Labeling of personal care products can be dramatically misleading and can often contribute to adding unnecessary cost (and risk) in product selection. There is sometimes a great deal of confusion about antibacterials – particularly when it comes to the best type of soap for washing hands.

When products are labeled “antibacterial” it sounds like it would be the best choice in these virus-conscious times.  And, while antimicrobial hand soaps sound like they would be the logical choice, studies have not borne that out in most cases.  They have shown there is not a marked difference in effectiveness between antimicrobial hand soaps and just plain old hand soap.

And, in case you were wondering, the primary difference between antibacterial vs. antimicrobial substances is the types of microorganisms upon which they act. While antimicrobial substances work against a broad spectrum of microbes (bacteria, mold, mildew, algae, and even viruses), antibacterial substances are only effective against bacteria.

In fact, hand soaps containing active ingredients like triclosan may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and may actually not be safe over the long term.  This represents a risk for seniors who often rely on antibiotic medications to treat infections like urinary tract infections  (UTIs) and bacterial pneumonia.

In 2017, the FDA started enforcing a regulatory rule that banned the sale of over-the-counter antiseptic washes containing triclosan, triclocarban and a wide variety of other antimicrobial ingredients.  There is some uncertainty over which germs these ingredients are effective – particularly coronavirus.  Studies continue.

In addition to hand washing with soap, many people use hand sanitizers.  These products are another source of confusion among caregivers who are trying to minimize the chances of their loved ones becoming ill.  It should be noted, however, alcohol-free sanitizers and those with less than 60% alcohol content do not remove microbes adequately and should be avoided.

The bottom line is that consistent hand washing with plain soap and water remains the best preventative option for germ-conscious family caregivers.  While any attempt to keep your hands clean is better than nothing, the simplest approach may be the best.  Just use soap – consistently.