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Antimicrobial Soap Ingredients

Antimicrobial Soap Ingredients Antimicrobial Soap Ingredients

The active ingredient in soap is what distinguishes one type from another. Antimicrobial, also called antibacterial, soaps are no exception, including active ingredients designed to kill germs as well as clean your skin. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies antimicrobial soap as an over-the-counter drug and regulates the active ingredients these soaps can include, as well as claims advertising campaigns can make.

Active Ingredient

The active ingredient antimicrobial soaps most often use depends on whether the soap is in solid or liquid form. Bar soap commonly uses trichlocarban as its active ingredient, while liquid soaps use triclosan. These chemical compounds function by denaturing, or disrupting, cell activity and interfering with microbe metabolism.

In April 2010, the FDA published a consumer update regarding the chemical triclosan. It states that while there is no evidence this chemical is hazardous to humans and it is proven effective when used in products such as toothpaste, there is no evidence that including this ingredient in soap provides greater benefit than washing with regular soap and water. The FDA, in conjunction with other federal agencies is currently reviewing the safety and effectiveness of triclosan.


Approximately 40 to 80 percent of your soap is distilled or deionized water. Soaps use distilled or deionized water to prevent ions in hard water from interfering with detergent ingredients.


Both antimicrobial bar and liquid soaps contains lye in forms such as sodium hydroxide, sodium chloride or sodium tallowate. Adding fat ingredients such as coconut, palm or olive oil that react with lye help make bar soap solid and water resistant. Fatty acid ingredients such as coconut or palm acid function to ensure the lye completely reacts. Fatty acid ingredients also provide texture to the soap.


Surfactants provide the detergent power in soap and make up approximately 20 to 40 percent of its chemical composition. Most antimicrobial soaps contain a primary surfactant, responsible for cleaning and foaming action, and a secondary surfactant, responsible for creating a smooth, creamy texture. Common surfactant ingredients include alkyl sulfates such as ammonium lauryl sulfate, alkyl ether sulfates such as ammonium laureth sulfate, olefin sulfonates and amphoterics such as cocamidopropyl betaine.


Glycerin and sorbitol are common emollient ingredients. Emollients soften and smooth your skin by trapping and holding moisture, preventing evaporation. Glycerin is a natural chemical, while sorbitol is man-made, derived from fruits, seaweed or algae.


Even though the active ingredient in antimicrobial soap is an antibacterial agent, it is not strong enough to kill organisms such as molds and fungus. Because of this, antimicrobial soap contains preservative ingredients such as DMDM hydantoin or butylated hydroxytoluene, also called BHT, that keep oils in the soap from becoming rancid.

Other Ingredients

Manufacturers add ingredients such as fragrance, coloring and a variety of extracts, natural oils and proteins to add appeal and distinguish their soaps from others in the product line and from competing products. The FDA regulates the dyes manufacturers can use in soap and allows manufacturers to include only a limited number of colors.

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