Everyone knows germs are bad. So the best thing to do is fight them off with antibacterial soaps and cleaners, right? Not so fast! Recent research indicates that the use of antibacterial products can actually be making us more vulnerable to health problems.
Here’s the dirt: Antibacterial products were originally created for very limited uses, such as in hospitals, where exposure to certain germs could be disastrous for patients with compromised immune systems. Soon, though, manufacturers began marketing them for everyday household use. Since then, the use of antibacterial hand soaps and home cleaners has exploded, with many consumers convinced that antibacterials are the best way to protect themselves and their families from harmful germs. But health researchers are concerned that the widespread use of antibacterial agents could be creating supergerms.
Antibacterial soaps are made with triclosan, a chemical that inhibits the formation of the fatty acids which bacteria and microbes need to survive. Though the chemical kills most germs, a few could survive and mutate to become resistant to triclosan and to other antimicrobial agents. When those survivors then reproduce, they would pass on their resistance to their offspring. And the studies suggest that those bacteria that do survive are often tougher, and more dangerous, than those that are killed. Once those superpowered bacteria are created, they can be resistant to more than just antibacterial soaps. They could also thwart the actions of antibiotics prescribed by doctors to help cure serious infections.
Using antibacterial soaps can also make us more vulnerable to infections and illnesses by making things too clean. Our bodies develop immunities that protect us from serious illnesses. To do that, our immune systems must be exposed to weakened versions of the same germs that make us sick. If we aren’t exposed to enough germs in childhood, that can actually compromise our ability to fight infections. Children whose environments are too clean could grow into adults who are chronically sick.
So how can you protect yourself from germs without using antibacterial soaps?
The researchers who warned us about superbugs have found that plain old soap and water are just as effective fighting dangerous germs as antibacterial soaps.
- Washing your hands frequently and correctly using hot water and scrubbing for long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song – provides just as much protection, without the risks.
- When on the go, using alcohol-based wipes or hand sanitizer gels will do the job. Unlike triclosan, alcohol leaves no residue that could allow bacteria cells to mutate.
- Around the house, cleaning with bleach and/or lemon juice is a safer and less expensive substitute for fancy antibacterial cleansers. Like alcohol, lemon juice and bleach simply rupture the germs, without giving them a chance to develop into superbugs.