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How do antibacterial products work?

Antibacterial products include hand soaps, hand sanitizers and hand wipes. Antibacterial products contain a special ingredient to kill or control the growth of germs. When washing with an antibacterial soap or wiping with antibacterial wipes, more than 99% of the germs that have been picked up on the hands are typically eliminated. In contrast, washing with plain soap initially removes fewer germs through friction, but the germs left on the hands can quickly regrow, increase in number and spread from person to person.

What kinds of germs do antibacterial products kill?

Antibacterial products kill or inhibit bacteria that cause skin infections, food poisoning, intestinal illnesses and other commonly transmitted diseases, such as E. coli, Staphylococci, Salmonella, etc. Their effectiveness can depend on the antibacterial ingredient concentration, the product formulation and its contact time on the skin. It is also important to follow the product label directions.

How do I know antibacterial products work?

Antibacterial products are categorized as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and they are regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA).  This requires that they demonstrate their safety and effectiveness.

Scientists use standard approved clinical and laboratory tests to evaluate the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.

Antibacterial hand washes have been shown to reduce the numbers of germs on the skin to a greater extent than washing with plain soap.  The use of antibacterial hand wash products to control infections in both home and healthcare settings has been documented in scientific journals. Antibacterial wipes are similarly required to have data to demonstrate they are effective against killing common germs.

Laboratory Tests

Laboratory tests measure the ability of the antibacterial ingredient, alone or in a formulated product, to kill a wide variety of microorganisms. In a typical test, millions of microorganisms are exposed to the test sample for a period of time, after which the reaction is stopped and the number of surviving organisms determined. Effectiveness is measured by the number of organisms killed.  Only products demonstrating improved effectiveness in reducing bacteria due to an antibacterial action are put into the marketplace with an antibacterial claim.

Clinical Tests

Controlled studies are also conducted that simulate various handwashing experiences. Studies indicate that the average level of germs left on skin after use of an antibacterial soap is significantly lower than when washing with plain soap.

Who currently uses them?

  • Consumers looking for additional protection before preparing and eating meals, after using the bathroom or diapering a child, after playing with a pet or when caring for the sick may want to use an antibacterial soap.
  • Because of the extra protection that antibacterial products provide, many restaurants and hospitals require their employees to wash with antibacterial soap.
  • Consumers looking for convenience as well as protection use hand wipes and sanitizers.


What’s the difference between deodorant products and antibacterial products?

Antibacterial products kill or inhibit bacteria that can cause illness or infection.  However, a deodorant soap is a cosmetic product intended for washing the body to eliminate and/or mask odors, as a result, they often have a “deodorizing” effect, but may not contain an ingredient to kill the bacteria.

When should I purchase antibacterial products?

Control of microorganisms found on the skin is important to public health. The potential for the transmission of germs to oneself or to others is significant, in the home, in institutional and commercial settings, as well as in healthcare settings.  The risk of infection or disease from the spread of microorganisms can be significant.

Everyday consumers are exposed to a variety of bacteria and situations that have the potential to cause infection.  The acquisition and transfer of bacteria via the hands is recognized as a major factor in the spread of disease. Antibacterial products for handwashing are formulated to reduce the number of bacteria on the hands better than plain soap and thus reduce the potential for spreading disease.

When consumers want added germ-fighting protection, antibacterial products are the best option.