Effectiveness Of Antibacterial Antimicrobial Soaps Biology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Antibacterial soaps and detergents and their effectiveness has been the focus of attention in recent studies. Various individuals have questioned their added advantage over washing with plain soap and water. This research was therefore carried out to determine the effectiveness of these antibacterial / antimicrobial soaps. From the past studies, washing with antibacterial soaps has been found not to be clinically different from washing with plain soap and water. Most studies showed that the reduction in bacterial infection when antibacterial soaps are used was not statistically different to the reduction when plain soap and water were used. Furthermore, the chemical components of antibacterial soaps were found to increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics. This will lead to clinically important antibiotics being rendered useless and antibacterial infection will be more difficult to treat. This has already been experienced with MRSA infection.


To prevent possible body infection and contamination of food and drinks with pathogenic microflora, scientists and industries came up with cleaning products that can destroy the bacteria. These products destroy both the bacteria and other microbes with an exception of viruses. The antimicrobial action is due to the presence of antimicrobial chemicals added to the products. They are several in number including chemicals like triclosan, triclocarban and tetrasodium EDTA.

Recently, various individuals and bodies have argued that antibacterial detergents offer no added advantage over plain soap in preventing bacterial contamination and infection. Furthermore, it has been argued that the adverse effects of the antibacterial detergents and soaps out weigh their benefits. Some of the negative effects of antibacterial soaps and detergents have been stated as possible increased bacterial resistance to the chemicals leading to "super bugs" and pollution of agricultural soils and water bodies. Review of the studies in this field is therefore important to indicate the current findings on the effectiveness of these soaps. This research was therefore carried out to answer this question.

Literature review

Various studies have been carried out with the aim of determining the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps. Most of them have found the use of antibacterial soaps to have no added benefit in effectively minimizing contamination and infection as compared to ordinary detergents. However, some doctors still claim that these soaps have added benefits. At a scientific level, there is little proof that there is any benefit derived from using antibacterial soaps instead of plain soaps ("Scrubbing troubles." 2007). Actually, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) proposes that to prevent microbial contamination and infections, persons should wash their hands as frequently as possible for at least fifteen seconds. They do not give any benefits of using antibacterial soaps ("The Truth", 1999).

FDA (food and drug administration) reviewed past clinical studies on effectiveness of antibacterial soaps, the results were that addition of antibacterial chemicals to soaps and detergents did not provide any added benefit (Gorgos, 2006). Their effect was similar to that of plain soap and water. The studies were based on the argument that, for the antibacterial soaps to be hygienically superior to plain soaps, they must have a higher clinically significant decrease on the bacterial load. Most of the studies did not find this to be the case. In five of the studies, washing with water and plain soap was found not to be any statistically different from washing with antibacterial soap. Plain soap and water reduced cases of diarrhea by 30 to 80% with 53 percent being the most common reduction value while antibacterial soap reduction rate was from 29 to 50 percent (Gorgos, 2006).

Antiseptic soaps may have negative effects on antiseptic resistance of bacteria leading to evolution of "super bugs" (high drug resistant microbes) (Zamora, 2000). Over time, these antiseptic resistant microbes multiply resulting in a large number of such "superbugs". Some studies have shown evolution of drug resistant bacteria. In 1958, Joshua Lederberg who was a molecular genecist became a noble price laureate after he showed how bacteria could exchange genetic material thereby producing antiseptic resistant bacteria (Clemmint, 2007). Afterwards, antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus), streptococcus pneumonia that was resistant to penicillin and tuberculosis bacteria that is resistant to multiple drugs were discovered in hospital patients. MRSA has been the cause of many deaths since the present antibiotics cannot cure the infected (Clemmitt, 2007).

Another problem with the antimicrobial soaps that has been presented is the possibility of environmental pollution by the antimicrobial chemicals included in the soaps. The most common antimicrobial constituents of these soaps are triclosan and triclocarban (Brodie, 2007). After use of these soaps, triclosan and triclocarban do not biodegrade but find their way into water bodies and agricultural soils. Rolf Halden carried out a study and found out that triclosan has contaminated 60% of the streams in the United States (Alterman, 2006). Furthermore, it has been know to cause cancer and blue baby condition in newborn babies. The United States Geological survey (USGS) also carried out a survey of the level of drug contamination in the water system of the United States and found out that there is a high concentration of over the counter antibiotics in the streams (Knopper, 2003).


The findings stated in the literature review all indicate that antibiotics currently have no added benefit. Most people are obsessed with the idea of antibiotics. Consumers all over are demanding more antibiotics and antibacterial soaps have attracted a large consumer base. However, from the findings indicated in this research, it may be high time people were made aware of the negative effects of antiseptic soaps. FDA does not even recommend them since they do not show any added advantage. If people continue to use them at the current rate, clinically important antibiotics will become less efficient due to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Treatment of bacteria related disease conditions have become difficult as more and more microbes that are drug resistant evolve.

The use of contaminate sludge to fertilize agricultural soils is further spreading the antibiotics into crops and animals. A research by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School found out that over 75% of antibiotics in soaps were washed down in the sewage water (Pearson, 2006). As these chemicals spread, they will continually destroy both the pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria leaving the resistant bacteria to thrive. There is also the possibility of spreading these resistant bacteria through the food chain. The studies examined clearly show the fact that when antibiotics are used at a domestic level, the benefit of reducing the bacterial count is of no clinical importance and the resulting negative effects are much greater.


Antibacterial or antimicrobial soaps and detergents are cleaning compounds that destroy bacteria and other microorganisms. They do this through the action of antimicrobial chemical compounds incorporated in the soaps. They assumed to be more beneficial at preventing bacterial contaminations and infections but there is no scientific proof that they are superior to plain soaps and water. Clinical comparisons between their effect and that of plain soap and water showed that there is no statistically significant difference between them. For this purpose, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recommended them. Some studies have found the antimicrobial components of these soaps to have negative environmental impact and contribution in evolution of antibiotics resistant bacteria like the MRSA. Their disadvantages therefore out weigh their benefits.