There is no evidence that antibacterial products actually do a better job than regular soap in a household setting. So avoid them UNLESS you work in a hospital.
Why? Overuse of antibacterial ingredients — like triclosan — is helping create superbugs. Our increasing obsession with avoiding germs could actually be making us sick.
What is triclosan?
Triclosan is used in cleansers, antiperspirants/deodorants, toothpastes and hand sanitizers as a preservative and anti-bacterial agent. It's toxic to fish and wildlife and may be an endocrine disrupter, i.e., interfere with hormone function. It's best avoided, which can be tricky because it seems like it's in everything — soaps, countertops, garden hoses, garbage bags, socks, laundry products, facial tissues and more.
How to shop smarter
- Avoid anything labelled "anti-bacterial".
- Avoid triclosan in the ingredient list.
- Avoid parfum (a.k.a fragrance). Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some are linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some are harmful to fish and other wildlife.
- Choose bar soaps — a U.S. study found triclosan in 76 per cent of liquid soaps and only 29 per cent of bar soaps (American Journal of Infection Control, 2002).
- Choose products that list ingredients (especially home cleaners).
- Choose products with plant-based ingredients. * Choose products with ECOLOGO or Green Seal labels.
If you live or work with children, non-toxic disinfectants are even more important. Kids are not miniature adults — kilogram for kilogram they absorb more chemicals. They're closer to the ground and they have an "exploratory nature" — they put everything in their mouths!
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Germ killing DIY recipes
One way to get off the antibacterial crazy train — make your own soap, hand sanitizer, cleaner and disinfectant!
Liquid hand or body soap (takes less than 10 minutes)
Add to soap dispenser (even the foaming kind):
- ¾ cup (187.5 ml) water
- ¼ cup (62.5 ml) liquid castile soap (unscented or scented with essential oils; available at most health food stores or organic grocers)
Check out my four-part blog on how to make your own cold-process bar soap with vegetable oils and natural exfoliants.
- ¼ cup (62.5 ml) pure aloe gel
- ½ cup (125 ml) grain alcohol (e.g., vodka) or rubbing alcohol
- 5 to 8 drops tea tree or thyme essential oil
- Optional: add 2 T (30 ml) vegetable glycerin to combat alcohol's drying effect
Mix and store in a squeeze bottle. Keep a batch in your diaper bag, child's backpack, at your desk or in your purse or car.
All-purpose spray cleaner
- Mix equal parts white vinegar and water
- Optional: add 3 to 5 drops of thyme essential oil
Add to a spray bottle. Use it to clean your home — wipe down countertops, keyboards, doorknobs, etc.
Acetic acid (white vinegar) is a great disinfectant, deodorizer and grease cutter. It tackles salmonella (some strains), E. coli and other "gram-negative" bacteria that can cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream, wound or surgical site infections.
The acid in vinegar crosses the bacteria cell membrane and prompts a release of protons that kills the cell. Heinz unveiled a "cleaning" version of its white distilled vinegar — instead of five per cent acetic acid, it has six. Some "eco" stores sell a 12 per cent solution. Simply heating vinegar can also boost its power.
Transfer store-bought hydrogen peroxide to a dark spray bottle (it's sensitive to light).
Unlike chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide breaks down into oxygen and water and is kind to the environment. Did you know eco or oxygen bleach is really diluted hydrogen peroxide?
On their own, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are each strong germ killers. Used in combination, they're even better — 10 times more effective than disinfecting with either substance alone and more effective than bleach in the kitchen.
Here's the catch: mixing them together cuts their germ-killing power, but using one after the other works well.