In a world where handwashing has become more popular than ever, it’s important to make sure we’re doing it right. Many people want to know if natural soap has antibacterial properties and if it’s good enough to kill germs. Here are some helpful facts.
On 04/04/2021, the FDA and CDC websites reported no difference between plain soap and consumer-level antibacterial soap when it came to preventing illness. Plain soap was as good as antibacterial soap for handwashing safety. That could change fast with science: see the CDC website for the current update. 1, 2
As of 04/04/2021, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that consumer-level antibacterial soaps were any more effective than plain soap. This does NOT apply to antibacterial soaps used in professional healthcare settings, hand sanitizers, and hand wipes. 1
- If you prefer to skip the soap and use a hand sanitizer instead, make sure it’s safe. Here’s a list of hand sanitizers NOT to buy, as warned by the FDA: HAND SANITIZERS NOT TO USE (fda.gov website)
- The CDC website says that soap & water are MORE EFFECTIVE than hand sanitizer when it comes to removing certain germs. 21
The FDA was also concerned about the potential risks of long-term exposure to certain antibacterial agents without having evidence of their safety. Triclosan and triclocarban were banned by the FDA due to their linked health risks.
Some Antibacterial Soap is Now Banned
Back in 2016, the FDA released a report that banned the antibacterial ingredients triclosan and triclocarban from being marketed in antibacterial soaps. There was some evidence that linked them to possible hormonal problems and bacterial resistance. 3
In order to be an antibacterial soap, the manufacturer of the product has to prove that the antibacterial ingredient is more effective than plain soap and water when it comes to killing or reducing germs. They also have to prove that it’s safe for long-term use. There are several ingredients being tested now for this purpose (they might be approved soon: check with the FDA).
It’s now illegal for triclosan and triclocarban to be marketed as an antibacterial ingredient in any soap. That’s because these ingredients are risky when it comes to human health. Not everything antibacterial is safe and healthy.
Natural Soap is a Kind of Plain Soap
The FDA is very clear about soap: in order to be regulated as “soap”, it must be primarily composed of the “alkali salts of fatty acids”. That’s what you get when you mix an alkali, like lye, with a fat or oil. 4 Lye makes the fats turn to a solid.
Sodium hydroxide is just another name for lye. If you see it on your soap label, rest assured it’s an ingredient that qualifies it to be regulated as plain “soap” legally. Sodium hydroxide is considered an alkali. It’s not the only alkali used to make soap, but it’s a common one you’ll see on many natural soap labels.
If you see fats, oils, and sodium hydroxide on the ingredient label of your soap, rest assured this kind of soap is allowed to be called “soap”, according to legal standards as specified by the FDA and CPSC. And remember, plain soap and water have been proven to be effective at reducing the spread of germs.
Most natural soaps don’t contain ingredients that claim to work as a drug. Aside from sodium hydroxide (or another alkali), natural soaps should contain only natural ingredients. As the chemical reaction takes place between the sodium hydroxide and fats, the sodium hydroxide disappears as the soap turns from a liquid to a solid. This leaves the final product in a more natural state. This product works very well for handwashing safety.
What can I use instead of antibacterial soap?
On 11/15/2020, the FDA website said that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that antibacterial soap worked any better than plain soap at preventing illness and the spread of germs. 1 Of course that could change quickly as science comes out with new evidence daily: always check with the FDA website and the CDC website to get the most current updates on antibacterial soap effectiveness and safety.
Natural soap is plain soap. Natural soap isn’t required to have antibacterial ingredients in order to be effective. In fact, some soaps with formerly claimed antibacterial ingredients have since been banned due to their toxicity and danger to human health (e.g., triclosan and triclocarban).
I only use natural soap. Here are the brands I personally use: click link for my natural soap product page on this website. I’m not comfortable with unnecessary chemicals on my skin, but that’s just my opinion.
Does Plain Soap Kill Bacteria?
Are all soaps antibacterial? Plain soap helps remove bacteria from your hands. A study showed that germs were cut way down to only 8% when people used plain soap to wash their hands, compared to just using water alone (which cut germs to only 23%). The soap used in the study was plain soap (not antibacterial soap). And it worked great! 6
Natural soap is a kind of plain soap and is effective at removing bacteria from your hands.
When using natural soap to wash your hands, always follow the guidelines of the CDC 7 :
- Get your hands wet with clean running water.
- Apply soap to hands.
- Rub your hands together and make a good lather. Thoroughly rub the backs of hands, under nails, and between fingers. Get good friction between hands, that’s what counts.
- Scrub hands at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse hands under a clean stream of running water. Make sure soap is all gone.
- Dry your hands with a towel that’s clean or let them dry naturally in the air.
It’s important to know how to wash hands properly. The CDC provides excellent guidance on their website if you’d like more details here: CDC website.
Natural Antibacterial Soap Ingredients
There’s no substitute for thorough handwashing with soap and water when it comes to reducing the spread of germs. A natural antibacterial soap ingredient should not be considered a substitute for good handwashing. Remember that handwashing with plain soap, even without an antibacterial ingredient, is effective at reducing germs on hands. 6
That said, there are many natural soaps out there that add natural ingredients which happen to have antibacterial properties as a stand-alone ingredients.
However, the government will not allow soap to be marketed as antibacterial unless the manufacturer can prove that the soap is more effective at reducing germs when compared to plain soap. They also have to prove its long-term safety.
This kind of proof is expensive and time-consuming, so most companies skip it and settle for being “plain soap” or “cosmetic soap”.
It’s possible that many soaps out there have additional antibacterial properties, but they can’t legally put “antibacterial” on the label, unless they provide extensive supporting evidence.
Anything “antibacterial” is regulated as a DRUG, by law. So that’s that.
What can I use for antibacterial properties?
Only use what your doctor tells you to use for antibacterial properties. The below information is only my personal research and is not to be taken as any kind of medical advice, beauty advice, or health advice.
I’m definitely not saying that these ingredients will make your natural soap antibacterial, however, here’s some scientific evidence that shows antibacterial properties in several natural ingredients that are added to some natural soaps and products:
15 Antibacterial Ingredients in Soap (Natural)
|Natural Soap Ingredient||Scientific Proof of Antibacterial Properties|
|In a study, coconut oil had antibacterial effects against the bacteria responsible for dental cavities: Streptococcus mutans. Coconut oil reduced bacteria as well as chlorhexidine did (a prescription oral rinse to reduce mouth bacteria).|
|Rose Essential Oil 11||Rose essential oil showed powerful antibacterial effects against: Pseudomonas aeruginosa (can cause pneumonia and urinary tract infections), E. coli (causes many bacterial infections in humans), Staphylococcus aureus (responsible for staph infections), Chromobacterium violaceum (can be fatal to humans), and 2 other strains of bacteria.|
|Neem Alcohol Extract (Tincture) 12||A study showed that the higher the concentration of neem tincture used, the more it reduced Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and MRSA (known as Super bug). These kinds of bacteria cause big problems with infections in hospitals.|
|Lemon Balm Alcohol Extract (Tincture)|
|A study showed that an alcohol extract (ethanol) of lemon balm reduced Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (causes staph infections) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (can cause pneumonia). It concluded that lemon balm has substantial antimicrobial potential.|
|Hemp Seed Oil 14||A study showed that the oil from hemp seeds had antibacterial effects on 4 different strains of bacteria.|
|Lime Essential Oil 15||A study showed that lime essential oil had powerful antibacterial effects.|
|Tea Tree Oil 16||A scientific review showed that tea tree oil had the ability to kill bacteria.|
|Cinnamon Essential Oil 15||A study compared the antibacterial effects of many different essential oils. It concluded that cinnamon oil had the most effective antibacterial properties out of all the oils in the study. Now that’s saying something!|
|Grapefruit Seed Alcohol Extract (Tincture) |
|This study showed that an ethanolic extract from the seeds of grapefruit had antibacterial effects against a type of bacteria called Salmonella enteritidis. This bacteria is known to cause Salmonella infection in humans from food. It’s been linked to foods like ground beef and eggs.|
|Lemon Essential Oil 18||A study showed that lemon essential oil had effective antibacterial effects against 5 common bacteria known to infect humans and cause disease.|
|Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) Extract (Tincture) 9||Sweet basil alcohol extract showed moderate antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which is known to infect humans.|
|Clove Essential Oil 19||This study showed that clove essential oil had antibacterial properties against 3 strains of bacteria known to cause disease in humans.|
|Hyssop Extract (Tincture) 9||An alcohol extract of hyssop had moderate antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, which is a harmful disease-causing bacteria in humans (infects skin, lungs, heart, bones). It spreads by person-to-person contact.|
|Lavender Essential Oil 8||The study showed that lavender essential oil killed 37 different strains of bacteria found on turtles.|
|Orange Essential Oil 15, 20||Orange essential oil has been shown to have excellent antibacterial properties. It can kill some bacteria on kitchen counters. Orange oil has even shown anticancer effects.|
All the ingredients listed in the above table have been shown to kill, reduce, or inhibit bacteria naturally. It’s awesome that raw nature can have powerful effects without the use of toxic chemicals and artificial ingredients. Many people want to return to nature, but don’t know where to start.
Here are some natural products that I personally use: (link to my natural beauty products page on this website).
Personally, I prefer to use natural antibacterial ingredients in my personal and cleaning products. It’s just my opinion, but I perceive them to be healthier, less irritating, and safer for long-term use. I’m not saying that’s true for everyone, but it’s true for me. Always ask your doctor what the best thing is for you. My opinion isn’t medical advice of any kind.
Here are the natural soaps that I personally use: (link to my natural soap page on this website).
If you’d like to learn more about natural soap and what it is, you can read my article about it here on this website.
What is a Natural Antibacterial Ingredient?
A natural antibacterial ingredient is a substance that’s been proven to kill, reduce, or inhibit the growth of bacteria. It comes directly from nature and doesn’t contain any toxins, chemicals, irritants, or synthetic ingredients. The product is usually plant-based and eco-friendly.
Many people are turning more to natural products as the safety of chemical exposure is questioned. There are a lot of long-term studies that haven’t been conducted on many chemicals found in both personal and household products. More and more people want plants, not chemicals.
It’s always good to do your own research and consult with many authorities on a subject of concern.
A lot of people blindly use products without even looking at the ingredients on the label. Is ignorance truly bliss?
Hopefully, this article helped you understand natural soap and its relationship to antibacterial properties. It’s a bit trickier than it seems on the surface.
It’s always important to let science and evidence guide us in making informed decisions. If we don’t, it’s just one opinion against another. The truth is the truth.
There are a ton of natural antibacterial ingredients out there. We just need to use them with wisdom and discernment. Of course, it’s always best to ask your doctor what the best option is for you. Many doctors out there are jumping onboard the natural health movement because of the awesome evidence coming out that supports it.
To see the natural products I personally use, here are some links to my product pages on this website:
The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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