You may have been as surprised as I was about an interesting factoid I posted on the blog recently about the use of antibacterial soaps by Americans: Some three-quarters use a minimum of six antimicrobial products regularly. A new study has determined once again that nothing works better to get rid of viruses than tried-and-true hand washing with regular soap and water.

First, researchers first had 62 patients clean their hands and then contaminated them with a harmless bacterium and virus comparable to, and substituted for, disease-causing organisms. Then, scientists had the subjects clean their hands with 14 different hand hygiene agents and measured how much of the bacteria and virus remained afterwards.

For removing viruses from hands, washing with soap and water was most effective since some viruses are hardy and relatively resistant to disinfection. The least effective method of all: Alcohol-based, “waterless” handwipes that only removed roughly 50 percent of bacteria from volunteer subjects’ hands. Moreover, after only 10 seconds of handwashing, all washing agents, except for handwipes, eliminated 90 percent of bacteria.

One major caveat about this study: Researchers found anti-microbial agents were best at reducing bacteria during handwashing (although the use of non-bacterial soap and water alone were just as effective in ridding hands of one bacteria).

Nevertheless, it’s vitally important for you to avoid using antibacterial soaps. These soaps are completely unnecessary and could easily do more harm than good. In fact, the antibacterial compounds found in most of these soaps are likely contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

American Journal of Infection Control, Volume 33, Issue 2, March 2005, Pages 67-77

EurekAlert March 10, 2005