Antibacterial soaps and gels are useless and may cause harm, 200 scientists and medics have warned.
The consensus statement, published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives also cautions against the use of antimicrobial agents in food storage containers, exercise mats and paints.
Environmental health professors said “plain soap and water” was the best way to protect against illness.
But they also said antibacterial products – some of which have been banned in the United States, and are being phased out here – could cause harm to some consumers, especially pregnant women and those breastfeeding.
Environmental health professor at the University of San Francisco, United States (U.S.), Dr. Barbara Sattler said: “People think antimicrobial hand soaps offer better protection against illness, but generally, antimicrobial soaps perform no better than plain soap and water.”
Late last year, America banned 19 different antimicrobial chemicals, including triclosan and triclocarban, saying they were not effective and should not be marketed for use in over-the-counter consumer wash products.
However scientists fear they have merely been replaced with ones that are even worse.
British firms such as Unilever say they are phasing the two chemicals out of their products by the end of this year,adding they will be replaced by “a range of alternatives, including natural and nature-inspired antibacterial ingredients”.
Dr. Arlene Blum, Executive Director of Green Science Policy Institute said: “I was happy that the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps.
“But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse.
“Antimicrobials are also commonplace in products where you wouldn’t expect them, including paints, exercise mats, flooring, apparel, food storage containers, home textiles, electronics, kitchenware, school supplies, and countertops.”
Dr. Ted Schettler, Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said: “Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do.”
Dr. Rolf Halden, Professor of engineering at Arizona State University added: “Environmental and human exposures to triclosan and triclocarban are widespread, affecting pregnant women, developing foetuses, and breast-feeding babies.