Germs are bad, right? That must be the reason for all the antibacterial hand sanitisers, wipes and liquid soaps crowding the market.
But there is growing concern about the effect of the ingredients in these products on both the environment and personal health. Antibacterial wipes for the home make me particularly cranky because they are disposable and accomplish what can easily be done with an ordinary rag. Ditto for all those hand sanitiser and liquid hand soap bottles versus a bar of soap.
In addition to many difficult-to-pronounce chemicals, anything that is labelled antibacterial probably contains triclosan. Concern is mounting over this chemical: Marks & Spencer dropped it from its products in 2003, Health Canada has recommended that the Canadian public avoid using it and the US Food and Drug Administration is considering a ban. Some experts argue that triclosan can accumulate in the body and possibly alter hormones. It has been linked to immune system, reproductive and respiratory problems, and cancer.
The fact is that exposure to household germs helps us to build immunity to their harmful effects. Eradicating them cannot only disrupt this capacity in adults, but possibly interfere with immune development in children.
The rise of antibacterial products has also been blamed for the proliferation of so-called antibiotic-resistant superbugs that are causing major problems in hospitals.
So what to do? Simple is best. Vinegar and water for cleaning; good old soap and water for hands.