Which Soap is Best? - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Which Soap is Best?

Antibacterial soap vs. Plain soap: Which is better?

Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than plain soap and water for killing disease-causing germs outside of health care settings. There is no evidence that antibacterial soaps are more effective than plain soap for preventing infection under most circumstances in the home or in public places.  Therefore, plain soap is recommended in public, non-health care settings and in the home (unless otherwise instructed by your doctor).

Do antibacterial soaps promote antibiotic resistance? 

There is no evidence that antibacterial soaps cause antibiotic resistance, but some scientists believe they may contribute to the development of antibiotic resistant germs. 

Plain soap:

image of liquid non-antibacterial soap.
  • Recommended for use in non-health care settings
  • Easy to find in stores – read the label!
  • Usually less expensive than antibacterial soaps  
  • Rubbing your hands is the most important step in cleaning your hands
Antibacterial soap: image of antibacterial soap
  • Not needed in businesses or most homes (unless directed by your health care provider)
  • No more effective than plain soap in killing germs on your hands or body
  • Must be left on your hands for about two minutes in order to have any effect on bacteria

Liquid soap or bar soap?

Liquid soap:

image of liquid non-antibacterial soap.
  • Liquid soap is generally recommended over bar soap for cleaning your hands
  • Liquid soap is easy to use and will not spread germs from one person to another
  • Many liquid soaps also include a moisturizing agent, so your hands may not dry out as quickly from frequently cleaning your hands

Bar soap:

image of bar soap
  • Germs can grow on bar soap and easily spread from one person to another
  • Bar soap can be used in a household if no one has skin infections
  • Bar soap should not be used in public places

Another way to clean hands: Hand Sanitizer

  • Wash your hands with soap and water when your hands are visibly soiled. If soap and water is not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (wipes or gel).
  • Food handlers in restaurants, schools, delis and grocery stores must wash their hands with soap and water before applying hand sanitizers. [Minn Rules Chap. 4626.0070 - 4626.0085]


  • The Effect of Antibacterial Formula Hand Cleaners on the Elimination of Microbes on Hands
    Harvard Medical School
  • Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It -- Use Plain Soap and Water, FDA
    According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.
  • Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern
    CDC: Emerging Infectious Diseases
  • Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work
    CDC: Antibacterial-containing products have not been proven to prevent the spread of infection better than products that do not contain antibacterial chemicals.  
  • Hand Washing- Minnesota Food Code Fact Sheet (PDF)
    Safe Food is Good Business fact sheet from the Minnesota Food Code.
  • Regulatory History and Attributes of Consumer Antiseptics
    In 2005, an FDA advisory panel considered the question of the effectiveness of antibacterial products and overwhelmingly concluded that there was no evidence proving that antibacterial soaps were more effective than regular soaps for preventing infection.
  • Clinical Infectious Disease Journal Literature Review
    A literature review published in the Clinical Infectious Disease Journal concluded that antibacterial soaps do not provide a benefit above and beyond plain soaps for generally healthy people living in the community. (Clin Infect Dis. 2007 Sep 1;45 Suppl 2:S137-47)
  • APIC Guideline for Handwashing and Hand Antisepsis in Healthcare Settings
    American Journal of Infection Control, Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology
    (AJIC. 1995 23:251-269)

Updated Monday, 09-Mar-2020 07:30:37 CDT