The results of a study on antibacterial soap published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy last week found that it was no more effective than plain soap and water at ridding hands of bacteria. The antibacterial soaps only outperformed plain soap when bacteria were exposed to them for 9 hours or more, not 10 - 30 seconds which is how long most people wash their hands.

 A summary of this study is at:

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The journal article abstract is at:

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The take away from this research is that using antibacterial soap to wash your hands does nothing more than what plan soap and water does, despite claims otherwise. In fact, the efficacy of antibacterial soap is part of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling effective next year (2016) that requires all antibacterial soap manufacturers to provide research on the safety and effectiveness of the antibacterial chemical they use, tricolsan. The ruling came as a result of animal studies on tricolsan that showed it may alter the way hormones (thyroid hormone, in particular) work in the body.  Even though if a chemical causes a problem in animals it doesn’t mean the same thing will happen in people, the FDA was concerned enough that it issued the ruling. In addition, there is a concern about antibacterial soap use and the development of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. (See

To correctly wash your hands, follow these seven simple steps outline by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Wet your hands with running water — either warm or cold.
  • Apply liquid (preferably), bar or powder soap.
  • Lather well.
  • Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds (Sing the’ Happy Birthday’, song twice). Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well.
  • Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
  • If possible, use a towel or your elbow to turn off the faucet

To reduce the chance of getting an infection from “germs” picked up on your hands, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth and wash your hands often.

Always wash your hands before you:

  • Prepare food
  • Eat
  • Treat cuts or gashes
  • Give someone medication
  • Insert or remove contact lenses

Always wash your hands after you:

  • Handle food, especially raw meat or poultry
  • Use the toilet
  • Change a diaper
  • Touch an animal, animal toys, leashes or waste
  • Blow your nose, cough or sneeze into your hands
  • Treat cuts, gashes
  • Handle garbage, household or garden chemicals, or anything that could be contaminated — such as a cleaning cloth or soiled shoes

·        Shake hands

For more information

Mayo Clinic - handwashing

CDC -  handwashing

FDA – antibacterial soap

Consumer Report – antibacterial soap


Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal health education specialist at Associates for Health, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Associates for Health, LLC offers individual and group health education seminars, individual health behavior change guidance and health consulting for health care professionals. For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her at