevention and Control Services at St Vincent’s Hospital.

  • Life is simple.
  • Wash your hands with running water. 
  • Wash thoroughly with a natural soap.
  • At least 20 secs, rinse well and dry well with a clean towel.


Hand washing guide

Remember to check those labels when purchasing your soap. no anti anything and keep an eye out for:

  • SLS sodium lauryl sulphate, SLES – sodium laureth sulphate
  • EDTA ethylenediaminetetraacetate acid
  • Parabens
  • Propylene glycol
  • Petrochemicals
  • Triethanolamine TEA
  • Synthetic fragrance, parfume


A Note

According to this ABC article  Aldi, Woolworths, Colgate-Palmolive and Reckitt Benckiser (maker of Dettol) still distribute products containing triclosan, but all confirmed they would eliminate the chemicals banned in the US from antibacterial soaps in the next 12 months.

Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Gamophen said it was “exploring options for the reformulation of Gamophen, ensuring it continues to deliver the same quality benefits for consumers”.

It’s interesting to note that Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital stopped using Triclosan five years ago when it was found to be ineffective.


Read More

5 Reasons Why You Should Probably Stop Using Antibacterial Soap  


Stay safe,