Effectiveness of Antibacterial & Antimicrobial Soaps

Subject: Healthcare Research
Pages: 5
Words: 1162
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


Antibacterial soaps have been the focus of attention in recent studies. Various individuals have questioned the advantages of these soaps over plain soap and water. This research was carried out to determine the effectiveness of these antibacterial soaps. From past studies, washing with antibacterial soaps was not been found to be clinically different from washing with plain soap and water. Most studies showed that the reduction in bacterial infections achieved by use of antibacterial soaps was not statistically different from the reduction achieved by use plain soap and water. Furthermore, the chemical components of antibacterial soaps are suspected of increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. This may lead to clinically important antibiotics being unable to function effectively and therefore antibacterial infections will be difficult to treat. This has already been experienced with MRSA infections.


To prevent possible bacterial contamination and infection, scientists and industries developed cleaning products that could destroy the bacteria. These products destroy all bacteria and other microbes with an exception of viruses. The antimicrobial action is due to the presence of antimicrobial chemicals added to the products. They are several in number including chemicals like triclosan, triclocarban and tetrasodium EDTA.

Recently, various individuals and bodies have argued that antibacterial detergents offer no added advantage over plain soap in preventing bacterial contamination and infection. Furthermore, it has been argued that the negative effects of antibacterial soaps are more than their benefits. Some of their negative effects include, possible development of bacterial resistance to chemicals and pollution of water bodies and agricultural soils. Review of the studies in this field is therefore important to indicate the current findings on the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.

Literature review

Various studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps. Most of them have found the use of antibacterial soaps to have no added benefit in effectively minimizing bacterial contamination and infection as over ordinary detergents. However, some doctors still claim that these soaps have added benefits. At a scientific level, there is little proof that there is any benefit derived from using antibacterial soaps instead of plain soaps (“Scrubbing troubles.” 2007). Actually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) proposes that to prevent microbial contamination and infections, persons should wash their hands as frequently as possible for at least fifteen seconds. They do not give any suggestions on using antibacterial soaps (“The Truth”, 1999).

FDA (food and drug administration) reviewed past clinical studies on effectiveness of antibacterial soaps. The conclusion was that addition of antibacterial chemicals to soaps and detergents did not provide any added benefit (Gorgos, 2006). Their effect was similar to that of plain soap and water. The studies were based on the argument that, for the antibacterial soaps to be hygienically superior to plain soaps, they must have a higher clinically significant decrease on the bacterial load. Most of the studies did not find this to be the case. In five of the studies, washing with water and plain soap was found not to be statistically different from washing with antibacterial soap. Plain soap and water reduced cases of diarrhea by between 30% and 80% with 53 percent being the most common reduction value while the reduction rate of antibacterial soaps was between 29 and 50 percent (Gorgos, 2006).

Antiseptic soaps may have negative effects on antiseptic resistance of bacteria leading to evolution of high drug resistant microbes commonly know as “super bugs” (Zamora, 2000). Over time, these antiseptic resistant microbes multiply resulting in a large number of “superbugs”. In 1958, Joshua Lederberg who was a molecular genecist became a noble price laureate after he showed how bacteria could exchange genetic material thereby producing antiseptic resistant bacteria (Clemmint, 2007). Afterwards, antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus), penicillin resistant streptococcus pneumonia and a tuberculosis bacterium that is resistant to multiple drugs were discovered in hospital patients. MRSA has been the cause of many deaths since the present antibiotics cannot efficiently cure the infected (Clemmitt, 2007).

Another problem with the antimicrobial soaps that has risen is environmental pollution by the antimicrobial chemicals included in the soaps. The most common antimicrobial constituents of these soaps are triclosan and triclocarban (Brodie, 2007). After use of these soaps, triclosan and triclocarban do not biodegrade but find their way into water bodies and agricultural soils. Rolf Halden carried out a study and found out that triclosan has contaminated 60% of the streams in the United States (Alterman, 2006). Furthermore, it has been know to cause cancer and blue baby condition in newborn babies. The United States Geological survey (USGS) also carried out a survey of the level of drug contamination in the water system and found out that there is a high concentration of over the counter antibiotics in the streams (Knopper, 2003).


The findings stated in the literature review all indicate that antibiotics currently have no added benefit. Most people are obsessed with the idea of antibiotics providing protection. For this reason, consumers all over the world are demanding more antibiotics and antibacterial soaps have attracted a large consumer base. However, from the findings indicated in this research, it may be high time that people realized the negative effects of antiseptic soaps. FDA does not even recommend them since they do not show any added advantage. If people continue to use them at the current rate, clinically important antibiotics will become less efficient due to the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Treatment of bacteria related disease conditions will become difficult as more and more microbes that are drug resistant evolve.

The use of contaminated sludge to fertilize agricultural soils is further spreading the antibiotics into crops and animals. A research by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School found out that over 75% of antibiotics in soaps were washed down into the sewages from where the sludge is obtained (Pearson, 2006). As these chemicals spread, they will continually destroy both the pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria leaving the resistant bacteria to thrive. There is also the possibility of spreading these resistant bacteria through out the food chain. The studies examined clearly show the fact that when antibiotics are used at a domestic level, the benefit of reducing the bacterial count is of no clinical importance and the resulting negative effects are much greater.


Antibacterial or antimicrobial soaps and detergents are cleaning compounds that destroy bacteria and other microorganisms. They do this through the action of antimicrobial chemicals incorporated in them during manufacture. There is the assumption that they are beneficial at preventing bacterial contaminations and infections but there is no scientific proof. Clinical comparisons between their effect and that of plain soap and water showed that there is no statistically significant difference between them. For this purpose, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recommended them. Some studies have found the antimicrobial components of these soaps to have negative environmental impact and contribute to evolution of antibiotics resistant bacteria like the MRSA. Their disadvantages therefore out weigh their benefits.

Reference List

Alterman, T. (2006). “Why you don’t need antibacterial Soap. (Green gazette).” Mother Earth News, 28. Academic OneFile. Web.

Brodie, C. (2007). “Persistently clean? Antimicrobials accumulate in the municipal Sludge used to fertilize crops.” American Scientist 95, 1, 25+. Academic OneFile. Web.

Clemmitt, M. (2007). “: Are disease resistant bacteria becoming unstoppable?” Fighting super bugs, 17: 26, 673-696

Gorgos, D. (2006). “Consumer antibacterial soaps show no benefit in reducing Infection.” Dermatology Nursing, 18.4, 395+. Academic OneFile. Web.

Knopper. M. (2003). “Drugging our water: we flush it, and then we drink It. (Your Health).” E, 40+. Academic OneFile. Web.

Pearson, T. (2006). “Sludge Recycling Sends Antiseptic Soap Ingredient to Agriculture.” AScribe Medicine News Service. Academic OneFile. Web.

“Scrubbing troubles.” (2007). Science News, 173. Science Service, Inc. Academic OneFile. Web.

“The Truth about Antibacterial Everything.” (1999). Good Housekeeping, 163. Hearst Communications. Academic OneFile. Web.

Zamora, J. M. (2000). “Potential role of antibacterial soap in antibiotic resistance.” Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science, 33. Academic OneFile. Web.