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EWG's Healthy Home Tips

Tip 5 - Wash those hands, but avoid Triclosan

EWG's Healthy Home Tips: Tip 5 - Wash those hands, but avoid Triclosan

Washing our hands is something we do many times a day because it's a proven way to kill germs. So why are we highlighting something you already do? Because it's an effective - but often overlooked - way to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals, especially for children. But ironically, some soaps contain chemicals you should avoid, so choosing a safer soap is important and more challenging than it should be.


As you know, hand washing with basic soap and water effectively prevents the spread of infections. It also prevents the transfer of toxic chemicals from your hands to your mouth. Scientists have found that children actually ingest more chemicals off of their hands – for instance, by touching arsenic on older wooden swing sets or fire retardants on some electronics --  than from mouthing toxic products directly.

Timing is important.  Be sure that children wash their hands before eating. Those who put their hands in their mouths frequently should wash after playing, too.

A word about hand sanitizers: These waterless cleansers can be convenient but are designed to kill bacteria – not to remove dust and dirt, which can be infused with toxic substances picked up around the house and yard. Washing with soap and water, on the other hand, kills bacteria and more thoroughly removes grime from hands to reduce any toxic exposures.


Antibacterial soaps kill bacteria and microbes – but so do plain soap and water. An FDA advisory committee found that using antibacterial soaps provides no benefits over plain soap and water. The FDA banned triclosan, triclocarban and 17 other antibacterial ingredients in hand soaps, effective September 2017.

Many ingredients added to soap, plastics and textiles to make them “antibacterial” pose safety concerns and provide minimal, if any, benefits. After the ban, triclosan can still be added to many antibacterial consumer products. 

EWG Guide to Triclosan

Triclosan is linked to liver and inhalation toxicity. Even low levels of triclosan may disrupt thyroid function. Triclosan and other antibacterial ingredients may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan affect the natural environment. Wastewater treatment does not remove all triclosan, sending it into lakes, rivers and water sources, whcre it is very toxic to aquatic life.

To learn more about triclosan and how to avoid it, read our short report and download our 1-page guide.

Updated September 2016.


Knowing which ingredients to avoid is important, but identifying safer alternatives is an equally important next step. We recommend "plain" soap and water for the most effective and least problematic hand washing.Always check the ingredient list! When you're at the store, read those labels. Fragrance, triclosan and triclocarbon will be listed, making it easy to leave them on the shelf and find safer soaps.

Liquid and bar soaps

You can find liquid hand soaps that don't contain triclosan, triclocarban or fragrance in our Skin Deep® database.

Prefer bar soap? Choose from these products free of triclosan, triclocarban or fragrance.

Hand sanitizers

If you like the convenience of waterless hand sanitizers, alcohol-based sanitizers are a better bet than those with other active ingredients. We suggest you choose one that doesn’t contain fragrance. You can find products without these ingredients in our Skin Deep® database.

Remember: Hand sanitizers don't prevent hand-to-mouth chemical transfers as thoroughly as soap and water, because their purpose is to kill bacteria, not to remove the dust and dirt that can harbor chemicals. Also, when washing with water, product ingredients are partially washed off, whereas all ingredients in hand sanitizers are left to absorb into your skin.

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