Swap Your Soap, Save Your Heart?

Protecting your heart could be as easy as washing with regular soap and hot water.

August 15, 2012

What's your daily cleaning routine doing to your heart?

Logic would dictate that things that kill germs are supposed to keep you healthy, but that logic doesn't apply when it comes to triclosan, the chemical used in virtually all "antibacterial" products these days, whether it's your dish soap or your toothpaste.


Triclosan is known to interfere with human hormones and is suspected of contributing to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And new research suggests that the damage could be even worse, damaging heart and muscle tissue.

How Antibacterial Chemicals End Up in Your Food

Studying the effects of triclosan on animals, researchers from the University of California, Davis found that even moderate triclosan exposure significantly reduced muscular strength and cardiac function in mice and slowed the swimming pace of fish.

The results "give us clear reason to reconsider whether the benefits of triclosan really outweigh the risks for consumers," says lead study author Isaac Pessah, PhD, chair of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Molecular Biosciences.

And you're getting little benefit for the potential damage to your heart. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the agency "has not received evidence that triclosan provides an extra benefit to health," when added to personal care or household products. They even state that regular soap and hot water are just as effective as antibacterial versions. According to research from Tufts University, triclosan in soap breaks down when exposed to chlorinated water, rendering it ineffective (it also reacts with the chlorine to form chloroform, a carcinogen).

The Toxic Rip-Off in Your Toothpaste

Keep your house antibacterial-free, and still clean and healthy, with these tips:

• Skip "antibacterial" anything. From shoe insoles to pillowcases, triclosan shows up in surprising places, says Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group. If a product boasts "germ-killing," "antibacterial," or "odor-killing" properties, check the label for triclosan—but don't stop there. According to Lunder, household products won't necessarily have triclosan on the label, meaning your best bet is to check online for more product information. Can't tell? Lunder says she skips products that aren't clear because odds are, they have triclosan unless marked otherwise.

• Peruse personal care product packaging. Personal care products containing triclosan as an active ingredient are required to list the chemical on their labels. In particular, avoid products with triclosan that come into direct contact with your body. "If you're using it in something like toothpaste," says Lunder, "that's really our biggest concern."
If you want to do a little pre-shopping research, look for triclosan-free personal care products through the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database.

• Have faith in hot water: Several studies have shown that soaps and dishwashing liquids with triclosan don't do a better job than their old-fashioned alternatives. "Hot water and soap are entirely sufficient," says Lunder.