Goodbye, Antibacterial Soap

pretty bar soap

There are so many fun, handmade, antibiotic-free bar soaps to choose from these days! Why poison yourself with the anti-bacterial stuff. (Yup, I treat it like poison.)

Although from what I’m reading on all the blogs, making resolutions is bad/leads to failure and despair/doesn’t help, I tend to set a few, realistic new goals for myself at the start of a year.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m a firm believer that there is power in words and that goal-setting is an important part of success and happiness.  Perhaps that’s just me, though.  Maybe you’ve learned that resolutions don’t work for you, and you’ve given them up.  Well, I’m here to ask you to give one, little, teensy resolution a shot this year: Give up your antibacterial products.  It’s in hand soaps, dish soap and even laundry detergents (don’t you just hate it when you don’t sterilize a t-shirt and, of course, end up with strep throat? Ugh.) Giving up these products is not hard, and it will save you money to use more earth and human friendly natural cleaners like vinegar and castle and bar soaps.  Furthermore, with 40 years of research conducted, it looks like the benefit of these antibacterial products is basically nil.

I was pretty shocked when I saw The New York Times headline shortly before Christmas: F.D.A. Questions Safety of Antibacterial Soaps.  I have a relatively obsessive hatred of all the insane antibacterial products on the market, and with the fact that the regulatory agency was taking notice did indeed make me happy. Nonetheless, I was surprised.  As I learned in this excellent and brief Frontline Documentary about the issue of drug-resistant bacteria (that you can and should  take an hour to watch for free, online), public health officials are pretty riled up about the serious dangers of drug-resistant bacteria. There is evidence that the overuse of these antibacterial products are contributing to the problem, and there is shockingly little evidence that the actually do any good.  Given that the largest (but surely not the last) outbreak to-date of one of these resistant strains (CRE) has just been reported in Illinois, this is something we might all want to be concerned about.

One of the other main issues that the FDA is looking at right now is not at all related to the issue of bacterial resistance.  Instead, it’s another pretty terrifying issue: the fact that a key ingredient that makes these soaps and detergents antibacterial is triclosan which has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor in multiple animal species.  It has not, however, been proven more effective at preventing sickness than plain old soap and water.

The endocrine system is kind of the management system for hormones, so I would personally like mine (and that of any little girls, boys and fetuses I know) to function as best as it can.  Disruption of the endocrine system has been found to impair thyroid function, impact sexual development (anyone else wonder why so many 9-year-old girls are getting boobs and periods, lately?), cause learning disabilities and let’s face it, the list of other issues that could occur when you mess with your hormones is pretty much endless.

So, although, it’s a bit belated, not directly related to fermentation and ranty as hell, I’m asking all of you to give up these products.  I think most people who use them think they’re protecting their children, but evidence shows that’s not even happening in  the short run, and in the long run, using these products is extremely damaging to the potential well-being of your children (and yourself!).

And with that, I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2014! We’ll be back to our regular posting schedule next week!

PS – I haven’t mentioned Purell here, which also isn’t efficacious at actually preventing the spread of illness than soap and water washing.   It is more effective at destroying bacteria, which all fermentos will know is not actually a good thing.  Hand sanitizer is mostly alcohol, which dries your skin horribly and kills bacteria that you might actually want living happy lives on your skin. It is likely that its bacteria-killing properties will come under review by the FDA soon, if what I’m reading is true, so why not ditch that now and be ahead of the curve?

Basics Ferment


  1. Greg W says:

    Just a note about Purell: the fact that it’s mostly alcohol means it probably won’t contribute to antibacterial resistance. It’s like peroxide or chlorine.

    • Amanda says:

      I think for Purell, it’s more the fact that it doesn’t provide any benefit and likely kills good bacteria on your skin that are doing necessary things. Sorry if that’s not clear in the text!

  2. Lindsey says:

    I’ve also found triclosan hiding in my Arm & Hammer “natural” deodorant, and I’ve heard that anti-bacterial ingredients are showing up in toothpastes, as well! So scary! Thanks for writing about the dangers of these chemical anti-bacterial agents. IMO, the fact that the FDA is starting to question their use should be enough of a warning to anyone who is still using them.

  3. Hey Amanda,
    Good rant, it’s funny I’ve been moving towards this as well, slowly replacing soaps in different parts of the house. I’ve struggled for a long time with eczema on my fingers and wondered if it were due to my use of antibacterial soap. Whether it is or isn’t, I’ve had enough of antibacterials and support you in your rant! Have you made your own soap at all? I recently bought a bunch of lye but haven’t had the guts to proceed yet…

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Jon,

      Thanks! I had on eczema on my hands at birth and I’ve struggled with varying degrees of severity over the years (a very severe outbreak being one of the reasons I started fermenting!). I haven’t knowingly used antibacterial soap for a very long time, but triclosan is in so many products, who can say whether it contributed to my (or your) issue? I am currently in a very good place with the eczema situation after doing a LONG elimination diet that taught me that beer (of all things) is the issue. But I digress! I have not made soap, but I recently downloaded a free ebook on the topic, so I hope to find some time this year to delve into that goodness. Please do let me know how your experiments go! I’d love some guidance.



    • Amanda says:

      I’m with you, Becky. I truly have no idea. I talked to a woman last night who has worked in public health for years. She said they were discussing this as a major health concern fifteen years ago when she started and she was pretty disgusted about the lack of action. In any case, I’m very gratified that efforts are starting to be made. Here’s hoping big corporations don’t get to hijack our health!

    • Amanda says:

      That’s great, Amy! I really do recommend it! I heard the director interviewed and he said there will be two new installments. The one coming out this year will focus on antibiotics in our food supply and how they’re contributing to the issue. I’m hoping the next one will specifically address the ingredients in these soaps that are negatively impacting the health of so many of us.

      As always, thanks so much for reading!

  4. Kristin says:

    What a great post! I stopped using antibacterial soap a few years ago for exactly the same reason, and last year I stopped using soap for most occasions – though when I do need it I reach for Dr. Bronner’s.

    • Amanda says:

      I’m also a Doc B’s lover, Kristin! Between the Doc and vinegar, I keep my stuff clean (and when necessary) sterilized. Thanks for reading!

  5. tarc says:

    You’re quite correct in highlighting that antibacterial chemicals in soaps and hand sanitizers not only have minimal effectiveness (aka totally unnecessary), but they are nearly universally dangerous for humans and animals. If a substance is strong enough to kill bacteria, the general rule of thumb is that it will kill you worse because they are tough little buggers. And while we’re not seeing a connection between Triclosan and early puberty (that’s BPA, the plasticizer in water bottle and nearly all food packaging, or BPS, the almost identically bad replacement in ‘BPA-free’ plastics), it will cause permanent muscle weakness in hands frequently washed, and now they are showing a connection with increased prostate cancer. Triclosan is extra bad in alcohol hand sanitizer. In general, plain alcohol hand sanitizer is actually not a bad thing, especially in winter, since it’s quite good at inactivating many coated animal viruses. It does nothing for non-coated viruses like the norovirus (24-hour stomach ‘flu’). Just wash with soap and water frequently, and soap for at least 20 seconds each time!!!

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