Is Antibacterial Soap a Friend or Foe to Your Health and Home?

Studies suggest antibacterial product claims, at least for products with triclosan, are hype. Are you safe?

Triclosan has been linked to thyroid problems, developmental disorders, and cancer. Image: Giuli Lewis

Here’s an ironic twist for all you germ-a-phobes: The products you buy to overpower germs in your home may be seriously affecting your health. And not doing much germ-fighting to boot.

Triclosan, a hospital-strength ingredient that became the most common antibacterial ingredient in consumer products like dish and hand soaps, children’s toys, and cutting boards, has been linked to thyroid problems, developmental disorders, and cancer. One recent study even suggests that it could be slowing the beating of our hearts.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the antibacterial ingredient, in part because of animal studies showing that it affects hormone regulation. But for now, the FDA categorizes triclosan as safe.

So that leaves the is-it-or-isn’t-it-hype decision squarely in your court.

What products include triclosan?

Beyond Pesticides offers a list of triclosan-containing products, but says the list is incomplete.

OK, so can you just find out from a label? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. Triclosan (and triclocarban) is listed as an ingredient in any product, like lotion and toothpaste, that requires ingredient lists. But cutting boards, children’s toys, and carpets don’t have ingredient lists, and their packaging rarely specifies what type of antibiotic it includes other than to say “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial.”

So if you’re concerned, play offense and avoid all products labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial.”

Where’s the “anti” in antibacterial?

Health risks aside, triclosan doesn’t even live up to marketers’ promises. Studies and analysis by the American Medical Association, the FDA, and others confirm that antibacterial products clean no better than regular soap and water.

Hello, progress? Grandma wants her remedies back. We think there’s still a lot to be said for green cleaning alternatives, such as:

Will you avoid triclosan-containing products or is this much ado about nothing?