Consumer antibacterial soaps: effective or just risky?

Clin Infect Dis. 2007 Sep 1:45 Suppl 2:S137-47. doi: 10.1086/519255.


Background: Much has been written recently about the potential hazards versus benefits of antibacterial (biocide)-containing soaps. The purpose of this systematic literature review was to assess the studies that have examined the efficacy of products containing triclosan, compared with that of plain soap, in the community setting, as well as to evaluate findings that address potential hazards of this use--namely, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Methods: The PubMed database was searched for English-language articles, using relevant keyword combinations for articles published between 1980 and 2006. Twenty-seven studies were eventually identified as being relevant to the review.

Results: Soaps containing triclosan within the range of concentrations commonly used in the community setting (0.1%-0.45% wt/vol) were no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacterial levels on the hands. Several laboratory studies demonstrated evidence of triclosan-adapted cross-resistance to antibiotics among different species of bacteria.

Conclusions: The lack of an additional health benefit associated with the use of triclosan-containing consumer soaps over regular soap, coupled with laboratory data demonstrating a potential risk of selecting for drug resistance, warrants further evaluation by governmental regulators regarding antibacterial product claims and advertising. Further studies of this issue are encouraged.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / adverse effects
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Hand / microbiology
  • Hand Disinfection
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Soaps*
  • Triclosan / administration & dosage*
  • Triclosan / adverse effects


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Soaps
  • Triclosan