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Should antibacterial soap be outlawed?


Testing Antibacterial Soap
A 2005 study found no significant difference in the presence of resistant bacteria between households using antibacterial products and those using non-antibacterial products.
A 2005 study found no significant difference in the presence of resistant bacteria between households using antibacterial products and those using non-antibacterial products.
Courtesy Carl D. Walsh/Aurora/Getty Images

In July 2000, the Emerging Infectious Diseases Conference in Atlanta, featured several presentations concerning the relationship between the antibacterial lifestyle and the emergence of resistant bacteria. One of the presenters was Stuart B. Levy, who presented a paper entitled "Antibacterial Household Products: A Cause for Concern."

In his paper, Levy details studies which suggest that people may be at the threshold of a world where bacteria -- due to the use of antibacterial products and misused antibiotics -- may overtake people's ability to kill them.

Five years later, Levy was part of another study with five colleagues in his field where the findings were very different. The scientists divided 224 households into two categories: those that were given antibacterial products and those that were not. The study took place over the course of one year, and looked at families with similar backgrounds.

What the researchers found is that there was no significant difference in the amount of bacteria killed by the use of antibacterial soap over regular soap. They also found that there was no significant increase in the presence of resistant bacteria in the homes that used antibacterial products.

These findings were surprising. First, the study says that antibacterial soap is no better at killing germs than regular soap. It also says that the bacteria didn't mutate into super bacteria in the homes that used antibacterial soap. The study, entitled "Antibacterial Cleaning Products and Drug Resistance," contained one caveat: One year may not have been enough for the study to be conclusive [source: Aiello].

Sure enough, two years later, some of the same researchers from the 2005 study tried another study. Again, the researchers found that antibacterial soap showed no advantage over plain soap in its ability to kill bacteria. But they also collected data that suggested bacteria are indeed becoming increasingly cross-resistant as a result of antibacterial use.

Is it time to panic? The results are inconclusive. Although microbiologists can chart the mutation of some bacteria as a result of their exposure to antibacterial agents, this has only been done in a laboratory setting, and not in the real world. Still, scientists believe that bacterial mutation may be inevitable and continue their studies.

So what's the best way to fight germs? Sometimes the old ways are still the best ways. Read the next page to learn about the wonders of -- soap.