Monday Mission #1: Increased Handwashing and Decreased Antibacterial Soap
Your mission, if you choose to accept, is three-fold (I know, I’m not supposed to overwhelm you. I can’t help it! The third one I just added, but it’s important, and easy.):
- Inspect your household for triclosan. Reveal it and decide how to approach each situation.
- Make a conscious decision to get regular soap at most of your sinks within the month, if that’s a frugal enough timeline for your household. If not, at least decide to switch over slowly as you run out of antibacterial soaps, both for hands and dishes.
- Resolve to wash your hands WELL from now on. Proper hand washing includes vigorous scrubbing under running water for at least 20 seconds. I don’t do very well at this. We’re all in a hurry, all the time. Just give it a shot. Practice being conscious about your hand washing.
I’ll try to give you some practical ideas below to help you complete the mission. I’m exceedingly practical, and I also like people to tell me how to do things. It makes life easier. I hope I can do that for you.
First, make a goal this week to memorize this word: TRICLOSAN. Triclosan is the chemical found in most “anti-bacterial” soaps and other products. See last week’s Food for Thought and Second Helpings for more information. Learn to associate this word with, “No way! I won’t buy that!”
72% of the soap purchased for household use is antibacterial (even that seems like a low estimate to me based on what I see in my world). Absolutely NONE of it needs to be.
Second, take a walk around your house, or just read a bottle or two as you brush your teeth or do dishes. Look for this chemical. You’ll find it in almost every soap or commercial cleaner that claims to be “anti-bacterial”, unless you already have some natural soaps in your house. You’ll also find it in some sneaky places, like toothpaste, antiperspirant, mouthwash, some waterless hand sanitizers (more on those later), shoe inserts, dishtowels and washcloths, sponges, shower curtains, and cutting boards.
Triclosan is most often listed as the “active ingredient” separate from the long list, but I’ve found it hiding near the end of the ingredients list on some sanitizers. The Environmental Working Group notes to look out for the following phrases on everyday objects like toothbrushes and toys: “antibacterial,” “fights germs,” “protection against mold,” “odor-fighting” or “keeps food fresher, longer.” When you find triclosan, decide not to buy that particular product again. Then figure out what you’re going to do with what you have.
Here are my doing-your-best solutions to avoid waste and avoid toxins:
- SOAP: save it for washing hands after touching raw chicken or raw eggs, or when someone in the house is sick. I have two bottles of soap in my kitchen for this purpose. I switch out the soap in the bathrooms when someone comes down with a potentially nasty bug. I do NOT buy anti-bacterial soap for this purpose, and someday I won’t use it at all. But for now, I have a big jug of it for refills, and people like to give the fancy-smelling Bath and Body Works soaps away for Christmas gifts. So it’s already been purchased, and the triclosan will get into the environment someday, even if I just dump it out…so I use it sparingly, and, I hope, intelligently.
- TOOTHPASTE: donate it to a shelter. Your mouth needs its happy bacteria for good digestion! Cavities are more or less determined by the resident bacteria in your mouth (which, according to my dentist, take up residence when you first share saliva with someone else, generally the parent who kisses you the most or shares a spoon with you trying to convince you that baby food carrots are delicious) and your effective brushing.
- ANTIPERSPIRANT: Donate it. Why bother?
- HAND SANITIZERS: use ’em up and avoid that brand in the future!
Click here for more.
- MOUTHWASH: donate or use sparingly. Do not swallow! Spray on plants that are struggling with fungus or blight.
- DISHTOWELS/WASHCLOTHS/SPONGES: Throw them out? Cross your fingers and hope yours are old enough to have all the triclosan washed out of them? I’m fortunate not to have any of these on hand, but I think they’re gaining in popularity with most unknowing consumers!
- CUTTING BOARDS: make other boards for your daily use and this as a backup…or a wall ornament!
- Other ideas? Please share in the comments box.
Here are some options to put by the sink while your anti-bac stuff is hiding in the closet:
§ Just buy SOAP. You might have to look hard to find a bottle that doesn’t say “antibacterial”, but they’re out there (just not at Bath and Body Works!). I like to use Ivory brand, because they don’t have many antibac versions. Softsoap “milk and honey” and the generic versions of that soap are also “just soap”. I have an aversion to Softsoap, though, because they make their triclosan soaps so prevalent that it’s difficult to sift through them to find a normal liquid soap.
§ Dishsoap too! Either buy plain old dishsoap or natural stuff, whatever you feel called to do that’s NOT antibacterial (or with bleach, please). We’ll revisit this idea in a few months and talk about more natural cleaners, but for now, avoid triclosan!
§ $$$Big time money saver$$$: Buy a huge jug refill of normal soap and use a foaming pump (mine are all Bath and Body Works, emptied and repurposed).
Added bonus: You’ll save the earth, too, because you use less plastic this way.
To refill foaming pump with regular liquid soap, fill bottle about 2/3 of the way with water (I always use warm or hot, but I don’t know if it makes or breaks the deal), then squeeze the last 1/3 full of soap. Use your hand to cover the top and shake to combine–be ready for bubbles! Then insert the pump, and you’re good to go. Beware of putting the straw-like end of the pump directly into liquid soap; if even a teeny bit gets pulled into the straw, you’re doomed. Your foamy pump will never recover. That’s why you must shake first!
Timesaver: Refill when you need to wash your hands anyway and use the foam overflow to get clean. Set the pump top in the sink for easy cleanup.
A friend of mine told me she buys foamy pumps with antibacterial soap and then dumps the liquid down the drain and refills with good stuff – I nearly died of shock! I begged her to stop-we can’t try to save our families at the expense of our world. We are an indivisible part of the world, and we don’t want ANY triclosan floating around if we can help it.
§ Good old bar soap works, if you like that kind of thing.
§ I’m currently using Shaklee’s Basic H2, about a Tablespoon in my foaming pumps with water. It’s a concentrated solution, so you don’t need much. My friend who sells Shaklee told me just to squirt some in, and at first I didn’t use enough. I could tell because the foam just felt more like water bubbles than soap. It all washed away too quickly. You’ll be able to tell how much is enough, too, with just a little trial and error. I am guessing the cost analysis will come out about the same between the refill jug and the H2, which is a bit “greener” choice.
§ If having “antibacterial” is something you just can’t let go of, all evidence to the contrary, find something natural. Cleanwell has some antibacterial soaps based on natural oils and plant extracts. They’re sold at Target, online, and they’re also the only item I will ever buy at Bath and Body Works – can you tell that’s my least favorite store in the world? – but they don’t go on sale with the rest of the soaps. They run $4-5. Find a coupon here.
Other posts on antibacterial soap: