Antibacterial Soap vs. Regular Soap: Which One Is Better?

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We’re exposed to millions of germs and bacteria every day. Many of us use antibacterial products to reduce our risk of getting sick or passing germs and bacteria onto others – but are they really more effective at killing the “bad guys” than regular soap? 

Antibacterial Soap

Antibacterial soap is any cleaning product with active antimicrobial ingredients added. Today, more than 75 percent of liquid soaps available in our grocery store aisles contain some type of antibacterial ingredient. Although triclosan is the most common, some antibacterial products contain alcohol, benzalkonium chloride and other antibacterial agents. 

Pros of Antibacterial Soap

  • Antibacterial cleaning products are effective in healthcare settings (hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities) where patients’ immune systems are weakened.
  • Hand sanitizer that has at least 60 percent alcohol levels is an effective alternative when a person doesn’t have access to soap and hot water.
  • Antibacterial cleaning products are effective for cleaning tasks in veterinarian offices and homes with pets.

Cons of Antibacterial Soap

  • The FDA has said there is “no evidence” that antimicrobial soap products keep people healthier than regular soap. The agency now requires manufacturers of antibacterial products to prove the chemicals are safe for long-term daily use and that they do a better job of keeping people well than washing hands with regular soap and water.
  • Overuse of antibacterial products can reduce the amount of healthy bacteria on a person’s skin, which can make antibiotics less effective in the fight against new strains of bacteria, called superbugs.
  • Using antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer can cause people to think they do not have to wash their hands as thoroughly or frequently.

Tips for Using Hand Sanitizer

When soap and running water are unavailable, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be an effective alternative. Note that sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and should not be used when hands are visibly greasy or dirty. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following tips for children and adults using hand sanitizer:

  1. Apply hand sanitizer to the palm of one hand (read the product label for the recommended amount).
  2. Rub hands together.
  3. Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until dry. 

Regular Soap

Regular soap is designed to decrease water’s surface tension and to lift dirt and oils off the surfaces so that it can be easily rinsed away. Though regular soap does not contain added antibacterial chemicals, it is effective in getting rid of bacteria and other germs.

Pros of Regular Soap

  • Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soap and water for killing disease-causing germs, according to the CDC.
  • Regular soap tends to be less expensive than antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers.
  • Regular soap won’t kill healthy bacteria on the skin’s surface.

Cons of Regular Soap

  • Regular soap is not as portable as antibacterial hand sanitizers.
  • People may not wash hands thoroughly enough for regular soap to kill bad bacteria.

Tips for Washing Your Hands

Washing hands with soap (either antibacterial or regular) and water is the one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to others. The CDC recommends these five tips for effective hand washing:

  1. Wet your hands with warm, running water, and add soap.
  2. Rub your hands together, making a soapy lather. Wash the front and back of hands, between your fingers and under nails for at least 20 seconds or two rounds of the song “Happy Birthday.”
  3. Rinse your hands well under warm, running water.
  4. Dry hands thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer.
  5. Turn off water with a clean paper towel and dispose of properly. 

The bottom line is that any type of soap can help rid your hands of harmful bacteria if used properly – you don’t necessarily need to pay extra for the antibacterial variety. Parents, remember to teach your children to practice the hand-washing techniques listed above and have a stash of hand sanitizer in your bag available when you’re on the go.