Home Health: How Antibacterial Soap Works

A description of antibacterial soap, and when it's beneficial.

Walk into any supermarket looking for soap and the majority of what you see will be labeled antibacterial. The antibacterial craze has permeated into almost any type of cleaning agent: soaps, kitchen and bath cleaners, even sponges and cleaning cloths.

Antibacterial soaps were once used exclusively in hospitals or other settings where cleanliness was a prime consideration. The advertising agencies have done a thorough job of convincing the typical shopper that these products are not only beneficial but will also reduce their chance of illness.

The purpose of soap of any kind is to remove dirt and grime from the surface being cleaned. All soaps are made from a combination of acid and a base. The acid is always a fat of some type and the base is most often sodium hydroxide. Soap has two major functions: binding to oils, dirt and bacteria's and decreasing water's surface tension.


By decreasing the surface tension of the water, the fats in the soap allows dirt and grime to adhere, which can then be easily scrubbed or rinsed away. At the same time, oils and bacteria are scrubbed away also.

The theory behind antibacterial soap is that the antibacterial agent in the soap will wash away any harmful bacterium on your skin.Parents tend to find this thought comforting as children, especially young ones, are constantly touching things that have germs.

The question of whether antibacterial soap washes away more bacteria than regular soap is debated by the medical and scientific community. The active ingredient of antibacterial soap is usually triclosan or triclocarbon. For this to have any true antibacterial effect, the solution must remain for at least two minutes. Very few people, especially children, will wash their hands for that long.

In the scientific community, there are many that feel that antibacterial soap does people a disservice. They feel that some bacteria may develop a resistance to the antibacterial properties of the soap, thus allowing harmful bacteria to thrive.

Not all bacteria are harmful to humans and many bacteria's are actually good for us. Normal levels of bacteria devour our sweat and helps defend against more harmful, insidious bacteria. Also, many common illnesses are caused by viral infections and as such, antibacterial soaps will do nothing in deterring illness.

Studies have shown that children who have been exposed to common bacteria may be less susceptible to allergies and asthma symptoms than those who frequently use antibacterial soaps to rid themselves of simple bacteria on their skin.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a statement saying that antibacterial soaps are not necessary and that simply washing your hands frequently with plain soap and water is sufficient to ward off illnesses.They recommend that antibacterial soaps be used only in the care of newborns, high-risk patients and severe cases of AIDS or other immune system compromised situations.

The choice to use an antibacterial soap is a personal one.Most scientists recommend that if you use antibacterial hand soap, you should minimize the use any other antibacterial products on the market.

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