This is the second part of a four-part article about the different types of soaps available.

Although it remains popular, experts agree that antimicrobial soap is generally not needed for safe and effective hand hygiene. These products include agents that kill and prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses. There are also antibacterial soaps that kill only bacteria. Originally intended for acute health care settings, these products found their way into schools and nursing homes in the last 20 years.

“These facilities tend to purchase hand washing soaps based on public opinion,” says David Thompson, president of Green Clean Institute, Rolla, Missouri. “The craze has been to use antimicrobial soaps. This is due to the uneducated pretense that these are more effective in removing germs from hands.”

In fact, antimicrobial or antibacterial soaps must be left on the hands for about two minutes to have any greater effect than a traditional soap. That’s not how most people use soap, which means the average user will see no added benefits from the products.

Instead, users may experience more harm than good. The chemicals in these products are harsher on the skin than regular soap. About 75 percent of liquid antibacterial soaps contain triclosan, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is concerned could cause long-term health problems, such as infertility, obesity and cancer. Health officials also fear triclosan may fuel bacterial resistance. As a result, the FDA proposed a rule at the end of 2013 requiring soap manufacturers to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of antibacterial soaps in non-health care and foodservice facilities.

Given the risks, antimicrobial soaps are only recommended in very specific high-risk applications, where users are trained in their safe and effective use.

“There are certain markets, like acute care or foodservice preparation, where they do need to use antimicrobial soap by health code,” says Keith Schneringer, director of channel marketing and sustainability at WAXIE Sanitary Supply in San Diego. “For general school and long-term care environments, gentle soaps will do the job without making a sacrifice.”

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Mild Soaps Prove Best For Children, Elderly
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Green Soap Reduces Irritation, Environmental Impact