A few facts about antibacterial soaps and gels

October 5, 2015

Everyone is worried about the spread of germs. Washing your hands regularly is a must, but do antibacterial soaps and gels really help? Here are a few simple facts about soap:

A few facts about antibacterial soaps and gels

Antibacterial soaps vs. regular soap

Commercials for antibacterial soaps and gels would have you believe your environment is infested with a horror movie's worth of bacteria, viruses, yeasts and molds, all waiting to make you and your family sick. But do you really need these products? While it's true that the world faces new germ threats, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, science is reinforcing old truths about the best ways to fight germs, which old-fashioned homemakers have known for generations.

  • Antibacterial soaps are no better than old-fashioned soap and water for killing disease-causing germs or preventing the illnesses they can cause.
  • A review of 27 studies examining purported germ-fighting products containing ingredients like triclosan found no evidence that they were superior for battling microbes in the home.
  • These products seem to have little effect on viruses that cause colds, flu and gastrointestinal woes, researchers say.
  • When 238 families used liquid hand soaps, spray cleaners and laundry detergents with or without antibacterial ingredients for 48 weeks, scientists found no difference in the number of parents and kids who got runny noses, coughs, fevers, nausea, diarrhea or skin rashes.

Hand gels

When you can't get to a sink, germ-battling gels can reduce your exposure to bugs that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.

  • When a sink and a bar of soap are out of reach, alcohol-based antibacterial gels and towelettes are a proven alternative for ridding your hands of bacteria and viruses.
  • In a recent study of 292 families with young children, those who used hand-sanitizers for five months had 59 percent fewer infections than those who didn't use them.
  • In another study, families who washed up with hand gels about five times a day cut the risk of colds by 20 percent compared to families who scrubbed less often.
  • For best results, squeeze out two millilitres (half a teaspoon) of gel or grab a towelette and vigorously rub your hands front and back.Tuck an antibacterial cleaner into your child's backpack, too.
  • When 420 elementary school kids used hand sanitizer several times a day at school — when coming into the classroom, before eating and after using the bathroom — for four weeks, they got 29 percent fewer gastrointestinal illnesses and 49 percent fewer colds. Kids who used sanitizers also had 31 percent fewer sick days.

Health risks of antibacterial products

Antibacterial products can be downright risky if you think they're more effective than soap and therefore wash your hands less thoroughly.

  • Washing your hands for 15 to 20 seconds every time you use the bathroom and before handling food or eating is a proven germ stopper that experts say can get rid of 99.9 percent of germs — by washing bacteria and viruses down the drain and by outright killing nasties like the highly contagious rotavirus, which causes gastrointestinal problems.

So there you have it -- regular soap is just as effective as antibacterial soap, and hand-sanitizers are an excellent way to combat the germs we come across every day. Be sure to wash your hands regularly and use hand-santizer when soap and water are unavailable.

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