When you shop for soap, you’ve probably noticed that some hand soap is labeled as “antibacterial,” whereas some are not. Have you ever wondered about the differences between regular soap and antibacterial soap? Both can be used to effectively wash and disinfect your hands (as well as other surfaces), but there are actually some notable differences between these two types of soap in terms of the ingredients they contain and how they work.
By having a better understanding of the differences between antibacterial soap and regular soap, as well as some of the potential advantages and disadvantages of using each, you can ultimately decide which is best for you and your home.
Antibacterial vs. Regular Soap: What’s The Difference?
Let’s begin with a comparison of antibacterial soap and regular soap, including its ingredients.
When you shop for soap at your local grocery store, you’ll probably find that the majority of the bottles you’ll see are labeled as being “antibacterial.” Specifically, what this means is that they contain an antibacterial ingredient—usually triclosan, but sometimes other ingredients such as alcohol or benzalkonium chloride.
These ingredients, along with warm water and proper hand-washing techniques, are effective at killing off bacteria and other germs. It is worth noting that hand sanitizers are also made with these same antibacterial ingredients.
Regular soap, on the other hand, does not contain any antibacterial ingredients, such as triclosan or benzalkonium chloride. Instead, the ingredients found in regular soaps are meant to cleanse by decreasing the surface tension of water and lifting residual dirt/oils from the surface being cleaned. This allows dirt, grime, and bacteria/germs to be easily washed away.
Both antibacterial soap and regular soap are most effective when worked into a lather with warm water. When washing hands with either type of soap, you’ll have the best results if you scrub thoroughly and be careful to wash all areas of your hands (including the backs of hands and in between fingers) for at least 30 seconds before rinsing. Some people find it helpful to sing the “happy birthday” song or to recite their ABCs twice while washing so they know they’ve washed for long enough to most effectively wash away germs and bacteria.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Types of Soap
Now that you have a better understanding of the similarities and differences between antibacterial soap and regular soap, it’s also important to consider some of the potential pros and cons of using each.
Pros and Cons of Using Antibacterial Soap
Many people opt for antibacterial soap for the added peace of mind in knowing that the soap’s formula contains ingredients that are specifically meant to kill germs and bacteria. Because of this, you’ll find that it is very common to see antibacterial soap used in hospitals and other medical facilities.
If you shop for antibacterial soap, you’ll also have a wider range of products to choose from, as antibacterial soaps are much more common than regular soaps. This means it may be easier to find the brand you want at an affordable price or to find a specific scent/fragrance that appeals to you.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that the FDA has found no evidence that antibacterial soap is any more or less effective than regular soap at killing off bacteria and germs. In fact, some even believe that the ingredients found specifically in antibacterial soap may be harmful with long-term use or that they may even kill off “healthy” bacteria on the skin. This, in turn, could actually make it easier to get sick and could make antibiotics less effective in treating certain strains of bacteria.
Antibacterial soap also tends to be more expensive than regular soap or any other DIY cleaning solution, so you will pay a premium for those ingredients. In some cases, people may mistake antibacterial soap for being more effective or “stronger” against bacteria. As a result, they may not wash their hands as thoroughly or frequently as they should.
Pros and Cons of Using Regular Soap
From a cost perspective, regular soap without antibacterial ingredients added tends to be much less expensive, so it’s often a suitable option for those who are looking for cleaning products on a budget. Combine this with the fact that regular soap, when used properly, is thought to be just as effective at killing germs and bacteria as regular soap, and it’s pretty easy to see why regular soap can be a smart choice.
Because regular soap doesn’t contain triclosan or benzalkonium chloride, there are also no concerns over killing off good bacteria on the skin.
On the other hand, because the majority of soaps on the market are antibacterial, you may have less variety from which to choose if you opt for regular soap. Furthermore, using regular soap effectively does require a bit more time and care, especially when washing your hands. Those without well-established hand-washing habits may not wash their hands thoroughly enough for regular soap to kill off germs and bacteria.
Which Type of Soap is Best For Your Needs?
Not sure whether antibacterial soap or regular soap is best for your needs? There are a few questions worth asking yourself that may help you figure out which type to buy during your next trip to the grocery store.
What Are You Using it For?
Start by considering your use of the soap; in most cases, general hand-washing will be the primary use for antibacterial or regular soap. If this is the case, then either soap is a good choice so long as you know how to thoroughly wash your hands. If you’re using soap to disinfect other surfaces, an antibacterial soap may be the better choice.
How Do You Feel About Triclosan?
Antibacterial soap ingredients such as triclosan are surrounded by controversy, and the FDA has recently begun requiring that soap companies using this ingredient prove its safety. Some studies of this ingredient have found that it has been washing down drains and ending up in many streams and lakes—resulting in harm to wildlife. In fact, Minnesota even banned the use of this ingredient back in 2014.
More research certainly needs to be done on Triclosan and its potential effects, but in the meantime, you may want to do a bit of your own research and reading to determine how you feel about using this ingredient in an antibacterial soap inside your home. If you feel uncomfortable about it, then it may be better to start using regular soap instead.
Is Cost a Factor?
For those on a tight budget when shopping for cleaning products, regular soap is almost always going to be the cheaper option unless you can find an antibacterial soap on sale or clearance. And if your home has multiple bathrooms that need bottles of soap, it can really add up to spend extra on antibacterial soaps.
How Thoroughly Do You Wash?
Hand-washing habits may also influence the type of soap that’s best for your household’s needs. Those with well-established habits should be able to get their hands just as clean with regular soap as they would with antibacterial soap. However, for young children and others whose hand-washing habits may not be as established, an antibacterial soap may give you added peace of mind because this type of soap requires less “work” to kill off bacteria and germs.
Do House Cleaners Use Antibacterial or Regular Soap?
When you hire a professional house cleaning service, one important question you’ll want to ask is what types of cleaning products will be used in your home. For cleaners who use soap, this means you’ll want to find if they use antibacterial or regular soap. If you have a preference between the two, it’s also a good idea to communicate this to your house cleaner ahead of time; oftentimes, professional house cleaners are happy to accommodate requests to use certain products.
If you’re like many people, you probably haven’t put much thought into the differences between antibacterial soap and regular soap. As you can see, however, the differences are notable and worth considering the next time you shop for soap and cleaning products for your household.
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