Sunday 2 June 2019

Why antibacterial cleaners are bad for you and the planet

Antibacterial cleaners, wipes and hand santisers are big business with countless varieties available, all claiming to kill 99.9% of germs/bacteria.  There is however compelling evidence that these antibacterial cleaning products are both ineffective in keeping us healthy and in fact dangerous for the people using them, their families and the environment.  Their success in recent years can be put down, at least in part, to some very effective marketing by the manufacturers, who have duped the public into believing they are vital to maintain health, when actually the complete opposite is true.  Just look at this marketing for a product called Lysol, an American antibacterial cleaner, that uses the tagline: Stop just CLEANING. Start HEALTHING. 

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A world full of bacteria

The world is teeming with bacteria, they are everywhere and the vast majority are either totally harmless or extremely useful. An average a human body consists of 1 - 2.6 kg of bacteria and many are vital for us to function. Most are found in the gut where they aid digestion.  Others help fight infections and in pregnant women they help limit the risk of complications after birth and protect the baby against fungal infections.  They maintain our body pH and protect us from skin infections.  Elsewhere in our lives they are responsible for turning milk into yogurt, are used on the fermentation process (beer making for example) and for the treatment of sewage.  Soil bacteria enable plants to take up vital nutrients that are otherwise not available to them.  Bacteria are also used in the production of antibiotics.

Not all bacteria are good and there are those which cause infections such as the common cold, stomach upsets, food poisoning, gastric ulcers and some forms of meningitis.  HOWEVER our bodies have an extremely well tuned defence mechanism against these bacteria in the form of white blood cells which ingest and neutralise them.  In the vast majority of cases, in a normal household, a healthy body will destroy the bacteria before any or only minor symptoms are experienced. 

Now let's return to these antibacterial cleaners that claim to clean up to 99.9% of all bacteria.

Antibacterial cleaners are unable to differentiate between good and bad bacteria and kill both.  The 0.1% that are not killed will be resistant to the antibacterial agents and the more the antibacterials are used the greater the likelihood is of being left with resistant bad bacteria.  These resistant bacteria are then able to reproduce and increase ensuring the place you have just cleaned will very soon have as many bacteria as before you cleaned it and within these bacteria will be a higher percentage of bad bacteria that cannot now be killed with your antibacterial cleaner.  The more you use these cleaners, the more resistant bacteria result and the stated 99.9% efficiency falls rapidly, creating, not reducing, the risk of getting infected by bad bacteria.

Antibacterial cleaners are not just limiting their effect to the home.  They are also entering the wider environment and creating colonies of resistant bacteria everywhere.  There are now many more cases of food poisoning from resistant E.coli and we have so called super bugs, such as MRSA in hospitals.  Antibacterial cleaners and many antibiotics will no longer kill these bacteria.

The rise is allergies, asthma, eczema etc

As already stated, the human body is an amazingly well tuned creation and has evolved white blood cells which seek out and kill bad bacteria.  For these white blood cells to work efficiently people need to be exposed to bacteria from a young age.  This allows the white blood cells to "learn" who the bad guys are and effectively destroy them.   Without exposure to germs a child's white blood cells will not develop properly and when  the child is exposed to an otherwise harmless particle, even in small amounts, their white blood cells destroy the invader en masse. Such an overreaction to a harmless particle manifests itself in ways such as an allergic reaction, an asthma attack or eczema.  Whilst very small babies do need to be kept clean, it is important that all children from a young age are exposed to bacteria in order for them to develop a healthy immune system and reduce the risk of being plagued by allergies etc.  Far more children now suffer from athese conditions that was the case even just 20 years ago. The old adage "a speck of dirt never did anyone any harm" is more than true - it actually allows your body to naturally fight off bad bacteria.  You don't need all those antibacterial cleaners because your body will do it for you.  

Alternatives to antibacterial cleaners

Of course, it is necessary to clean ourselves and our houses and many people desire a sparkling looking house - antibacterial cleaners may give the desired sparkle but with such harmful consequences.  So what can you use instead to clean without destroying all the bacteria?  Regular use of warm water with ordinary soaps and detergents will effectively wash bacteria away.  Other methods include steam cleaning and vinegar/bicarbonate based natural cleaners. None of these will result in increasing the levels of resistant bacteria but they will give you the sparkling looking house you desire. And if that still doesn't convince you why not have a look at the price tags - normal soaps and detergents are much cheaper than antibacterial ones so you could save yourself a small fortune by swapping.

Extreme cleaning, using an arsenal of cleaning products including many that are antibacterial is big business for manufacturers, shops and certain social media influencers. The marketing arm of each of these has worked tirelessly to make people believe their lives will be healthier after using antibacterial cleaners (look at Lysol and its "Healthing" claim) and even in the face of mounting evidence against that you will still hundreds of articles online trying to terrify people by saying how many bacteria are on everything from hands to phones, to the remote control, often at higher levels than the toilet.  But these are total scare tactics used to frighten people into using unnecessary and frankly dangerous products.  If you happen to be in a cleaning Facebook group just look how many people talk about the sickness bugs their families are plagued with or how members suffer with eczema, asthma and other allergies.  

By all means have a sparkling clean house but please stop using antibacterial cleaners on a regular basis. They are needed when you are actually ill but if you overuse them before then you may well find they simply don't work when you really need them.

Antibacterial cleaners - more harmful than healthy.

Further Reading:

What is the 0.1% of bacteria and viruses that Clorox cannot kill?

Antibacterial cleaning products


  1. This is really interesting and something I would like to learn more about. I need to start using bicarbonate of soda and vinegar :)

  2. I use a steam cleaner for my kitchen, bathrooms and floor. With young kids I don't like the idea of lots of chemicals going around and prefer to let steam handle it all

  3. Ughhhh I hate these yet I feel that more and more products are becoming these.....I wish they were all just taken off the market because they are so bad on so many different levels.

  4. THis is very interesting, I often wonder why so many more children suffer with asthma/hay fever/allergies and this is probably exactly why x

  5. I don't like using too many chemicals because of Erin. A steam cleaner has been one of my best purchases

  6. oh all these sprays and especially the ever popular wipes with their plastic and plastic packaging are a pet hate of mine... #goinggreen

  7. This is really interesting- I hadn’t thought that they couldn’t separate the two and kill both kinds of bacteria.

  8. Oh I honesty didn’t realise some of the points you made about antibacterial cleaners, I think I need to
    Investigate a little more into this.

  9. Thanks for posting this. I am always on the look out for any alternatives as I know these are bad.

  10. I had no idea! Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  11. I've cut down on the amount of chemicals I use when I clean this year. I now mostly use white vinegar and buy eco-friendly products for the harder jobs :)

    Louise x

  12. Steam cleaner for me, I tend to use as less as possible chemicals in our house.


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