Monday Mission: Handwashing and Antibacterial Soap

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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.):

  1. Inspect your household for triclosan. Reveal it and decide how to approach each situation.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 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!

timesaverTimesaver:  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:

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28 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Mareth says

    I use the big jug of Softsoap (Soothing Aloe Vera Moisturizing Hand Soap) from Sam’s Club and I make sure not to buy their antibacterial soap. I don’t know if this one is bad or not! I am learning so much here, and at the Passionate Homemaking site! I am going to make some big changes! Also, what do you recommend for shopping cart cleaning and ways to wash up after the grocery store trip, on-the-go, etc.?

  2. Carolyn says

    Thank you for the tip on refilling foaming soap dispensers. I was having trouble with this! Also, I will be looking at my household products for that evil ingredient — thanks for saving me time and effort to research all this myself!

  3. Sue E. says

    So, is there a safe way to dispose of this ingredient? And, should we give these items away if it is going to expose someone else to it? We haven’t had antibacterial stuff in our house for years, and we, too, use Shaklee and other natural products. I love a castile liquid soap I buy made by Desert Essence. I also reuse the pumps from Bath and Body Works that have been given to me!!

  4. Mary says

    When making your own foaming soap refill, I suspect that hot water is important. I used cold water and my soap solution doesn’t stay mixed. It only takes a hard shaking to re-mix it, but that’s needed almost daily. I really like the feel and action of the homemade foaming soap. Thanks.

  5. says

    I agree that we should defintely stop using antibacterial soap, and instead just employ proper hand washing techniques. The problem I encounter is actually finding any soap that is not antibacterial. Hopefully as this becomes more well known of a problem we will have more choices at the store for buying soap without the antibiotics in it.
    .-= Taylor at Household Management 101´s last blog ..Hi Ho Cherry-O – Cute Video Showing Why Kids Love This Game =-.

  6. says

    Great article! I especially appreciate the tips for what to do with leftover products, and the explanation of how to refill a soap foamer without clogging it–I gave up after ruining two of them; now I can try again.

    My favorite natural liquid soap is Dr. Bronner’s. It seems expensive, but it’s so concentrated that it lasts a long time. For handwashing, we mix it 1:7 with water in a small trigger spray bottle. (That doesn’t foam it much, but it gives you the right amount and doesn’t clog.) In the shower, we just sprinkle a few drops on wet hands and rub together to get enough lather for several body parts.

    We also make bar soap last and stay neat by hanging it in a mesh bag–instructions here.

    For cleaning situations where I’m really concerned about bacteria, I use white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or rubbing alcohol.
    .-= ‘Becca´s last blog ..Steel Kitchen Cabinets! =-.

  7. says

    Just as a side note (since you mentioned the store!), Bath and Body Works does carry non antibacterial soaps that don’t have triclosan. Typically they are the aromatherapy ones (which do smell great). If you’re like me and slowly weaning yourself to plain old soap they are a good option and usually are on sale during the August soap sale.
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..Customs =-.

    • Katie says

      You are definitely right, BBW has been improving. There was a time, though, that they seriously had zero.
      Good for you to make the change!
      :) Katie

  8. says

    I am a nurse practitioner and I see patients at home. Even though the push is for the use of alcohol hand gels and super-antibacterial soaps/foams, I still prefer to use plain old soap and water. I do use alcohol had gels as long as they don’t have triclosan as sometimes my patients don’t have clean sinks to wash at. And sometimes I would have to wash 10 times in one visit! I have banned triclosan at my home sinks and I don’t use toothpaste with triclosan (although my husband does). I truly feel that all of this antibacterial stuff along with abuse of antibiotics has backfired on us and now we are at the mercy of superbugs. I now treat minor infections with tea tree oil and burns with lavender oil. Put down the antibacterial soap and step away from the neosporin! Give the good bugs a chance!

    • Katie says

      Thank you so much for chiming in! Your perspective as a health care provider is an important one.
      :) Katie

    • Brenda says

      I checked my toothpaste and was shocked that the only ingredient listed is the active ingredient, floride. How can they just list one item? Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  9. Dawn says

    We have switched to Kiss My Face handsoap, available on Amazon for a good price, and Method anti-bac gel for kids on the go (my kids LOVE to touch livestock, reptiles, bugs…). Also, we like Toms of Maine toothpaste, and my dentist says it’s a good product. Thanks for the other tips to continue to get rid of this stuff!

  10. says

    Thank you! I have tried and tried to make the pump dispenser work for me, but to no avail. Now I know why. I put the soap in first and didn’t shake. Your Monday Missions are so inspiring!

  11. Julie says

    I just started following you, as you recommended by someone. Thanks for all the information. A quick run through my house and I only found it in a less than half full bottle of hand soap. This will be an easy change to make!

  12. Mati says

    Another vote for Dr. Bronner’s. It is the purest castile soap you can find in most areas. Try a health food store if you can’t find it at your supermarket. I buy a gallon at a time and it’s good for so many uses – the peppermint is even nice for brushing teeth, and is so cooling when showering in the summer. I just dilute it 1:10 in repurposed bottles – hot water and shaking aren’t necessary.

  13. Hailey says

    I love Dr Bronner’s soap. I think it’s better than all that other crap. Also, toothpaste is a total scam of a product. You don’t need it. Brushing with nothing works great, brushing with a wet toothbrush that’s been dipped in baking soda works even better.

  14. jane says

    Throw out dishcloths and towels. Why? Just plain cotton ones. I make my own dishcloths, but do purchase the cotton to make them.
    In need of more information here.

  15. Julie says

    I really like using Shaklee Basic H to make homemade foaming hand soap. As an extra bonus you can get creative with adding a few drops of an essential oil for pleasing aromatherapy. I love adding 3-4 drops each of lavender and peppermint. If I want a natural antibacterial I will use doTerra OnGuard.

  16. Kim says

    I just found you recently while looking for information about making yogurt. You are my hero! I love all of your information.
    For cleaning products personal care products that you don’t make yourself, check out Green Virgin Products. I do not sell these cleaners and I am not affiliated with the company, I just like their products.
    Thank you again for all you do and for sharing!

  17. Katie says

    As far as bacterial resistance, that regular Softsoap is no problem. On the go, I still use hand sanitizer, just without triclosan. Cleanwell also makes a tea-tree-oil-based sanitizer that smells great! Wipes of any kind would probably be just as good, going with the idea that friction is important for getting dirt and germs OFF the hands. In the shopping cart itself I swear by my cart cover: I have also found them on eBay for a friend for about $15 a few years ago. I put O-cereal right on the cover and attach toys to the loops, and baby is happy the whole trip!

  18. Katie says

    Triclosan is actually in the “pesticide” category, so maybe it would be better to make a spray for your plants than use it on your hands! Seriously, I’m not sure. For now I’m just trying to slowly rid the household of it and not buy any more. This is the best information on triclosan that I found — after I wrote the article:

    Here’s some important new information to help you be on the lookout:
    “It is marketed under the trade name Microban® when used in plastics and clothing, and Biofresh® when used in acrylic fibers.” Also at the above website, there is a list of products containing triclosan, some of which shocked me: Merrell shoes and Revlon lipstick, to name two that happen to be in my household! Grrr….

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