You Don’t Necessarily Need to Use Antibacterial Soap or Hand Sanitizer to Stay Germ-Free—Here’s Why

Good 'ol regular soap and water still does the trick.

are-antibacterial-soaps-and-hand-sanitizers-worth-the-hype-260417144-Alexander-Raths-fbAlexander Raths/ShutterstockDo I need to use antibacterial soap?
No. Antibacterial soaps are no better than a good scrubbing with regular soap and water for removing disease-causing germs or preventing the illnesses they can cause. Studies show no differences in the number of illnesses suffered by people and families who use these soaps versus regular soaps. Plus, there are fears that the soaps could make bacteria more resistant to antibiotics, but more research needs to be done. The FDA banned certain ingredients from antibacterial soaps in 2016, but the replacements might not be much better. Learn more reasons why antibacterial soap could be dangerous.

What you need to do: Wash your hands correctly
To really protect yourself, lather vigorously for at least 20 seconds, the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Then rinse and dry with a clean towel. If you’re using a public sink, use a paper towel to turn off the tap (and to open the door on the way out). There are an estimated 229,000 germs per square inch on frequently used faucet handles! Find out why you should stick with liquid soap at home.

Are hand sanitizers as good as soap and water?
Almost. Soap and water are better at killing certain germs, and most people don’t use enough hand sanitizer to make it as effective as it could be, according to the CDC. Still, alcohol-based antibacterial gels and towelettes are a proven, germ-fighting alternative for ridding your hands of bacteria and viruses when soap and water aren’t available. In one study of 292 Boston-area families with young children, those who used hand sanitizers for five months cut the spread of gastrointestinal infections by 59 percent. In another study, families who washed up with hand gels about five times a day cut the risk for colds by 20 percent, compared to families who scrubbed less often. (Learn other effective ways to avoid getting sick.) For best results, squeeze out a half-teaspoonful (about the diameter of a nickel) or grab a towelette, and vigorously rub your hands, front and back. Note that alcohol-based hand gels must contain at least 60 percent alcohol to effectively kill germs.

Should I use antibacterial household cleaners?
No need to seek them out; like hand soap, regular household cleaners will do the job. Still, antibacterial products probably won’t harm you and can reduce the transmission of some germs, which is important when someone in your house has an infection. The drawback? These cleaners fight bacteria but not necessarily viruses, and many common infections such as colds and flu are caused by viruses. Plus, if you don’t follow the directions—which usually involve letting it sit for about ten minutes, which most people don’t do—it won’t be able to work its antibacterial magic. To scrub up quick, try this guide to cleaning a kitchen in just five minutes.

What you could try: Make homemade cleaners
Hot water and dish detergent has proven effective for killing germs on surfaces in kitchens and bathrooms. And baking soda or vinegar solutions killed 90 percent of bacteria such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli in another study, though commercial cleaners zapped 99.9 percent. Depending on the germs hanging around, that 9.9 percent difference could mean the difference between staying well and getting sick, and may be especially important if your household includes babies, older people, or anyone with weakened immunity. But if you’d rather stick with natural, try these chemical-free homemade cleaners.

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