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Ask The Green Mama: Anti-bacterial soaps in schools

What do I do to protect myself from catching colds and flus from my students? I am a teacher and my school loves antibacterial hand soaps. I assume you are going to say not to use them, so what information can I use to help get the support of my school and parents in getting rid of the antibacterial hand soap which, by the way, is not only used in the teachers bathrooms, in the lounges, and in the cafeteria, but also in the students’ bathrooms as well?



Dear Teach: You know The Green Mama well! Anti-bacterial hand soaps are one of my least favorite things to see in schools. Why?

antibacterial soap kids


1. Triclosan. Triclosan is the anti-bacterial property used in many hand soaps (76% of 395 commercial soaps examined in a recent EWG report). It is a pesticide that’s closely related to the super-toxin, dioxin, and has been linked to liver and thyroid problems and to endocrine (hormone development) disorders in children. Triclosan has also been found to have particularly toxic effects on aquatic life. Studies have found that nearly 75% of Americans have traces of Triclosan in their urine. The European Union labels triclosan “irritating to eyes and skin; dangerous fro the environment; very toxic to aquatic organisms.”

2. Antibacterial resistance. Antibacterial products (including those just made with alcohol) increase your risk (and the general population’s risk) of antibiotic resistance. As antibacterial products become more common, some germs can become immune to them and develop into “superbugs” that aren’t easily treated with even high doses of antibiotic.

3. Ineffective. Studies show that washing your hands with regular soap and water is AS EFFECTIVE (and has fewer health effects) than washing with those labeled antibacterial.

Health Canada recommends fighting antibiotic resistance through preventitive behaviors: and avoiding “the use of antibacterial soap and “bacteria-fighting” cleaning products. These products kill ‘good’ bacteria which fight bad germs. Cleaning with soap and water, or disinfecting surfaces with a solution of water and vinegar or household bleach is adequate.”

The studies:

“The American Medical Association, Food and Drug Administration, and at least 40 researchers from 13 universities and public institutions worldwide have concluded that antimicrobial soap does not work any better than plain soap and water at preventing the spread of infections or reducing bacteria on the skin, according to our survey of the scientific literature and published agency positions.” Environmental Working Group Report.  SOME EXCERPTS FROM THEIR REPORT:

American Medical Association, 2002

“Despite the recent substantial increase in the use of antimicrobial ingredients in consumer products, the effects of this practice have not been studied extensively. No data support the efficacy or necessity of antimicrobial agents in such products, and a growing number of studies suggest increasing acquired bacterial resistance to them. Studies also suggest that acquired resistance to the antimicrobial agents used in consumer products may predispose bacteria to resistance against therapeutic antibiotics, but further research is needed. Considering available data and the critical nature of the antibiotic-resistance problem, it is prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products.”Tan L, Nielsen NH, Young DC, Trizna Z. 2002. Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association. Use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products. Arch Dermatol. 138(8):1082-6.

Food and Drug Administration Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee, 2005

“The data we saw said handwashing was pretty effective, plain handwashing, and there was no data that I saw that was very convincing that antiseptic handwashing was substantially more effective.”Alastair Wood, M.D. (Committee Chair), FDA Non-Prescription Drugs Advisory Committee. October 20, 2005 meeting transcript p. 354-355.

University of North Carolina Health Care System, University of Maryland, and Duke University, 2005

“Effective hand hygiene for high levels of viral contamination with a nonenveloped virus was best achieved by physical removal with a nonantimicrobial soap or tap water alone.”Sickbert-Bennett EE, Weber DJ, Gergen-Teague MF, Sobsey MD, Samsa GP, Rutala WA. 2005. Comparative efficacy of hand hygiene agents in the reduction of bacteria and viruses. Am J Infect Control. 33(2):67-77.

Kansai Medical University, Osaka, Japan

“[Triclosan] was much less effective than hand soap against hand surface bacteria.” Namura S, Nishijima S, McGinley KJ, Leyden JJ. 1993. A study of the efficacy of antimicrobial detergents for hand washing: using the full-hand touch plates method. J Dermatol. 20(2):88-93.


Article by Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama. Photos courtesy of Shutterstock. Image by Jaimie Duplass.