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21 Feb 2021

Do you really need antibacterial hand wash, washing-up liquid and laundry products?

We explore whether antibacterial cleaners are better at getting rid of COVID-19 and other germs compared with normal versions of the same product

From blue antibacterial Fairy washing-up liquid to Carex hand wash and Dettol detergent, you'll see lots of hand wash, washing-up liquid and laundry products that claim to kill bacteria. Typically they're pricier than standard cleaners, but are they worth it?

The good news is that cleaning away coronavirus (which is rather obviously a virus and not bacteria) is pretty straightforward. Simple soap, 70% or higher alcohol or bleach-based cleaners will do the job just fine.

For bacteria and germs, antibacterial cleaning products just aren't necessary in many situations. There is almost always a simple way of achieving the same effect, such as thorough hand washing.

Below we explain what you need to know about hand wash, washing-up liquid and laundry detergent.

Coronavirus: how to clean your home effectively

Antibacterial hand wash

Dettol lists the antibacterial ingredients in each of its products on its website. All its hand washes use the same one, salicylic acid.

Carex claims its antibacterial liquid hand wash is formulated to 'effectively' kill 99.9% of bacteria. This is based on the European Standard Test, where it was shown to reduce E.Coli on the hands of panellists by an average greater than 99.9%.

Carex has also tested against enveloped viruses, including coronavirus, with more than a 99.9% reduction in the viruses tested.

But, providing you follow the NHS advice on washing your hands for about 20 seconds (the equivalent of singing Happy birthday twice), then you don't need to use antibacterial soap to help prevent COVID-19.

Regular bar or liquid soap works fine. COVID-19 is an enveloped virus, which means that the RNA (nucleic acid - the viral genetic material) is coated in a lipid (fatty) layer.

Soap is able to dissolve this lipid layer, causing the virus to fall apart. This stops it from binding to our cells, effectively killing it.

However, if you want to be extra cautious, there's no harm in buying antibacterial hand wash.

Find out more on hand hygiene, soap and sanitiser gel: what you need to know

Antibacterial washing-up liquid

Blue antibacterial Fairy washing-up liquid

Standard washing-up liquids will also kill bacteria, just in the same way hand wash and soap does. So there's no need for a special antibacterial washing-up liquid if you're worried about COVID-19 or salmonella.

It's also worth being clear that Fairy antibacterial claims are limited to stopping the build-up of germs on washing-up sponges. Fairy recommends rinsing the sponge after washing-up, adding anti-bacterial Fairy liquid, and squeezing it to distribute the liquid more evenly.

This is still important. In a 2018 investigation, we found that washing-up sponges can have three different types of faecal bacteria on them - including E.coli. We recommend sticking them in the dishwasher and replacing sponges every week to ward off germs.

For the best at gliding through tough dirt and grease, read our washing-up liquid reviews.

Are you really washing your dishes properly?

Antibacterial laundry products

You may see some laundry detergents that come with antibacterial claims, as well as products you can soak your clothes in to kill bacteria, such as the Dettol Laundry Cleanser, as seen above.

It claims to kill bacteria and some viruses as well (when clothes are soaked). But while it's true bacteria and viruses can survive on clothes, there's not much evidence that people actually get infections from clothes.

You're more likely to catch something directly from the people around you, especially those coughing and sneezing, or from your hands.

When it comes to COVID-19, you'll be glad to know you can clean as normal. For those that want to be extra sure, such as frontline workers, you may want to wash at 60°C and with a powder detergent (it contains oxygen-based bleaching agents which will kill COVID-19).

For more on advice read our full story on how to wash clothes and kill coronavirus.