Let me just put this right up front, for all the die-hard disinfectors out there: REGULAR SOAP WILL DO. For almost everything. Really. Not every surface in everyone's life has to be wiped with antibacterial agents, not every child needs to be autoclaved on the daily, not every sneeze needs to be medicated with antibiotics, and regular soap works just fine. Unless you are some sort of domestic mom-surgeon making sandwiches out of immuno-compromised bologna, you do not need to scrub up just to live your life. You'll be fine — and, most likely, better — without this antibacterial obsession.
Not that antibacterial products are likely to fall out of favor anytime soon (or that they have no purpose whatsoever — sometimes the germs need to die). But researchers are raising concerns about triclosan, a common chemical in antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, and deodorants, which is even used to "impregnate surfaces and has been added to chopping boards, refrigerators, plastic lunchboxes, mattresses as well as being used in industrial settings, such as food processing plants where walls, floors and exposed machinery have all been treated with triclosan in order to reduce microbial load." And what, exactly, does triclosan do that's so problematic?
Well, it could stop your heart! GREAT.
According to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Exposure to triclosan is linked with muscle function impairments in humans and mice, as well as slowing the swimming of fish. By reducing contractions in both cardiac and skeletal muscles, the chemical has the potential to contribute to heart disease and heart failure.
..."Excitation-contraction coupling is essential for muscle contraction," Pessah said. "If you interfere with that process, it can be lethal and certainly debilitating. We were very surprised that triclosan essentially impaired ECC in both cardiac muscle cells and skeletal muscle cells…It did so at relatively low concentrations and relatively quickly."
Not to mention the fact that early exposure to microbes is thought to bolster kids' immune systems against allergies and general frailness later in life; AND though no direct correlation has been confirmed, some scientists believe that cavalier use of antibacterial agents could contribute to the develop of antibiotic-resistant "super-bugs." All that risk, when we could just be using, you know, soap. Bleach. Ammonia. A vigorous scrub with a clean towel. Regular stuff. (And it doesn't even do what you think it does, says the CDC: "Antibacterial-containing products have not been proven to prevent the spread of infection better than products that do not contain antibacterial chemicals.")
But it's not the consumers' fault, exactly. You know who really sucks? Irresponsible, cynical companies who foment fear in their customers to trick them into buying antibacterial everything, which — in addition to exploding people's hearts—winds up being expensive, time-consuming, bad for kids and bad for public health. It's a little like the anti-vaccination evangelicals, but on a massive corporate scale.
Just use soap.