Terms of the Trade: What Makes Something Antibacterial?

man washing his hands with soap

Regular soap helps separate bacteria and viruses from your skin by breaking the bonds they create to your body. It also helps you clean by creating a frothy foam. When we wash our hands longer to rinse this off, we also dislodge more of the microbial substances.

Antibacterial compounds target bacteria using chemical agents like triclosan and triclocarban. These effects don't work on viruses, which are a different kind of microbe, so they're not as good as plain old soap and water in stopping the spread of non-bacterial diseases.

Moreover, the chemicals used as antibacterial agents have come under question in recent years, and the US Food and Drug Administration has concerns about the potential health impact of some of these compounds.