Photo: Avoid antibacterials with triclosan: make your own soap

One way to avoid triclosan is to make your own liquid hand soap. (Credit: Andre Doreto via Flickr)

Our increasing obsession with avoiding germs could be making us sick. I call it the antibacterial crazy train. I'm not the first, by any stretch, to suggest we get off this unwieldy locomotive.

In Slow Death by Rubber Duck, authors Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie dedicate a whole chapter to "Germophobia". Rick actually acts as a test guinea pig, using commonly found antibacterial products containing triclosan and Microban ® on himself. What's unnerving about Rick's "triclosan shopping list" is it looks like it could be anyone's!

After just two days of brushing his teeth with Colgate Total toothpaste, washing dishes with Dawn Ultra concentrated, and shaving with Gillette gel, to name a few, his urine sample contained the highest recorded value of triclosan to date in the U.S. population!

This is not a contest you want win.

Triclosan, one of the most common antibacterial agents, is found in a wide range of household products — garbage bags, toys, counter tops, facial tissues, and cosmetics. It easily passes through the skin and is suspected of interfering with hormone function. In the environment, triclosan reacts to form dioxins, which bioaccumulate and are toxic. Environment Canada has categorized triclosan as toxic to aquatic organisms and Health Canada limits concentrations to 0.03 per cent in mouthwashes and 0.3 per cent in other cosmetics.

There's growing concern that use of antibacterial products may negatively affect human health in other ways. The Canadian Medical Association has called on the federal government to ban all antibacterial household products (PDF file) because of fears they cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In fact, the findings of published studies show no evidence that antibacterials actually do a better job then your regular soap in a household setting. On top of contributing to a rise of "superbugs", a Swedish study found high levels of this bactericide in human breast milk and it's showing up in our waterways.

Stop triclosan from building up in our bodies, and in nature. Here are two simple ways to steer clear:

1. Read labels. Avoid triclosan (and the other Dirty Dozen) on the ingredient lists of your personal care products — like deodorant, antiperspirant, and toothpaste — and household cleaning products.

2. Choose bar soaps — triclosan was found in 76 per cent of liquid soaps and only 29 per cent of bar soaps in the U.S. (American Journal of Infection Control, 2002)

3. Wash with a fragrance-free, plant-based soap or make you own.

Liquid hand soap recipe

(in under 10 minutes)

Add this mixture to your soap dispenser (even the foaming kind):

¾ cup (187.5 ml) distilled water
¼ cup (62.5 ml) liquid castile soap (found at most health food stores or organic grocers in unscented or scented with essential oils)
Optional: ½ (2.5 ml) teaspoon grapeseed oil

How have you managed to avoid triclosan in your household products and cosmetics?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

March 9, 2011

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Mar 05, 2016
9:18 AM

Is there a good recipe for dish soap? The type for hand washing dishes

Feb 28, 2015
12:04 PM

Our hand soap and body wash. Using Ivory bar soap as a cheap liquid hand soap. Ivory: In blender add 1 cup hot water. Add 1 bar of Ivory cut into pieces. Blend 7 seconds. Fill blender to top fill line with water and blend again for 7 seconds. Done, and pour into containers. Makes approx. 2.5 liters. Shake the container if soap thickened after a few hours, and use. Our version of Body wash using Dr. Bonner’s: Grate 1/2 bar (1/3 for less thickness) Dr. Bonner’s bar soap and use the same method with blender as above. Pour into a bowl afterwards and whisk in 2 tbsp of the Dr. Bonner’s liquid castile soap for more suds action. Pour into containers. This rinsed off in the shower well and left skin feeling good.

Feb 28, 2015
11:52 AM

We use either Ivory bar soap or Dr. Bonner’s castile soap for hand and bodywash. Ivory: Add 1 cup of hot water to blender. Cut 1 Ivory soap bar into blender and blender 5 — 10 seconds. Fill to to fill line of blender with water and blend again. Done! Pour into containers. This may thicken a little, give a shake and use. Our Bonner’s DIY bodywash: Grate 1/2 bar (1/3 bar for use thickening) of Dr. Bonner’s castile soap. Use same method in blender as the above recipe. Pour int a bowl and whisk 2 tbsp Dr. Bonner’s liquid castile soap into the mix. Pour and use. The Ivory leaves a feeling like a slight residue to your skin, so we don’t use this for anything but hand soap. The Bonner’s version worked to rinse off leaving a clean feeling when used as a body wash.

Feb 28, 2015
11:43 AM

Love this recipe! There are two other types of hand soap we use as DIY. 1 bar Ivory soap, hot water and a blender. In blender add a cup of hot water. Cut the Ivory soap bar into the blender and blend approx. 5 to 10 seconds. Fill the blender to top fill line and blend another 5 — 10 seconds. Pour into containers. This will thicken in container a little, give it a good shake to loosen and ready to use. Dr. Bonner’s liquid castile and bar soap to use as a body wash: We grated 1/2 a bar of the Dr. Bonner’s baby mild soap (grate 1/3 of bar for less thickness) and then used the same method in blender as with the Ivory. But once done, we added 1 to 2 tbsp of the liquid castile soap for more suds. It worked! Add essential oils as an option. Made approx 2 to 2.5 liters depending on your amounts used.

Sep 07, 2013
12:51 PM

yes we love this recipe, I use it at home and we have been teaching children and their families to use it as well. We just did a session at a school this week. We tell them how it is safer for their health,for the environment and their pocket book. Generally we get good feedback especially with the children involved.

Aug 11, 2013
10:19 AM

Where can I get distilled water? Can I use boiled water instead? Thank you!

Jul 27, 2013
10:31 PM

I am looking to make a safe and effective bar soap without using lye. Do you have any recipes for this?

Thanks Wendy

Oct 02, 2012
6:45 PM

I find it so hard to convince people to be aware of the dangers of having a bacteria free environment. Most people don't want to know and are confused by the fact that all the companies make this stuff. I'm in the minority here and people think I'm nuts to mention the dirty dozen or GMO's, Sumatran Rainforests or expensive organic. I just stop spreading the word because people think I'm on crack! I almost wish I was because its soo depressing :'(

Jul 06, 2012
4:50 AM

I wonder what is the difference between castile and glycerin soap. Would you dilute glycerin soap with water as well? Which one is a healthier version? Thank you.

May 31, 2012
3:25 PM

WOW, thanks for the info AND the solutions!!!

May 30, 2012
5:11 PM

how do you make eco-safe dish soap for hand washing of dishes

May 29, 2012
6:28 AM

My daughter was given two bottles of antibacterial foaming hand soap (containing triclosan) as a gift. We do not intend to use it. How should I dispose of it?

May 13, 2012
6:33 AM

Thank you so much for sharing this with your readers. I have been making soap for 7 years and doing my part in Vercheres, Qc to sensitize the public about toxic soaps. What a difference handmade soap is compared to commercial brands, they hydrate and do not strip good oils from your body. Be wary of bubble baths and shampoos……they contain the most detergents. If you wish to visit my site, please mention David Suzuki and you will have an extra gift with your purchase. I also donate a percentage of sales .

Apr 09, 2012
9:17 PM

In our house, we refill foam soap dispensers with about 1.5 cm of dishsoap (whatever natural, biodegradable product I have to wash my dishes with) and fill the rest of the bottle with warm water. Works well and my kids like using it, and wash often. This is a good way to save money too!

Apr 04, 2012
11:03 AM

A couple of years ago, I was taking public transit quite a lot to school, and I wanted to avoid getting sick, so everyday I used antibacterial cleanser. That year I got sicker than I have ever been.

Now for the last year and half I have avoided using soap altogether. Don't get me wrong, I don't like feeling dirty, but I think using soap and shampoo is actually quite unnatural, and I feel cleaner than I ever have when not using soap (just water works fine). I even spent 2 1/2 months in East Africa, not on safaris, but actually within the communities. I haven't really got sick yet. Maybe a subtle sinus infection in Canada, but that went away in two days.

Feeling awesome! But on the other hand, all these chemicals are so scary, and I want to help people feel better and get back to being natural. I really encourage the sharing of the information in this article. Thanks for posting this!

Oct 27, 2011
6:40 PM

I avoid anything that claims to "kill germs" because if it does, it has some kind of antimicrobial in it: Triclosan, Microban, or silver ions (Norwex cleaning cloths) which are an antibiotic in all but name, and poised to cause all the same problems. I have become a pain to my local grocery/hardware store. All the major brands of anything—soap, sponges, microfibre cloths, mops, toothpaste, whatever—still make PLAIN versions without the antimicrobials. I google the companies to double-check, find the specific product name etc. When I can't find it on the shelf, I ask the department/store manager to special-order it for me. While she's looking it all up, I give her the spiel on why it's important to avoid the "germ killers" and why (with rare exceptions) they are completely unnecessary in our homes.

Apr 15, 2011
8:24 PM

I have started using Norwex antibac cloths and don’t use antibacterial cleaning products or soap at all anymore. Would love to know your opinion!

Apr 12, 2011
7:37 AM

I’m sorry but I don’t think watering down castile soap qualifies as making your own soap.

Nevertheless, this is a good article about triclosan. I didn’t know it’s in products that aren’t necessarily labeled “antibacterial” like deodorant and toothpaste. None of my products list ingredients (I think the law is different in Canada) so I will have to do some investigating.

Apr 08, 2011
1:54 PM

What’s a recipe for making bar soap and where to get the ingredients?

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