You Don’t Need Antibacterial Soaps to Keep Your Hands Clean

You Don’t Need Antibacterial Soaps to Keep Your Hands Clean

There’s no evidence antibacterial soaps are more effective than normal soaps, according to the FDA.

Think antibacterial hand soap is the best way to lather up? You might want to think again—especially since handwashing is a key way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and many other communicable diseases.

The ingredients in antibacterial soap don’t prevent illness or infection any more effectively than plain soap and water, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, some data suggests that long-term use of antibacterial products may contribute to bacterial resistance.

So, what’s the most effective way to clean your hands? Wet them with clean, running water and lather up with plain soap for at least 20 seconds—or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Then, rinse thoroughly.

Wash them frequently, especially after:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Blowing your nose
  • Eating
  • Using the bathroom

Don’t forget to clean between your fingers and under your fingernails, as well as your wrists and the backs of your hands. Remember to dry your hands when you’re finished, since germs move more easily on wet hands.

If you’re on the go, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol. Be sure to rub the sanitizer all over your hands until they are dry.

Medically reviewed in September 2020.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Q&A for Consumers | Hand Sanitizers and COVID-19.” Current as of September 17, 2020. Accessed September 28, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When and How to Wash Your Hands.” Reviewed September 1, 2020. Accessed September 28, 2020.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It, Use Plain Soap and Water.” Current as of May 16, 2019. Accessed September 28, 2020.

Can soaps cause my skin to itch?
Stacy Wiegman, PharmDStacy Wiegman, PharmD
Soaps can cause your skin to itch. Using a very strong soap can cause your skin to react to the ...
More Answers
Are there chemicals in soap that make it foam?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
There are specific chemicals in soap that act as foaming agents and help it to later. These include ...
More Answers
Why does soap leave my skin feeling dry?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Soap can remove the natural oils produced by glands as natural protection for your skin and can leav...
More Answers
What is a surfactant?
Dr. Ellen Marmur, MDDr. Ellen Marmur, MD
Every cleanser contains a surfactant, which emulsifies and washes debris and oil from the skin. This...
More Answers