How do Antimicrobial clothes, toys, and soap help prevent the spread of disease?

Many consumer products are advertised as having been treated with antimicrobial chemicals.

These include not only clothing, but pens, cutting boards, toys, household cleaners, hand lotions, cat litter, soap, cotton swabs, toothbrushes, and various cosmetics.

There are children’s pajamas, mattresses, and bed linens for sale that make such claims. The CDC is unequivocal about the advantages of using such products: “At present there is no evidence that use of these products will make consumers and patients healthier or prevent disease.”

While the Food and Drug Administration is in charge of regulating personal-care products such as soaps and hand lotions, it is the Environmental Protection Agency that regulates chemicals that kill or claim to kill germs on non-living surfaces, including clothing and bedding.

The law says that if a manufacturer wants to make a claim that a product “fights germs” or has “antibacterial action” or “controls fungus” or any other such health claim, that product has to be approved by the EPA.

To gain that approval, the manufacturer has to apply to the EPA and provide specific data that demonstrate that the product does what he claims it does.

The clarity of this law, however, does not stop people from disobeying it. Therefore, the EPA urges everyone not to rely on antibacterial claims as a substitute for commonsense hygienic practices.