The Food and Drug Administration is banning the sale of antibacterial soaps and body washes after manufacturers failed to prove that the products’ active ingredients are safe and effective.

“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long term.”

The ban applies to products containing 19 antibacterial ingredients, including the two most common ones: triclosan, which is found in liquid soaps, and triclocarban, found in bar soaps. Manufacturers have until Sept. 6, 2017 to either reformulate products with any of those 19 ingredients or remove them from the market.  

The ban does not apply to other products containing those ingredients, including toothpastes and cleaning products. And it doesn't apply to antiseptic hand cleaners such as Germ-X and Purell, which typically contain alcohol and related compounds and don't pose the same risks.

The Dangers

Consumer Reports has long argued that antibacterial chemicals in household products likely do more harm than good.

“These chemicals could be contributing to the global crisis of antibiotic resistance," said Michael Hansen, Ph.D, senior staff scientist at Consumer Reports.

Triclosan, for example, kills bacteria in much the same way as an antibiotic, and research suggests that the widespread use of it might be contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“Some bacteria are close to evolving resistance to all antibiotics as a result of the overuse of antibiotics—a dangerous situation that could lead to deaths from once easily treated infections,” Hansen said. "These products and these ingredients may just make the problem worse."

Antibacterial compounds in consumer cleaning products might pose other health risks, too.

“There is evidence that exposure to triclosan interferes with the production and activity of hormones in the body, which could contribute to infertility, early puberty, obesity, and other problems,” said Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports chief medical advisor.

“And with little evidence that they are more effective than soap and water, they are not worth the risk,” Lipman said. “When it comes to fighting disease, hand washing is key, but using regular soap and water does the job," he said.

When soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer such as Germ-X and Purell is OK. (Watch the video below on the most effective hand washing technique.) 

Read more on antibiotics, including "The Rise of Superbugs" and "How Your Hospital Can Make You Sick."

Products to Avoid

Manufacturers have a full year to reformulate or remove their antibacterial soaps, and they can continue to sell antibacterial toothpastes and cleaners. But Consumer Reports health and safety experts say you should avoid them, starting now.

We found triclosan listed as an ingredient in Noxzema Ultimate Clear Bacteria Fighting Cleanser, Dial Complete Antibacterial Foaming Hand Wash, and CVS Antibacterial Gentle Cleansing bar, as well as in Colgate Total toothpaste. And we found triclocarban listed on Dial For Men Power Scrub soap bar, Rite Aid Renewal Antibacterial Gold deodorant soap, and others.

Those and other banned antibacterial ingredients are also included in many household cleaners. So avoid products that have an "antibacterial" claim on their label, or that contain any of these newly banned chemicals:

  • Cloflucarban
  • Fluorosalan
  • Hexachlorophene
  • Hexylresorcinol
  • Iodine complex (ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate)
  • Iodine complex (phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol)
  • Nonylphenoxypoly (ethyleneoxy) ethanoliodine
  • Poloxamer-iodine complex
  • Povidone-iodine 5 to 10 percent
  • Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
  • Methylbenzethonium chloride
  • Phenol (greater than 1.5 percent)
  • Phenol (less than 1.5 percent)
  • Secondary amyltricresols
  • Sodium oxychlorosene
  • Tribromsalan
  • Triclocarban
  • Triclosan
  • Triple dye