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Do We Overuse Antibacterial Products?

In many instances, antibacterial soap should not be used to cleanse the face or other delicate skin.
Overuse of antibacterial soaps may lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Bacteria can become resitant to antibacterial soap.
Overuse of antibacterial soap may lead to increased allergies in children.
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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Antibacterial products do help control bacterial infections, but research has shown that bacteria can build a resistance to these products if they are used too much or used unnecessarily. Many people are sold on the idea of using them because of their ability to kill germs and bacteria. When these products are used to prevent non-existent bacteria in the home rather than kill what is already there, they can, ironically, create more bacteria than they are meant to reduce.

Some bacteria contain a gene that is inherently resistant to certain antibiotics. Therefore, rather than destroy bacteria, antibacterial products can even cause some strains to increase. Other bacteria have cells that can remove an antibacterial agent in a process called an efflux pump. The cell resists the antibacterial agent by emptying it away from itself.

Antibiotics are made to actually kill bacteria, but antibacterial products are just meant to prevent their spread. Such products include soap, gel, and sanitizer as well as household cleaners. The problem with using these items to prevent germs that are not present is that bacteria can mutate to resist the antibacterial chemicals.

Moreover, even if germs are present and an antibacterial soap is used to kill them, most people do not wash their hands long enough or at the temperature needed for the soap to work effectively. The right amount of soap and the right amount of water must often be used, and home products seldom take this into consideration.

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Triclosan is the main antibacterial agent found in antibacterial products, and studies have shown that it does not get rid of all the bacteria. Antibacterial agents like this can kill off the weakest bacteria while the strongest bacteria multiply. This could eventually lead to the creation of "super bugs" that become resistant to products that should kill them.

Scientific studies have shown at least some correlation between "too clean" homes cleaned with antibacterial products and increased allergies in children. These studies suggest that overuse of antibacterial agents may affect the immune system, and when used on the skin too often, they may even cause more cases of some skin diseases. Some dermatologists point out that too much antibacterial soap can dry the skin, and dry skin often results in a susceptibility to open sores. The open sores leave skin vulnerable to bacteria. If regular, rather than antibacterial, soap is used, the problem might be avoided.

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Discuss this Article

StarJo
Post 9

@lighth0se33 - You need a soap formulated to moisturize your hands. Sometimes, cleaning with regular soap is just as good as using an antibacterial one. Plus, you know that you are not helping the bacteria build up a resistance.

I use a liquid soap with a dispenser, which I push with the palm of my hand. The soap contains honey, a natural moisturizer. It is very gooey without being sticky, and my hands feel better after I have used it.

What also would help you is putting lotion on your hands after each time you wash them. This will keep your skin from cracking, and you won’t have to worry about bacteria entering through open wounds.

lighth0se33
Post 8

I want to try to stop using antibacterial soap. It’s like a mental addiction for me, but during the winter, it dries out my hands so much that they crack and bleed.

I wash my hands a lot because I spend lots of time cooking meat. Once I have touched raw chicken, I feel like I need to sanitize my hands. After reading this article, I now know that I can’t possibly wash my hands in hot enough water for long enough to remove all the bacteria.

I need advice. My hands hurt so bad from the cracking! What is a good kind of soap to use that will clean my hands without overdrying them?

OeKc05
Post 7

I am guilty of using antibacterial soap. I don’t just use it at home, though. I carry it in my purse, along with a bottle of water to lather it and rinse it off with.

I keep this with me because I often have to go on long trips, and the bathrooms I stop at along the way sometimes don’t have soap available. Then, there are those that have soap, but the faucets aren’t automatic, so you have to touch the handles after you wash and get your hands dirty again. Also, some doors aren’t near the garbage can, so I can’t hold the door open with a paper towel and dispose of it while propping the door open with my foot.

I know that I have issues, but I just really hate touching germy places like bathroom doors and sink handles where people have just potentially touched feces and urine and then touched these surfaces. I will probably always carry the antibacterial soap with me, even if people say it’s counterproductive.

shell4life
Post 6

I used to use antibacterial products religiously. Then, a dog gave birth to ten puppies at my house, and they left dozens of piles of poop and pee all over my carport. I knew that no matter how well I thought I had cleaned the area, I would still end up tracking trace amounts of it into the house.

This experience helped me to come to grips with the fact that we are surrounded by bacteria every day, some good and some bad. We will never be able to fully rid ourselves of it, and sometimes, we will get sick from it, no matter how hard we try to avoid this.

SailorJerry
Post 5

@popcorn - Once you are an adult, your immune system is already developed. It is fine to take precautions to protect yourself. *But* if you feel like the products you use in your home are making you sick, why not try switching to natural cleaners like plain vinegar and water? It might be the chemicals that are making you sick.

@cupcake15 - Antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers actually don't usually contain triclosan. The most common ingredient in hand sanitizer is rubbing alcohol, which fortunately is not a factor in antibiotic resistance. Use as much as you want! Just remember that most surfaces have to be left visibly wet and then given time to dry for these products to be effective.

It's also worth making the point that keeping an eye on bacteria is only one part of the game at preventing illness. Many common illnesses like cold and flu are actually caused by viruses, and it's not clear how effective hand sanitizers, etc. are against viruses (they do seem to help). Good handwashing and other basic hygiene practices are still your best bet there.

cupcake15
Post 4

@Sneakers41 - Ever since I got on the antibacterial bandwagon I have notice a sharp decline in the amount of times my kids get sick. It was only until a few years ago that their school required bottles of sanitizer and antibacterial wipes which really reduced the amount of bacteria at the school.

I am hooked too, but I was watching a television program that talked about this very topic and the doctor said that you really have to be careful when you use a public phone or even the remote control in someone’s home because these are items that get frequent use and no one ever thinks of cleaning them with any antibacterial cleansers.

So I think that it is a good idea to wipe down surfaces that we use all of the time because if not who knows what illness we could get.

sneakers41
Post 3

@Popcorn – I think that it is going to be hard to get people to reduce the amount of antibacterial soaps that they use. It gives people a sense of security that they did not have before which is why it will be hard to use less of it.

I always have to have an antibacterial bottle in my purse at all times. I have two small children and I feel better carrying around the antibacterial soap with me. I actually feel uncomfortable if I don’t have it.

I also buy a lot of household cleaning products that have the antibacterial label on them. I think that anything with the word antibacterial is going to get more attention from the average consumer which is why these products are more popular.

I have heard that overuse of these products is also harmful, but I think that it will be almost impossible for me to change my habits with respect to antibacterial soap.

Sara007
Post 2

@popcorn – You know, there is a good chance that you already have some of the best cleaning products that are completely natural in your home. Vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda have all been proven to clean well when used in the right concentrations.

Another one is household bleach, which while not natural per say, is actually considered to be one of the cheapest and best disinfectants out there.

For myself I use vinegar and baking soda for my kitchen and places that need a real scrubbing. The lemon juice with water is fantastic for getting glass clean. It also works really well on bathroom shower doors as it removes soap scum.

popcorn
Post 1

I've been worried that I have been over using antibacterial cleaning products because it seems like I keep getting sick. I am seriously wondering if I am making the problem worse instead of better. I always thought killing all the germs made for a better environment, but I guess that isn't entirely true.

Does anyone know of an natural antibacterial products or organic cleaning products that I could use to clean my home?

I am still a bit of a neat freak, but I don't want to start farming super bugs in my home. I just want to get things clean and genuinely stop the spread of bacteria.

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