1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Why I Hate Hand Sanitizer and Antibacterial Soap

By March 2, 2009

Follow me on:

Triclosan (Harbin, Wikipedia CommonsPartly it's because I don't indiscriminately view bacteria as 'the enemy'. Some bacteria are beneficial and I don't have any urge to kill them. Other bacteria can cause disease. I don't want to kill off the disease-causing bacteria that are easily eliminated, leaving only the extra-nasty resistant strains. Back in ye olden days, people used normal soap and water to wash their hands. It was effective at removing pathogens. It still is. Products containing the antibacterial and antifungal agent triclosan (structure shown) are overkill, in my opinion. They don't confer any benefit over normal good hygeine and washing with ordinary soap and water. They could be associated with the development of dangerous strains of bacteria.

Triclosan doesn't just wash off your hands and out of the environment. A 2002 Swedish study found triclosan in 3 out of 5 human breast milk samples. The manufacturing process can lead to triclosan being contaminated with dioxin plus triclosan can react with chlorinated water to form dioxin. Sounds great, doesn't it? I advise my kids against using antibacterial products at school (which is big on hand sanitizer), don't buy them for home, and hope more people will become aware of the potential hazards associated with using these products. If you absolutely have to use hand sanitizer, you might want to make your own.


March 2, 2009 at 8:05 pm
(1) Allie says:

OK sorry if this hurts your feelings…
well actually no i’m not sorry…
-12 years old
Cincinnati , Ohio
p.s. if your not such a freak as your turned out to be in this post maybe your can join my social network..
then again I DON’T want a grannie member

September 23, 2010 at 6:43 pm
(2) Jackie says:

I don’t really think it’s nice to make fun of or insult other peope for what they say or think! That’s their opinion! Anyway, I love sanitizer! I always bring it with me to school along with my lunch so I don’t have go to the bathroom to wash my hands!

March 3, 2009 at 12:45 am
(3) Lance says:

Wow, I didn’t realize people got so wrapped-up with this.

I concur, hand sanitizer seems extreme, but we’re socially accustomed to it now. I also work with a guy who takes enormous pains not to touch anything anybody else has touched. It’s amazing we’ve lived as long as we have with how some people react.


September 23, 2010 at 6:54 pm
(4) Love Girl says:

Hey Lance. :) You have such a cute name! :) How old are you?

October 13, 2010 at 11:01 am
(5) tanner says:

your so sexy

March 3, 2009 at 9:36 pm
(6) HHud says:

I agree about the over-killing good bacteria and creating resistant strains, but working as a vet tech I would not trust washing my hands with just regular soap. I would also not trust a nurse or doctor to using regular soap. I also think that blogs are more appropriate for adults.

March 4, 2009 at 12:45 am
(7) Connie says:

Someday people will realize they have done much harm to their immune systems from using too much sanitizers, right now people all over the world are suffering from a strain of scabies that we are having a terrible time eradicating due to low immune systems, so let your kids get a little dirty it’s good for them !

March 4, 2009 at 10:19 am
(8) Ambitousone says:

So this company in Chicago named It’s Clean USA has a product called Tableware Cleaner, it is supposed to remove germs from your utensils prior to consuming your food. I ordered this product over two weeks ago and haven’t received it yet. I would like to conduct a test to see if the product really delivers as touted without tainting our food or bodies. The company also has a bio based hand sanitizer that has been on the market since 2006, it can’t seem to establish itself in the market place. Is the company It’s Clean USA all smoke and mirrors??? I will post again once I receive the product, if I ever receive the product.

March 9, 2009 at 5:00 am
(9) Mike V says:

For the most part, I wholeheartedly agree with this and more. Before that, one couple thing:

The dioxin formed when triclosan reacts with water is 2,7/2,8-dioxin, not the 2,3,7,8-dioxin from Vietnam infamy, though that type can be a contaminant of the manufacturing process.

Triclosan also forms 2,4-dichlorophenol and 2,4,6-trichlorophenol when it breaks down, both of which are quite toxic in larger doses, and in smaller ones are listed as probable human carcinogens.

Triclosan itself can also disrupt endocrine pathways (it’s similarly structured to estrogens) and kills algae at extremely low concentrations.

And to Allie – Take a science class; and wake up in English.

-Mike, 24, New College of Florida

March 10, 2009 at 8:42 am
(10) Bill says:

How come the Swedes get to do all the fun studies?

March 15, 2009 at 11:01 pm
(11) rod brazzel says:

This hand cleaner is good for starting fires in an emergency!

May 26, 2009 at 11:51 am
(12) sarah says:

this is gay

June 8, 2009 at 1:42 pm
(13) Patti Wood says:

Did you know that President Obama now has one of his body guards carry about hand sanitizer for his own personal use? Find out more, and my thoughts on the topic at my blog http://www.bodylanguagelady.blogspot.com!

July 26, 2009 at 4:09 pm
(14) Betty says:

I don’t think some of you idiots actually know the potential harm of antibacterial anything (assuming that you guys are pre-teens). Here’s a quick bio lesson that you guys will eventually learn and realize your stupidity. Antibacterial hand sanitizers kill most bacteria, but not ALL bacteria (.01%). This seems very little and very harmless. However, you know what that means, right? It means that the .01% of bacteria are RESISTANT to the sanitizer, therefore they are able to reproduce quickly and multiply. These extra harmful bacteria can’t be killed since they are all resistant to the sanitizer. This means that this super-bacteria, if you will, is going to be VERY hard to eliminate.

September 22, 2009 at 6:18 pm
(15) hl says:

There needs to be more clarity here, of all places: hand sanitizers are alcohol based, in great contrast to the antibacterial agents noted. Big, big difference that could be of real importance as people are instructed in greater use of the sanitizers while the flu season is ramping up

October 18, 2009 at 12:47 pm
(16) Kim says:

If “good old fashion soap and water” worked so well, how did the Cholera spread so rapidly in London of the 1800′s? Why is it that C-Diff, which is transferred the same way, is dangerous enough that anyone going near the patient needs hospital gowns and gloves in addition to soaping up with a soap that is stronger than hand sanitizers, which don’t kill those germs?

Sorry, Ph.D, this doesn’t make sense and I do NOT want to be anywhere around your kids! Not just for the germs but for their lack of intelligence if they actually obey your “they’re only germs-what others don’t know won’t hurt them” mentality.

November 3, 2009 at 9:46 pm
(17) RLance says:

Just found info about the checical triclosan which is used in many products you may be using. Please note that sanitizers contain alcohol, and many are not listed as antibacterials. Harm will come to you if you drink sanitizers, or try to start a fire with them! Check out BeyondPesticides.org

You may want to quit wearing your Merrell shoes!

November 9, 2009 at 11:32 am
(18) Monica says:

Just to let you know there is a a new hand sanitizer, which is FDA compliant. (I’ve done my research).

I have tried it, and it’s pretty sweet. It’s non-alcohol based, which is nice because it doesn’t make you smell like alcohol and it doesn’t dry out your hands. Plus, I am not sure how good putting alcohol on kids hands is…

Purel kills bacteria for 18 seconds, this one last for 8 hours. It protects you against ecoli, salmonella, and other bactieria and germs.

Go here: http://www.skinwearshop.com — you can look it over and see if you like it. It does smell nice though and does what it says.

March 27, 2010 at 12:15 am
(19) Denise says:

Kim chill out!
Allie go study some more.
Betty I agree.I have some medical back ground myself.
Monica thanks for the info.
I do not use antibacterial products because they alone have broken down my own immune system.An antibacterial product is a toxin that is in soap and even toothpaste .My family does not use them.

September 7, 2010 at 2:37 am
(20) Slott Pog says:

Thanks for interesting article!
Yours Sincerely.


September 13, 2010 at 6:16 pm
(21) Hand Sanitizer says:

Great article on hand sanitizer.

October 31, 2010 at 3:43 pm
(22) CoffeeBean says:

I agree with this article. Constantly ridding yourself of bacteria produces even more lethal bacteria and lets the worse ones live longer and get away.
A lot of people are using antibacterial soap on their bodies during bathing. When women are constantly doing that, it gets rid of the natural bacteria in their lady area…which later on causes nasty yeast infections. Choose: Bacteria that lives naturally and protects you or yeast that ferments and tries to eat the lining of your vagina (which is why yeast infections are itchy)
Natural bacteria tend to provide a mass layer of protection on your skin, and if you wash that off constantly, well something worse can happen besides a stupid phobia.
If people are so phobic of bacteria they should stop consuming cheese and yogurt. The world would not accomplish much without bacteria.

February 26, 2011 at 3:44 am
(23) TodSnow says:

Some of you have never heard of Alcohol Resistant bacteria such as “Bacillus cereus” similar to the “Bacillus anthracis” of the 2001 anthrax attacks which when placed in an hostile environment, like alcohol, will create an endospore, “escape pod”, which contains all the material (e.g. DNA+…) to regrow to its previous bacterial(vegetative) form, the endospore is capable of resisting radiation, heat, extreme freezing and chemical disinfectants (like alcohol). Then when returned to a favorable environment such as a human hand the endospore grows back the original reproductive, and harmfull, bacterial(vegetative) form.

Think such problems are unlikely then just look up Triad Group Alcohol Pads that were infected with Bacillus cereus.

If people use alcohol (or any form of anti-bacterial agent) often enough, then only the alcohol resistant bacteria will have a chance at reproduction.

April 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm
(24) ScienceMajor says:

Allie – look, you’re twelve. I bet you don’t even know what pathogens are without looking it up using your smartphone, which for sure you have, kid. Come read this article again after two more years. That is, if you even pass your biology class.

This article is a good starting point if one wants to know what exactly can alcohol-based hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial soaps can do to harm human immune system. She summarized it pretty well, in my opinion.

April 25, 2012 at 3:50 pm
(25) CJ says:

Allie said:

“OK sorry if this hurts your feelings…
well actually no i’m not sorry…
-12 years old
Cincinnati , Ohio
p.s. if your not such a freak as your turned out to be in this post maybe your can join my social network..
then again I DON’T want a grannie member”

I realize this is comment is three years old, but damn Allie, you talk pretty big for a 12 year old. I hope in the last three years you learned to how use the proper “you’re.” You may not like germ-freaks, but I think being a spelling freak could do you some good.

I’d say you sound like an immature loud mouth, but at 12 years old, I guess you are. You’re 15 now, so hopefully you’ve learned some stuff.

May 14, 2012 at 8:48 am
(26) Desiree says:

Allie- you’re kind of a jerk! And someday when you get sick over and over and over again, you may consider the idea that you’ve destroyed all the healthy bacteria in your intestinal tract- and THAT’s why you can’t get well. You see YOU are the germ freak.

PS- Love the post! I also hate hand sanitizer, it’s 60-90% alcohol, which we absorb through the skin and ingest just as if we eat or drink or inject it. Who would drink hand sanitizer??! oh wait- probably a 12 year old.


February 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm
(27) You says:

Wow good stuff but I use purell and antibacterial soap all day every day.

March 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm
(28) Joel says:

Betty, I hope to God you’re kidding. Hand sanitizer doesn’t claim to kill 99.99% of germs because there is some supreme, evolved bacteria out there resistant to all things on Earth.. it’s to prevent law suits… Imagine what would happen if every antibacterial product company claimed their products killed 100% of germs and someone became ill who uses their products? Bad things & angry people. Have some common sense before being a bad-ass and calling people idiots on an internet thread. I certainly hope you’re not a bio teacher.

ps Kim – very valid points.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.