They are on the table. They are on the floor. They are on the
keyboards in every computer lab.
Bacteria are everywhere, and antibacterial soaps are, too.
“(I use antibacterial soap) just because I assume it would kill
germs better than a non-antibacterial,” said Michael Idoni, a
sophomore open-option major.
But combating bacteria with antibacterial soap could do more
harm than good in the long run, said Erica Suchman, an associate
professor of microbiology at CSU.
“When you’re washing your hands you are just removing the
microbes, not killing them,” Suchman said. “You don’t need to kill
Suchman said people need to wash their hands correctly to be
“Washing for 20 seconds will remove the microbes,” she said.
“They are easy to wash off. (Washing correctly is) the number one
thing to do to prevent getting sick during cold and flu
Suchman’s tips for correctly washing hands include washing for
20 seconds using plain soap and water, washing between fingers and
around fingernails, and using tissue to shut off the water and open
The problem is not so much the use of antibacterial soaps but
the effect they could have on antibiotics. Antibiotics are the
ingested drugs used to combat bacterial infection inside the
“There is a crossover due to the constant contact with
triclosan, the antibacterial that is used in soaps,” Suchman said.
“(Antibiotics) will be less effective. Bacteria will pick up
plasmids. Bacteria will get resistant if the pressure is there to
keep the gene to reject the antibacterial soap.”
Constant contact between bacteria and triclosan could make
combating some diseases, such as pseudomonas aeruginosa, a burn
infection, more difficult.
“It’s not a problem for healthy adults, but pseudomonas grows in
the burns of burn victims,” Suchman said. “It is growing a
resistance to antibiotics.”
So far there are no documented cases of resistance, but it is
showing up in lab tests.
“We are seeing drug resistance (in labs),” Suchman said. “We’re
worried. We’re not seeing it right now (in clinics), but we know it
could be a problem.”
Herbert Schweizer, a professor in the Department of
Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, said the use of chemicals
such as triclosan have been shown in laboratory studies to
stimulate a drug resistance in the bacteria.
“Theoretically, triclosan could cause resistance to
antibiotics,” Schweizer said. “Though there is no clinical
In the past, triclosan was not considered a problem, Schweizer
said. The amount of triclosan used in soaps is not very high, but
it is very active.
“Antibiotics go through a rigorous process to get approved,”
In the labs, Schweizer said it has been noticed that the
bacteria have become resistant to the triclosan, and that has
spawned a multi-drug resistance. This same occurrence has happened
with antibiotics. While the bacteria that are killed will not
create a resistance, the bacteria that survive will.
Antibacterial soaps can be useful in places where cleanliness is
“There’s some places where you can’t be careful enough, like
hospitals,” Schweizer said.
If people want to be safe, Schweizer suggests an alcohol-based
hand lotion as a safer alternative to triclosan soaps because the
alcohol evaporates while the soap is left in on the hands.
Jeff Sutton, the building services manager at CSU, said the
university uses non-antimicrobial soaps except in certain areas,
such as food service venues. Sutton said in the academic and
administrative buildings the soap is a “gentle, light-duty hand
“The public has long demanded antibacterial soaps,” Sutton said.
“In certain places it’s required, such as food service.”
There is one main reason that companies market so many
antibacterial products, from soaps to cutting boards.
“It’s big money,” Suchman said. “People think they need it.”
“Triclosan isn’t worth the extra price,” Schweizer said. “It
gives people a false sense of security that you don’t have to wash