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Biotech Science

Anti-Bacterial Soap No Better Than Plain Soap 479

eldavojohn writes to advise us to stop buying antibacterial soap, as it's no more effective than the regular stuff. And, using it introduces a risk of mutation of bacteria. From the article: "The team looked at 27 studies conducted between 1980 and 2006, and found that soaps containing triclosan within the range of concentrations commonly used in the community setting (0.1 to 0.45 percent wt./vol.) were no more effective than plain soaps. Triclosan is used in higher concentrations in hospitals and other clinical settings, and may be more effective at reducing illness and bacteria. Triclosan works by targeting a biochemical pathway in the bacteria that allows the bacteria to keep its cell wall intact. Because of the way triclosan kills the bacteria, mutations can happen at the targeted site... a mutation could mean that the triclosan can no longer get to the target site to kill the bacteria because the bacteria and the pathway have changed form."
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Anti-Bacterial Soap No Better Than Plain Soap

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  • by Gabest ( 852807 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:40AM (#20250055)
    what is a soap?
  • new subject line.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by middlemen ( 765373 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:40AM (#20250063) Homepage
    Anti-Bacterial Soap Sells Better than Plain Soap

    Hurray for marketing!!!
    • by Himring ( 646324 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:54AM (#20250247) Homepage Journal
      Both hurt if they get in your peepee.
    • by antarctican ( 301636 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:20AM (#20250631) Homepage
      Anti-Bacterial Soap Sells Better than Plain Soap

      Hurray for marketing!!!

      Sadly yes. Last time I went to buy hand soap for home, of the two dozen different brands and sub-brand products on the shelf, only TWO were not antibacterial.

      Even if I want to be a good buy and not use antibacterial soap, I can't.

      Of course being exposed to some bacteria over your life is a good thing anyhow - it builds the immune system. That's why parents should let their kids go out side and play/eat the dirt, they'll be better for it in the long run.

      But you are right, screw the facts, hurray for marketing!
      • by spottedkangaroo ( 451692 ) * on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:37AM (#20250863) Homepage

        Sadly yes. Last time I went to buy hand soap for home, of the two dozen different brands and sub-brand products on the shelf, only TWO were not antibacterial.

        This is particularly irritating for those of us that are allergic to triclosan. It's in all soap and all deoderent these days.

        Happily, it's in non of these products: []

        • by value_added ( 719364 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @01:28PM (#20252345)
          This is particularly irritating for those of us that are allergic to triclosan. It's in all soap and all deoderent these days.

          Happily, it's in non of these products: [product placement snipped]

          This may sound reasonable to many at first glance, but it strikes me the same as hearing someone say, "Hydrogenated vegetable oil is in all food you buy, but it isn't in [insert name of favourite snack food]".

          My reaction is always, "No, it's not. Hydrogenated vegetable oil is in most processed food and food products that comes from some manufacturer and marketed in an attractive box to those walking down the food aisles in your local supermarket, but it definitely is not in the sandwich I'm eating, or in any of the food I buy or in any of the food many people buy."

          With respect to soap, have you ever noticed that walking down the soap aisle of a supermarket, your nose starts acting up? I have no allergies and I want to sneeze. The "soap" that you're buying isn't soap and hasn't been for years. In fact, most of it is a cheap commercial detergent mixed with a variety of other ingredients (foaming agents, colors, perfumes, etc.) to compensate for the original nasty ingredients, and then shaped into a soap-like shape and put into a colourful box. The liquid soaps are essentially shampoo with colour.

          Real soap has always been lye and fat. The lye (sodium hydroxide) was obtained by passing water through burnt animal bones, wood ashes, etc. The fat was usually animal, but vegetable fats (olive oil, for example) were often used. Today, most fats are considered too expensive, and the soap making process requires too much time (also expensive) for most manufacturers. As a result, you get those nasty detergent bars in your local grocers, right next to the lotions (fake fats, if you will) sold to further offset the use of the fake soaps.

          Companies and individuals have been making "specialty" (whatever that means) or "handmade" (another silly term) soaps for years, More recently, the popularity of such soap has experienced a boom, and you can find "real" soap just about anywhere. The irony, of course, is that most any "handmade" soap available today is better for your skin, smells better, is environmentally friendly and is actually cheaper as it simply lasts longer because you use far less of it. And, curiously, soap removes bacteria from your skin just fine.

          So, forget the product-A vs. product-B recommendations. If you buy the "real" stuff, there's no need to bother with anything that involves spending your life reading labels.
    • by secPM_MS ( 1081961 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:26AM (#20250721)
      Plain soap got commoditized and the profit margin dropped. Hence, the manufacturers went looking for some new "improvement" that they could add that would allow them to command a price premium. Of course, once they saw incremental increases in sales for the "improved" competitive product, the other manufacturers followed. Now they all have the same situation with somewhat higher costs and we are worse off -- there is massive exposure to the chemical agents and the bugs are being selected for resistance. As for me, I have taken to buying my soap from a "organic" company just to avoid all the "extras". I have no problem using synthetic agents where apporpriate, but generic use is not appropriate.

      As for germ phobia, I have a short, but relevant, observation.

      When you are a first-time mother of a new-born, when the pacifier hits the ground you wash it off and sterilize it before it goes into the child's mouth again.

      When your newborn second child drops their pacifier onto the ground, you wipe it off and stick it back in their mouth. After all, eating dirt didn't appear to hurt #1.

      When your newborn third child drops their pacifier onto the ground, "Fido, fetch". Then you wipe the worst of the dog slobber off the pacifier and stick it back into their mouth. You have observed that dog germs and dirt didn't hurt numbers 1 and 2.

  • Unfortunately (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Stanistani ( 808333 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:41AM (#20250067) Homepage Journal
    Over the last few years it's become harder to find hand soap (at least the liquid type) that isn't antibacterial. The fad has pushed the added chemicals into all the major brands.
    • Try Kirk's Castile Soap [] - in my area, Rodman's carries it for $.99 per bar, and it's excellent. I haven't used their liquids, but the bars are really high quality.
    • The clear Ivory Liquid Hand Soap is the one major brand that I know that doesn't have antibacterial additives. We've been using it exclusively for years, but it's often hard to find the cheaper large refill size.
    • Re:Unfortunately (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Monkey ( 795756 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:31AM (#20250801)
      I've started making my own soap. Mostly because I have that Mad Scientist bug and it involves toxic chemicals (Lye), and partly because MacGyver is my patron saint. It's fun, and cheep in comparison to the price of soap. All you need is oil, lye, a few buckets and some rely big pans. Try for getting your ratios right.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by morari ( 1080535 )
        I make mine from the liposuction leftovers...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Deagol ( 323173 )
        Ditto in my household. At least laundry, body soap, and shampoo. Nothing really beats the grease like liquid detergent (no dishwasher), so we still buy that. Kind of a bummer Red Devil Lye is no longer available in stores. However, one of our favorite sources of bulk oils is Liberty Natural []. Haven't found a better deal on olive oil than Costco. For laundry soap, we use the tallow rendered from our livestock and/or recycle bacon grease and other spent cooking oil. For the people soap, we use plant oil
  • by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <> on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:41AM (#20250071) Homepage Journal
    I've been saying for years that plain soap is good enough, and that it's bad for us as a species to use anti-bacterial soap. I have "body wash" in my soap dispenser in the bathroom, because all the "hand soap" is anti-bacterial these days.

    Just goes to show that even an uninformed, loud-mouthed, opinionated jerk is right sometimes.

    • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:57AM (#20250279)
      Soap, a surfactant, kills using physics. It turns lipid membranes inside out. Also by reducing surface tension it creates other havoc (e.g. it suffocates garden insects who drown when their air-pores are blocked ). It's essentially impossible to evolve away from this without immense changes to the very design of the but. Sure it can be done but it's an enormous burden on the germ.

      Chlorine kills with chemistry. It tends to react with a lot of things and even create radicals. It's a little easier to deal with for bugs since they encounter oxidizing environments naturally and have learned to adapt, but it's still so generic an attack that in high concentration it's very lethal and almost impossible to mutate away from.

      Bacteria-cide works by biology, targeting some very specific feature of the bug that is mutable. The difference between antibiotics and "bacteria-cide" is largely the degree to which the target is mutable. Target the ribosome machinery and it's unlikely the bug can mutate in time--antibiotic. Target something less unique and primitive and the bug mutates eventually.

      • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:10AM (#20250481) Journal
        For cleaning vegetables anyway, a mild vinegar solution killed more bacteria on the surface of vegetables than did soap. The food scientists at the magazine explained that lowering the pH interferes with many kinds of biological processes inside bacterial cells. A quick Google search turned up this interesting site [] that recommends using hydrogen peroxide as well.

        That being said, I think we should trust our immune systems more. Unless the immune system is compromised in some way, it does a bang up job fighting off most bacteria. When I was a kid, I played in the dirt and ate bugs. Now, I never get sick and I have no allergies. I think over-protecting the immune system not only weakens it, but causes it to focus on the wrong types of things, creating more allergies.
        • I've suggested to all of my friends with children that they should let their kids play with (and be licked by) my dog, as a pre-emptive anti-allergy exposure. I agree that the world nowadays is way to "sterile."
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Abcd1234 ( 188840 )
            Meh, I grew up with dogs and cats. Today, I'm allergic (extremely so, in the case of cats). Childhood exposure doesn't seem to do a damn thing, unfortunately...
        • by jedidiah ( 1196 )
          The problem with that is that ConAgra style industrial farming has increased the scope and scale of possible food contamination. If it were just you on your own farm then I'd say: Yeah, go for it. Eat dirt.

          Once industry gets involved then things get remarkably more dangerous and really nasty stuff get get bred and perpetrated.

          If they came from big Agro then boil the carrots & butter the spinach.

          Blanching is also good.
      • by kripkenstein ( 913150 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:15AM (#20250555) Homepage
        Good summary. Note, however, that soap doesn't even need to kill germs - soap along with the mechanical action of hand washing is meant to carry germs away with the soap down the drain. This is something that would be extremely difficult to evolve a protection against, and therefore is a very useful strategy.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        "The difference between antibiotics and "bacteria-cide" is largely the degree to which the target is mutable. Target the ribosome machinery and it's unlikely the bug can mutate in time--antibiotic. Target something less unique and primitive and the bug mutates eventually."


        a) there is no real differnence between "bacteria-cide" (sic) and "antibiotic", they're both pretty loose terms in themselves. The proper term most pharmacologists would use is antibacterial agent but to describe something as bacterio
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:45AM (#20250967)
          You know, that was a pretty good post until you ended it with 'STFU'. Just because someone isn't 100% accurate doesn't mean they aren't making a worthy contribution to a story. The post you were complaining about was still informative and illustrated the primary types of attacks against bacteria. Unless you're Ken Jennings it isn't realistic to expect everyone who makes an informative post that's more than a few sentences to be 100% factually accurate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by eebra82 ( 907996 )
      "I've been saying for years that plain soap is good enough"

      I take it your conversations with women don't end up that well, at least for the past few years?
    • I became convinced that antibacterial soap was a horrible idea for everyday use when I read The Coming Plague []. While the plague she described hasn't yet emerged, I don't think it's a good idea to tempt fate.

      I've found that Kirk's Castile Soap [] is antibacterial, high-quality, and cheap too. In the mid-atlantic, Rodman's sells it for $.99 per bar.
    • by Scaba ( 183684 ) <> on Thursday August 16, 2007 @01:17PM (#20252183)

      I've been saying for years that plain soap is good enough...

      I'm glad to see your unwavering vision and fortitude in carrying this message, even in the face of growing adversity, has rewarded you with the sweet taste of vindication. Victory has never been so richly deserved, my friend.

  • Say what..? (Score:2, Funny)

    by djupedal ( 584558 )
    Tric...losan [trik-lowsun] - fooled 'ya! Only kidding! This stuff is no better than spit and sand, sorry chump!!
  • by Radon360 ( 951529 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:48AM (#20250179)

    The combination of scrubbing your hands with soap -- antibacterial or not -- and rinsing them with water loosens and removes bacteria from your hands.

    From: Mayo Clinic Article 05 Dec 2005 []

    It has been known for quite some time that it's the mechanical action that does an important part of the work for disinfecting your hands. The water and soap just help the process by carrying dirt and bacteria away. This is part of the reason that you don't see hand sanitizers allowed as a replacement for proper hand washing at restaurants and other commercial food prep areas.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm flabbergasted that people still buy antibacterial soap. For years I've known that antibacterial soap isn't any more effective then normal soap, and I fear the super-bacteria being created by this soap.

    Here's an article from consumer reports in 2004:

    Don't bother with antibacterial cleaners []

    I went to Target last week to look for bulk containers of liquid hand soap. It was **all** antibacterial soap, normal soap didn't exist.
  • I'm always hearing about how we should not use antibiotics unnecessarily because it allows bacteria to adapt to and as such defeat their use. I get that, but aren't we then fighting a losing battle? Are we all just waiting around until bacteria become superior and wipe us out? Is there any way to escape this eventuality?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by blazer1024 ( 72405 )
      Allow your immune system to fight off bacteria like it's supposed to, instead of giving it a nearly sterile environment to grow weak in.

      It's like a great boxer who decides to retire because he feels it's too dangerous. He then spends the next 10 years watching television. Then he realizes he needs some money, so he decides to have a comeback fight. Well, he hasn't been training in 10 years. Now he's fat and slow and has no stamina. So he gets in the ring and loses.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Bertie ( 87778 )
      Well, they'd never managed to find an answer to penicillin in the countless millions of years before Fleming stumbled on it, so the indications are that they'd need a very, very long time to crack it by themselves if we weren't bathing the entire world in a weak antibiotic solution that they're getting increasingly used to.

      And they'd never quite managed to wipe us out completely either. We can adapt too, admittedly not as fast as they can, but if we have a large and sufficiently genetically diverse populat
  • by infestedsenses ( 699259 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:54AM (#20250249) Homepage
    I, for one, welcome our new mutant bacteria soap overlords.
  • It's just better at facilitating mutation and resistance to anti-bacterial agents, instead of the opposite...
  • Soap study (Score:2, Informative)

    by LaMuk ( 257751 )
    Some years ago, I read an article about a study that Johnson & Johnson did. In a third will country with wide-spread dysentery they gave 100 families anti-bacterial soap and 100 families plain soap. And there were 100 families that got no soap at all. Instructions were given as to when to use the soap. They found that there was no difference in the cases of dysentery between the families with the two different kinds of soap, but a huge difference between the soap and non-soap families. The families wit
  • by the_rajah ( 749499 ) * on Thursday August 16, 2007 @10:59AM (#20250309) Homepage
    is that they tend to dry and irritate the skin more than plain old soap. This makes the skin actually more vulnerable to pathogens. I, too, have been advising folks to just use plain old soap and water and avoid antibacterial soaps. My grandmother used to make her own lye and lard soap. Maybe not such a bad idea. Being a germophobe isn't necessarily a good idea.
    • If you're worried about the harshness of soap, I'd stay away from the lye+lard stuff: it's pretty rough on the skin. I'm a big fan of castile soap (I really like Kirk's [] - it's old-school, and cheap too), and that's not quite so rough but it still does the job.
  • I would be extremely surprised if that was not the case. Just as I would be surprised if, for instance, the "revitalising" shampoos work, i.e., re-vitalise the hair. Does anyone take advertising seriously?
    • Shampoos are filled with nasty chemicals.
      When their marketing department says 'comes from coconut' it means "we use sodium laureth sulfate" -- a known carcinogen. It's also what makes your eyes burn like hell.
  • Just use lye like baby powder.
  • by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:04AM (#20250375)
    When I trained as a nurse in the early nineties we were taught to fear the germ. They piled on so much shite about asepsis that you could end up paranoid about bacteria. I am not exaggerating...

    On the wards we had anti bacterial soap, and cleaning alcohol dispensers, and there was a strict routine, wash with the soap, then the alcohol, and do so many, many times throughout the day.

    The result was nurses with awful skin, and screw the patients, *we* were getting infections.

    Within a year someone with a brain dumped the routine, and our soap/alcohol dispensers were replaced with non scented, ordinary liquid soap. Amazingly enough the much espoused explosion of infections because of the mighty germ failed to materialize.

    Then they buggered it all up by replacing in house cleaners with minimum wage contract workers, and we got a whole new set of problems, but that's another story.

    What surprises me is that this is news now. as far as I'm concerned, this was all sorted out fifteen years ago. I guess different hospitals have different standards.
    • by permaculture ( 567540 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @12:04PM (#20251267) Homepage Journal
      "Then they buggered it all up by replacing in house cleaners with minimum wage contract workers, and we got a whole new set of problems, but that's another story."

      You don't say? There's an article in the current UK publication 'Private Eye' about cleaners in Welsh hospitals. After reverting from minimum wage contract workers back to in house cleaners again, they cut MRSA infections by some large percentage.

      Evidently in house cleaners really do care more about doing the job right.
  • I've read several months back in a hydroponics gardening magazine that some green houses are now staying away from bleach and other chemicals when flushing their systems between crops. Seems the constant bombardment of flushing agents is mutating pathogens that attack plants. What they are doing now is actually flushing the system with water and then introduce beneficial microbes into the system. Once those are established they replant the greenhouse. Now there is a protective layer or beneficials that out
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:20AM (#20250629)
    When you're looking for antibiotic resistant, tough-as-steel and unkillable bacteria, you don't go to a biology lab. You go to a hospital.

    When you hear that some hospital has a problem with bacteria, stay away. Far away. Preferably you're on another continent. Yes, even if it's just some "normal" bacteria strand that causes something like a mild sneeze or something else that's usually harmless and goes away in a week or two of rest.

    Simple reason: There's nothing in the world that could kill those critters. Those are the descendents of the bacteria that survived the onslaught of the toughest anti-bac crap that's available to mankind.

    That is btw also the reason why taking antibiotics for harmless junk illnesses is about the worst thing you can do, surpassed in stupidity only by taking them only 'til the symptoms end. If you accomplish anything that way, it is to toughen the bacteria, but not yourself. They'll be back with a vengeance, and then those ABs won't hit them anymore. They adapt amazingly quickly. Kill them all, ok. Kill 99.999% of them and you're in for trouble.
    • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @12:31PM (#20251621)
      Another huge issue? Farmers feeding their livestock anti-bacterial drugs to make them grow bigger. WTF??? And this is fully endorsed by veterinarians. So our meat supply is also breeding anti-biotic resistant bacteria. Our society is so stupid with regards to this dilemma...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Deagol ( 323173 )

        As someone who routinely buys feed for livestock and has used OTC feed store remedies (wisely, of course), I know this is true. The best example that I know of is the use of Oxytetracycline ("Terramycin" brand) as a feed additive. Has instructions right there on the package, which is pretty scary. That's some pretty potent antibiotic, and (IIRC from the Merck Vet Manual), not only does a high percentage not get broken down by the body (thus passing out in the urine), it's fairly stable once it's

  • triclosan (Score:3, Insightful)

    by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <> on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:29AM (#20250769) Homepage Journal
    i think i remember reading somewhere that chemical derivatives of triclosan are endocrine mimics. which means they mess with things like amphibian reproduction (amphibians are on the decline around the world). triclosan is found in 60 percent of American stream and rivers now

    and you can even find triclosan in breast milk now too: it gets in our food via fertilizer. hey, when you flush it down the drain, it has to go somewhere. sometimes it comes back to you

    now normally, a slight level of this chemical or that chemical is no big deal. for example, chloroform and dioxin are chemical byproducts of triclosan reacting with chlorinated water. but that doesn't matter, as the levels of those scary sounding chemicals are the same as normal background readings, meaning hysterically mentioning them has no real scientific basis for alarm (but is effective propaganda for the scientifically uninitiated)

    but endocrine mimics are different, as the slightest of levels really can have an effect on biological processes. but i guess that's ok, because between all of the birth control, propecia, viagra, and xanax we're also pissing and flushing into our waterways, yes, our animals and children will all be hermaphrodites, but they will have a full head of hair, a hard on, and be strangely blissful about it all cleID=024FEAE8-E7F2-99DF-323D8E02C4E48BF6&pageNumb er=1&catID=9 [] []
  • No matter what kind of soap you use, it is not useful unless you give it time to work. Most people wash their hands for 3-4 seconds. This is nowhere near long enough to kill or remove bacteria. You need to wash your hands for a good solid minute.

    We taught our kids to sing the Alphabet song while washing. When they were done they could rinse

  • by Elias Ross ( 1260 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:35AM (#20250853) Homepage
    My wife and I buy "soap base" in bulk and use it. It's intended to be mixed with fragrances and coloring (and I suppose resold) but we use it straight. It's very inexpensive, though you have to buy empty dispenser bottles to use it.

    Here's the site [] we order from. There's no "anti-bacteria" chemicals in it, and for people like me who hate fragrances, it's hypo-allergenic without the boutique price. For a gallon, it's 25 cents an ounce. And it should last about two years per person. If you want something with an interesting label, go with Dr. Bronner's [].

    For those chemists (cooks) out there, soap is easy to make yourself [].
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Dr. Bronner's Stuff *rocks*. I grew up on their Peppermint Oil soap. It's expensive, but considering I use it for about everything, it's worth it.

      It's the only soap that will completely take off the smell of gasoline or diesel fuel. It'll remove any and all grease from my body. I've used it as laundry soap once. My best use for it: Shaving Cream. I put the soap on my face completely dry, then rub in 1:1 of water and it creates a nice lather. It's like after shave is built in.

      The bottle says it works as an i
  • This is some nice anti-anti-bacterial soap hype.

    No, it's not necessary or very useful to use anti-bacterial soap. No, it won't create super-bacteria that come and kill us all.

    I don't use it because I'm allergic to the anti-bacterial ingredient. I'm not sure why we need misleading hype for every opinion on either side of everything though.

  • Because of the way triclosan kills the bacteria, mutations can happen at the targeted site.

    I'm no biologist, but isn't it the case that the mutations happen anyway? Antibiotics don't CAUSE bacteria to mutate, they simply weed out the non-mutated population that would otherwise compete for nutrients with their mutated peers. I'm not saying that over-use of antibiotics isn't a bad thing, I just think the above statement is factually wrong.

    That said, I think antibiotics in handsoap is a non-issue, and

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @11:53AM (#20251115) Homepage Journal

    Once more,marketing gives us a product that cost's more, does no good, and may ultimately harm millions all for the sake of the almighty buck.

    Once again, they face no sanctions for blatantly lying to the public for years.

  • by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Thursday August 16, 2007 @03:56PM (#20254079)
    Not only do I boost my immune system, it's also awesome for the skin!

    Also, when I get out of my backyard mudhole, I look like a scary mofo, as a bonus, the 'hood kids won't hang out anywhere near my lawn...

"Though a program be but three lines long, someday it will have to be maintained." -- The Tao of Programming